Whether you grow your tomatoes in pots or in plots, staking your tomato plants will help them yield more fruit. Staking offers several benefits to both the plant and the grower. One, stakes give your tomato plants' limbs the strength they need to hold heavy fruit up off of the ground, where there's less chance the fruit will rot. Additionally, fruit held up by the plants' branches gets sunlight from all directions, thereby ripening more evenly. Staking also provides you, the grower, with a better view of your fruit, and offers the added benefit of less squatting when tomato-picking time arrives.
Some growers encounter lots of trouble and expenses when staking tomatoes, going as far as building wooden towers or structures that resemble small framed houses. However, staking is actually very simple and need not be that complex. A stake, at its simplest, is a stick in the ground. Because tomato plants grow to be large and bushy, and do not naturally twine as some vines do, cages are generally recommended over stakes, as cages support the entire plant and not just the main stem. Purchased wire tomato cages, perhaps the easiest solution, are incredibly simple to set up, inexpensive and widely available at garden centers and home centers.
1. Determine the size of cage you need. The larger your specific tomato variety is expected to grow, the taller stake it requires. Choose a cage that is close to the predicted height of your mature tomato plant.
2. Once your tomato seedling has been planted but is still very small, place the tomato cage around it by gently pressing the wire rods into the ground. Place it so that the tomato plant is in the middle of the cage.
3. As the plant grows, gently guide its branches through the openings in the tomato cage. If the branches need extra help staying put, you may gently tie them to the wires with soft string.
Make Your Own Tomato Cages
An alternative to premade cages is to construct a simple cage yourself. The only supplies needed for this easy project are four lengths of concrete reinforcement bar (rebar) and some twine or metal wire. As with purchased tomato cages, the length of the rebar is dependent upon the mature height of the tomato plant.
1. Gently press the four lengths of rebar into the ground around your tomato plant as if they were the four corners of a square, with the plant in the middle. Place each bar approximately three or four inches from the plant.
2. Tie a piece of twine or wire to one bar, about three or four inches from the ground, and wrap it, horizontally, around all four bars. Tie both ends securely to the rebar.
3. Repeat until you've tied twine or wire all the way up the rebar, leaving about three or four inches of space between each length of twine or wire.
4. Just as with purchased cages, as the tomato plants grow, the branches may need a little help establishing themselves among the cage wires. Guide the branches through the openings in the cage, and gently tie them as needed.