GARDENERS FACTSHEET NO. 7
STAKING AND TRAINING TOMATO PLANTS
Dr. John M. Gerber
Garden fresh tomatoes are truly America's favorite
vegetable. More tomatoes are grown in stateside gardens than
any other vegetable. This would be equally true for Virgin Islands
gardens were it not for the special problems we face growing
tomatoes in our islands.
During the dry season, tomato plants wilt badly and flowers
drop off due to continuous hot weather. Although we can avoid
the heat and drought problems by growing tomatoes during the
rainy season, we face more disease and insect problems at that
time. Heavy rains and high humidity increase the occurrence of
insect pests, leaf blights and fruit rots. When tomato plants are
allowed to grow in contact with wet soil, the humidity under the
plant increases and insect and disease problems are more severe.
Keeping plants off the ground will help avoid leaf blight and
reduce fruit rots. Although staking tomatoes is a time-consuming
job, it is well worth the effort for the home gardener.
The primary reason for staking tomatoes is to avoid the loss
of fruit from soil rots. When tomatoes are grown on the ground
you can expect a 15-50% loss depending on the variety. Large,
heavy fruits such as the beefsteak type must be staked up to
prevent excessive losses. Smaller, lighter fruit such as cherry and
paste types will hang off the ground and avoid most of the
rotting problem. Medium sized fruits may or may not touch the
ground depending on the growth habit of the plant. A tomato
plant that sprawls on the ground will have more rot problems than
one with an upright growth habit.
A staked tomato plant will not only have less fruit rot but
also less leaf blight. Leaf blights are caused by fungi (molds) that
grow primarily under moist conditions. A plant that is tied up will
dry out faster than one lying on the ground. Although this may
not be advantageous during the dry season, it is a big advantage
during the heavy rains of October and November. Staked
tomatoes are also easier to spray and harvest.
There are several methods of staking that achieve the result
of keeping the fruit off the ground. Each one has advantages and
The standard method of one plant per stake is the most
time-consuming training procedure because it requires constant
pruning and tying. However, it requires the least space per plant
and is the least expensive.
Long wooden stakes, at least one inch square should be
driven 112 ft. into the ground, leaving about 5 ft. above ground.
Each stake should be painted with a wood preservative to
prevent wood rot. Tan tan or manjack make good natural
substitutes for commercially available wooden stakes.
The stakes should be spaced 2 ft. apart in the row with
rows 3-4 ft. apart. Seedlings should be planted several inches
pushed into the soil for support.
from the bottom of each stake. As the plant grows it should be
pruned to one stem as pictured. If two stems are desired, allow
one side shoot to grow out and then prune all the others. Pruning
is a continuous operation since side shoots or suckers grow out
rapidly. If side shoots are allowed to develop the plant will soon
be sprawling in many directions, defeating the purpose of
The main stem should be tied loosely to the stake with soft,
thick twine. If the twine is too tight, it will cut into the stem as the
Individual wire cages require the least effort to set up and
maintain. However, they are the most expensive to make and
require the most space per plant. Plants growing within a cage are
held up by leaves growing through the wire. These plants require
no tying or pruning.
To make the cages you should purchase 5 ft. high, 10 gauge
concrete reinforcing wire with 6 inch openings. Cut a 41 ft. length
of the wire and coil it to make a cage about 18 inches in diameter.
Cut off the bottom horizontal wire to leave "legs" which may be
The slips should be planted at least 3 ft. apart and a cage
placed over each plant. As the plant grows, pull individual side
shoots through the wire to support the plant.
DOUBLE WIRE TRELLIS
The double wire trellis is a compromise between staking
and caging. It is less expensive than individual cages and less
time consuming than staking. Plants growing in a row are
allowed to grow up between several sets of wire which run from
one end pole to another and back again. As the plants grow they
are pulled through the next set of wires and allowed to hang
there. Some pruning is necessary to keep side shoots from
sprawling away from the trellis.
To build the trellis, sink either metal poles or 4 inch square
wooden posts in the ground about 25 ft. apart. The end posts
should be anchored securely with support wires. The tops of the
posts should be 4 ft. high. Next, a heavy gauge wire is strung
from one pole around the other pole and back to the starting
pole. This leaves two parallel wires, tightly strung about 4 inches
apart. Three sets of wire should be adequate if placed 1 % ft. and
2-3 ft. off the ground and also at the top of the posts. Then pull
the posts apart by turning a turnbuckle on the support wires and
pulling the 3 sets of wire tight.
Plants are spaced at least 3 ft. apart unless you plan on
pruning them conscientiously. Plants pruned to 2 or 3 stems may
be spaced closer.
This trellis should last several years. The lowest set of
wires is high enough so that you can use a roto-tiller to prepare
the soil under the trellis for the following year's garden. It is best
to rotate tomatoes with another trellised crop, such as
cucumbers, to avoid the build-up of soil insects and diseases.
Products and suppliers mentioned by name in this publication are used as examples and in no way imply endorsement or recommendation of these products or suppers
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914 (as amended), in cooperation with the U S Department of Agriculture, D S Padda, Director,
College of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service The College of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action organization,
providing educational services in the field of agriculture, home economics, rural development, 4-H youth development and related subjects to all persons regardless of race, color, religion, sex or