I’ve tried so many ways to contain tomatoes and the tomato twine trellis is cheap and so easy!! You should definitely try it!
Other tomato support methods
I’ve used other methods over the years to contain my tomatoes and keep them accessible, healthy, and pruned. Many people use tomato cages. While I’ve never tried them, they seem like it would be SO hard to prune tomatoes when they are all crammed in there!
Mel Bartholomew in Square Foot Gardening recommended a trellising method that uses PVC pipe and nylon netting. That worked pretty well for me when I did a square foot garden. Once I extended our garden footprint, though, it became a bit cumbersome.
The method I’ve settled on for the last 10 or so years is a cross between a netting like I used in my Square Foot Garden, and a stake. It’s essentially a piece of fencing attached to a 2×2″ stake. It works great to tie the stem to the stake and intertwine the leaves in the fencing. However, they take a lot of room to store and each one needs to be replaced when the bottom of the post begins to rot out.
That’s when I began looking for another method. I found that a tomato twine trellis can be just as easy to use, makes it easy to prune, is super inexpensive, and easy to store!
Why is it important to prune tomatoes?
One of the reasons it’s so important to choose the right way to support the tomato is because it’s vital to be able to see the tomato vines to prune them. Many varieties are called indeterminate tomatoes. Those ones will grow and grow and grow until they get a cold snap that kills them.
For short summers like ours in Northeast Ohio, that is not great news. We need to be able to get as many tomatoes grown and ripened as we can in the few months of nice weather we have.
On tomato plants, the main vine produces the very best fruit. It’s the biggest and the heartiest. Then there are vines that shoot off the main vine, called a sucker. Those will produce fruit if you allow them to grow, but the fruit will be less plentiful. Additionally, it steals nutrients that could be going to the fruit on that main vine to feed the best tomatoes.
Because of that, it’s important to prune those suckers off when they are small. This keeps the plant sending nutrients up the main vine to the most plentiful fruit. And it allows as many as possible to ripen within the short season that we have.
How to Start a Tomato Twine Trellis
There are many ways to make this work. The way I did this worked for the way my garden was set up. However, there’s lots of other ways you could create a tomato twine trellis system. I will give some other options to do it a different way than I did.
My garden has a 6 foot high fence, so I utilized the posts in order to create the support for my tomato twine trellis. I just took chunks of 2×4 we had laying around and screwed them into our main posts. Then we took 1x2s we also had around and spanned the top. It wasn’t super ideal because the posts are 12′ apart and the 1x2s are only 8 foot. But my hubby attached them together and to the 2×4 chunks and they seem pretty secure.
Some alternate options for the tomato twine trellis:
Option 1 – Freestanding trellis with 1x2s or bamboo
If I had a tomato bed that I needed supports for and didn’t have my current system, I’d build something like this.
Option 2: Raised garden bed with attached metal conduit
If you’re growing in a raised bed, you can use metal conduit and make an upside down U shape with elbows. Attach it to the inside of the raised bed with brackets and then drop the twine down from there. I’d attach the brackets on the inside of the raised bed to hide the ugly parts!
The twine should not be wavy like that! I just drew it that way to differentiate it from the support posts. Please enjoy my handwritten drawings. I’m not super gifted in that department. But man, I can make you a mean loaf of sourdough!!!
No matter what direction you go, just get creative and use what you have first and foremost. That is what homesteading is all about!
How to secure the twine
I’ve seen a few different ways to do this. I’ll share all three with you.
1. Use garden landscape staples to secure the twine
The first way to secure the twine works especially well if you need to get the tomatoes into the ground but have not figured out your trellis system. This is actually a great option because if you’re using a stake, you need to drive that in when you plant the tomatoes in order to keep from disturbing the roots.
With this method, you simply drop the twine down to the ground with a little extra at the end. Then wrap the bottom of the twine around the garden landscape staple and press it into the ground. I would do this on an angle in order to make it be a bit more secure in the ground.
You’ll want to make sure that when you put the staple into the ground, it pulls the twine tight in order to make a “stake” for the tomato to be wound around.
Alternately, if you have some wire on hand, or even an old fashioned wire hanger, you could use wire cutters and make your own U shaped staples. This would be the most budget friendly option if you wanted to use staples.
2. Tie the twine to the tomato plant
The second option can also be done after the tomato plant is tucked in the ground. You simply take the twine and tie it to the bottom of the tomato plant.
My only concern with this way of doing it is that if you tie it too tightly, it will cut off the ability for the main stem to get thicker and could hurt the plant. Also, It makes me wonder if you could get it secured tightly enough without damaging the tomato plant.
3. Plant twine with the tomato plant
This is the method I used. I actually held off for about 2 weeks planting my seedlings in order to get my trellis system set up. I think that was the biggest drawback of this option.
The great thing is that I had transplanted them into my 4″ soil blocks and they were THRIVING. I gave a few seedlings away to a friend and this is what they looked like about a week before I planted them into the garden. (My son is almost 13 and taller than me, just to give you perspective!)
If you haven’t tried soil blocking, you should absolutely consider it. It has been one of my biggest joys this spring!
Dig your hole
When using this method, just dig a hole deep enough for your seedling. I always take off the bottom set of leaves and plant it deeper than the level in the pot or soil block. Unlike other seedlings, tomatoes will grow new roots from the stem, so if you plant it deeper, you’ll have a more securely rooted plant.
This year, I took my grandpa’s advice and planted a few of them sideways because they were so tall that I didn’t want to plant them as deeply as I would need to in order to get to the lowest set of leaves. So you plant them sideways and then just gently guide the stem up and wind it around the twine.
Add ground eggshells
I sprinkle ground eggshells into the bottom of the hole in order to add calcium to the soil and prevent blossom end rot.
The strings or twine drop down from the top of the trellis and make sure to cut it about 6 inches past the ground. This allows you to secure the string under the tomato seedling.
Tuck your twine under the seedling
Then tuck the twine under the bottom of the seedling. I like to pull it snug at this point in order to get a nice tight string trellis going. Then fill the hole in with the dirt and press it down.
Add the soil around it and wind it up the twine
After you get it planted, very gently wind the main stem up the twine. I tend to wrap it around one time under every set of leaves. It should look like this after it’s all wound up.
Prune and wind throughout the season
The last thing you do is to check your plants when you do your daily walkthrough. If there are suckers, prune them out when they are little to keep pushing the nutrients to the main vine. Then gently guide the vine by wrapping it around the twine.
And that’s it!!! Can you even believe how easy that was?! I’m looking forward to doing an update post toward the end of the season to let you know how they fared next to the ones I have across from them that are using my old method of tomato trellising…and I’m really excited to not have to store anything this winter!
If you try this, let me know how yours goes!