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Foolproof Tactics for Tomato Staking

Martha Stewart Living, March 2004

 A tall stake that looms over a three-inch tomato seedling is more than a picture of hope; it's a sign of good things to come. The support of a stake benefits the two broad classes of tomato: the "determinate" varieties (those that quit growing after they reach a certain size, and so yield most of their fruit all at once) and the "indeterminate" ones (which continue growing and producing until frost, or a tomato-weary gardener, kills them).

Some gardeners swear that unstaked tomato plants, sprawling across the ground, bear more fruit than staked ones. Even if they're right, too much of their crop goes to waste. When plants are supported above the soil, where they can enjoy better air circulation, they are less susceptible to disease and pests, and their fruit stays cleaner. More evenly exposed to sunlight, too, these tomatoes get warmer than those that lie about in a bed, and warmth promotes maturation. Staked plants grow larger, producing fruit that ripens as much as a week earlier. For the gardener, harvesting becomes a standup pleasure. And, of course, neatly upright tomato plants leave more room for different vegetables.

The other cry of pro-sprawl gardeners is that supports are ugly. True enough, a vegetable garden should be a place that pleases your eye as well as your palate, and a haphazard row of tomato plants lashed to old wooden stakes can look messy and uninviting. But, as our photos show, well-constructed supports supply visual interest while doing their job. Sturdiness is key: A full-grown tomato plant is heavy, and even the prettiest support loses its attractiveness if it collapses, sending bruised tomatoes rolling across the yard.

Here are four trusty -- and handsome -- staking methods. Among them you will find one that works well for the size of your garden and the kind of tomato you grow.

Wire Cages
Twine-Star Supports
Wooden Towers
Tomato Stake Basics


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