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Staking and Space Options

Staking and spacing options

Which method of support you use and how far apart you set tomato plants depends on the number of stems you allow to grow.

Cages work for plants with three to five stems. I use them almost exclusively for determinate tomatoes. Ready-made tomato cages are too little for all but the smallest determinate cultivars. My ideal tomato cage is made from 5-foot-tall galvanized fencing with openings at least 4 inches square, so I can reach in and pick the fruit. A 4-foot section makes a cylinder about 15 inches in diameter. Secure it with baling wire, and stabilize it with two stakes, one of which is at least 6 feet long. Drive the stakes in within a week of planting, but wait to set cages over the plants until the first fruits form, to simplify weeding and pruning. Space caged plants about two-thirds of their final height in all directions.

Use the same type of fencing to make a tomato fence, which works best for plants with one or two stems. To get a good, solid fence, you need a helper. Secure the fencing with 6-foot stakes every 4 feet. Here's how I keep the fence taut. Loop each non-end stake through the bottom rung of the fence, then start to drive it into the ground so its bottom is angled away from the previous stake. Once it's about 4 inches into the ground, bring the stake upright and drive it in the rest of the way. Set single-stemmed plants 18 inches apart, and double-stemmed plants 24 inches apart. If you stagger the planting (successive plants on opposite sides of the fence), you can knock 6 inches off these distances. Erect the fence before you plant your tomatoes.

Stakes work well for plants of one to four stems. I use 1 inch x 1 inch x 6-foot lengths of untreated oak or cedar, sharpened on one end. Drive the stakes 8 to 12 inches into the ground, depending on your soil (deeper for loose, sandy ground). To avoid damaging roots, drive your stakes in within a week of planting. Space staked plants at 18 inches for a single stem, 24 inches for two stems, and 36 inches for three or four stems.


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