Florida Weave Tomato Trellising System
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Article and Photos by Kristi Cook – I don’t know about you, but there’s one thing about growing tomatoes that I don’t care for — caging them. No matter what type of caging tomato trellising system I’ve tried, be it the classic flimsy tomato cage, the sturdier cattle-panel trellis version, or the whole tying the plant to a stake (kind of like a witch-burning), no caging method has worked. Before summer is halfway over, tomatoes and plants are on the ground during the first heavy rainstorm or windy day. And forget about trying to get those giant plants back into their homes! However, all these troubles disappeared the summer I discovered the Florida weave tomato trellising system. Also known as the basket-weave system, weaving tomato plants between stakes and twine is economical, simple, and a major time saver — something all of us gardeners can use!
To get started, all you need are a few sturdy stakes and some twine. For stakes, nearly anything sturdy and rot-resistant will work provided it is tall enough to set at least eight inches into the ground and reach the top of the tomato plants. Some use thick wooden stakes, others use rebar, and still, others use T-posts with each having its own benefits and drawbacks. Wooden stakes, for instance, are inexpensive. However, because it’s best to use untreated lumber around food crops, the wood will usually rot enough during the first season that it won’t be usable the following year. Another drawback is that it can snap under heavy loads and windy conditions more readily than the other options. Rebar and T-posts are quite durable under heavy loads, won’t rot, and are easily set into the ground without breakage. The downside is the higher initial cost. Yet, because rebar and T-posts won’t rot and don’t break easily, you’ll get many years’ use out of them, making them much less expensive in the long run.
For the twine, choose any strong, non-stretching twine. Many gardeners use jute or sisal, but I have found these options stretch too much after a heavy rain when my plants are full and pushing against it, causing the entire system to fail. Over time, I’ve switched to synthetic baling twine that I recycle from my horses’ hay bales and have had no failures so far. As with all things, though, it’s best to use what you have on hand and experiment with your particular setup to see which materials you prefer.
Now for the easy part. To get your trellising system ready, determine where you want your tomato plants to go and set a post at each end of the row. Next, plant tomatoes as you normally would, every two to three feet. If the rows are on the shorter side, space posts every two to three plants. If rows are on the longer side, place a post between every plant to provide extra support.
Once plants reach eight inches, start weaving. Tie twine to an end post at six to eight inches off the ground and secure tightly. I like to wrap it a couple of times and hook it under the teeth of the T-post, which I find helps keep slippage to a minimum. Bring twine to the next post, placing twine against each plant. Make sure to keep the twine snug, otherwise growing plants will push the twine out and the system won’t work as well. Securely wrap twine at the next post, and continue down the length of the row. Once you reach the row end, wrap again, and repeat down the other side.
When finished, the plants will be sandwiched between the two rows of twine. Check growth at least once a week, adding a new row of twine for every six to eight inches of new growth.
The Florida weave trellising system is an economical, time-saving, and highly effective method for keeping tomatoes off the ground. And while many claim this system is best for determinate varieties, I’ve found it works just as well for my indeterminate ones despite the fact that I don’t prune. So, grab a few stakes, a bit of twine, your tomato plants, and give weaving a try.
Originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.