The World’s Best Tomato Trellis
When it comes to tomato trellising, sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all. The farms I’ve worked on usually use either the Florida Basket Weave (which sounds like a fancy hairdo to me) or tomato clips with the Greenhouse-String Method (which sounds like a bluegrass band). Home gardeners seem to use everything from simple wooden stakes to twirly metal ones, from classic round tomato cages to giant square ones that cost 50 bucks a pop and still lean like the tower of Pisa. People seem to get mighty creative in figuring out how to wrangle these unruly fruits, and for a long time it seemed like there was no taming them. But my life changed forever when my clever friend showed me her system, which had been built 20 years earlier and was still just as sturdy and useful as in its first year. Cheap, durable, versatile, long-lasting, and easy – those are 5 words not usually associated with tomatoes. But they certainly apply well to this trellis using concrete reinforcing wire.
To build this trellis, you really just need 4 things: a sheet of concrete reinforcing wire, zipties, two cedar posts, and a rubber mallet. Concrete reinforcing wire (also called “Remesh”) can be purchased at a home improvement store and costs about $8 per sheet. It’s basically heavy-duty wire mesh (intended to reinforce concrete foundations) with 4” or 6” square openings and comes in a sheet about 4’ wide and 7’ long.
You’ll also need two 6’ cedar posts (the kind that are sharpened to a point on one end), usually about $2 each, a package of zipties (maybe $5, also from a home improvement store) and a rubber mallet from any hardware store. The only challenging thing about this trellis is figuring out how to transport the wire sheets. When you go to buy them, make sure to wear your dirtiest, most garden-ready clothes, and cover the interior of your vehicle with a tarp – the sheets are always rusty and in the process of ziptying them into a tube that can fit in a car you will get covered in rust. A pickup truck makes this a lot easier!
Building the Trellis
Making this trellis is so easy that you can put it up by yourself in no time. Just pound your cedar stakes into the ground 6-7’ apart (along your future tomato row) using the rubber mallet. Then attach the top of the sheet of reinforcing wire to the top of the stakes at either end using zipties. The rough texture of the cedar stakes helps the zipties grip the wood and stay nice and sturdy. You’ll notice that there’s a big gap between the ground and where the trellis begins, but will find that this is actually a good thing.
Just Weave and Harvest!
Once planted under the trellis, your tomato plants will have some time to grow. Then, just as they’re starting to get viney and flop over, they’re tall enough to get woven through the holes of the trellis. As your tomato plants grow, keep pruning off the suckers and weaving the leader back and forth through the wire. The key is to be very gentle when weaving – tomato plants are flexible, but will break if bent too much. But the ultimate reward for your efforts is a literal wall of tomatoes. The plants don’t have to put energy into holding themselves up, so they can focus on producing fruit, and the plants get great air circulation because there’s none of that jungly mess you usually have to deal with. Less jungle = less disease = more tomatoes! Plus, picking tomatoes off your new “wall” is as easy as taking them off the shelf in the grocery store (and way more gratifying).
Like any good gardener, you’re probably doing some quick math in your head. Except I’m going to beat you to it. So…
For two cedar posts:
- two cedar posts at $2 each = $4
- one sheet concrete reinforcing wire = $8
- zipties = $5
- TOTAL = $17
- 4 plants at $4.25 each
For four cedar posts:
- four cedar posts at $2 each = $8
- two sheets concrete reinforcing wire = $16
- zipties = $5
- TOTAL = $29
- 8 plants at $3.63 each
Since this trellis can easily support 4 tomato plants (and probably 6 if you’re an optimist), that comes out to $4.25 per plant. If you do more than one, the cost goes down even more because you just need one pack of zipties. That’s roughly the same as a standard round tomato cage. But keep in mind – a standard cage won’t do anything for your tomato plants once they’re over 3 or 4 feet tall. In my experience the round cages always fall apart in one or two seasons – the plants are too big and heavy for them, and then the stakes come off the rings, and then you’re trying to figure out how to stake a plant with a cage around it when it’s already gotten tangled up with all your other plants. I save myself the headache and squashed fruit, make a small one-time investment in this genus I love so well, and sit back to watch my lycopersicon vines climb. At the end of the season, you can leave your trellises in place or pull up the stakes, roll them up with the wire, and store until next season (they make a great support for peas in the spring, too!) Not sure what to do with all those half-functioning tomato cages? Those work great for eggplant.
If this trellising system doesn't work for you, be sure to check out an earlier blog post "Trellising Your Organic Tomatoes" for alternate ideas!