So you have tomatoes ready to put in the ground – now what!? There’s a lot of competing information out there on how to transplant and stake your tomatoes. I think that it is particularly difficult to parse through all of the information because you have OPTIONS! Yes, you have a lot of options when it comes to deciding how you want to grow and stake your tomatoes – that’s just one of the reasons why I love growing tomatoes so much. In this post I will review some of the basic requirements for transplanting your tomatoes in to the ground or a container. I will also thoroughly describe some of my preferred tomato staking methods. Again, you have OPTIONS – so, have fun with it and let me know how you will be staking your tomatoes this growing season.
How to transplant tomatoes
To transplant your tomatoes choose an area with full sun, access to water and in nutrient rich soil. Plant your tomatoes a bit deeper than you would other plants and set your plants about 2 feet apart from one another.
First things first, pick a sunny spot to plant your tomatoes. Tomato plants need full sun in order to thrive. To grow healthy tomatoes, your plant requires 8 hours of full sun per day. Your tomato plants convert sun into energy to grow. Interestingly, you do not need sunlight to ripen your tomato fruit. Tomatoes can ripen in the absence of light. Late in the season and under the threat of colder weather, you can harvest unripe tomatoes and put them in a brown paper bag. The tomatoes will ripen on their own!
When you first transplant your tomatoes, ensure the soil is consistently moist. Water at the base of the plant. Try not to water the leaves as that can encourage diseases such as powdery mildew. During hot summer days you may need to water your tomatoes twice a day. A good rule of thumb for watering is to stick your finger in the soil about 1 inch. If the soil is dry, it is time to water your plants. To slow soil evaporation, you can use a mulch such as straw, grass clippings, compost, cardboard. Something to keep in mind is that when tomatoes are grown in containers like terracotta pots, they are prone to greater water loss than when planted in the ground.
Soil and Fertilizer
Next, you will need to consider soil and fertilizer for your tomato plants. Transplant your tomatoes into nutrient rich soil. Add a couple handfuls of compost to the area that you are transplanting tomatoes and mix well. You will need to fertilize your tomatoes when you first transplant. I prefer Dr. Earth’s Root Zone Starter Fertilizer. Add the starter fertilizer at the bottom of the hole you dig – so that the roots have immediate access to nutrients. Every couple weeks, I use a diluted organic liquid kelp fertilizer. Kelp fertilizer is packed with micronutrients that will help your newly transplanted tomatoes grow. Fertilize again once your tomatoes begin to set fruit. I prefer Dr. Earth’s Organic Home Grown Tomato Vegetable and Herb Dry Fertilizer. Depending on the fertilizer you choose, the directions will guide you on how often to fertilize.
To transplant your tomatoes, dig a hole large enough to bury the first set of leaves on the tomato plant. Your tomato plant will grow roots out of the stem. Planting your tomatoes deep in the soil allows the tomato roots to access more water and nutrients deep in the soil.
To transplant your tomatoes from their nursery pot, you will need a container or area that is a minimum of 2ft by 2ft by 2ft. If you plant your tomatoes too close without heavily pruning them, they will not get enough air circulation and can be prone to disease. A deep enough pot is necessary to give the tomato roots enough space to grow and seek nutrients for the plant. Another measurement you will want to take into consideration is height. Take a look at your specific variety – some tomato plants can grow as tall as 20 ft while other dwarf varieties may be less than 1 ft at maturity. You will want to ensure that your staking method suits the height of your plant. Also, plant your tomatoes about 2 feet apart from one another. Depending on your pruning methods, you can grow them closer at about 1 foot apart.
Another important consideration when growing tomatoes is how will you stake them? Staking your tomatoes is important to support your plant as it grows and gets heavier with fruit. Staking your tomatoes also facilitates good air circulation. Establish your staking infrastructure when you transplant your tomatoes so that you don’t disturb the roots a few weeks later. When it comes to staking your tomatoes – you have quite a few options. The following staking methods are all different techniques I am trying in my own garden. I recommend that you stake your tomatoes in one of these ways:
- Tomato Cage
- Stake and Weave aka Florida Weave
- On a Rope
- On a Stake/ Pole/ Rebar
- Tomato Ladders and Towers
Staking your tomatoes with a cage is one of the easiest options. Most nurseries or hardware stores begin to sell them in spring. Tomato cages are inexpensive and reusable. The drawback with tomato cages is that they’re not adaptable. What I mean by this is that it is difficult to engineer a solution when your tomatoes outgrow their cage- and with most varieties they WILL outgrow their cage. I recommend how I use tomato cages: in containers. I use a tomato cage in a large 12 inch diameter or larger container. Using a tomato cage in a container is a good solution for small space gardening – you can move the containers around as you see fit. When growing in containers, make sure you use a nutrient rich fertilizer about once a week. Make sure to keep your tomatoes watered- in containers they are more susceptible to drying out. Water your container tomatoes when the soil is dry when you stick a finger in about 1 inch.
Summary: Tomato cages offer a budget friendly option that require low maintenance. Use a tomato cage in containers or with smaller tomato varieties.
Stake and Weave (aka Florida Weave)
Another option to stake your tomatoes is the “Stake and Weave” or the “Florida Weave” method. So far this season, the Florida Weave is my preferred method to stake tomatoes. To Florida Weave, you will need some sturdy poles that are about 6 ft or taller depending on your tomato variety. For every two tomato plants, place a pole in the ground on either side of the tomatoes. It will look like this from left to right: pole, tomato, tomato, pole. Using a natural twine, tie one end to the pole and then loop it around each tomato in a figure eight. Starting from the left: the twine will go in front of the first tomato plant, then behind the second tomato plant, then wrap around the right pole, in front of the second tomato plant, behind the first tomato plant, around the left pole. Repeat two times. Begin to stake your tomatoes when they are about 10-12 inches tall from the surface of the soil. Don’t tie the twine too tight or else you can decapitate your tomatoes when there is a gust of wind! Add another set of twine when your tomatoes grow another 3-4 inches.
Summary: I prefer the Florida Weave because it is easy, cost effective, adaptable, strong, and aesthetically pleasing. The natural twine doesn’t distract from the beauty of the tomato plants.
On a Rope Trellis
A unique option to stake your tomatoes is by using a rope trellis. The rope trellis is set up using two strong vertical supports the height of your tomato plants at maturity, several horizontal wire supports, and sturdy twine or rope. You will tie a long rope from the very top horizontal support, to the base of your tomato plant. Make sure that you have extra rope at the top. As your tomato grows, you will gently twirl the plant around the rope and release some of the extra rope at the top. Don’t tie the rope too tight or else your tomatoes will snap with a gust of wind. Tie the rope to your plant when it is 10-12 inches tall from the soil. I am growing three tomato plants using this method. So far, the tomatoes are healthy and standing upright.
Summary: Growing your tomatoes on a rope offers a unique, sturdy, adaptable way to grow your tomatoes. Setting up the rope staking method is more difficult than the other staking methods.
On a Stake/ Rebar/ Pole
Growing your tomato to a strong stake, rebar, or pole is a simple yet very effective solution to stake your tomatoes. Choose a support that is strong and tall enough for your specific tomato variety. Once you plant your tomato, immediately place the support so that you don’t disturb the roots a few weeks later. Using garden clips, garden velcro strips or twine, tie the tomato stem to the support. Add another clip, strip or twine every several inches or as often as the tomato needs support. This method requires a little extra pruning to ensure that you have good air circulation. I also prefer, when staking them this way, to prune off all suckers (more on that in my next post about routine maintenance and tips).
Summary: Staking your tomatoes to a single stake, rebar or pole is super simple, cheap, adaptable and effective!
Tomato Ladders and Towers
Tomato ladders and towers offer an easy, effective option to stake your tomatoes but can be expensive depending on where you purchase. Gardeners.com sells a set of 3 tomato ladders for about $54.95. Tomato ladders and towers are durable and offer a fairly aesthetically pleasing way to stake your tomatoes. As your tomatoes grow up the column of the structure, they will branch out of the side supports. The ladders and towers are stacking so you can easily add on height to suit the growth of your tomatoes. Due to the cost of the ladders and towers, I am only staking 1 tomato plant this way.
Summary: Tomato ladders and towers are an easy, durable, attractive and adaptable way to stake your tomatoes. The only drawback is that depending on where you purchase them from, it can get a little pricey.
What tomato staking method will you choose? Are you trying any other methods this year? Let me know! In the next post in the tomato series, I will discuss routine maintenance for your tomatoes.