Many years ago, I saw a farm worker trellising tomatoes in a commercial field. He quickly walked down one row and up the other side with his hand bobbing up and down like a needle on a sewing machine. In minutes, hundreds of tomato plants were secure in their trellis. This speedy technique, sometimes called Florida weave, holds tomato plants upright in slots created by twine strung horizontally between stakes.
Without a trellis or cage, tomato plants would sprawl on the ground, vulnerable to fungi and insects. One of the most common ways to trellis tomatoes in the home garden is also one of the most time consuming: tying a tomato plant to a stake. With one or two plants, that’s no big deal. But if you have a dozen or more tomatoes needing weekly attention as they grow, the Florida weave saves time.
Here’s how: Plant tomatoes in a straight row, spaced about 2 feet apart. Drive stakes at the beginning and end of the row and in the spaces between the plants. (In regions without a lot of wind, you can get by with a stake between every other plant.)
Every week or so, starting when the plants have reached a foot in height, weave twine between the tomato stems and stakes to keep them from slumping to the ground. Tie the twine to the first stake 6 inches above ground. Loop the twine around the second stake, keeping the line taut. With tension on the twine, loop it around each subsequent stake. Adjust the twine’s height as needed, since some plants may be taller or shorter than others. At the last stake, make a double loop for strength and continue looping your way back on the other side. When you get back to the first stake, tie off the twine with a strong knot and cut off the end. As long as the plants continue to grow, run another line of twine 4 to 8 inches higher every 5 to 7 days.
Illustration by Signe Sundberg-Hall
Mastering the Florida Weave
• The Florida weave works best with determinate tomatoes, which grow about 4 feet tall. This includes many varieties of paste tomatoes as well as a few slicing tomatoes. (Look for the word determinate in the catalog description or on the plant tag.) Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, continue growing until frost kills them, so you may be tying tomatoes with a stepladder.
• Jute twine is strong and biodegradable. At the end of the growing season, it can go into the compost pile with plant debris.
• Tomato stakes are commonly made of wood. A longer-lasting option is 3/8-inch rebar—the metal rods used in construction. Rebar's small diameter makes it easy to drive into the ground with a hammer, and the tops don't splinter. Drive rebar stakes 12 to 18 inches into the ground to support the weight of the tomatoes. Purchase rebar at a building-supply store that will cut it for a small charge; a 20-foot length of rebar can be cut into three 80-inch tomato stakes—a good length for staking determinate tomatoes.Illustration by Signe Sundberg-Hall