Appalachia Gardening

To Stake Or Not To Stake

How to trellis tomatoes

We plant most of our tomatoes in four raised beds. The dirt is a mixture of native soil (mostly red clay) and mushroom compost. We find mushroom compost really works for aerating and enriching red clay. The beds all get full sun-which is a must for tomatoes.

Epsom salt helps tomatoes grow


Several years ago a gentleman that clogged with the girls told us his mother taught him to put a little epsom salt in the hole before planting the tomato. They’ve been farming up near Fires Creek for over 60 years so we figured he knew what he was talking about. Since he shared that tip with us-we plant each tomato plant with a little epsom salt.

Tomato stakes that work


Ever since we got some of Kenneth Roper’s handy dandy tomato stakes we use them to stake our tomatoes-but there are other methods out there.

  • Papaw Tony said when he was a boy they didn’t stake their tomatoes at all-folks just let them run along the ground where they would. I’ve read tomatoes allowed to sprall out produce more-but since the tomatoes come in contact with the ground they are prone to rotting.
  • You can buy or make tomato cages for your plants. We used them for a while when we first started gardening-but we had such a small space back then that we felt like they took up too much room. Lots of folks around here use cages.
  • Tomatoes can be staked individually to a wood or metal stake.
  • Tomatoes can be trained to climb up a trellis. This technique is similar to staking-since you have to tie the tomato plant to the trellis as it grows.
  • There are even folks who grow tomatoes upside down in those topsy turvy basket things. The Deer Hunter made one a few years back-just to see how it would work-it didn’t work for us.
  • Folks with small gardens-or no gardens grow tomatoes in pots on their porches and decks and you’d be surprised how many tomatoes can be produced in pots with the right situation…and the right amount of pots.
  • Pap uses a method to stake his tomatoes that reminds me Chinese Jump Rope every time I see it. (now that I typed that I’m wondering which elementary teacher taught me how to Chinese Jump Rope hmmm) Pap plants several tomato plants in a row. At each end he drives a stake in the ground. Then he takes several pieces of twine and starting at one end-winds it around the stake, around the tomatoes, and around the other stake. He usually has about 3 strands of twine going around the whole thing. The twine ‘sandwiches’ the tomato plants keeping them upright.

Staking is our preferred method-especially since Kenneth’s stakes will probably outlast either of us. What method do you prefer? Or do you have a different method?


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  • Reply
    Joyce Heishman
    June 9, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Back planting tomatoes, after many years of not. New bed full of compost and manure with straw on top. Old wire tomato cages. We shall see. Praying over them. You take care Tipper

  • Reply
    June 9, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    We live in the sand hills where it’s pretty breezy most all the time, so if we don’t stake ours, they flop over and break. We also live with farmland bordering our property, so we grow our vegies in pots, so if the farmers decide to spray with something that would affect or kill our vegies, we can temporarily move the pots to the front yard where they won’t get hit with over-spray. (We learned that two years ago after the farmer used Roundup instead of plowing, and killed all our vegie plants.
    The best propping I’ve found for tomatoes (squash, vining flowers, etc.) in pots is to get a few yards of cheap 4′ to 6′ high metal fencing like chicken wire (today some call it “poultry netting” – whatever, lol), etc., measure the circumference of the pot, cut that long a length off the chicken wire plus 4-6″ more, bend it into a tube shape that’ll be the height of the wire and the circumference of the pot, bend over the raw ends of the chicken wire to fasten them to each other to complete and secure the tube shape, then sink it about 6″ into the pot. Then as the tomato plant grows, we loosely fasten it here and there with twine to this chicken wire tube. Works good, and if you use galvanized, it lasts for years and years.
    God less.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    June 9, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Larry likes to stake them. My daddy used to let them sprawl on the ground, usually with some hay or straw under them and I remember some mighty big harvests from those plants. I used to eat a dozen or more in a day, right from the vine–still do, to tell the truth! I don’t remember rot being a problem there in VA, but here in WV we have to deal with it so staking is a good idea. The epsom salts seemed to help last year–might try Ken’s method next year. It sounds like a great idea.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    We have monster tomato plants (5- 6 ft tall) this year but very few blooms.We’ve had two tomoatoes so far but they were kind of coarse and didn’t have much flavor. I’m thinking I’ll add some epsom salts to try to improve things.
    It’s been a very cool spring so we actually still have good spinach producing but the Okra isn’t looking good. Think (1) its been too cool for the okra and (2) the monster tomatoe plants are intimidating (shading out) the okra (big tears from my husband who loves okra gumbo). After the spinach quits, I’ll plant okra in its place and see if we can get some this season.
    I’ve tied up and “re-arranged” the tomatoes a couple of times but they are like “Audrey” from “Little Shop of Horrors” and are sprawling all over the garden. So far the bell peppers are holding their ground but I keep having to run interference for them.
    And never mind about a lack of pollinators – there aren’t enough blossoms to lure the pollinators in!!
    Beets are lookin’ good and I’ll pull the first planting the end of this week. Carrots are coming along. I planted them way late and most years they’d come out bitter; but with this cool spring, we may have a decent crop of carrots to pull in about 2 weeks.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I love tomatoes to eat, although I only
    planted 12 this year. My tomato stakes
    has a left and right threaded rod and
    after diggin a hole with post hole
    diggers a foot deep, I put 2 big spoons of epsom salts and 2 of lime, cover a little and set the tomatoes in the ground. Never had blosseum end rot after doing this. I know that tarapins will take a bite so I make sure the tomatoes start producing
    about a foot off the ground. I fasten
    the center piece real close to the
    top and tie a string around the base
    of each tomato, loop and sucker a
    lot of un-necessary limbs that don’t
    have blooms. And like the head guy on
    “Duck Dynasty” says…Happy, Happy!

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    June 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I used 6 foot wooden stakes this year on one garden and plan to let the other garden sprawl l may try a little straw around them as that would also act as mulch and help hold moisture.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 9, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Tipper, and
    Ed….”buckshot” works purty good!
    But, we love Bambi too so we got some of those battery powered night eyes…and placed around about…also helps with the cotton-tails and whistle-pigs…
    After they ripen, unless the bottom ones are picked off, we have some big terripins that take a one bit crunch out of ours, I usually wash and cut around it, and don’t use that tomato for braggin’! LOL …When Roy finds a turtle, he takes it way up on the hill behind the house or way down in the woods at the foot of the driveway. Usually they don’t bite out your tomatoes unless it is a hot dry summer, those “fellers” git thusty too!
    Tx, Tip

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I get to writin’ and I forgot to put the main word in before I talk to my ‘maters….
    Thanks, I also should say at the end…”AT EASE” and then dismiss, don’t want them boys marching stiff legged all summer! LOL
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Most people just go to too much trouble with getting their tomatoes to stand up! After we plant ours, we give them a few days to set new roots get over the shock of planting or being moved.
    Then early one morning, right at dawn, the BUGLE sounds. I go out and give my tomatoes a good talking to. It goes something like this:
    “Now listen up here boys, you ain’t your wimpy, ‘Momma’s Little Boy’ no more! You enlisted for this job, and it’s up to you to stay the course! Stand up straight and tall, no complaining, no bending over, no carousing with the other plants or watching too much moon at night! Do your part to shade out the “weedy fluff” that sometimes follows you around. Yeah, I know your in that purty green uniform but forget it til your service is over! STAND UP, SALUTE THE SUN AND MAKE YORE MAMMA PROUD, YOU ARE A “BIG BOY” NOW, SO DON’T LET YORE BIG-WIG RUTGERS NEIGHBORS IN THE NEXT RAISED BED SQUADRON MAKE SISSYS OUT OF YOU! NOW GO TO WORK, HUT 1,2,3,4, YOU’RE NOT AT SEA, YOU’RE ON THE SHORE!Dismissed!”
    That works for me most of the time, take off some of those suckers, cage and put straw underneath those boys also helps!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Great Post!

  • Reply
    June 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Chinese jump rope – I have to check that out. I learned Dutch and maybe it is the same thing. I used cages for my tomatoes and covered them with mesh. Something liked to munch on the flower parts. I would like to try Paps idea, but knowing me I would have more knots than successful upright plants. I don’t grow more than two plants, so I allow for the space. Epsom salt seems to be a good staple to have around the house as it seems to have so many uses.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    June 9, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I use a circular cage I inherited 15 years ago when I bought this house. In addition to Epson Salts (for the trace minerals not found in commercial fertilizers), I incorporate a little gypsum for calcium, which tends to be deficient in clay soils.
    As question for readers. I’ve noticed over the past few years that deer have started eating the tops of tomato and potato plants. Both are in the family of Deadly Nightshade and are supposed to be poisonous. Anyone have a remedy? Also, come early August, start spraying with copper sulfide or some other fungicide, or the late blight will kill all your plants overnight.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I usually stake my tomatoes, sometimes using the same method Pap uses. They end up needing a rope rather than twine to hold them up as the tomatoes reach maturity. Those cages never stand upright the whole season unless you use the homemade kind.
    If we don’t get some rain soon, I won’t have to worry about supporting my plants.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    June 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

    We use cages, some bought & some made out of scrap pieces of hog wire. My husband’s Granny used a method similar to Pap’s, except she used old pantyhose instead of twine. 🙂

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 9, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Tipper–I’ve got some of Ken’s dandy invention holding my tomatoes, and I’ll add a variation on their use. I place the stake halfway between two plants. That way one stake serves two plants. I have eight-foot metal stakes, and they have plusses and minuses. On the plus side it gives the tomato a fair amount of skyward “reach” room. On the negative side, driving them in the ground requires a step ladder.
    Daddy had an ingenious way around this, although i think he came by it accidentally. He bolted two lengths of locust stake together side by side with about six inches of overlap. That resulted not only in a lengthy stake but in a handy contact point where they were joined when it came to driving them into the ground. My brother Don probably has a few remnants of those stakes (which represent something like 70 years of gardening) in Bryson City.
    I’m trying the Epsom salts approach this year for the first time. I used it and a deeply dug hole filled with compost for some plants and didn’t dig deep holes with others. That’s for comparative purposes, and time will tell. I’ve got 136 plants (I tend to overdo things a bit) and I’m also interested to see whether some varieties react to a “dose of salts” better than others.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 9, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Tipper, your making me anxious for some of those wonderful tomatoes you grow. But, here’s the truth. I don’t do grow, I don’t do plant, and I don’t do hoe.
    I do eat, I do cook, I do can, and I do freeze, so I can’t give you any information on tying up tomatoes. Sorry!
    I must add that those tomato hangers that Kenneth makes are the handiest things I’ve seen. I bought some of them to give to friends who do grow tomatoes……hoping they would give me tomatoes in return.

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