Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Raising the Stakes - and Trellises

Vegetables need your support in many ways but staking and trellising give them physical support to prevent damage and increase harvests.  Otherwise, stems can break and fruit rot on the ground.  Trellises and stakes also allow you to grow more plants in a small space.


 Some plants such as cucumbers, peas and pole beans will vine onto a trellis although they may need you to weave their vines through the trellis.  Trellises may be wire, wood, netting or string formed into a lattice - just make sure the structure is strong enough to support lush vines and bountiful fruit!

If the vines aren't attaching to the trellis, you may need to tie them to the trellis.  Here we strung twine from post to post to keep peas growing on the trellis.

Tomatoes need caging or staking not only to keep fruit off the ground but also to provide better air circulation to discourage fungal diseases.  Many tomato varieties easily grow six feet tall with heavy fruit so sturdy support is critical.  Small wire cages at garden centers usually are only 3 feet tall and top heavy.

At the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we made cages from 5 foot lengths of concrete reinforcing wire which has openings big enough for your hand to pick a tomato. We formed the wire into a cylinder about 22 inches in diameter and placed over young tomatoes.  The tomatoes then grow up and through the wire to get plenty of support without any ties.

Make sure to anchor tomato cages to a post so the cage doesn't blow over in a strong wind.  You can also tie cages to one another to increase stability as long as you have some posts.
Staking tomatoes is another option. Use a 1 x2 inch wood stake about 6 feet long.  Place it about 4 inches from the base of the tomato plant and drive it 10 inches or more into the ground.  As the tomato grows, use commercial  ties, cut up t-shirts or other stretchy cloth.  Bring the cord under a branch on the main stem and attach it to the stake.  Leave at least 1/2" play to allow room for the stem to grow and place a tie about every 12 inches up the vine.  

Peppers need stakes 3-4 feet tall so you can tie the main stem to the stake.  Stake or cage early in the season so plants and  roots aren't damaged in the process.

Tomato cages may be left in the garden all season but wooden and metal stakes benefit from coming inside for the winter.  Chimney flue tiles, available from masonry supply stores, make sturdy containers for stakes of all types.

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