Check out these easy DIY tomato trellis ideas that include tomato stakes, cattle panels, pallets, wood, strings and more – sturdy enough for BIG plants.
I'll share my tomato trellis system, as well as several other tomato trellis ideas from my homesteading friends. We have trellises that are wind resistant, tall, short, funky and budget friendly. I'm sure you'll be able to one that works in your garden.
6 Reasons to Use a Tomato Trellis
Using a tomato trellis requires more effort than simply letting your tomatoes sprawl all over the place, but here's why you should trellis your tomato plants:
- More tomatoes – Growing up instead of out allows you to grow more tomatoes in less space.
- No gymnastics required for picking – fruit is easy to access on your living tomato fence. I have not so fond memories of strange stretching and balancing in my mom's garden in an attempt to reach ripe tomatoes in a vast expanse of tomato thicket.
- Less wasted fruit – Ask anyone who's been gardening for a while, and I'm sure they've found overripe tomatoes hiding in the patch. With a tomato trellis, you can see your tomatoes to pick all your tomatoes.
- Less Disease – Tomato trellises provide better air circulation to plants, reducing diseases that thrive in damp, crowded conditions and soil-borne diseases.
- Cleaner tomatoes – No more mud and dust covered fruit.
- Less rodent and bug damage – I'm not saying that you'll have no damage, but critters generally do less damage when fruit is harder to reach.
Trellises aren't just for tomatoes, either.
Check out “Vertical Gardening – Grow More Food in Less Space” and “Grow Pole Beans on a Bean Trellis for Easier Picking and Preserving” for more garden ideas.
How tall should a tomato trellis be?
It depends on what types of tomato plants you are growing.
For determinant tomatoes (bush tomatoes), the small, round wire trellises you find at garden centers should get the job done.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size, set fruit, ripen the fruit, and they're done. They have a more compact, bushy habit, and stay fairly close to the ground.
For indeterminate tomatoes (which includes most heirloom tomatoes), a 5 to 6 foot (2 meter) tall trellis is better.
Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and producing fruit until killed by frost. They provide a larger harvest, but also require a stronger trellis.
Will tomatoes grow up a trellis?
To keep your tomatoes headed up the trellis or cage, use small cloth strips or tomato clips. Tomato plants don't have tendrils like cucumbers to hold on, so sometimes they need a little help.
If you're using a string trellis, you can gently wind the plant around the string as it grows. With non-flexible trellis, you can also help the plant to wind around the supports as it grows, then secure with ties.
We usually use strips of old sweatpants or t-shirts, because they are soft and stretchy.
#1 – Wooden Stakes + Metal Posts Combination Tomato Trellis
This is the system we use in our garden.
Right after planting, pound in three 4′ tall wooden stakes near each tomato. One stake goes right next to the plant, the other two go about 10-12 inches on either side. The goal is a straight wall of stakes (and tomatoes).
When the plants are around a foot tall, pound in 6′ to 7′ tall steel fence posts at roughly 5 foot intervals along the row. Turn the posts perpendicular to the row to provide a wider surface to set the top cross piece on.
Attach a wooden cross piece to the top of the steel posts using cloth strips or wires. (Alternatively, The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners includes a handy little bit of metal crafting that creates a Y-shaped top to your metal posts.)
As the tomatoes grow, tie the plants up with cloth strips or tether of your choice to the 4′ garden stakes. Prune as needed to create a “wall of tomatoes”
Once they reach the top of the 4′ posts, use cloth strips, string or twine from the top supports to continue to keep the plants going up. I use 7′ – 6′ steel posts, so this puts the tops of my tomatoes at 5′ to 6′. This is about all the higher I care to reach when gathering large quantities of fruit.
You can prune tops if needed to keep the tomatoes on the trellis, or train them sideways if you like. Most tomato varieties do not outgrow this tomato trellis system here in Wisconsin.
The video below shows off my hardwood stake + metal stake (post) trellis system. See if you can spot Miss Kitty. 🙂
End of Season Storage
At the end of the season, I clip off the dead tomato plants, and wash the ties for reuse. (I untie the ties and put them in a zippered pillow case in the washing machine.) We stack the stakes and posts in the greenhouse to use again next year.
#2 and #3 – Cattle Panels and String Trellises
Teri at Homestead Honey uses cattle panels and string trellises for the tomatoes in their garden and greenhouse, plus several other trellis ideas in Garden Vertically with Trellises. The cattle panel tomato trellis is firmly braced at the bottom and positioned to form a tall arch.
A string trellis is dropped from above the plants and anchored in the ground below the plant. They can also be combined with a roller system to raise and lower plants as they grow, such as the RollerHook Tomato and Vine Crop Trellis.
#4 – Recycled Pallet Tomato Trellis
Heather at Green Eggs & Goats turned cast offs from her husband's work into colorful and creative trellises for her tomatoes and other garden crops in “Fun, Funky, Free Garden Trellis and Tomato Cage!“.
#5 – Beautiful Trellis Archway
Master Gardener Susan was lucky enough to have her husband build her this gorgeous decorative yet sturdy arched trellis. You can see the upright wooden sides of the trellis are anchored to the raised bed and supported by metal fence posts. She uses it for tomatoes and other vine crops.
You can learn more at “Building a Trellis for Tomato Plants“. I've seen similar arrangements made from PVC pipe.
#6 – VineSpine™ Garden Trellis
Since I originally wrote this post, I received a set of VineSpine™ Trellises. Below you can see some young tomato plants with the panels placed in a zigzag arrangement.
Read more about these trellis panels in the post, “5 Reasons the Vine Spine is the Best Garden Trellis“.
I like using my VineSpine™ trellis panels in the greenhouses, since they are easy to move around.
Large Plant Cages for Tomatoes
You can also use the VineSpine™ Trellis panels to make a tomato plant cage for indeterminate varieties of tomatoes that are too tall for cages. (Well, too tall for regular tomato cages.)
I like trellises better than cages, but if you only have a few tomato plants, cages get the job done.
If you want more tomato growing tips check out:
- Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties
- How to Grow Tomatoes Organically – Plus Innovative Gardening Techniques
- Tomato Flowers But No Fruit, or No Tomato Flowers – 9 Troubleshooting Tips
- 4 Reasons your Tomatoes Aren't Ripening
- 7 Steps to Stop Blossom End Rot & Get Rid of Black Bottomed Tomatoes
Originally published in 2014, last updated in 2020.