The Florida Weave… I have to chuckle every time I hear the name. It sounds like a bad hairpiece, maybe even a rollickin’ good dance down south (and maybe it’s both?).
But it’s actually an effective method of trellising tomatoes if you plant your tomatoes in rows. Many small-scale farmers and commercial growers employ the Florida Weave because it’s fast, simple to set up and maintain, and uses space efficiently during the growing season — as well as after the growing season when there’s so little material to store.
I first learned about the Florida Weave when I was deciding how to support my 14 tomato plants in raised beds. Last summer I caged my tomatoes, and while the metal cages worked fairly well in the beginning, I somehow managed to obliterate a few (mostly while uprooting old plants) and didn’t have enough for all my sprawling indeterminates this season. I also wanted something inexpensive and effortless, rather than buying more cages (too much money) or constructing my own towers out of rebar (too much work).
The Florida Weave used materials I already had around the yard, and with a little manpower from my handy fella, I had all my plants neatly trellised in no time at all.
With the Florida Weave, the idea is to “sandwich” your plants between lengths of twine. The twine gently holds up the plants without the need for additional stakes and clips.
Start trellising your tomato plants when they’re under 2 feet tall and easier to manage. Larger plants become unruly and difficult to weave around the branches. You also run the risk of driving stakes into the roots of more established plants.
Start with sturdy stakes at least 7 or 8 feet tall. I used 2×2 wooden stakes that I salvaged from other projects, but steel T-posts are ideal, especially if you’ll be weaving several plants in long rows. Place a stake between every two or three plants, and pound at least a foot into the ground (depending on how much wind your garden gets in the summer).
Use a durable, weather-resistant twine that doesn’t stretch too much, like tomato twine (a 3-ply jute works well) or synthetic baler twine. In a pinch, you can even use sisal or plain old cotton twine, but you may have to re-tighten the lines throughout the season if they start to sag.
Starting about 8 inches above the ground, loop a length of twine around the first stake and weave the twine in and out between each plant. When you reach the last stake, loop the twine around the stake in a figure-8, making sure the twine grips the stake and the line is taut, but not pulling too tightly to damage your tomato stems. Continue weaving on the other side between each plant, back to the first stake, and tie off with a few knots.
Since that probably sounded just as confusing as it was to write it, I’ll give you this nifty little drawing that I made.
This is an aerial view of what the Florida Weave should look like. The top illustration shows my current setup of three plants across an 8-foot bed. The bottom illustration shows an efficient setup that can be repeated for longer rows.
As your tomato plants grow taller, weave additional lines of twine about every 8 inches up the stakes. Carefully tuck in any stray branches. I tend to reign in just the heavier ones, and let the smaller branches sprawl out naturally.
Now that my tomatoes have grown quite bushy, I just run the twine straight across the entire row of plants between my stakes, instead of weaving a figure-8 in between each plant. Once you’ve added a few lines of twine halfway up the stakes, the main stems of the plants are well supported and more twine simply holds the branches all in.
A few plants have even grown taller than my stakes and I simply let the branches drape over the twine. The trellis is supporting the weight well, and I find it much easier to find and harvest tomatoes from the “wall” of foliage that the Florida Weave creates.
At the end of the season, you can simply cut the twine, pull up the plants, and even leave the stakes in place for the following year if they’re not in the way. No need to wrestle with cages and untangle masses of tomato branches — which is how I ended up with a handful of flimsy, half-broken cages in the first place. I suppose everything does happen for a reason.