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 (staking) tomatoes if you plant your tomatoes side by side in rows.
Many small-scale farmers and commercial growers employ the Florida Weave method (also called the Basket Weave method) 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 nearly 10 years ago when I was deciding how to support my 14 tomato plants in raised beds.
The first summer, I caged all my tomatoes with the metal conical cages you typically find in garden centers. 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 that season.
I also wanted something inexpensive and effortless, rather than buying more cages (too much money) or constructing my own towers out of rebar and cattle panels (too much work).
The Florida Weave used everyday supplies I already had around the yard (stakes and string), and with a little manpower from my handy husband, I had all my plants neatly trellised in no time at all.
What is the Florida Weave?
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.
Ideally, you start trellising tomato plants when they’re under 2 feet tall and easier to manage. (I do mine shortly after I transplant the tomatoes, but before I mulch my beds.)
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. So, start early with this system.
What kind of tomatoes can you support with the Florida Weave?
The Florida Weave works especially well for determinate tomatoes, since they never grow more than 5 feet in height. This makes it easy to contain the plants within the weave and have them be fully supported, especially if you’re using wooden stakes and natural-fiber twine.
However, I’ve always trellised indeterminate tomato plants with the Florida Weave and never had issues. In raised beds, my plants typically grow 8 to 9 feet tall, so any part of the vines that grow beyond the stakes simply drape over the topmost twine like a bed sheet on a clothesline.
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How to support your tomato plants using the Florida Weave technique
Choose your stakes
Start with sturdy stakes at least 6 to 7 feet tall.
An easily available and inexpensive option is wood, and I’ve used 2×2 wooden stakes successfully for determinate tomatoes. They’ll last for a season or two, but are prone to rotting and splintering, and the tops might shatter with a forceful hammer strike.
Thick bamboo works better as it’s weather resistant and has amazing tensile strength, but it’s also harder to come by unless you grow your own bamboo. (Most of the bamboo stakes sold at garden centers are more suited for light-duty staking.)
If you plan to trellis your tomatoes year after year with the Florida Weave, consider stocking up on rebar (which are thin metal stakes used in construction). At lumberyards and home improvement stores, they typically come in length increments of 2 feet (up to 10 feet).
If you can find a steel shop or building supply store that carries 20-foot rebar, ask if they’ll cut it for you into three equal lengths. This will give you three stakes that are 6 feet 8 inches tall.
With their smaller diameters (3/8 inch to 1/2 inch), rebar stakes are easy to drive into the ground. If you wait until after a good rain (when the soil is nice and soft), you can even push the rebar in with your hands.
Another option I like are steel fence T-posts, which range from 5 to 10 feet tall. The 7-foot or 8-foot T-posts are the perfect height for a Florida Weave stake, and their larger diameter (1 3/4 inches) makes them sturdy enough for supporting several indeterminate plants in long rows.
Place a stake between each plant and drive it 12 inches in the ground. If you put a stake between every two to three plants, drive it 18 inches in the ground (and even deeper if your garden gets a lot of wind in the summer). You want to keep 5 to 6 feet above ground for trellising your plants.
Choose your twine
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.
My preference these days is this heavy-duty hemp cord, which is thick and durable, but not so burly that it’s hard to tie a tight knot with.
Create the “weave”
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 leave you with this nifty little drawing.
This is an aerial view of what the Florida Weave method should look like.
The top illustration shows a setup with three plants across an 8-foot bed. This works best with determinate tomatoes.
The bottom illustration shows a setup for indeterminate tomatoes 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.
How does the Florida Weave hold up toward the end of the growing season?
When your tomatoes have grown tall and bushy, you can just run the twine straight across the entire row of plants between the 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.
Long vines can be left to grow up and over the twine. With the “wall” of foliage that the Florida Weave creates, I actually find it much easier to find and harvest tomatoes.
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. (Or, you can adapt the Florida Weave technique to trellis other plants like peas, pole beans, and cucumbers.)
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 conical cages in the first place. I suppose everything happens for a reason!
Florida Weave Trellis Sources
Backyard X-Scapes 8-Foot Black Bamboo Pole (25 Pack) | Backyard X-Scapes 8-Foot Natural Bamboo Pole (25 Pack) | Steelworks 6-Foot Plain Hot Rolled Steel Rebar | Everbilt 7-Foot Green Steel Fence T-Post | GRN UPC 8-Foot Green Steel Fence T-Post | MTB Fence Post Driver with Handle | Neiko Dead Blow Hammer | Librett Biodegradable Green Natural Jute Twine | Bean Products 3mm Hemp Twine
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on August 19, 2011.
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