Staking tomatoes - first time

I'm growing tomatoes in pots and need some advice. The plants are now about 12-18 inches high and I think it's time to stake them (probably should've done that weeks ago). I don't want to damage the roots and I don't want to spend a lot of money for something elaborate. I'd rather just use tree limbs/sticks then to buy cages at the store.
How would I go about staking them with sticks (heavy, non breakable ones of course)? Should I use some sort of teepee setup? I've never done that before so any advice would be great.
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Mike S. wrote:

A single, strong stake will do it. I went through this myself and moved plants from garden to deck when shade/deer ruined my plot. I find that cages are much more convenient and have gotten years of use out of mine. Frank
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I can't explain why, but intuitively, I think caging would make for more balanced weight, so the pots would be more stable. When I chop down tomato plants in the fall, I'm always amazed at the sheer weight of all that vegetation. Unless your pots are enormous, the plants will weigh enough to topple them with enough wind.
Never buy cages in the store unless they're a type I've never seen for sale in 35 years of gardening. The type is called "big enough, and of the right shape". You're better off to make your own out of plastic covered metal fence wire, the kind with the 2x3 inch holes. Form them into a cylinder shape that's sized correctly for your pot. You'll still need stakes - one for each side of the cylinder. This cylindrical cage will give the plant loads of room and support. Grown this way, most of the fruit will also be protected from the sun, which is a reason (but not the main reason) for cracked skin.
Let me know if you'd like to see pictures of this cage idea.
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In article snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com says...

I have 8 tomatoes in containers and will be building cages for them. Stakes in containers never did well for me. They got sloppy and fell over (container soil isn't that strong of a base) and I was always expanding the staking system when the plants got bigger.
My cage plan is to build the cages outside of the container. That way I'll use the cages as a support for a shade mechanism to keep the pots somewhat cooler during the hotter summer months. It's bad news for tomatoes in containers if the soil gets above 90 degrees.
All my tomato containers are in a row. I'm planning on using 5' 2x2s as posts. Normally each cage would need 4 posts but to make this easier I'm having containers share their posts. So the entire row of 8 containers will require only 18 of these posts. I had a bunch of scrap 5' 2x8s that I ripped into the posts with a table saw. I plan to connect the posts into boxes with lathing and whatever scraps of wood I have laying around. The entire cage structure will be self supporting and will not have to be staked into the ground. I do not want to paint this structure. I'll use screws to put it together so it can be disassembled in the fall if necessary.
In a couple of days when I finish I'll post pics of the finished structure.
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says...

Quick! Patent it! :-)
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I agree with the cage comments and should have mentioned that I tie the cages to my deck railing and 4 in a row, tie cages together. Does not take a lot of tying but assures that they do not collapse. Frank
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Joe. If you are able to post a url for the cages I'd be interested. Thanks.
rob
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Cage:
http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c197/ancientangler/TomatoCage_04.jpg
Detail of attachment to posts:
http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c197/ancientangler/TomatoCage_03.jpg
What doesn't show in the pictures is the holes I cut in the cage to allow hands to access tomatoes, some of which grow inside, sheltered by leaves. Since the fence wire is green, the holes tend to become invisible among the foliage, which sticks out all over the place. So, after cutting the holes, I tie a piece of ribbon at each location. These cages have withstood some pretty huge winds during summer storms. At the end of the season, I just flatten them and hang them on a hook in the garage.
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thanks. rob
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JoeSpareBedroom wrote:

I've seen something like that used to trap snakes. They put a piglet in the cage, the snake crawls in and swallows the piglet, then cannot get back out because the piglet in its belly won't fit through the holes.
I'm pretty sure my hand won't fit through a 2x3 inch opening, and if I could jam it through I couldnt get it back out holding a tomato. In fact, any decent sized tomato won't fit through such an opening. Do you dismantle the cage each time you want to pick a tomato, or are you growing a very small variety?
I have one plant I grow in a half whiskey barrel, which is heavy enough to resist the wind. I use an old cage I inherited, but I also put in a stake as the plant outgrows the cage.
I have ten plants in my garden, but from years of rototilling and adding organic matter, my soil has become too soft to hold the weight of a staked plant, so now I build triangular towers at each end of the row and run some old stakes from tower top to tower top, then stake each plant and tie the top of the stake to the ridge pole. Were I growing tomatoes in pots, I would put the pots in a row and build towers at the end of each row, with a ridgepole and a stake in each pot fastened to it. I buy cotton clothesline and use it for tying up the structures and plants, and it seems to work well and last, but I run it through the washer at the end of each season to minimize the possibility of carrying over disease.
The commercial tomato farms I have seen don't stake at all, they just let the vines run on the ground, which might be an option with pots, depending where they are. I stake mine because we have a lot of slugs here and its harder for them to get to the fruit on a staked plant than a prostrate one.

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Go back to my message that includes the links to the photographs. Re-read the last paragraph.
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In article

Look for low-cost bamboo stakes. One and a half metres long is good.
I like one set next to the main stem of the plant, plus three more in a tripod, with all four tied together near the top.
Regular packaging type string is fine for loosely tying the tomato limbs to the nearest stake.
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