How to Build an Easy Tomato Trellis

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One of the most aggravating things about growing tomatoes is finding something that will actually support them.

Unfortunately, the cages and stakes you find at garden centers and big box stores never seem to cut the mustard. They work great for the first two months, but once the plants mature it’s almost a guarantee that the tomatoes will end up on the ground.

One day while browsing one of my favorite vegetable gardening sites, Kenny Point’s veggiegardeningtips.com, I came across a really neat tomato trellising idea. Kenny had a video demonstrating his tomato trellis and how it worked. It was a very simple, yet very promising way to support tomatoes.

I decided that I had to build a tomato trellis for my vegetable garden like the one Kenny used.

The Tomato Trellis

How to Build an Easy Tomato Trellis

What I liked about Kenny’s trellis is that it looked so easy to build and didn’t require any special tools and equipment. It also looked like you could set it up very quickly.

Simple and quick. That’s what I’m talking about!

Here’s a list of materials you will need to build the tomato trellis:

Fence T-posts

You will need to use the green T-posts normally used for fencing. How many you need will depend on how many tomatoes you are growing and how long a row you have.

I would recommend using as many T-posts as possible, because this is what will support the weight of your tomatoes. Spacing the T-posts between five to eight feet apart should give your tomatoes plenty of support.

To give you an idea of how many you may need, I have a row of tomatoes that is thirty-eight feet long. I used a total of six T-posts spaced out about seven and a half feet apart.

Purchase the tallest T-posts you can find. The tallest T-posts I could find were seven feet tall at Lowe’s. With eighteen inches in the ground that means my trellis will be about five and a half feet tall.

100 ft Roll of Plastic Clothesline

100 Foot Roll of Plastic Clothesline

The plastic clothesline will string between the T-posts to form a “wall” for the tomato plants. The plants will be tied to the clothesline as they grow.

I opted to go with the plastic clothesline because it seemed like it would be easier to work with than the wire. You can also use 14 or 16 gauge wire as Kenny used in his tomato trellis video.

I would avoid using twine or string because I don’t think it would be strong enough once the tomatoes get real big.

Mounting Hardware

You will need some mounting hardware to attach the clothesline to the T-posts. An eye bolt and nut will be needed on one end of the trellis, while a small turnbuckle will be needed on the other end.

I like the turnbuckle because it gives you the ability to tighten the line to get it really snug for supporting the tomatoes. This may be needed later down the road if the line ever starts to sag, you can always go back and re-tightened it up again.

You will need enough eyebolts and turnbuckles to make five to six rows of clothesline. I purchased five eyebolts and turnbuckles. If I need more later I can always go back and get them.

Eyebolt and Nut AssemblyTurnbuckle Assembly

Here’s the complete list of materials for the tomato trellis to accomodate the 38 foot tomato row:

  • 6 – T-posts, seven ft tall
  • 1 – 100ft roll of plastic clothesline
  • 5 – 1/4″ eyebolts with nuts
  • 5 – 1/4″ turnbuckles
  • 1 – roll of string (if needed)

Setting Up the Tomato Trellis

The first thing you should do is place a T-post at each end of the row for the tomatoes. Make sure each post is plumb using a level, then use your foot to drive it into the soil until the small plate on the post is even with the soil level.

If you have compacted soil you may need to use a heavy hammer to drive the post in the ground. Lowe’s also carries a post driver tool if you need it.

Install a T-post on Each End of the Row

With both end posts plumbed and installed, next you will need to run a string from one of the end posts to the other.

Tie the string to one side of the post and run it down to the other post and tie it to the same side of that post.

This string will be a guide so you know where to place the inner T-posts. You want the T-posts to be in a straight line.

Run a String from One End Post to the Other

Now space the inner T-posts equally across the distance between the two end posts. My end posts are 38 feet apart so I will space the four inner posts about seven and a half feet apart. Use the string line as a guide to keep the T-post in a straight line.

Once you have all the inner posts in the proper location drive them in the ground and check to make sure they are plumb.

Again, you want the small plate attached at the bottom of the post to be at the soil line.

Attaching the Hardware and Running the Clothesline

With all of the T-posts installed it’s time to attach the hardware and run the clothesline.

Install an eyebolt in one end post using a hole that is about ten to twelves inches above the ground. It should be the second hole from the bottom. If you want the first row of line to be lower or higher, that’s fine.

Install an Eyebolt In One End Post and Tighten

Go to the other end post and attach the turnbuckle to the same height hole as the eyebolt. Unscrew the eyebolt on one side of the turnbuckle and stick it through the hole in the T-post.

Insert Eyebolt from One End of Turnbuckle Into End Post

Unscrew the other eyebolt in the turnbuckle so it is out as far as it will go without coming out. Screw the turnbuckle back onto the eyebolt inserted in the post a couple of threads – just enough so it will stay on.

You want the turnbuckle extended out as far as it will go before attaching the line so you will have the full range of it for tightening.

Re-attach Turnbuckle to Eyebolt In Post

With the eyebolt and turnbuckle installed on the end posts, tie one end of the clothesline to the turnbuckle and run the line to the other T-post.

Tie One End of Clothesline to Turnbuckle

Leave enough length of clothesline on the other end for tying a knot and cut the line with some scissors or a sharp knife.

Run the Clothesline to the Other End and Cut Length as Needed

Go to the T-post closest to the post with the turnbuckle and begin running the clothesline through the holes in the inner posts that is the same height as the turnbuckle and eyebolt you already installed.

Continue running the clothesline until you reach the T-post with the eyebolt at the other end.

Run Clothesline Through Each Inner Post

Once you get to the end with the eyebolt, run the clothesline through the eye and pull the clothesline tight. You want to get the line as tight as possible, but don’t yank it so hard you pull the T-posts over.

With the clothesline tight, tie the line to the eyebolt. Make sure to tie good knots so they will hold under the tension. My grandfather used to say, “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot”.

Pull the Clothesline Tight Then Tie to Eyebolt

Here’s where the usefulness of the turnbuckle comes in. Use a wrench on the turnbuckle to tighten the clothesline even further.

You want to get the clothesline as tight as possible, but it doesn’t need to be super tight.

Remember, you aren’t stringing a banjo here. You just want some decent tension on it.

Use one hand to hold one end of the turnbuckle while tightening with the wrench.

Snug the Clothesline Up Using the Turnbuckle and a Wrench

That’s it!

The tomato trellis is ready for planting tomatoes!

Just repeat the same steps for the next row of line for the trellis and continually add line as the tomato plants grow up. Once the tomato grows to a height above the clothesline simply use twine, old panty hose, or an old t-shirt cut in strips to tie the plant to the clothesline.

Continue this as the plant grows until it reaches the top of the trellis.

Hopefully no more fallen plants.

Hopefully no more flimsy cages.

The Tomato Trellis is Now Ready for Planting TomatoesThe Tomato Trellis with Planted Tomatoes

I think the tomato trellis will work much better than cages or stakes. I believe this is a genius idea and I want to thank Kenny from veggiegardeningtips.com for the awesome idea!

What do you think? Do you believe it will work better than cages or stakes? Please let us know your ideas!

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Comments

  1. Why can’t just use the cloth lines, tie them through the holes of the t-posts, skipping the eyebolts and turnbuckles?
    Thanks! I will try this kind of support of my tomatoes this year.

    • Hi J – You could skip using the eyebolts and turnbuckles if you like. You could just tie the clothesline to the T-post. I used them because I was worried about the posts fraying the line and cutting it. The turnbuckles are nice because you can adjust the tension on the line.

      This could be important once the tomato plants become large and heavy. The clothesline may sag with the heavy weight and you can use the turnbuckles to tighten the line to decrease the sag.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • i have no idea why the person who is so cheap that the cost of the turn buckles which support this well throught out tomato trelliss was something they did not want to spend the extra money on. if there is a improvement to be made it might be in the form of buying two more t bars. these would when bolted in a fashion that is at a 45 angle to each of the end posts considerably strengthen the whole set up. have a look at the way railroad trestles are reinforced when you drive by one to get a better idea of what i refer to.
        as for the fraying of the clothesline material that can be got around by using the same type of xleeve that is used to keep antena guide wires from fraying when the turning buckles are tensioned.
        the same idea can be used for some pretty heavy fruits and veggies growing the only thing that has to be taken into mind is the need for heavier vertical supports and eliminate the clothesline in favour of manila rope because the fibers of the rope will draw the vines to it and they will support each other. this is a cery old idea from original organic gardening magazine.

  2. Commodore Collins says:

    Would this same system work on melons and other vine type vegetables?
    Thanks, C. Collins

  3. Tee, I am loving your blog. I am the wife of a worm gardener, so we have great soil for New Mexico, but our growing year is so short, we rarely try a garden. Reading your blog is really inspiring me!

  4. paul ynot says:

    Well I am looking at this arrangement and wonder what holds the T post (Australia are called Star Pickets ) from bending from the weight of the crop and the tension of the tie rope

  5. paul ynot says:

    do these post bend with such weight and as well soft gound perhaps ?

    • Hi Paul,

      The T-posts are made from a pretty sturdy construction. I don’t think they would bend. It would take a bunch of weight to bend them I would think.

      With that said, it could be possible to pull them over in soft ground, or if you tighten the line up too tightly. You don’t really need the line to be super tight, just nicely snug.

      I actually pulled on the line as hard as I could and the posts didn’t budge. I’m sure I pulled harder on the line than what the weight of the tomatoes would be.

      Well, at least I hope that’s the case. This is the first time I tried this trellis method so it’s a bit of an experiment, too.

      Thanks for bringing up your questions!

  6. Thanks for the tips! I will try making one at home using your suggestions.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful idea. I’m using regular tomato cages and my plants are already getting way to big for them. I’m going to use this method for my fall tomatoes. Thanks again.
    Angelea in Texas

  8. Great idea and cost effective considering a good cage is $5-$6 bucks. Thanks.

  9. UncleJoe says:

    Just came across your blog tonight looking for info on the “mortgage lifter” tomatoes I’m trying this year. When I have more time I’ll look around a bit more.

    The t-post setup works quite well. I use the same principle with a slight variation. Instead of rope I lash 1×2 slats of wood to the posts. The slats don’t sag under the weight of the tomatoes and keep the posts from being pulled together. This system has worked quite well for me for several years.
    Regards, Uncle Joe

  10. Do you have photos of how well this is working for you?

    • Hi Lans – Yes, I have a few photos on the Veggie Gardener Facebook Page. I need to go out and take a few of how it looks currently. I will say that I have really enjoyed using this trellis system so far and is now my preferred way of supporting my tomatoes.

      Thanks!

  11. Ha ha! I just found yet another project to keep my husband busy for at least part of an afternoon. I’m going to use these on one side for my unruly maters and the other for my cukes! Then I’m going to string up some more with netting and angle them back on to posts to make a pea frame to shade my lettuce. Thanks a wicked bunch for the T-post idea!

  12. Hi Tee,
    Thanks you posting these awesome directions on how to build a tomato trellis. I’m going to build this for my tomatoes this spring after my last seasons crop was destroyed by a thunderstorm. The tomato cages I used couldn’t handle the weight of the tomatoes and the high winds and the whole thing came crashing down killing them. How did your trellis and tomatoes hold up to storm winds? I’m thinking of using a plastic clothesline also as it seems easier to work with. Did you find using the turnbuckles really put good tension in the line allow it not to sag too much with the weight of the tomatoes? Thanks!

    • Hi Lowell – the tomato trellis worked pretty well, but there are a couple of improvements I plan to make to it for this season.

      1) The clothesline does tend to sag just a bit, but not so bad that it hinders the plants. I plan on adding a turnbuckle to each end of the trellis so I can tighten the clothesline even more.

      2) The problem with tightening the line more is the two posts on the ends will begin to pull in towards each other. To help ease this issue I plan to connect each post together at the top with either 2×2 square wood posts or maybe 1 inch PVC pipe. In other words the trellis will have a top rail. This should make the trellis more sturdy side to side so the end posts will not pull in from the tension of the line. The top rail should allow me to tighten the line as much as I want (without snapping the line).

      You will still need to go back and re-tighten the line periodically throughout the season since the clothesline tends to stretch with the weight of the plants.

      • Thanks for the tips Tee,
        I’m in the process of building my trellis. Since I’m growing my tomatoes in a raised bed, I was able to bolt the fence post to side of the garden bed after I inserted them in ground. They are now really stable and should not move much when I tighten the clothesline. I like your idea of using two turnbuckles per line to tighten the line.

  13. I’ve grown tomato plants since I was a little girl. My dad used sticks to tie to. I use wire cones. Your idea is much nicer and looks great. I will try it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  14. Farmer Joe says:

    My 8ft T-posts from Home Depot arrived today, but they didn’t have any holes in them, please make an addendum to your article changing the posts from T to U. I will order the U-posts today.

    Great article and thanks for the information. I look forward to growing and trellising some Peacevine and Chadwick cherry tomatoes this summer in my Brooklyn , NY backyard.

  15. Hi Tee,
    My trellis is up and the tomatoes are busy climbing it. Using clothes line instead of wire is working great. I was away from my garden for 5 days for vacation and when I got back the tomatoes where a bit unruly climbing the trellis. The best feature of using the clothes line is that you can untie it and re-adjust it to give you tomato plants better support. I’m also using trellis clips to help train the plant and secure the branches onto the trellis. So far, the trellis is working out really well and the plants are already 4+ feet high this early into the season.

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