Some plants need to be staked for various reasons. Some need support. Others just make better vegetables when staked. It is probably universally agreed that tomatoes and beans need to be staked, but others may not be so obvious.
I prefer to stake cucumbers. I have seen many, probably most, people just let them spread out on the ground, and I have done it that way before. However, I think it is better to let them grow up instead so that the fruits don’t touch the ground. The fruits are straighter, more uniformly shaped, and cleaner. They don’t develop the white skin they will get on the underside when lying on the ground. Another big advantage is that they are easier to find. Frequently when growing on the ground, the perfectly-sized cucumbers will seem to hide under leaves. When you find them a day or two later, they have gotten too big and aren’t as good.
I have even seen some people stake watermelons, though I have never done it myself. The fruits must be supported in some sort of mesh bag, for example, the ones onions are frequently packaged in. That adds a little work to the process, but the fruits are beautiful and, like cucumbers, do not turn white on the underside.
There are many different methods of staking plants. The most obvious is, just as the name implies, using stakes. For me, this most common method has been unsatisfying. The plants must be tied to the stake multiple times over a long period of time. You have to find some wide, flat material to tie them because string will cut into the vines as they grow. Most stakes are flimsy and don’t support the vines well. And it is a lot of work to pound the stakes into the ground when you have a large number of plants.
I have found another method that is quicker, less work, looks better, and supports the plants better. I wish I could take credit for devising this method myself, but I can’t. Years ago, my parents had a neighbor who was an incredible gardener. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us. I noticed that he had a tall post at each end of several rows in his garden. He ran a steel cable from post to post down the entire length of the row. Then he dropped a thick string from the cable down to each plant. I’m not sure how he attached the strings, but I just wrap them around the base of the plants several times and loosely tie them. This allows the plants to grow without the string cutting into them.
In the past, I have used 4×4 posts and steel cable. This method can easily support rows at least 30 feet long. In fact, I normally plant two rows side by side and run strings from the same cable down to both rows.
This year, I just used steel T-posts and a thick nylon string because my rows are much shorter. I put the posts about 10 feet apart. Hay strings work great for dropping from the cable down to the plants, but I didn’t have any this year, so I just used the same nylon string that I used for the top.
After you tie the string to the bottom of the plant, just gently wrap the plant around the string. As the plants grow, continue to wrap the plant and the string together. This is usually necessary about once or twice per week.. No tying is needed. Just wrapping the plants and string together will support the plants well. Cucumbers will even wrap their little runners around the string and hold on tight.
Here is a late-season update. My indeterminate tomatoes grew taller than the top string and wind pushed them over. The T-posts were just not tall enough. The nylon string on top was also pulled down quite a bit as the plants got heavy with tomatoes. I recommend the steel cable for the top as I have used in the past and posts at least six feet tall to avoid these problems. Using the nylon string for cucumbers worked great. I believe that it would also work fine for determinate varieties of tomatoes, but the indeterminants just grow too tall.
Give this method a try. I’d also like to hear about other methods of staking. Tell us about your method in comments.