There's nothing like biting into a tomato fresh from the garden. Growing your own tomatoes can be fun for the kids too. Tomatoes (Lycopersicon eculentum) benefit from staking, regardless of whether they are smaller bush varieties or or tall, large, unwieldy vining types. Stakes help support the central stem of the tomato plant, keeping the vines and fruit off of the ground while exposing them to more sunlight as their upward growth habit continues. Wooden or bamboo stakes are both good options, although your choice may depend upon on size, strength, durability and price.
High Stakes Gardening
Whether you want to garden with low or high stakes may determine whether you use wood or bamboo. Wooden stakes are commonly found between 4 and 8 feet tall, with a 1-inch diameter. Bamboo reaches upwards of 12-feet tall, with a minimum of around 3 feet, and taller bamboo stakes will also have a 1-inch diameter. Of course, either can be cut down to size, but if you want taller, bamboo is the best bet. In the case of very tall, large plants, such as vining or indeterminate tomatoes, the extra height from a bamboo stake may be preferred. However, growth is more frequently trained to stakes of heights lower than 12-feet, which makes it easier for the home gardener to reach the tomatoes. No matter the height, the stakes can be bolstered with a crosspiece. Make this by joining an extra piece of wood or bamboo to the main stake using twine or nails. When choosing your stake size, bear in mind that both kinds of stakes should be be sunk about 12 inches into the ground in order to provide sufficient stability.
For the Long Haul
While bamboo stakes are stronger than wood stakes of the same size, the type of soil may determine your best bet. As both bamboo and wooden stakes are sunk below ground for extended periods of time, the soil conditions will determine, more often than not, how long a stake will last. If you have poorly draining soil, odds are the wooden stakes will rot faster than the bamboo. If your soil is such that you need to pound hard on the stake, then again, bamboo is the better choice.
Bamboo is often cited for its strength as the longer fibers of the plant make bamboo less likely to snap when placed under weight, the flexibility of the fibers helping along the natural strength of bamboo. While there exist some comparisons by manufacturers regarding bamboo’s strength, there is little information available for garden stakes as stakes are frequently made from scrap pieces, which may or may not exhibit the same degree of strength. However, manufacturers of bamboo flooring often state that their bamboo is stronger than other hardwoods, such as oak and maple.
The Greener Choice
Bamboo (Bambuseae) is a fast growing plant that is quickly renewed. It can also be harvested without removing the roots of the plant, meaning there is less disruption to the plant overall. In turn, wooden stakes are often made as a by-product of lumber manufacturing, where whole trees are either cut down or uprooted. Wooden stakes do come from scrap lumber, but still some gardeners prefer to use more sustainable sources than products from the timber industry. In some cases, bamboo varieties can be grown at home. Depending on the species, bamboo is hardy in all United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones. This means a potentially renewable source of tomato stakes right in your own backyard. Bamboo is invasive in some areas, the clumping variety less so.