Pantyhose in the tomato patch

My tomato plants seem to be growing an inch a day, and it’s time again to tie them to their cages so the growing stems don’t become top-heavy, bend, and slump toward the ground. But what should I use for ties?

I surveyed Howard County Master Gardeners three years ago about their tomato-growing expertise. One of the questions was what they used for tying their tomato vines to stakes and cages. The number-one answer—with more replies than all others by far—pantyhose. Reasons: Pantyhose is strong enough to resist the rigors of summer gardening, it stretches sufficiently not to cut into and damage the stems as they grow, and it’s free. Pantyhose has been my choice for years. When Ellen was working, I had a ready supply of worn-out pantyhose. Now that we’re retired, the supply is limited, but I have backup choices.

How do I make ties out of pantyhose? First, with scissors I cut off and discard the legs, leaving a round tube which had been the top of the pantyhose. Second, I fold the pantyhose over itself several times. Third, with scissors I cut across the folds every 3/8” or so, which results in 10 to a dozen circles of pantyhose. Fourth, I snip each circle near a seam. Result: about a dozen ties. A downside? Yes, pantyhose ties don’t biodegrade if left in the tomato patch over winter.

My second choice? An old pillow case or sheet is a good source. When I tied up my plants this week, I ran out of pantyhose ties. I found a discarded pillow slip. I cut off the binding and the seams along the side and bottom. Then I used scissors to snip a short starting point every half inch or so with the grain of the cotton fabric, and then I simply ripped the strips. Result: 50 ties. The cotton ties are biodegradable, so I’ll just snip them off the cages and let them fall to the ground this fall. Downsides? They’re not as strong as pantyhose, but most will make it through the season. And they are longer than necessary, so I either cut the pillow slip to about 12” before I rip the strips—or I just trim the excess off after I use the ties in the tomato patch.

And other choices? I have a roll of jute gardening twine, which also is biodegradable, and a roll of green, half-inch plastic stretch ties, which is not biodegradable but which has enough “give” to allow for stem growth. I just cut and drop the jute at the end of the season, but I have to discard the plastic stretch ties.

Be creative when you’re looking for ties for your viney veggies. Think pantyhose, pillow cases or sheets, jute twine, stretch ties, or something you’ve been using that I’ve never imagined. I’ve seen Velcro ties advertised in gardening catalogs. If you have a suggestion, please leave a Comment.

In the photo of the can of tomato ties, the pillow-slip ties are at the top. In the can are ties made from pantyhose, as well as some jute twine and green stretch ties. The second photo shows pantyhose and pillow-slip ties this week in my tomato patch.

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