There are many benefits to using tomato cages to support your tomato plants. However, selecting the wrong cages for your plants or not using them properly can actually hinder your tomatoes’ growth and lead to a lower tomato yield.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to about planting and growing tomatoes in tomato cages so you know how to pick the right one for your garden. It will also give detailed instructions on how to use the cage correctly to provide the support your plants need.
- Why Use Tomato Cages?
- Types of Tomato Cages
- How to Use Tomato Cages
- Key Takeaways
- Final Thoughts
Why Use Tomato Cages?
Using tomato cages makes a huge difference in the health of tomato plants. Here are some of the benefits they provide:
- Keep plants off the ground
- Support the branches
- Create extra garden space
- Make care easier
This section will take a closer look at each of these benefits individually.
Keep Plants Off the Ground
Plants that grow close to the ground are in constant contact with soil, which often holds a lot of moisture. When branches, leaves, and tomatoes stay wet for long periods, they are prone to fungus growth which can damage the health of the plant. Soil also is home to pests and diseases that may harm your tomato plants.
Tomato cages help tomato plants to stay off of the ground so they avoid prolonged periods of contact with soil. This protects the plants from the moisture, pests, and diseases that make their home in the soil, helping your plants to thrive.
Support the Branches
Tomatoes are heavy relative to the branches they grow on. When a tomato plant is full of ripe fruit, with multiple growing on single branches, the weight can sometimes cause the branches to break.
With a cage, you can rest a plant’s full branches on the support bars. This will relieve some of the weight from the branches so that they do not snap or split.
Create Extra Garden Space
Most tomato plants grow to be quite large in size. If they are allowed to grow along the ground, they end up taking up a lot of space. This limits how many plants you can grow in your garden.
By using cages to grow your tomato plants vertically, each plant will take up less space. You can then use the space to grow more tomato plants or to increase the variety in your garden.
Make Care Easier
When tomato plants grow vertically, it is much easier to water their soil without oversaturating the plants. It also decreases the chances of the plants being stepped on and damaged during pruning, watering, and picking.
Types of Tomato Cages
Tomato cages come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. It is important to understand exactly what benefits are offered by each type of cage. Knowing the variety of tomato plants you will be growing can also help you choose the best type of cage for your garden.
Tomato cages come in a variety of sizes. The smallest ones are generally about two feet tall, while extra-large cages may be as tall as seven feet or more. Some cages have adjustable heights as well.
To choose the appropriate size cages for your garden, it is important to know which varieties you will be planting and what heights they will reach at their tallest. For the best support, cages should be at least as tall as your tomato plants. If you are growing different varieties, you may want to invest in a range of sizes or adjustable height cages.
Determinate tomato plants grow to a predetermined height, often around four or five feet. If you are planting determinate varieties, it will be easy to choose the right size cage for your plants.
Indeterminate plants, on the other hand, continue to grow throughout the entire season and it is hard to know ahead of time what size cage these plants will need. Don’t wait, however. It is best to cage the plants when they are still young. You will want a large and sturdy cage for indeterminate plants and it is still possible that your plant will outgrow the cage.
When selecting the size of the cage you are going to purchase, remember to account for the portion that will be in the ground. The cage usually goes at least half a foot into the soil. If you expect your plants to grow about four feet tall, you will want to get a cage that is slightly taller to compensate for the part that will be underground.
Cages come in several different shapes. They may be circular, triangular, or square. Each has pros and cons so it is helpful to understand each type. The tables below look at the advantages and disadvantages of each shape cage. There are exceptions, but in general, each shape offers the following:
|Inexpensive and easy to find at stores||Do not last as many seasons as the others|
|Stackable for easy storage||Least sturdy of the shapes|
|May have adjustable rings||Might not withstand strong winds|
|Sturdier than circular cages||Close-together bars could hinder plant growth|
|Less taper supports the plant evenly||May be more difficult to find in stores|
|Supports smaller varieties well||Too small for the largest varieties|
|Four bars make these very sturdy||Usually the most expensive shape|
|Last many planting seasons||The non-tapered shape offers less support at the plant’s base|
|Foldable for easy storage||Less commonly available than the others|
There is no one shape that is best for every gardener. If you live in an area with mild winds and you are growing tomato plants that won’t get very heavy, circular cages might be your best bet as they are inexpensive and easy to find. If you live in an area that experiences heavy winds, you will probably want a sturdier shape, but the cages will cost slightly more.
It is also important to think about how much room you have to store cages in the off-season. This is a factor that is easy to overlook when selecting cages but come winter you will be glad to you took it into consideration.
Cages come in a variety of materials as well. Commercially sold cages are usually made of plastic, wire, or mesh. Homemade cages are often made of wood and/or wire mesh.
Plastic cages are the least expensive option. They are also the flimsiest. They offer the least support to plants and are the most susceptible to weather damage. Plastic cages usually only last for one season, so even though the upfront cost is low, over time you will end up spending more by purchasing these.
The wire is the most popular material for tomato cages. Wire cages are reasonably priced and easy to find at any nursery or home improvement store. Many are coated with plastic to prevent rusting, which will help them last for multiple seasons.
Wire cages are sturdier than plastic and better at withstanding strong wind and harsh weather. They are still bendable though, so care should be taken when handling them.
Steel cages are the strongest type. Steel is most commonly used in square-shaped cages and is able to withstand most weather elements. It also provides the best support to heavy tomato plant branches. Steel cages are the most expensive but they last the longest so over time they are quite cost-effective.
Many steel cages are made of galvanized steel which is very slow to rust. If the metal is uncoated, the cages may become very hot in the sun so be sure to use caution when touching them.
Wood is most often used for homemade tomato cages. It can be used to form triangular or square-shaped cages. Wooden cages are quite sturdy but are susceptible to rot and pests if it is untreated.
Wire mesh is commonly used to create homemade cages by securing it to wooden stakes. Wire mesh offers moderate support to tomato plants but does not usually last more than a season or two.
How to Use Tomato Cages
Once you have decided which type of tomato cages will work best in your garden, it is important to understand how to use your cages correctly. This section will outline step-by-step instructions for setting up your cages.
1. Push It Into the Ground
Your tomato cage should be pushed deeply into the soil with your young plant centered directly in the middle. It is best if the cage reaches several inches deep into the ground. This will help it remain firmly in place and withstand winds. Try to keep at least a foot between cages, but preferably several feet apart.
The cage should be placed while the plant is still young, when possible. This ensures the plant will be supported as it grows and prevents disruption to its root system. However, if you did not cage your plants early, it can be done later in the season. It will just take more care to prevent damaging the plants and roots.
2. Test the depth
Gently shake the cage to be sure that it is sturdy. If it moves around when you shake it, push it deeper into the ground. This is important to ensure the cage will properly support the branches as they become fuller and heavier. It will also prevent cages from toppling over during poor harsh weather.
If you are unable to make the cage sturdy by pushing it into the ground, you can use stakes to offer greater support. Stakes should be attached to the outside of the cage to prevent interrupting root growth.
3. Tie the Vines
Heavy vines can be secured to the cage with garden twine. You could also use floss or rubber bands. Be sure to tie the vines loosely so they have room to grow. Small, delicate vines should be gently encouraged to directly grip the cage.
The above instructions are geared toward tomato plants that are directly planted in the ground, but cages can be used for container plants as well. The most important thing to keep in mind when caging container plants is to be sure the pot is large enough to easily accommodate the cage.
When placing a cage in a pot, make sure the cage touches the bottom of the container. Otherwise, the process is no different than putting the cages directly into the ground.
- Be sure to select the correct size cage. A cage that is too short or too wide will not offer your plants the support they need. One that is too narrow may hinder their growth.
- Choose the right shape cage. Square cages are the sturdiest and will withstand winds the best.
- Pick the best material for your plants’ needs. Steel cages offer the best support and last the longest. Overall, steel is the most durable material, but it is also the most expensive.
- Cage plants early when possible. It is best to cage your plants soon after they are transplanted into the ground. This will help the plants to grow with the cages and risks less damage to plants and their roots.
- Place cages correctly. Make sure there is only one plant in each cage and that it is centered. Push the cage deep enough in the ground to ensure it is sturdy and tie the vines loosely.
Caging your tomato plants is an important step in helping them to thrive. With so many cage options available it can be hard to know which one will give you the best results. Although there is no cage that will work best in every situation, square steel cages are the most durable and offer the most support to plants.
If you expect your plants to get large and full of tomatoes, or if you live in a climate prone to heavy winds, square steel cages will be your best bet. Although they cost the most, they will last many seasons.