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Find the Best Tomato Cage for Your Garden

Determine the best tomato cage for your favorite indeterminate tomato varieties.

| July/August 2013

  • Ripe Tomatoes
    Growing red tomatoes in greenhouse.
    Photo By Fotolia/Dusan Kostic
  • Tomato Cage
    Remesh cages are an old favorite with rural gardeners. While they take up a lot of space, they are very sturdy and long lasting.
    Photo By iStockphoto/66North
  • Bountiful Tomato Harvest
    These tomatoes are supported by a mesh trellis.
    Photo By Jerry Pavia
  • Planting Tomatoes
    Jute twine is another great trellis option.
    Photo By Fotolia/Diane555
  • Planted Tomatoes
    These tomatoes will be trained up vertical stakes.
    Photo By Fotolia/Timsa
  • Garden Cartoon
    Gritty is looking forward to enjoying his tomatoes.
    Illustration By Brad Anderson

  • Ripe Tomatoes
  • Tomato Cage
  • Bountiful Tomato Harvest
  • Planting Tomatoes
  • Planted Tomatoes
  • Garden Cartoon

Cage, stake or trellis? When loaded down with ripening fruit, most tomato plants need physical support to keep them from falling over. Keeping tomato plants upright and off the ground can prevent blights and diseases, ease harvesting, maximize growing space and yield, and add aesthetic appeal to a garden. But ask 10 gardeners or farmers how they provide this support, and you’ll likely get 11 different answers.

Some gardeners bypass this question by planting determinate varieties. Determinate varieties grow to a determined, usually compact size and then stop growing. Researchers have created determinate varieties with stout stems and bushlike qualities, such as Better Bush and Bush Goliath, that can support themselves. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and producing fruits until a frost or blight kills them or a gardener pulls them up. Most flavor-packed heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, and finding the best way to support these sprawling varieties can challenge even the most ingenious gardeners and farmers.

A stout tomato cage

Chip Hope, coordinator of the sustainable agriculture program at Western Piedmont Community College, recommends cages for supporting tomatoes. He creates cages out of concrete-reinforcing wire, known as remesh. Hardware stores often sell remesh in 150-foot rolls. Hope recommends cutting remesh into 5-foot sections and pinning the ends together to make a circular cage about 2 feet in diameter. He then cuts the bottom edge off the remesh to make six or seven prongs to push into the ground, creating a sturdy cage. Hope plants about 40 tomato plants each year and says, “When we plant our tomatoes, we mulch them real well with straw and then stick the cage in the ground over top of them — and that’s all there is to it.”

Some people use galvanized welded wire, used for fencing, to make cages, but it’s usually more expensive than remesh. Although remesh isn’t galvanized and will rust, Hope says, “These cages will last forever, and they’re very stout so they’ll hold even the largest heirloom tomato plants.” Thus, one advantage to caging is that it allows plants room to sprawl naturally. This helps shade ripening tomatoes and can prevent sunscald.

Gardeners who cage tomatoes usually ignore the tedious chore of pinching suckers — new stems that develop at the leaf axil, where the leaf meets the main stem. Some gardeners pinch off suckers to allocate more energy to developing fruits and less energy to new stems and foliage. For non-pinchers, cages make a good choice. 

Still, caging isn’t without disadvantages. The three-pronged wire cages sold in garden centers are notorious for toppling over with tomato-laden plants in heavy winds and rains. Also, some garden centers sell small tomato cages to unassuming customers who later find their indeterminate varieties quickly outgrow the cages. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to caging tomatoes is the initial investment. In some places, a large wire tomato cage will cost $4, which can quickly add up for gardeners planting lots of tomatoes. Of course, this is a multi-year investment, and cages can be reused year after year.

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