The time has come to cage in the tomato starts! My seedlings are thriving out in this Missouri heat and seem to be growing faster than I anticipated. It seems like we just Hardened Off Our Seedlings last week! I Started Our Seeds Indoors just a few months ago when snow still covered the ground and now a few have blossomed! My, how time flies.
Last summer’s tomato season was abundant. We had about 15 plants that all produced multiple pounds of tomatoes for eating fresh and Preserving as Sauce in the Water Bath Canner. One of the factors that lead to our successful tomato harvest was using large and sturdy cages to support our plants. We originally made the mistake of trying smaller and weaker cages and soon found our plants toppled over.
Our tomato cages definitely needed an upgrade, so we set about looking for a large, inexpensive, and durable option.
Come along as I share how we built our sturdy tomato cages for next-to-nothing, why we chose this design, and a few tips that we’ve learned along the way! The step-by-step instructions are just a few scrolls down, so head there if you’re ready to get going! If you’re interested in some additional information about tomato plants, continue reading right below.
Why Tomatoes Need Cages
Short answer: support!
Tomato plants are natural climbers, but they are not great at supporting themselves.
Unlike cucumbers, tomatoes do not have tendrils, so they can not twine around a structure without some help. They tend to lean on anything around them as they climb, so cages are great at keeping them upright.
Cages provide support all around the plant so that no side has the option of falling over. The plants will end up sprawled all over the ground if not caged in. This can make the fruit and plant more susceptible to pests, disease, and rotting.
You’ll see these at all the hardware stores in town. They are made of thin wire and shaped like a funnel with the large end at the top. Here’s my opinion of these cages…they are not effective! We utilized these last year and it wasn’t long before the plants outgrew the cages, topped over, and needed a larger and sturdier support system.
Certain tomato varieties (called determinate) that do not grow very large will probably work well in these. Any tomato plant that will produce large fruit (called indeterminate) will need something stronger!
I suggest researching which varieties you plan to grow before determining which kind of cage you need.
These cages are stainless steel, so no rusting! They also fold up for easy storage in the winter. These are a much better choice than funnel cages if you’re willing to spend a lot more for them.
I’m not completely convinced that they are strong enough to support a large tomato plant, but I don’t have any personal experience to base that off of!
This may be a great option for anyone who’d rather not DIY a cage.
A Few Lessons From Last Year
- Cage them in sooner rather than later. We waited much too late to cage in our tomatoes and let’s just say…wrestling tomato plants into a cage leaves you feeling…crabby. We are not repeating said mistake this year!
- Go bigger with the cage than you think is necessary. We started by placing the plants in small cages, but those soon caved to the weight of branches, leaves, and growing tomatoes. They were replaced with larger, sturdier cages about halfway through the season.
- Cutting and rolling the wire is best done with two people. The wire likes to roll back up on the person doing the cutting and securing!
How We Cage In Our Tomatoes
- Galvanized wire or zip ties
- Concrete Reinforcing Wire (you can find this at most hardware stores)
- 2 or 3 stakes per plant
- Measure the reinforcing wire to 6 or 7 feet in length.
- Roll the reinforcing wire over so that both short ends meet one another. This should shape it like a cylinder.
- Secure the cylinder by wrapping a strand of galvanized wire or a zip tie around where the ends of reinforcing wire meet. We added one at the top, bottom, and three throughout the middle area.
- Bend in the excess bits of wire to avoid cutting someone as they walk by the cage.
- Place the tomato cage around the plant.
- Weave the stake into four or five sections of the wire on the cage.
- Use the mallet to hammer the stakes into the ground.
Maintaining Your Tomatoes in Their Cages
As the plant grows, you’ll want to tuck the branches back into the cage and point them upward. Just be gentle. The branches tend to break easily!
Note: I recommend checking for escaping branches frequently, because they are easier to manipulate when they are small. The large ones are much more fragile!
Sometimes tomato plants grow right out of the top of the cage! Don’t worry, this is manageable. You have a few options to choose from.
If gardening season will soon be over, you can just let the plants be. They’ll be just fine until fall’s arrival.
But if its mid-summer and the plant shows no signs of stopping, adding additional height to your support is probably best. You can either add another cage on top of the original one and secure it well, or add a few tall stakes and string twine around them.
I’ve been very happy with these tomato cages thus far. The concrete wire that we chose to use allows for easy access to the plant for harvesting tomatoes and pulling off suckers.
They were also very inexpensive to DIY (cheaper than buying flimsy funnel cages).
The cages are not made from stainless steel, so they will rust over time, but I expect that they will last for many future gardening seasons!
I pray that your tomato season will be abundant and enjoyable!
More On Gardening
- 5 Tips For Transplanting Seedlings to The Garden
- How to Harden Off Seedlings
- A Guide to Caring For Indoor Seedlings
- The Basics to Starting Seeds Indoors
- Our Garden Plans