How To Use Tomato Cages? All you need to know [+DIY Tips]

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How to use tomato cages

Most tomato varieties simply need support to grow healthily and produce as much fruit for you as possible. Using tomato cages is the best way to support your tomato plants.

In just a few minutes, you’ll know why and how to use tomato cages and which types are the best for different varieties.

How To Use Tomato Cages?

Tomato cages are a practical and effective tool for supporting tomato plants as they grow. To use tomato cages, start by selecting the appropriate size cage for your tomato plant.

This is determined by the height and spread of the plant, as well as its anticipated growth throughout the season. Once you have chosen a cage, carefully place it around the young tomato plant, ensuring that the cage is positioned securely in the soil.

It’s best when you do it at the same time as you plant your seedling. Anchor your cage with two stakes driven into the ground at opposite sides so that it won’t flip over in strong winds.

As the plant grows taller, gently guide the branches through the openings in the cage, providing support and preventing the plant from collapsing or sprawling across the ground.

Regularly check the plant’s progress and adjust the branches as needed to keep them within the confines of the cage. By using tomato cages, you can promote healthy growth and ensure that your tomato plants reach their full potential.

Do Tomato Plants Need Cages?

A great majority of tomato varieties, either determinate or indeterminate, DO need some kind of support.

Tomato plants have soft and flexible stems and without any support, their vines would break or grow horizontally on the ground and tomatoes would more likely rot or fall victim to diseases.

Advantages Of Tomato Cages:

  • All-around support for the plant
  • Sturdy structure
  • Very easy to set up when you plant the seedling (insert a stake or rebar inside of the cage to anchor it and prevent it from falling over because of heavy winds or the excessive weight of the plant as it grows and bears fruit)
  • At the beginning of the season, you can give protection to your seedlings by wrapping around the bottom of the cage with some plastic, fabric, or frost cover (12-16 in / 30-40 cm high)
  • Little need for pruning vine varieties (you don’t need to prune bush tomatoes)
  • Plenty of foliage to provide shade for the fruit and for the soil, keeping the moisture level more consistent
  • Only minimal tying is needed
  • Can reach 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 m) height (extension is possible)
  • Wire mesh or remesh structures can last 15-20 years
  • Can be fun to construct them with family and friends

Disadvantages of tomato cages:

  • Storage needs space, especially if not disassembled (but you can leave them outside all year round as well)
  • It takes time to construct them (if not readily bought)
  • You may need to apply some extra reinforcement (e.g. tying the cage to stakes driven into the ground) to prevent your cages from falling over when they need to hold larger, heavier plants
  • They cost more than simple stakes
  • They may look a little shabby (esp. rusty wire mesh types)

Is It Better To Stake Or Cage Tomatoes?

In short, a stake is very simple to get and use, BUT a cage provides better support and higher yields in the end.

Do you want to prune? Using cages, you don’t need to prune your plants very much. With proper “all-around” support, they can expand and bear nearly as much fruit as they can.

If you use a stake, you’ll definitely need to prune your indeterminate varieties, because a stake is just not enough to support all the vines.

A good alternative to cages, for vining tomatoes, is a trellis.

Can You Grow Tomatoes Without Cages?

Yes, smaller dwarf and mini types don’t need any support at all. But for the rest, you will want to give some kind of support, unless you’re happy with shabby-looking plants, broken branches, and rotten fruit lying on the ground.

Tomato cages are not must-have support items but are among the best options.

What Can I Use Instead Of A Tomato Cage?

Basically, anything that serves the purpose of supporting your tomato plants. Here’s a list of tomato cage alternatives:

  • Stakes – there are different types in terms of materials, length, form, and diameter. The shorter ones are for bush tomatoes, and the taller ones are for vine tomatoes.
  • Spiral supports – these are most commonly made of bent heavy-duty steel wire and are suitable for the tall, indeterminate (vine) types.
  • Trellises – there is a plethora of different trellis choices for tomato plants from wooden structures (e.g. pallets, vertical, horizontal, or pyramid frames) to different mesh solutions (for a nylon or twine mesh you need to construct a frame first, while wire mesh or livestock panel may only need one or two poles to hold it)
  • Single strings or twines – for vining tomato plants you can use vertical strings for each. For this, you either need a tall framework made of wood or metal T-posts, or you can tie the strings to the top of your greenhouse.
  • Fencing – a very lazy, but efficient way is to plant your tomato plants next to a fence. Ruth Stout mentions this method in her No-Work Garden Book (1973).

What Type Of Tomato Needs A Cage?

Determinate (bush) tomato plants: bush tomatoes grow 3-4 feet (1-1.3 m) tall. They sprawl and form small bushes setting fruit at the end of their branches, harvest time has a short window, typically of 2-3 weeks.

That’s why tomato cages are the best for them, instead of stakes or trellises, giving support from all around the plant. They need don’t need pruning except at the very bottom to avoid soil-borne diseases.

Popular bush tomato varieties: Glacier, Roma, Tumbling Tom, New Yorker, Oregon Spring, Tiny Tim, Ace 55

Indeterminate (vine) tomato plants: vining tomatoes can grow on and on… Basically, it is the frost at the end of the season that will put an end to their spreading by killing them.

As they grow, they produce fruit throughout their lifetime and by the end of the season, they can reach 14 ft (4.3 m) or even taller.

So what to do with them?

You can cut the main stem at a height you feel comfortable with, i.e. the height of your support structure, so your vine tomato won’t get any taller. However, its side branches will keep growing, but you can tuck them back into the cage.

Some pruning (removing suckers or cutting back side branches) may be necessary if it seems to “break out of control”, but with a tall and sturdy tomato cage, you may let it grow and help its vines always find some support.

Popular vine tomato varieties: Big Beef, Early Girl, Sweet 100, Brandywine, Better Boy, Rutger

Semi-determinate tomato plants: these varieties grow 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall and are more compact and bushy than indeterminate tomato plants, but they can produce fruit all season long.

They, too, need support, and tomato cages are excellent for that purpose. Similarly to determinate or bush tomatoes, they do not grow out of control, therefore pruning is not necessary, provided there is enough space for them (approx. 2-3 ft / 60-90 cm).

Popular semi-determinate tomato varieties: Celebrity, Marmande

Dwarf Tomato Plants: No Support, No Problem? It Depends…

It’s often said that dwarf varieties do not need support as they have thick, sturdy stems and branches. I would say that the varieties that are true “dwarfs” grow only to heights of about 2 ft (60 cm), don’t need support.

These types of tomato plants produce full-size fruit, having shorter, strong enough branches to hold all their fruit even in strong wind or heavy rain—so there’s no need for any support. They are ideal for container gardening.

Dwarf tomato plant varieties that DON’T NEED support:

  • Rosella Crimson, Sweet Scarlet Dwarf

On the other hand, there can be taller dwarf tomato plants (3-4 ft / 0.9-1.2 m) and also a good number of dwarf varieties have rampant vines (indeterminate types)—these most probably need support and some pruning for better yields.

Dwarf tomato plant varieties that NEED support:

  • Lime Green Salad, Tasmanian Chocolate, Dwarf Emerald Giant

Sidenote: Trust your common sense: if you notice that your dwarf variety happens to grow a little too tall and looks like it needs support, then provide some.

Also, there is the category of mini or micro tomato plants, which are even smaller than dwarf tomato plants growing only 12-18 in (30-45 cm) tall. They do not need support at all.

Do You Need A Tomato Cage For Cherry Tomatoes? Again, It Depends…

First, what type of cherry tomatoes are we talking about? There’s a good number of varieties. They can be indeterminate, determinate, dwarf, micro…

Before deciding on which type to grow, check the details carefully (e.g. size, vine, or bush) and you’ll have a good idea of what kind of support (if any) it will need.

Here are some cherry tomato types that need support, preferably a cage:

  • Indeterminate cherry tomatoes: Black Cherry, Green Doctors, Napa Rosé Blush, Rosella
  • Determinate cherry tomato: Baby Boomer
  • Semi-determinate cherry tomatoes: Maglia Rosa, Sweetheart of the Patio

What Is The Best Way To Cage Tomatoes?

How Tall Should Tomato Cages Be?

It depends on the tomato variety you’ve planted, so always check what height it can reach.

Recommended sizes of tomato cages:

Tomato TypeTomato cage height
Indeterminate types6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m)
Determinate, semi-determinate types3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m)
Dwarf indeterminate types2-3 ft (60-90 cm)

What Do I Do If My Tomato Plant Is Too Tall?

If your tomato plant outgrows the cage in height, you can still let it grow down along the cage.

However, especially with an indeterminate variety, your plant can later become a tangled mess of vines and leaves and the risk of diseases will increase due to poor air circulation.

Therefore, for indeterminate tomato plants, it’s better to top off the main stem and secondary stems with a pair of sharp (preferably clean, sterilized) shears so that the plant won’t get out of control.

Spacing Out Your Tomato Cages

If you plant more tomato seedlings within a given area, you need to consider how much space each will need when fully grown. Generally, bush varieties are wider and need more space than vining plants, which are narrower and grow vertically.

Cages can vary in diameter according to plant width. Bush tomatoes mostly need 20-24 in (50-60 cm) wide cages, while vine tomatoes are OK with 14-18 in (35-45 cm) wide cages.

Planting distance recommendations for different types of tomatoes:

Tomato TypePlanting distance
Dwarf varieties16-20 in (40-50 cm)
Determinate varieties (bush)2-2.5 ft (60-75 cm)
Indeterminate varieties (vine)12-18 in (30-45 cm)

For all varieties you can place the cages right next to each other, even tying them together in a row (giving more stability) or leaving 2-4 in (5-10 cm) spaces between the edges of the cages.

However, if you use larger wooden cage structures, e.g. a folding, 8-foot (2.4 m) tall wooden cage, spacing should be larger.

When should I put tomato cages on?

It’s best to place your cage around your tomato plant and drive the supporting stakes (if you use any) right at the time when you plant your approx. 6 in (15 cm) tall seedling.

This way you won’t disturb or harm the plant’s roots as they develop in the ground. If you place the cage and stake at a later time, when the plant has grown considerably, you may damage the roots, the branches, the flowers, or even the fruits.

Securing the tomato cage

It’s good to anchor your cage with a stake driven at least 1 foot (30cm) deep into the ground.

If you make your own cylinder-shaped mesh panel cage, you can cut its bottom part in a way that leaves long, 1-foot spikes, which can serve as anchors.

Is it OK to use rusty tomato cages?

Yes, they are safe to use. Rust is iron oxide (Fe2O3), which doesn’t harm plants in any way, whether we talk about leaves, fruit, or roots. If your cage is still sturdy enough to give support to a fully-grown tomato plant, then you can use it.

If you’re concerned with its look, you may remove the rust with a wire brush and spray paint it. (I prefer using eco-friendly paints that don’t contain harmful chemicals, toxins, or additives.)

Tomato cage set up in garden box
DIY remesh panel tomato cage set up in a 3×3 ft (1×1 m) garden box

How to store tomato cages off-season?

Folding types

If you have rectangular or triangular-shaped cages (tomato towers) that you can fold or disassemble, you can easily hang them on your garage or shed wall on large pegs, screws, hooks, or nails.

Cylinder or cone-shaped cages

If you have round tomato cages that you can unfold, then it’s easier if you stack the curved panels on top of each other and store them that way. The cone-shaped cages can be stacked in the corner of the shed one inside the other.

“Why bother?” types

There are growers who don’t store their cages at all but leave them out in the garden. These are usually sturdy steel cages that last for a long time (see how you can build yours later).

It’s important to note that you should not grow tomatoes or other nightshades in the same place within 2-3 years (crop rotation).

Which Tomato Cages Are The Best?

A good tomato cage must perform its task: give proper support to all the plant, i.e. the stems, branches, foliage, and fruit. It must stay firmly in its place no matter how bad the weather may become.

Additionally, it’s a big pro if it’s durable, easy to assemble, use, and store.

Pre-made Tomato Cages: Which One To Choose?

There is a good number of commercial tomato cages at garden centers or online stores, but many of them are not worth the money.

A lot of them are either too small or too weak for the purpose of giving proper support to your fully-grown tomato plants.

You may consider choosing these ones:

  • Heavy Duty Square Tomato Cages
  • Titan Tall Tomato Cages
  • Mammoth Tomato Towers
  • Galvanized Steel Cages

Tomato Cages For Indoor Use

So far we’ve talked about growing tomatoes outdoors, but if you grow them indoors, what kind of cages would work best?

  1. If you have a large space and large containers for your plants, you can use the larger size outdoor cages just the same. The only difference may be that harsh weather conditions won’t be a factor. However, you still need to anchor or fix your cages somehow, because the weight of your full-size plants bearing fruit can otherwise make the cages fall over.
  1. If you plan to grow smaller or dwarf varieties in pots, boxes, or grow bags, you can use small cages up to 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall. Just make sure they stand firm in the potting mix, and anchor them with the help of a stake if needed.
  2. If the depth of the potting mix is not enough for holding stakes firmly, don’t use them. Instead, you can use cages that are either secured to the structure of the container or add support outside of the container (e.g. a tripod over a pot or placing the container against some railing or fence).

Here are some indoor tomato cages that should work: Tomato cages for pots

How Much Do You Want To Spend On Tomato Cages?

If you want to grow a good number of tomatoes, the total cost of pre-made cages can be considerable, well into the hundreds of dollars for a few dozen of plants.

How To Make A Cheap Tomato Cage?

In short:

Use a remesh or wire mesh panel and curl it into a cylinder, and apply a stake to anchor it.

DIY tomato cage made from concrete mesh panel
Homemade tomato cage made from concrete mesh panel

Details:

One of the cheapest and simplest ways to make a sturdy and tall enough tomato cage is to use mesh wire or steel remesh (wire concrete support).

They come in different sizes. Probably the most convenient solution is to buy them as sheets of 7 ft x 3.5 ft (2.1 x 1 m). Check availability at your local hardware store or large DIY stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Remesh spacing is 6 in x 6 in (15 x 15 cm), which is ideal for a tomato cage. The wire gauge is 10 (2.59 mm), which makes it not too hard to curl it into a cylinder, but still makes a strong structure.

You can also cut 16 ft x 50 in (4.9 m x 1.3 m) livestock/cattle panels into four equal sections, so you’ll get 4 cages that are 50 in (1.3 m) tall and 14 in (36 cm) in diameter.

They are usually made of 4-gauge (5.2 mm) wire, so they are more difficult to curl, but will be extra strong, lasting for decades.

Here’s What You’ll Need For The Remesh Tomato Cage:

  • One sheet of 7 ft x 3.5 ft remesh panel
  • One or two stalks
  • Galvanized wire or zip ties, garden string
  • Gloves (be careful with the sharp edges!)
  • (optional: bolt cutters or any kind of metal cutting saw to cut off sharp edges)

Instructions:

  1. Lay the remesh panel on the ground, grab one of the shorter ends, and curl it up carefully toward the other end (you can bend it gradually, section by section).
  2. When the two ends meet, tie them together with the pieces of wire or zip ties, this will give you a wider, larger cage with a diameter of 26 in (66) cm. You can even overlap one or two rows of grids so that the cage will be smaller in diameter (22-24 in / 55-60 cm), but sturdier. If your cage is a little oval, you can make it more circular by pushing its “bumping” sides down toward the ground.
  3. After placing the cage over a tomato plant, drive a 4-foot (1.2 m) stake at least 1 ft (30 cm) deep into the ground by the side of the cage and tie it to the cage at several points. Alternatively, if you have a garden box with a solid bottom, you can secure your cage by tying its top to the 4 corners of your box with strings or tent guy lines.
  4. It’s safer if you add a stake to the main stem as well, to give extra support to the “backbone” of the plant. Its height should match the height of your plant.

If you need a taller cage, simply put one on top of the other with a 1-foot overlay and tie the two together firmly with some pieces of wire.

Here’s What You’ll Need For The Cattle Panel Tomato Cage (4 Pieces):

  • One sheet of 16 ft x 3.5 ft cattle/livestock panel, cut into 4 pieces (each cage will be 4 ft tall, suitable for bush tomatoes or vining tomatoes if placed on top of the other)
  • Bolt cutters or an angle grinder with a metal-cutting disc
  • Crescent wrench or any kind of tool (even a strong steel pipe can do) to bend the wire ends to make hooks
  • One or two stalks
  • Gloves (be careful with the sharp edges!)

Instructions:

  1. Cut the panel into 4 equal sections, each cut should go along the crossbars so that you’ll get long wire ends on one end and a straight edge on the other
  2. Bend the long ends carefully over with the crescent wrench and make hooks
  3. Bend the panel, grid row by grid row, to get the desired cylinder shape and hook one end to the other
  4. Use your weight to push it down if you still have an oval shape cage
  5. Place it over your small tomato plant and anchor it with a stake

The Best Homemade Tomato Cages

Here are a couple of DIY, homemade cage ideas that I believe work very well because they are simple, cheap to make, strong, and last long.

  • Folding wooden tomato cage: it’s similar to a stepladder, constructed from 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) long wooden strips and rungs that can be folded and stored when winter comes.
  • Simple bamboo cage: bamboo is natural, durable, very cheap, and looks good in a garden. You can make a tall, obelisk-shaped tomato cage by using 4 thick bamboo sticks and 12 thinner sticks as tiers and twine to tie them together.
  • The indestructible tomato cage: motherearthnews.com describes this cage as “indestructible” because it’s made of solid and durable plastic pipes (vertical poles) and metallic conduit tubes (horizontal crossbars) that will last very long.
  • Concrete reinforcement wire mesh tomato cage: it’s the one I described above, probably the cheapest and simplest to make (but certainly not the most beautiful)

Summary

In conclusion, using tomato cages is a great way to get the most out of your tomato plants, especially the bush varieties.

They provide excellent support for the plant, increase yields, and make harvesting much easier. They come in many shapes and sizes but go for the ones that are sturdy and durable.

It’s not hard, but definitely cost-effective to make your own cages using remesh panels or wooden strips, bamboo sticks, or plastic pipes.

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AUTHOR

I'm a keen hobby gardener. I love growing fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes. I'm also a certified instructor of the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.