How To Support Tomatoes

Don’t buy those flimsy wire cages marketed in big box stores or farm stores as tomato cages.” Well, not unless you’re planning to use them as supports for something polite and well-behaved, such a pepper plant or maybe a leggy perennial. Once you have your cage formed, you can cut the bottom ring off, and just stab that bottom 6 inches of the cage into the ground, or-if you live in a windy area and have had tomato cages end up in a humiliating heap in your garden in years past after a storm-you may want to stake them up. That’s what I do. The size of the tomato support needed depends on the eventual size of your plant.

I estimate that each tomato cage (which will support five tomato plants) costs us about $4, with the local garden supply price that we paid for the bamboo. I use concrete reinforcing wire, cut to the width I like , rolled into a circle, fastened with the cut ends folded back upon itself. When you put the tomato plants in the ground, set the cages over them immediately and secure the cages with small stakes or push them firmly into the ground if you can. They couldn’t be any easier to make, super inexpensive to make and if you have to replant tomato plants you can easily reuse everything.

I don’t think there is an advantage one way or the other, if you prefer square cages, by all means make them square. Caged tomato plants develop enough foliage to provide plenty of shade for ripening the fruit. The tomato/plant cages shown in the photos above are over three years old, get abused regularly, and live in a very humid/wet climate (southeastern US), but they’re as good as they day we made them. By the time the plants begin to bear fruit, they should be large enough to make good use of the cage. Position one end of the 6-by-13-foot piece of chicken wire to one of the 7-foot boards.

Use pliers to bend each, or at least every other, of the horizontal one inch wire segments around the opposite end of the circle. Center the wire so it overhangs all four sides by 6 inches, and fold the overhang downward to cap the U-shaped units. Equipment needed: 5-foot T posts, 16-foot hog panels, aluminum wire ties, two-handled post-driver, electric hacksaw, a good strong man or woman and a patient assistant. Make sure the cage has a large enough grid that you can get your hands through it to harvest the tomatoes.

If you’d prefer not to bother with making your own cages, there are plenty of pre-built cages available for purchase. Create a real focal point in the garden by making a tall teepee trellis using extra-long pieces of bamboo. And don’t make it taller than you can safely reach, with your feet on the ground, to prune, tie up plants or pick beans or other crops. When I pulled the spent tomato plants and cages out of the garden at the end of last season, the cages were bent and broken.

Many of the 3-foot-tall tomato cages on the market won’t hold a Better Boy or German Johnson tomato plant that wants to grow more than 5 feet high. Buy a roll of concrete reinforcing mesh consisting of stiff 9- or 10- gauge wire at a garden center. To make storage easier, vary the diameters so that two or three cages will nest together, one inside the other.

You might make a buck from the sale of a tomato plant, but if you can pick up another couple bucks from the sale of a tomato cage it sure would be a boost. The 6-inch (15cm) squares will allow you to easily flex the mesh into a tube to make your cage, and offer easy access to your tomatoes. Allowing 1 1/2 feet between each tomato plant, use the hacksaw to cut panels in desired lengths. I vowed not to make a veggie garden, but I’ve see so many of your photos of raised gardens that I told my husband the other day that I wanted to make a small” garden.

If you are looking for a whopper tomato trellis that will keep your plants from sagging, this is probably going to be what you were looking for. If the tomato plant isn’t growing However, the stakes and strings are much easier to remove each year than stakes and hogwire panels are. We lucked out a few years ago when a grower went out of business and sold her round cages made out of the panels.

Make your tomato cage serve double duty by wrapping a wire mesh cylinder (rabbit fencing works well) with clear polyethylene. I was at a yardsale the other day and they were throwing out 4 of those wire Christmas trees that you put in your yard because the lights didn’t work on them anymore. Ladderlike cages constructed from 1X2 boards make an attractive way to keep tomato growth well behaved.

So if you want to make a standard 8′ pieces, then you can cut the framing lumber in half. For varieties bearing particularly heavy fruits, such as the beefsteak tomatoes, thinning fruits to just three per truss will reduce the weight of the truss and make it less likely to snap away from the stem. The 6-inch squares will allow you to easily flex the mesh into a tube to make your cage.