How to Make Supports for Healthier Tomato Plants
Tomato cages are a brilliant way to support your plants, but only if you’re using them properly.
Many well-meaning people end up doing more harm than good when it comes to cages, so it’s worth doing a little bit of research in advance. (You’re in the right place!)
So, if you want to avoid killing your tomatoes with kindness, this article will tell you everything you need to know.
How To Use A Tomato Cage (Step-By-Step)
Don’t worry, using a tomato cage is pretty simple. Here are the 4 key steps you need to know.
1. Select the right cage for your variety.
More on this later!
2. Set the legs in your container so they touch the bottom.
If you’re using a cage directly in the ground, push it firmly into the soil to a depth of around 8 inches. Either way, your seedling should sit in the center of the cage.
3. Secure the cage with soil.
In a container, this means adding the soil around the cage and patting it down firmly. In the ground, you can make sure the cage is deep enough by shaking it and ensuring there’s no wiggle. Make sure you leave plenty of space between plants. (Exactly how much will depend on the variety.)
4. Support the vines by gently pulling them through the cage squares.
Smaller vines can be encouraged to grip the cage, whilst heavier ones can be loosely tied with garden twine. You will have to keep tying more vines as the plant grows. You will also need to do some pruning as you go along, but I’ll give you some quick pointers on that in the next section.
6 Tips For Using A Tomato Cage Properly
1. Work Out If You Really Need It
A cage provides the structure that some tomatoes need to thrive. Without this support, they are more vulnerable to pests, and the stems can snap under the weight of the plant.
But cages aren’t always appropriate!
Before going ahead and investing in some tomato cages, you need to make sure they are suitable for the variety you are growing. Tomato cages offer brilliant support for bush varieties (determinates), which stop growing after reaching a certain size.
If you are growing a vine variety (indeterminate), you would be much better off with a trellis. You could also use stakes instead of a cage, but they don’t offer the same level of support.
Aside from stakes and cages, there are also many other ideas for supporting your tomato plants. Here are 38 interesting and creative ideas.
2. Get The Right Size For Your Plant
Once you’ve established that you’re growing a determinate variety, it’s time to think about size.
If you choose a tomato cage that isn’t tall enough, your plant is going to spill over the top, and the vines might snap under their own weight. Some tomato varieties can grow up to 10 ft tall so it’s important your cages can support such a tall plant.
Remember that you will sink a good eight inches of your tomato cage into the ground for stability, and that should be accounted for when considering the dimensions you choose.
3. Don’t Waste Your Money
The most common type of tomato cage is actually the last one you want to be buying!
These are the light-duty, cone-shape cages that are available from pretty much every garden center. They might be cheap, but you’ll notice you can snap the wire with just a small amount of effort. (Probably don’t test this out in the garden center, or the manager won’t be too impressed.)
Why does this matter? Well, it needs to be able to support the weight of the plant as it grows fully. If the cage snaps, then you’ve wasted your money for no good reason, and your precious tomato vine might just break along with it.
Another reason that cone-shaped cages aren’t the best choice is that they offer less support at the base, exactly where it is needed. You’d be much better off with a sturdy, cylindrical shape tomato cage that offers decent support from the ground up.
(If you’ve already got the cone-shaped tomato cages, it’s no big deal. It’s a waste of your money and the earth’s resources to throw something out if it’s working for you. It’s just something to consider for next time!)
4. Set them deep into the ground
If you don’t set your tomato cage deeply enough in the ground, the whole thing can just blow over or be pulled down by the weight of the plants.
You can use cages in containers or directly in the garden, but they need to be set around 8 inches into the soil either way.
5. Don’t tie your vines too tightly
Most beginner tomato growers tie their vines far too tightly to the cage.
While it’s understandable that you want those plant babies well supported, you’re actually going to suffocate them. (Just like teenagers, tomatoes need some space to grow.)
So although your plants do need to be secured to the cage, don’t overdo it.