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How To Use A Tomato Cage

Nov 19, 2023

Caging your tomato plants provides support while improving plant health.

Kim Toscano has provided gardening expertise for over 20 years through her writing, videos, and garden designs.

A plump beefsteak tomato can weigh up to a pound—that's a lot of weight for the flexible branches of a tomato plant to support. Add the bulk of several fruits ripening at once and you have the potential for plants to flop under their own weight. That's where the tomato cage comes in. Not only do cages provide much needed support for those long stems, but they also help manage tomato diseases and make harvesting fruits easier. Learn how to use a tomato cage to keep plants healthy and increase yield.

Tomatoes are prone to several diseases, many of which originate in the soil. Tomato cages hold foliage off the ground, reducing contact with the soil which in turn limits disease and insect damage. Caging tomatoes also helps manage foliar disease problems by increasing air circulation in the leaf canopy. Rather than enclosing the plant and confining the foliage, as the word cage might imply, the gridded bars of a tomato cage serve to support branching vines, holding some of the weight and allowing you to better separate branches. This improves air across the foliage and supports a lush canopy that protects fruits from sunscald. When it comes time to harvest, the fruits held up off the ground are easy to harvest.

A tomato cage also provides a framework for covering plants early in the growing season if temperatures take an unexpected dip. The same approach can be used to protect plants from early frosts in the fall, helping you to extend the harvest season.

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Several different training systems can be used to support tomato plants. These include trellising, the stake-and-weave method, and cages. The type of support system to be used depends in part on tomato growth habits. Tomatoes can be divided into two types, determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes produce all their fruit at once, which creates a heavy load on the vines. Plants compensate for this with shorter, thicker stems to support the weight. Determinate varieties are heavily branched and tend to have a bushy form. Plant growth stops when the plants begin flowering and every branch tends to end up with a flower cluster.

Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce leaves as well flowers throughout the entire growing season. Most gardeners grow indeterminate types at home to ensure a continuous crop. However, determinate tomatoes are ideal for small spaces and containers, or if you plan on canning your tomatoes for later use.

Both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes benefit from support. All three of the training systems mentioned above can be used with indeterminate tomato varieties, but only cages and the stake-and-weave method are used with determinate varieties. Of all the training methods, cages are the easiest to use. They require less work than staking or trellising and provide similar benefits. Fruits on caged plants may ripen a little later than those on staked or trellised plants, but the fruits they produce are less likely to suffer from cracking or sunburn. For the best results, select a sturdy cage sized for the type of tomato you are growing.

Tomato cages come in a variety of shapes and are made from metal, bamboo, wood, or plastic. While plastic cages are cheapest, they are also the least sturdy. Old-fashioned metal cone-style cages also tend to be on the flimsy side and too short for indeterminate varieties, however newer, taller cone-shaped cages made from thicker steel are available and stand up well to the weight of a loaded tomato plant. Cages range in height from 3 to 6 feet and typically have a diameter between 18 and 30 inches. When selecting a tomato cage consider the size of the plant when fully grown.

Determinate tomatoes tend to have a more compact growth habit and require a cage with plentiful cross bars to support branches for increased air circulation and heavy fruit loads. Determinate varieties are on the shorter side, so a four-foot-tall cage is adequate. Look for a triangular or square-shaped cage with a narrower width, up to two feet across, to support determinate tomatoes.

Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and set fruit all season long, producing tall vines that can reach heights of up to 10 feet. You want a very sturdy cage to support these tall plants. Look for a six-foot tall support made of a strong material. A V-shaped tomato ladder or square cage provides the necessary support, as do sturdy cone-shaped cages. Be sure the support has long prongs for securing the cage into the ground.

Selecting your tomato cage is the hard part, installing them is easy. To protect growing roots, it is best to install cages at planting time. Here's how:

It is important to decide on a caging system and have cages ready when you set plants in the garden. Choose a sturdy cage sized for the type of tomato you intend to grow. Make sure your hands fit easily through the openings in the cage for easy harvesting. At the end of the season, take time to remove and clean cages for winter storage. Storing cages in a protected location over the winter will help them last longer.