Among home gardeners, tomato cages are probably the most popular method of providing support to growing tomato plants.
It might be the easiest method, too.
Using cages to support tomato plants generally means less pruning and little or no tying of stems.
Tomato plants grown within cages are also less likely to produce sunburned fruit.
But there are also some disadvantages to using a tomato cage.
The dense foliage within the cage can make it more difficult to spot and harvest ripe tomatoes.
And plants grown in a cage will normally ripen fruit slower than other systems of supporting tomatoes.
If you want to use tomato cages to support your plants, you have lots of options to choose from. There are many styles of well-made cages available for purchase that require little or no assembly.
But you can make a perfectly functional cage yourself out of mesh concrete reinforcing wire, which you can buy at most any building supply store. Here’s how:
Cut a 5-foot length from a roll of reinforcing wire. (Use 10-guage wire with a 6-inch mesh.) When you cut off a length of wire from the roll, make your cut in the middle of a square between 2 of the vertical wires. That way you should have about 3-inches of wire extending from both ends of the 5-foot length.
Now just form the length of reinforcing wire into a circle, and connect the ends by twisting together those 3-inch extensions you left on each end. You might need a pair of pliers to twist the wires together.
This will make a cage roughly 18-inches in diameter. If you want a larger cage, just cut off more than 5-feet from the roll of reinforcing wire.
Now you have a cage with horizontal wires at both the top and bottom. Cut the bottom wire off by just clipping off the end of each of the vertical wires at the bottom of the cage. That will leave 6-inch wire ‘spikes’ at the bottom of the cage, which you will push into the ground to help secure the cage in place.
Shortly after transplanting your tomato seedlings, put a cage in place over each plant. With the cage in position over the plant, drive a couple of stakes into the ground at opposing sides of the cage.
These stakes will prevent the cage from toppling from wind or from the load of all the tomatoes your plant will (hopefully!) produce. You can either wire the cage to the stakes, or if you’re using a homemade cage described above, you can thread the stakes through the mesh squares of the cage.
You can use wood or metal stakes (rebar is excellent); just make sure that the stakes are as tall as the cage after they (the stakes) have been driven into the ground 1-foot deep.
As the plants grow within the cage, keep an eye out for stems that are growing up against the cage, but not out. You can thread them through the mesh of the cage so that they can grow unrestricted. As stems outside of the cage become too long, you can redirect them to grow back into the cage.
Less tomato pruning is required when using cages for support. Just prune as necessary to maintain the density of stems and foliage that you want.
If you’d prefer not to bother with making your own cages, there are plenty of pre-built cages available for purchase. You can probably find some suitable cages at a home or garden center near you.
A word of caution, though: be selective. I have seen cages sold in stores that are altogether unsuitable for supporting tomato plants. A mature tomato plant loaded with fruit can be surprisingly weighty. A cage needs to be of hefty construction to bear up under the load.
When evaluating whether to purchase a cage, use this rule of thumb: if you can easily bend the wire of the cage with your hand, it might not be strong enough. Better to spend a bit more for a solid cage than to find your hopes for a great tomato harvest sprawled out on the ground because of a collapsing cage!
Here are some tomato cages that have proven to be very popular with gardeners. Click on the product caption for more information, or to purchase if you like to shop online. (If you’re not comfortable shopping online, I’ll bet you can find some of these locally.)