Are you debating whether to use tomato cages or not? Some gardeners question whether they are really all that useful. Although there are a few disadvantages, tomato cages offer mostly benefits for your tomatoes, peppers, or other plants that need support.
So, why should you use a tomato cage? A tomato cage allows plants to climb so that plants can stay off the ground and avoid diseases spread by soil and water. Using tomato cage also means that each plant grows vertically, taking up less space in your garden. In addition, a tomato cage provides support to branches as a plant grows. Finally, it is easier to water, prune, and harvest from plants grown on tomato cages.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of using tomato cages. Then, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about tomato cages, such as how tall they should be, how to anchor them, and where to get them.
Why Should I Use A Tomato Cage? (Benefits Of Using A Tomato Cage)
There are lots of benefits to using tomato cages in your garden. Perhaps the most important is the fact that plants that are kept off the ground are less susceptible to diseases.
Tomato Cages Help Plants To Climb And Avoid Disease
A tomato cage provides support so that your plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, can grow vertically. This prevents them from crawling along the ground as they grow.
When your plants grow along the ground, their stems, branches, vines, leaves, and fruit are more likely to stay wet for a longer period of time. They are also in contact with the soil on a constant basis. This makes them more susceptible to fungus and other diseases that live in soil or thrive in moist environments.
When you keep your plants off the ground, you prevent rain or irrigation from splashing onto plant leaves, which is a common way for diseases to spread.
Plants Grown On Tomato Cages Take Up Less Space In Your Garden
When your plants grow up along a tomato cage, they take up less space in your garden. This allows you to plant more and get a larger harvest at the end of the season.
You can also get the same harvest from a much smaller space. This makes crop rotation much more practical in a small yard or garden.
Tomato Cages Support Branches As Your Plants Grow
Tomato cages have horizontal supports (rings for circular cages, or lengths of wire, wood, or plastic for square cages). As your tomato plants grow, you can move the branches so that they rest on the cage’s horizontal supports.
This makes it less likely that the branches will split or break due to the weight of tomatoes on the vine. It also helps to balance the plant and keep the main stem from falling over in the wind.
An added bonus of using a tomato cage is that you don’t have to tie your plants to the cage as it grows, as you do with stakes. However, you still have the option to tie your plant to your tomato cage if you are worried about heavy winds.
If you want to make your tomato plant sturdier against wind, read my article on why to bury your tomato plant deep when you transplant it outside in the spring.
It Is Easier To Water, Prune, and Harvest From Plants On Tomato Cages
It is much easier to care for plants grown on tomato cages than if your plants grow along the ground. First of all, you will not have to worry about stepping on vines, branches, and fruit if your plants are growing vertically in a tomato cage. This makes it easier to move around the plants in your garden.
Also, you can easily water at the base of your plants, without having to worry about getting the leaves wet. This makes it much less likely that your plants will suffer from fungus and rot.
In addition, a tomato cage will make it easier to see which growth should be pruned and cut back to keep the plant neat.
Finally, a tomato cage makes it easier to harvest at the end of the season. You won’t have to worry about bending over to pick up fruit from the ground. It will also be easier to see the fruit when it is not hidden under leaves that are growing along the ground.
It Is Easy To Protect Plants In Tomato Cages From Cold
If you live in an area with a short growing season, it can be difficult to protect established plants from cold. This is especially indeterminate tomato plants, which can easily grow to a height of 6 feet or taller.
However, a tomato cage makes cold protection much easier. The cage itself provides a nice frame for you to wrap garden fabric (such as row covers) around a plant in preparation for an early fall frost.
For more information, check out my article on how to protect tomato plants from cold and frost.
Disadvantages Of Tomato Cages
Tomato cages do come with some disadvantages, so it’s only fair to talk about those here as well.
First of all, you do need to pull up and store your tomato cages each year. You also need to take them out of storage and set them up after planting. This amounts to some extra work each year.
Also, you will either need to buy tomato cages or build your own, which costs you either time or money.
Finally, if your tomato cage falls over due to a strong wind, it may take the plant down with it. This can uproot an established plant and possibly damage or kill it. The best way to prevent this is to anchor your tomato cages securely (more on this later).
If any of these disadvantages had dissuaded you from tomato cages, you should still support your tomatoes as they grow. For more information, check out my article on how and why to support tomatoes.
Types Of Tomato Cages
If you are sold on the benefits of tomato cages, you are probably wondering what kind you should buy.
You can use circular or square tomato cages. Generally, square tomato cages will have four legs, one for each corner.
Circular tomato cages will have three or more. If you are worried about wind knocking down your cages and plants, opt for cages with more supports to drive into the ground.
Tomato cages can be made of plastic, wood, or metal. Plastic tomato cages will probably be the cheapest ones you can find, but they don’t hold up well under the weight of heavy plants.
For example, indeterminate tomato plants that grow tall and produce lots of fruit may cause a plastic tomato cage to collapse.
Wood tomato cages are probably rarer to find in stores, but you can make them yourself out of wood you have lying around at home.
If the wood is not pressure treated, it will rot after exposure to the weather, and you will need to buy or make more. However, you probably should not use pressure treated wood in your garden.
Metal cages are the most durable and heavy duty, and are most likely to be able to support taller, heavier plants that produce more fruit.
However, they will be less flexible than plastic cages, meaning they might not be a good choice for indoor plants grown in containers.
How Tall Should A Tomato Cage Be?
The height of your tomato cage depends on the plant you are growing in the cage. Some shorter varieties of pepper plants may only grow to 1 or 2 feet tall.
In that case, a small 2-foot tall homemade cage can work well for them, especially if you are growing indoors in a container.
Taller peppers and some determinate tomato varieties can grow to a height of 3 or 4 feet, so a tomato cage that is 4 feet tall would work well for these plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes and some cucumber varieties can easily grow to a height of 6 feet or taller. In those cases, a tomato cage that is 6 feet tall would be more appropriate.
If you are growing indeterminate tomatoes that grow to heights of 8 feet or more, it may not be practical to support them with tomato cages.
In that case, it would be dangerous to try to harvest tomatoes high on the plant. Instead, you could use a lean-to trellis to support taller plants without having to risk climbing a ladder to harvest your fruit.
For more information, check out my article on how tall a trellis should be.
How To Anchor A Tomato Cage
You should transplant your seedlings into your garden before placing tomato cages. Otherwise, you may have difficulty digging the soil inside the cage and moving around to place the plant.
After you bury your plant, drive the legs of your tomato cage into the ground so that the plant is centered inside the cage. If necessary, you can use a rubber mallet or small hammer to hit the top of the cage and drive the legs down so that taps securely into place.
To provide extra support, find some small (12 inches or 30 centimeters long) stakes with hooks at one end. Then, use your hammer to drive them into the ground near the legs of the tomato cage.
Place the stakes so that the hook will catch on one of the horizontal supports on the cage. This will help to keep the cage in the ground, and it will prevent it from falling over due to wind or the weight of your plant and its fruit.
What If My Tomato Cages Are Falling Over?
If your tomato cages are falling over, try using additional support in the form of garden stakes (4 to 6 feet or 1.2 to 1.8 meters tall). Use a hammer to drive the stakes into the ground parallel to the legs of the tomato cage. Then, use twine to tie the legs of the tomato cage to the stakes.
How Many Plants Per Tomato Cage?
You should only put one plant in each cage. Don’t get me wrong, I do applaud the idea of being economical and thrifty.
However, putting two or more plants together in the same cage is asking for trouble. When the plants are that close and overcrowded, they will end up competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight.
It is also more likely that disease will spread faster through your garden if the plants are close enough to be touching, as two or more plants would be inside a cage.
The only exception would be a longer cage specifically designed to house two or more plants.
How To Use A Tomato Cage In A Container
The same principles outlined above apply to using a tomato cage in a container. Place the plant in the soil first and cover the roots with soil, as usual.
Then, drive the legs of the tomato cage into the soil, being careful not to damage the roots of established plants.
If the container plant will grow tall with heavy fruit, it might be a good idea to place a few stones on the top of the soil. This will help to keep the container from falling over, and it can also be decorative if you choose some nice-looking stones.
Where Can I Get Tomato Cages?
You can find tomato cages online or at garden centers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, Ace, and so forth. Some of the cheaper tomato cages will sell for a dollar or two, while more expensive ones can go for $50.
As mentioned earlier, you should consider the material, shape, number of legs, and height of plants before you decide on which tomato cages to buy.
Can I Make My Own Tomato Cages?
You certainly can! There are numerous plans available online for making your own tomato cages. Depending on your skill level, you can make simple cages out of wood or metal, or you can make more complex ones that suit your gardening needs.
For more information, check out this tutorial from DIY Network on how to build a tomato cage out of wire.
By now, you have a much better sense of why you should use tomato cages, along with answers to some common questions.
I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information. If you have any questions or advice of your own about tomato cages, please leave a comment below.
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