If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you’ll know that they can get quite tall, and their branches are heavy when they’re full of ripening fruit. This is the primary reason to use a tomato cage.
A tomato cage not only provides good support for your plant but also helps to keep the ripening fruit off the ground. This helps to stop soil-borne diseases from being splashed up onto the fruit and leaves. In addition, it makes it far easier to care for the plant in regards to pruning and picking the fruit.
Here are some helpful tips on the benefits of tomato cages, how to choose a good cage, and how to make your own at home.
Why Use A Tomato Cage
There are numerous reasons why seasoned gardeners use tomato cages to grow their tomatoes in. Here are just some of the top reasons you should use a tomato cage when you’re growing tomatoes, either in your garden or in a large pot.
- They provide your plant with a strong support. Tomato plants are tall growers. However, their stems are often not very strong. They’re certainly not strong enough to remain upright once they’re heavily laden with fruit. Just the slightest amount of wind can easily topple over a heavily laden stem. This not only means your plant is growing along the ground but the stems can easily break under the weight.
- They keep the fruit and leaves off the ground. There are many soil-borne diseases that can live in the soil for years. If you allow your tomato plants to trail along the ground, these diseases can easily be splashed up onto the leaves and fruit of your plant either through rain or irrigation. In addition, tomatoes that are ripening on the ground provide easy access to snails and slugs that will devour them before you’ve had a chance to pick them.
- It’s a space saving way to grow your tomatoes. Using a tomato cage allows your tomato plants to grow vertically rather than along the ground. This means you can grow tomatoes in a smaller space without compromising on the quantity of fruit you’ll be able to harvest.
- Tomato cages prevent stem breakages. The stems on tomato plants aren’t overly strong. They can easily break if you get a sudden burst of wind or even heavy rain. Plus, the weight of the fruit puts even more pressure on these flimsy stems. And, if you do experience heavy winds, you can even tie some of the branches to the supports on the cage to give them more protection.
- Pruning, watering and harvesting is much easier. Growing your tomato in a cage makes it easy to access the plant from all sides. This allows you to easily see and prune out lateral branches. It also means that you can add water to your plant only to the root area and easily avoid getting the leaves wet. Plus, when it comes to harvesting, you’ll find it so much easier to find and pick the fruit that is the ripest.
- It’s easier to protect your plants from the cold. For those people who only have a short growing season, quite often, your fruit might not ripen enough before the cold weather arrives. If you’ve grown your tomatoes in a cage, you’ll be able to wrap the entire cage with some fabric so that the plant itself and the developing fruit are not damaged by an early frost.
What To Look For When Buying A Tomato Cage
Tomato cages come in various shapes and sizes. The most common ones are either rectangular, triangular, or round. You’ll find that rectangular tomato cages will have four supports while triangular and round ones will have three or more. For large, indeterminate tomato varieties that can grow quite tall, you should select a cage that has as many supports as possible.
When buying a tomato cage, the things to consider are the size of the cage, the material it’s made from, the shape of the cage, and how easy it is to assemble. Let’s look at these features in more detail.
Size Of The Cage
Standard tomato cages range in size from 15 inches (38 cm) high to around 72 inches (1.8 meters) high. When selecting the correct size, obviously, it’s important to consider the variety of tomatoes that you’re growing.
If you’re growing dwarf varieties, then a smaller cage is fine. However, if you’re going to grow larger varieties such as Beefsteak, you should definitely consider one of the very largest cages available.
The Material The Cage Is Made From
In general, you can get both metal and plastic cages. Plastic cages are generally more inexpensive, but they may also not be as strong as metal cages. Remember that fully laden tomato plants can get extremely heavy and could easily topple over a plastic cage. This may cause irreparable damage to your tomato plant and may even kill it.
Therefore, unless you’re growing only small tomato varieties, you should consider a metal cage. Make sure that the metal is coated with either plastic or powder as uncoated metal is likely to rust.
The Shape Of The Cage
As mentioned, tomato cages generally come in three different shapes. The rectangular cages are usually the strongest because they have plenty of supports. These are ideal for large tomato varieties and can easily be folded up after use for storage.
Triangular cages are better for smaller tomato varieties because the horizontal bars are closer together. On the other hand, round cages provide plenty of room for your tomato plants to grow and spread. This can often result in better yields.
How Easy Is It To Assemble The Cage?
If you visit a local garden center, you might be lucky enough to find some tomato cages that are already pre-assembled. However, in most cases, you’ll have to assemble the cages yourself.
Thankfully, most tomato cages are fairly easy to assemble and don’t require any special tools. Most come with detailed instructions that you can just follow to put your tomato cage together.
Finally, when selecting the right tomato cage, make sure that it has either spikes that you can push into the ground or pegs that you can use to secure the cage into the ground. Remember that the tomato cage has to be well-secured so that it can support the full weight of heavily laden tomato plants.
How To Make Your Own Tomato Cage
If you’re a gardener, you’re most likely also quite handy and can easily make your own tomato cages using readily available materials that you may have at home or can easily purchase at your local hardware store or garden center.
DIY tomato cages can be made from a variety of materials such as welded steel, PVC pipes, and hardwood. Here are three easy ideas for sturdy tomato cages with step-by-step instructions.
1. Sturdy Tomato Cage Made From Remesh
This cage is easy to make and is quite sturdy. Although the remesh will rust over time, this cage should last you more than one season.
What You’ll Need
- 1 sheet of remesh (you can find this in the concrete section of your local hardware store)
- 3 stakes (these should be at least four feet tall and can be either timber or thick bamboo)
- Some coated wire, galvanized wire or zip ties
Step 1: Shape The Remesh Into A Cylinder
To make a cylinder with the remesh, just bring the two short ends together and secure them either with some coated or galvanized wire or zip ties. If you’re using a 7-foot remesh sheet, this will make quite a large cage. You can reduce the size of the cage to better fit your garden area by overlapping the ends by either one or two rows of grid squares.
To secure the ends well, add a wire tie at the top and the bottom and then a few spread along the length. Once you’ve done this, you can lay the cage on the ground and bend it into a circular shape if you want.
Step 2: Secure The Cage With The Stakes
Stand the cage in your garden over the tomato plant. Make sure the plant is roughly in the center of the cage. Push two sturdy stakes into the ground on either side of the cage. If you line these up with the vertical wires of the remesh, it will be easier to secure them to the cage.
Ensure that you drive the stakes at least one foot into the ground to make sure that they are really secure and won’t be easily knocked over. Secure the stakes to the cage using garden wire or zip ties.
Step 3: Use The Third Stake For The Plant
The third stake is used to support the main stem of the plant so that it grows upward. Secure the stem to the stake loosely using soft reusable plant ties. Don’t make these too tight because you want to give the stem room to thicken a little.
Step 4: Tuck In The Branches As The Tomato Plant Grows
As the branches of your tomato plant start to grow, they may start to poke through the cage. When this happens, gently tuck them back in and make sure that they’re growing upward. You can even secure these branches to the cage using those soft plant ties.
Step 5: Add More Height With A Double Cage
If you’re growing really tall tomato varieties, you may eventually have to add another cage on top of your current one. This is easily done with another sheet of remesh fashioned into a cylinder as in step 1.
You’ll then need to secure this to the top of the original cage with wire or zip ties. Make sure you overlap a couple of rows of mesh so that the top cage is nice and secure.
To store your cage over winter, you can either hang it from the rafters in your garage if you have the space or undo the wires holding it together and store it flat.
If you don’t want to use remesh for your tomato cage, you can use cattle panels instead and follow the same steps.
2. DIY Timber Cage
These timber cages are both easy to make and attractive. And, they’ll last you for many years too.
For these cages, you can either use pine, which is relatively expensive but will weather with time or for better durability and if you have the budget, consider using something like cedar instead.
Here’s What You’ll Need
- 2 timbers boards measuring 2 feet x 2 feet x 8 feet (these are commonly called two by twos and need to be cut in half so that each one is 4 feet long)
- 3 timber boards measuring 1 foot x 2 feet x 8 feet (these are commonly called one by twos and need to be cut as follows:)
- 6 pieces that measure 1 foot x 2 feet x 18 inches
- 6 pieces that measure 1 foot x 2 feet x 19.5 inches
- Either a nail gun or screws for joining the boards together
- A measuring tape
- A saw for cutting the boards
- Some outdoor wood sealer or paint (optional)
Step 1: Cut Your Timber
The first thing you want to do is cut all your timber lengths to size. To make it easy, you need to end up with:
- 4 two by twos that are 4 feet long
- 6 one by twos that are 18 inches long
- 6 one by twos that are 19.5 inches long
Step 2: Assemble Two Sides Of The Cage
- Lay two of the 4-foot two by twos on a flat surface side by side.
- Grab three of the 18-inch one by twos. These need to be attached to the two by twos to join them together.
- Lay the first 18-inch one by two on top of both of the two by twos at one end, like you’re making a square frame.
- Leave a gap of 15 inches and then lay the second 18-inch one by two on top of the 2 two by twos.
- Leave another gap of 15 inches and lay the third 18-inch one by two on top of the 2 two by twos.
- Either nail the one by twos onto the two by twos or screw them on instead. Using screws will make them more secure in the long run.
- Do exactly the same with the other two by twos and the remaining 18-inch one by twos.
You should now have two framed pieces that look similar to the drawing below.
Step 3: Join The Two Sides By Attaching The Cross Boards
Grab the 19.5-inch one by twos and use them to join the two sides to make a frame. Make sure you overlap the longer pieces so that they form a neat, flush edge with the shorter one by twos.
Continue down the frame with the other one by twos and turn the three-sided frame over and repeat on the fourth side.
You now have a sturdy four-sided timber potato cage.
Step 4: Seal Or Paint Your Timber Tomato Cage
You can either leave your tomato cage in its raw state, or you may choose to seal the timber or paint it in a nice color to suit your garden.
Tips For Using These Timber Tomato Cages
When you install these timber cages over your tomatoes, make sure that you bury the legs in the soil. This will keep them nice and sturdy and means that they won’t topple over under the weight of the plants.
As your tomato plants grow, make sure you train them to stay inside the cage. You can always use soft plant ties to tie the branches to the frames if they want to escape.
3. Make A Strong And Durable Tomato Cage Using PVC Pipe
This is another great idea for making tomato cages using 7 inch and 10 inch long pieces of PVC pipe that are joined together with pipe joiners such as cross joiners, elbows, and t-pieces.
The number of pieces that you need will depend on how tall your want your tomato cage to be.
Here’s What You’ll Need For A 34-Inch Tall Tomato Cage
- 40 pieces of PVC pipe cut to 7 inches long
- 10 pieces of PVC pipe cut to 10 inches long
- 20 cross joiners
- 20 elbow
- 4 t-piece joiners
- Pipe cutter
- Tape measure
- Black Marker
- PVC glue
Step 1: Cut Your Half Inch PVC Pipe Into Pieces
Using a tape measure, mark your lengths of PVC pipe into the required lengths. Cut your pipe with the pipe cutter, so you end up with 40 x 7-inch pieces and 10 x 10-inch pieces.
Step 2: Make Your Corners
Grab 2 of the 7-inch pieces of pipe and place them into an elbow piece. Use the PVC glue to glue these pieces together. Repeat with all the other elbow pieces. Make sure you wear gloves when you’re gluing the pieces together because this can get pretty messy otherwise.
Step 3: Insert The T-Pieces Between Your Elbow Pieces
To do this, lay down 4 of the pre-made corner pieces on a flat surface so that they form a rectangle. Lay your t-pieces in between each elbow. These will be used for the upright supports.
To ensure your t-pieces are lined up correctly, insert a longer piece of pipe into the top hole of the t-piece. Don’t glue this. This will allow you to line up the pieces before you glue the elbow pieces into the cross-sections of each t-piece. Take your time when you’re doing this to ensure that everything lines up correctly.
Continue to glue the elbow pieces into the cross-sections of all the t-pieces, ensuring that the open end of each t-piece is pointed up. You now have the rectangular section of the top of your cage.
Step 4: Glue In Your Ten Inch Upright Supports
Grab 4 of the 10-inch PVC pipe pieces and glue one side into each of the upright t-pieces.
Step 5: Glue The Cross Pieces Onto The Uprights
Take 4 of your cross pieces and glue one onto each of the upright PVC pipe pieces. Make sure that they’re lined up correctly so that all the other pieces will slot into place.
Step 6: Glue In The Next Set Of Corners
Take four of the pre-made corner pieces and glue them into the cross pieces to make another rectangle.
Step 7: Continue To Build The Frame
By now, you’ll understand how this goes together. Continue to build your cage upward in the same way using all the upright supports, the cross pieces, and the pre-made corner pieces.
This will give you a five-section high frame. When you’ve built the last rectangular section, insert the remaining 10-inch supports into the tops of the t-pieces. This is the bottom of the cage, and these pieces will be pushed into the ground as stakes.
Once these stakes have been pushed into the ground, you should end up with a tomato cage that is around 34 inches tall.
These are nice, sturdy tomato cages that you can make as tall or as short as you want. Just add as many rectangular sections as you need. These cages will last you for many seasons, and they’re extremely easy to build once you collect and cut your materials.
Using tomato cages for growing your tomatoes is one of the very best ways to get lovely healthy plants and a large crop of juicy, red tomatoes to enjoy.