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How to Use Tomato Cages and Tomato Plant Stakes

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DIY Tomato Cages to Support Your Plants!

Support those tomatoes to prevent branch breakage, avoid pest damage, and provide air circulation. Learn the best supports to use for two types of tomatoes—bush and vine—and how to make inexpensive tomato cages. Plus, we’ll share planting and pruning tips for tomatoes.

Planting Tomatoes

Before we get into supports though, let’s talk about how to prepare those plants. Tomatoes like the warm, so before putting tomato plants in the ground, make sure they acclimatize to the great outdoors for a week in a spot sheltered from wind. Perhaps bring plants in overnight for the first few nights, then leave them outside for increasingly longer as planting time approaches. A cold frame makes a superb halfway house and you can prop open the lid increasingly wide as the days roll on.

When planting, be sure to pick the sunniest spot in your garden – one that gets at least six hours of direct sunshine a day – and preferably more than that. Add plenty of well-rotted organic matter to your soil in the weeks or months before planting. When planting vining tomatoes, give them plenty of space for good sunlight and airflow (18 inches between plants, 2 feet between rows). 

  • Tomato Tip: Tomatoes are incredible plants because they can produce roots at any point along their stem. With this in mind, we dig planting holes quite a bit deeper than the depth of the rootball so you can bury some of the stems. 
  • Tomato Tip: Water in your plants (at soil level!) with a weak liquid seaweed solution just to give plants a bit of a lift and help settle them in. Once the plants start flowering, offer an occasional liquid tomato feed.

See the complete Growing Guide for Tomatoes for more information from planting through harvest.

Supporting Tomatoes

Tomatoes need support to avoid breakage, pests, and other problems. The type of support you use depends on the type of tomatoes you’re growing!

  • Bush tomatoes (also known as determinate tomatoes) grow up to about three feet high and, therefore, require less support, sometimes little more than a sturdy stake or perhaps a tomato cage. Determinates, by the way, are called that because they have a pre-determined height they’ll reach – and they won’t grow any taller.
  • Vining tomatoes (also known as indeterminate tomatoes) grow to head height and sometimes sky high, so they’ll need something more substantial.  

(See how to make the supports described below in Ben’s video above.)

Vining/Indeterminate Tomatoes

Vining tomatoes can be grown against tall canes or garden stakes or in a greenhouse, twisted around string.

Firmly secure canes or garden stakes into the ground so they can support the considerable weight of fruit-laden plants and withstand sudden gusts of wind. Tie stems to their canes at regular intervals, leaving enough slack for the stem to continue growing in girth. Secure a tie just above a truss, as this will better support the weight of fruits than a tie secured below a truss.

String supports are easy to set up. Dangle strong string directly from the greenhouse’s framework or from a horizontal string secured and stretched taut between the gable ends. Remember that the greenhouse will be bearing the entire weight of the plants, so it must be strong enough for the job.

Loop the string around the tomato plant’s rootball at planting time to secure it in place. As the plants reach up, twist the string around the stem, completing a full loop around the stem every two leaves. When you reach a truss, tuck the string above or behind it, never below it.

Vining tomatoes can also be trained up in a wigwam structure, one plant for each cane.

Bush/Determinate Tomatoes

In theory, bush tomatoes do not need support, but heavy fruits can weigh plants down onto the ground, increasing the chances of diseases and slug damage.

The simplest way to support them is with garden stakes hammered into to the ground. Tie plants to the stakes. Lift up the branches and drape them over the canes as they grow.

tomato-plant-supports.jpg

How to Make Tomato Cages

Tomato cages are another option for supporting determinate tomatoes, particularly vigorous varieties that produce lots and lots of branches. Unlike vining types, determinate tomatoes don’t need any pruning and tend to crop over a much shorter period, which makes cages very suitable. But purpose-sold tomato cages don’t come cheap! 

It’s easy to make your own from concrete-reinforcing mesh. The 6-inch squares will allow you to easily flex the mesh into a tube to make your cage. They’re inexpensive to make and can be reused for many years.

  • Start by cutting mesh that is five to six feet long. When rolled into a tube, this will give a cage diameter of 18 to 22 inches—tight enough to support a plant, while giving it enough room to expand. Use sturdy wire- or bolt cutters to make the cuts, and wear gloves to protect your hands from snagging cuts.
  • Once cut, roll the length of the mesh into a tube. Tie the ends together with heavy gauge wire or strong string, then cut off the bottom wire from the cage to leave just the vertical wires sticking out. These wires can be used to push the cage into the ground. For added stability, tie the cage to a vertical length of rebar or a similar sturdy upright. You can also pin the bottom wire to the ground with tent pegs.
  • Lower your tomato cage over the top of a plant and pull through any stray branches. As the plant grows, encourage growth upwards through the center of the cage, leaving fruiting trusses to grow outside of the cage to make picking even easier. At the end of the season, store the mesh flat to save space.

See how it’s done. Here’s another video as Ben explores different options for supporting indeterminate/vining and determinate/bush tomatoes.

Companion Plants for Tomatoes

Once you’ve planted and added stakes for your tomatoes, consider giving them some companions to help deter pests.

  • Marigolds not only add a splash of color but also deter whiteflies. Just add seeds at the foot of the plants and, in a few weeks’ time, when they come into flower.
  • Another great companion to tomatoes is dill, which beneficial bugs like hoverflies love.
  • And finally, a sowing of basil – because basil and tomatoes are the perfect pairing, after all.

See our Companion Planting Chart.

Pruning Tomato Plants

Tomatoes need regular pruning for the best results. This includes pruning trusses to remove excess fruits, removing unproductive lower leaves, and removing side-shoots (suckers). Pruning can even affect the flavor of your tomatoes, according to our page on Tomato Tips.

  • Truss Pruning
    • Thinning the fruits within the trusses of prolific fruiters such as cherry tomatoes will ensure those that remain grow larger. For varieties that bear particularly heavy fruits, such as the beefsteak tomatoes, thinning fruits to just three per truss will reduce the weight of the truss and make it less likely to snap away from the stem.
    • Prune trusses by snipping off the fruits with sharp scissors while they are still small.
  • Removing Leaves (Vining Tomatoes)
    • Remove all leaves below the lowest ripening trusses of vining tomatoes. These older leaves divert the plant’s energy away from producing more flowers and fruits and reduce air circulation and light penetration. Remove the leaves by pulling them sharply up and then down so they come away from the main stem. Support the stem as you do this.
  • Removing Sideshoots (Vining Tomatoes)
    • Also known as suckers, side shoots on vining tomatoes distract the tomato from producing flowers and fruits, and must also be removed. Side shoots appear at the point where a leaf joins the main stem. Remove them by wiggling them from side to side, then using your thumb to snap them out. Remove side shoots while they are still young, working from the bottom of the plant up.

Completing these simple training and pruning tasks needn’t take long; they’re a once-a-week job. At the same time, you can inspect your plants and check on the progress of your ripening tomatoes. You can check our Ripeness Guide to determine when your healthy tomatoes are ready for harvest.

About The Author

Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin, the associate editor for The Old Farmer's Almanac, has been reading North America's oldest continuously published periodical since he was a young child, growing up just a short drive from the OFA office. Read More from Tim Goodwin

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Ron kangail (not verified)

1 month 2 weeks ago

I use two methods of supporting my tomatoes the first is cages, and the second is indeterminate varieties on strings attached to wooden support above using this method I can grow them much closer together getting more tomato plants in my garden.

P. Dyer (not verified)

1 month 2 weeks ago

I really don't like the idea of fish heads. I remember a time when I went to the supermarket during winter months and purchased some "on the vine tomatoes." When I sliced them open a fishy smell emanated from them. I once saw a video where tomatoes were produced hydroponically and were watered via industrial-sized tanks containing live fish. Of course, not only were the tomatoes used for profit, but so were the fish. I will never use fish for fertilization but will use a regular tomato fertilizer where tomatoes don't smell fishy. I loved the video though !!

georgis (not verified)

1 month 3 weeks ago

I've been using store-bought tomato cages with mixed success. The biggest problem is that I hang a branch across the horizontal support in the cage, but the branch gets so heavy that it pinches the stem. I'm sure the same thing would occur with fencing/mesh. How can I support the branches better?

Hi, Georgis. Lucky for you we have a very active planting and growing community. If you scroll down after your comment here, you will see many, many wonderful suggestions for how to help your tomatoes. Click on “More Comments” to see even more suggestions.

Linda (not verified)

1 year 5 months ago

I don’t understand what is
concrete reinforcing mesh. The 6-inch squares will allow you to easily flex the mesh into a tube to make your cage.
Is their a picture to see this mesh? Looked at Home Depot & could not find the product.
Thank you

Concrete-reinforcing mesh looks like cattle fencing but is more flexible. It is used inside concrete structures to help maintain their shapes and has 6-inch spaces between the wires. Here’s an example of a similar product: Home Depot Remesh Sheet

Del Milligan (not verified)

2 years 10 months ago

Is there a reason suckers and side shoots should not be cut with scissors or other cutting device?

Mickey D Jackson (not verified)

3 years 1 month ago

I use PVC pipe and zip ties that way when I set out my tomato's I can put water straight to the roots. and any other fertilizer that needs to go to the roots and put the zip ties loose and they will ride up with the plant, works great for me anyway.

Peg Toth (not verified)

4 years 3 months ago

My husband drills holes at about 6 intervals up a wooden stake. As the tomato plant grows, he encircles the plant with a plastic shower curtain hook which is then clipped into the appropriate level hole on the wooden stake. We usually plant in excess of 75 tomato plants. This also works for cucumbers, pole beans, etc. He has been doing this for more than 5 years and it really works well.