The best tomato cages for growing healthy tomatoes

tomatos growingGrowing tomatoes is a passion for nearly every back yard, deck or patio gardener.  No matter what type of tomato you grow, each plant needs the best tomato cage sbecause heavy, fruit-bearing branches can be easily bend top-heavy branches down and inclement weather or winds can snap stems if not supported.

If you live in occasional high-wind areas, wind gusts can be hazardous to your plants. Tomatoes have plenty of leafy branches that act like sails that are easily damaged by wind gusts or worse, go airborne.

Plants taking off in the wind has happened to me several times as my containers and plants were knocked about by California’s seasonal Santa Ana winds that produce gusts of 50-60 MPH. It’s always a good thing to add a brick or large stone in the bottom of any container as the added weight helps prevent this. Most of the time.

Supporting your tomato plants becomes Job 1 after you plant your starters 
There are several types of tomato cages available. Some provide adequate support while others do not. Experienced growers know that advertized claims about what specific brands of cages claim to do is often highly overrated.

Every cage has upsides and downsides. One common downside is that you’ll need additional stakes to support your plants and the cage. This is especially true with containers. A container doesn’t have the depth to fully support a stake which goes down only as deep as the container. This results in leaning towers of tomato plants.

The type of tomato cage you need depends upon the type of tomato plants you want to grow
Tomatoes are vines, not bushes and require a full 6-8 hours of full sunlight, plenty of water, adequate ventilation and good, quality fertilizer. Most folks buy 6 or more tomato plants every season. You’ve got to know the varieties and how big they will grow before you buy.

Determinate varieties are generally shorter, often called “bush” or “patio” tomatoes, designed to grow to a 2-4 feet, perfect for space limited yards, patios or decks and last for a season. Commercial growers prefer these because the fruit tends to grow on the tops of the plant making it quick and easy to harvest by machine or hand.

Indeterminate tomato varieties are the vining type and the Paul Bunyans of the tomato world. They’ll continue to grow and produce fruit until killed by frost at season’s end. They often grow to 10 feet,  with 6 feet being about the average height.  Some plants have grown to be 18 feet or taller. That’s one heck of a lot of tomatoes.

The best tomato cages have wide openings providing easy access for pruning, pest control, fertilizing and harvesting.
How big can container plants get?
Apparently Charles Wilbur has a whopper of a green thumb.  That’s him with his two 17.5 foot tall world record holders. Wilbur did it all organically too in a barrel container no less.

Charles Wilber

Charles Wilber

Why invest big bucks on quality tomato cages?
Because you get long-lasting product quality. If you’re a tomato growing junky, then you’ll need to invest  in cages that last.

Go cheap and you’ll get cages that easily bend, break and look unappealing. Gardens should be enjoyable to behold, in the yard or on your apartment patio. That’s part of the joy of gardening. Watching something grow that you’ve planted is very satisfying.

Types of the best tomato cages
Cages are made of plastic or metal, having rings or cross-member supports. No matter which type you use, it’s important to make sure that you don’t crowd your plants too close together.

Tightly restrained branches limit the amount of sunlight each plant receives, especially in the lower parts. Plants squished together are more prone to disease. That’s why you need to trim the lower suckers off. Suckers do little but rob nutrients from the plant, preventing growing fruit from receiving the good stuff that they need to mature.

Ventilation is vital to the health of a tomato. Air must circulated freely to prevent disease.

Cone galvanized metal cages
Galvanizing is a manufacturing process that coats metal with a protective layer of zinc to prevent rust. Galvanized 3-prong cheap cone cages with 3-4 rings are readily available at your local Big Box Home Center.

Their downside is that they’re flimsy with prongs or metal rings that easily bend and break when fruits get heavy. Their tripod 3-prong design is unstable and can’t withstand winds, rains, thunderstorms or the occasional bump from you or Fido. As the zinc coating ages they look unsightly.

If you like using metal cone cages, buy heavier gauge. Four prongs are best for sturdier support. I prefer the powder-coated cages (as does my wife). They not only last longer life but are available in colors which look better and accents your garden decor.

Here’s a good selection of the best metal cone tomato cages

Square & Triangular Metal Cages
These cages are more stable than the cheap, round stuff, and are made with 4-prongs which means there’s less wiggle room as as the season progresses and your plants grow. Their straight sides are easier to grab onto when you jam the prongs into the ground.

These cages are good for back yards where there’s plenty of room. They don’t work as well in round containers or pots because not all prongs can fit into the diameter of a container. But in a rectangular or square box they’ll work just fine.They’re also useful for growing peppers, eggplant, cucumber, peas, pole beans and flowers. Most fold flat for easy storage.

Square and triangular designs are great for tomato plants because the design provides for a lot of room for branches to climb and latch onto for support. Air circulation is good as the plants aren’t squished together. Spaces between cage wires are big enough to provide easy access for your hands to prune, control pests or harvest.

One of their best advantage is that these cages are stackable. You can grow tall indeterminate varieties by adding extensions for maximum vertical growth which can yield a lot of fruit if the plants are grown with care, watered, fertilized regularly and pruned.

Here’s a good selection of sturdy square metal support cages.

Square plastic cages
Generally plastic cages are good and very sturdy. Some assembly is required. Plastic should last for years in most types of soil.They’re prefect for vertical growing with limited space like apartment or condo decks or patios.

Here’s a selection of plastic tomato cages


Tomato ladders
Ladders have the advantages of either being used as a single units or in extended segments.

Ivette Soler’s tomato ladder

These ladders are great for growing those tall, indeterminate varieties that can easily reach six feet or better. Check out what Ivette Soler has created.

 

 

 

 

And here’s a good selection of tomato ladders

15 Ways You Can Cage, Stake or Trellis Your Tomato Plants to Grow Vertical
 

This is a really good video from gardening expert John Kohler at a community garden in Larkspur, California, that shows the various methods of supporting tomatoes using both purchased and freely available stuff.

 
Note how the plants have been pruned on the bottoms to allow air circulation. When you plant tomatoes in cages they need air to fight off tomato fungus diseases. Packed too close together, the plants do not fare well and any stray fungus will quickly spread to all plants unless treated.with a good fungicide.

More supplies you’ll need

Stakes
You’ll need stakes for additional support with cages. Here’s a good selection of several types.

Ties and Clips
The types of ties and clips you use is important to prevent damage to plant stems or branches. Her’s a selection.

A final Word
thumb

The green thumg on the left is not available in any store that I know of. It comes with experience. I wish you well in your gardening efforts. Send me an email of the whopper tomatoes you grow. And your thumb if you’d like.