Do you need to use some sort of support such as a tomato cage or a steak to support your tomatoes?
This is a question I'm asked many times every year by beginner gardeners.
The answer can best be found on the first couple of paragraphs of our article on "pruning tomatoes." Click on the link tomato cage to go there.
As you can see, it is not only necessary but a must to use a cage or an alternative method such as steaks to keep your tomatoes healthy.
There are a variety of cages on the market that you can purchase at Home Depot, Lowe's Garden Center, or from most hardware stores.
A tomato cage design can range from a wire cone shape, telescopic spiral cage, tomato tower, as well as triangle or lattice framework.
To the left is a collapsible spiral cage that is expanded with a young plant growing inside the tree.
As the plant grows the spiral cage will become a brace for the branches and developing fruit.
To the right of the spiral cage is another tomato plant supported by a small upright stick. If left alone, the plant will continue to
grow and the weight of the branches and fruit will cause the plant to lean and the branches to sag to the ground.
Here is another look at the above tomato plant on the right.
This picture was taken a few weeks later and you can see the extent of the lean due to lack of support.
To prevent this from happening a much taller and much thicker stake should be used to support the growing plant and prevent it from leaning.
Extra twine should also be added to keep the tomato plant close to the vertical stake.
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There are four steps involved as shown below.
Insert a steak into the soil next to your tomato plant seedling (not shown). Make sure it is driven into the soil deep enough to be good and sturdy to support the spiral cage, plus the weight of the tomato plant branches and fruit as the plant grows.
Note - This photo was taken before gardening season and is for illustrative purpose only.
Place the collapsed spiral cage over the top of the stake and slide to the ground but be careful not to damage the tomato seedling. Follow the directions from the manufacture to anchor the spiral cage into the soil.
An advantage of a spiral cage is how compact it becomes for storing after your harvesting season.
Note - Illustrative purpose only.
Slide the anchored spiral cage from step 2 up the stake to the top and secure the spiral cage as seen in step 4.
Yes I know there isn't a tomato plant in the picture, These pictures are for demonstration purpose only and when they we're taken spring gardening hadn't arrived.
I know I mentioned this before, I really would have liked to show how
effective this cage is during gardening season with a tomato plant. Instead, I opted for this approach to get this article up for you to see before gardening season.
Secure the spiral cage by turning the screw into the steak.
As your tomato plant or any vining plant grows, train them to remain inside the circular cage as they grow. This is especially true for a tomato
plant. Their branches love to poke out. Of course this is no problem as you want the fruit to hang outside of the spiral arm for easy picking. Just make sure as it reaches the next spiral arm, the branches use it as a support.
Another alternative is a wire tomato cage
and it works the same as the collapsible tree cage. The disadvantage is
that it doesn't collapse or expand. The advantage is that a wire cage
is much sturdier.
The picture to the left shows a wire cage inserted into the soil of a wooden barrel. As with the pictures above, there is no tomato plant and is used for demonstration purpose only.
Before you use either the wire cage or spiral cage, plant your tomato seedling first.
Notice that a tomato branch is resting on the wire cage for support.
As the tomato plant grows, carefully guide the branches through the opening of the tomato cage, and be sure to do this with each branch as the tomato plant grows.
Another way of supporting tomato plants is making a tomato cage using twine at least 1/8th inch in thickness that you weave around several tomato plants in a figure eight.
As the tomato plant grows, it is necessary to support the plants added height by weaving another figure eight part way up the plants stem. Repeat this process as needed.
Notice the tomato plant is supported but still leaning. As the plant grows taller, it becomes heavier and requires another row of twine.
Tomato Cage tip - When using string with a diameter smaller than 1/8 inch, the string may cut into the stem of the tomato plant, so be sure to use string 1/8 inch or larger in thickness.
I've known gardeners who improvise by planting their tomatoes next to a chain link fence using it to support their tomato plants. This is only a good idea if the chain link fence is located on the property where the tomato plants will get at least six hours of sun.
Which is the right tomato cage for you comes down to personal preference and trial and error. Yes! There are lots and lots of trial and error in gardening as most any experienced gardener will tell you. But experimenting is part of the fun of gardening. It's not only about growing vegetables, but also the fun and enjoyment you receive when everything comes together.
Whatever your choice of tomato cage be sure to use them, and if you are not happy with one kind, experiment trying other styles. They are cheap to buy or you can use your creative imagination to design and build your own.
If you want to learn more about planting and growing a successful tomato crop, click on growing tomatoes as well as pruning tomatoes.
I'm sure you will find the tips and suggestions a great help with your tomato growing this season.
You can read more information on this article at The National Gardening Association.
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