There are several different ways to support tomato plants as they grow. Some gardeners prescribe by heavy pruning, training plants along a flat trellis, using a “lower and lean” system, or the Florida weave… One of the most classic and simple ways to support a tomato plant is with a basic tomato cage. Yet if you’ve ever shopped around for a tomato cage, you already know the challenge. Many pre-made tomato cages are simply too small or too flimsy, or the big sturdy ones are too expensive. Here is the solution: make your own homemade tomato cage!
Follow this simple step-by-step tutorial to learn how to make your own large tomato cages. The design is inexpensive, easy to do, and extremely sturdy. It is also easy to customize to fit your garden space. We have been using these DIY tomato cages for several years to support both tomatoes and tomatillo plants. They work great, and last forever!
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Why Use a Tomato Cage
Tomato plants inevitably need support. Their tall and relatively flexible stems cannot stand upright on their own, especially once they’re heavy and laden with fruit! Without staking and the support from a tomato cage or trellis, tomato plants will succumb to their own lankiness and weight. In the best case scenario, unsupported tomato plants will sprawl out over the ground. This is a total mess to maintain, and also means most of the fruit will be laying on the ground too – making them very susceptible to pests, disease, and rotting. In the worst-case scenario, the main plant stalk or branches will break without adequate support.
When to Use Tomato Cages
Tomato cages are great for both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants alike.
Determinate tomato plants stay slightly shorter, usually around three to five feet in height. They put off most all of their fruit during a shorter period of time, giving one big bountiful harvest. Cages are absolutely perfect for determinate tomatoes, since pruning and fancy training is not recommended for determinate varieties anyways. Pruning away branches will significantly lessen the yield from a determinate plant. We always like to grow a handful of manageable determinate tomato plants to stock up on homemade roasted tomato sauce and sun-dried tomatoes.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes grow larger and continually produce fruit over a longer period of time. Some plants can grow upwards of 7 feet or taller, especially when side branches are pruned and the leader/main stem is fostered. Due to their vigorous vining nature, some gardeners choose to train indeterminate tomatoes up strings, tall stakes, or flat trellises rather than using tomato cages. We have done all of the above!
Cages still work quite well for indeterminate tomatoes, especially if you intend to minimally prune them. In a cage, you can essentially let them run wild. It is easy! All you need to do is visit the plants once or twice per week to tuck up any long branches back into the tomato cage – which I suggest to do with determinate varieties as well. That isn’t to say you can’t prune an indeterminate plant within a cage. We often cut off the lower branches as the season goes on, and remove some suckers too.
HOW TO MAKE A STURDY TOMATO CAGE
- One sheet of remesh per tomato cage (maybe two). If you aren’t familiar with remesh, it is a wire concrete support product – like a thin “rebar”. It comes in a flat grid panel about 7 feet long by 3.5 feet wide. Remesh should be easy to find. Check the concrete section of your local hardware store, near the rebar and other concrete support “accessories”. Our Home Depot always has these sheets of remesh available. It is the same material we use to build affordable DIY trellises around our garden – including to make a flat trellis to train indeterminate tomatoes up. That said, you could use other wire fencing material with this cage design too. Read more about the benefits and drawbacks of using remesh below.
- Three sturdy stakes: One for the main tomato plant stalk, and two to hold your homemade tomato cage firmly in place on each side. Choose stakes that are at least 4 feet tall for the cage supports. As for the tomato plant itself, the length of stake needed depends on the variety. Around 4 feet is usually sufficient for a determinate variety, while we often stake our indeterminate tomatoes with 6 to 8 foot tall stakes. You can also temporarily support a tomato seedling with a smaller stake and swap it out for a larger one as the plant grows.
- Galvanized wire, coated garden wire, or zip ties to secure the remesh into a cylinder and attach the stakes), along with soft plant ties for securing the tomato plant to the main stake.
Pros & Cons of Using Remesh Wire to Make Homemade Tomato Cages
- It is inexpensive and durable. At only $7 per sheet, remesh is extremely affordable! I can promise that you will not find a sturdy, large pre-made tomato cage come even close to this cost.
- Remesh is flexible but strong. For example, it is easier to bend remesh into a tomato-cage size cylinder than hog panel fencing, but it is also far more rigid than most rolls of wire fencing available.
- In 7 by 3.5 foot panels, remesh is already a perfect size to make a large tomato cage. There is no need to fuss with cutting it. If needed, you can double-up another panel on top to create a taller cage. I will show you an example below! If you do find the need to cut remesh, you’ll want to use bolt cutters.
- The 6 by 6-inch openings in the remesh are the perfect size to reach into the cage to adjust the plant branches – and to harvest tomatoes! The openings in other wire fencing may be too small for either.
- One potential drawback is that remesh does rust. I personally don’t consider this a drawback, but it is worth noting. I prefer a more rustic look over bright shiny metal in the garden anyways. Also, because this is a construction product, the edges of remesh can be less “finished” and may have sharp edges. The panels can vary in the store, so pick through to find the ones with smoother edges. When combined with rust, those sharp spots are a potential hazard – especially if you have kiddos in the garden.
Step 1: Curl Remesh into a Cylinder
To make a homemade tomato cage from remesh, simply curl it into a cylinder and secure it! I find it easiest to lay the remesh on a flat surface, pick up one of the shorter ends, and walk it back over itself until the two short ends meet. A good pair of gloves plus a partner may come in handy here too.
Now, you could secure the cage flush end-to-end, but keep in mind that will create a fairly wide tomato cage (approximately 27 inches in diameter from a 7-foot panel). While we have done it this way, it may be a bit excessive or too large for your garden space and intended plant spacing. It also creates a fairly “loose” cage around smaller tomato varieties. Therefore, we often overlap at least one row of grid squares from each end (sometimes two rows) before securing it into a slightly smaller cylinder. By overlapping two rows of squares, you end up with a tomato cage with a 22 inch diameter. One square overlap results in a 24-25 inch diameter cage.
Step 2: Secure the Cylinder
Next, use something like galvanized wire (cut into small 2” to 3” pieces) or zip ties to attach one end of panel to the other, securing it in a cylinder shape. We add a wire tie at the top, bottom, and then a few more spread evenly throughout the middle area. Once it is secure, you can lightly push down on the cylinder while it is still laying on the ground to bend it into a more even circular shape if desired. It will likely be slightly oval in shape at first.
Note: If you think you may want to undo the cages at the end of the season to lay flat for storage, consider using reusable garden wire to secure your cage together instead.
Step 3: Install the Tomato Cage
Set your homemade tomato cage over one tomato plant in the garden. It is easiest to add the cage when the tomato plant is still fairly small. Center the tomato within the cage the best you can. Follow recommended spacing for tomato plants, which is generally 24 to 36 inches between plants.
Now, add two sturdy stakes on opposite sides of the cage. I like to put the stake in line with one of the vertical runs of wire, which provides ample places to connect the cage to the stake. It also makes it look nice and streamline. Be sure the stakes are driven down at least a foot in the soil and feel secure. Depending on your plant spacing and cage size, your tomato cages may be able to touch and share a stake in between.
Connect the stakes to the tomato cage in a couple places each. We like to use a strong reusable garden wire, wrapped around a few times at a cross in the remesh wire. You could also use regular wire, garden velcro, or zip ties to connect the stakes to the tomato cage. Finally, add a stake along the main tomato plant stalk if it doesn’t have one already. To secure the plant to the stake, we prefer to use these soft reusable plant ties.
Step 4: How to Use a Tomato Cage Throughout the Season
It is time to watch your baby tomato plant grow! No I mean literally, watch it. One of the only “maintenance” requirements when growing tomatoes in cages is to keep an eye on their growth. Once or twice per week, check on your plants. As branches grow larger and stick out of the cage, gently push the branches inside and up – directing them to continue growing upwards inside the cage rather than out. Inside the cage, they’ll continue to be supported. If allowed to dangle too long outside the cage, they’ll be at risk of breaking once that branch is heavy with fruit.
It is easiest to tuck branches in when they’re not sticking out too far, which is why I recommend checking frequently. Otherwise, you risk snapping the branches in the process. That said, if a branch is resistant and you feel it may break by tucking it in, just leave it! It isn’t a huge deal if a few branches are left to grow outside the cage. You can always stake individual branches that look like they need extra support! Or, you may be able to allow it to grow outside for a bit and then gently bend it back inside a few squares up the cage.
If and when the tomato plants reach the top of their tomato cage, you have a few choices. One is to simply allow the plant to spill out the top. This is perfectly acceptable and the easiest choice, particularly with smaller plant varieties. Yet if it looks like the plant is becoming a monster with no sign of slowing down, you may want to consider adding additional height and support to your tomato cage. You could add a few taller stakes around the cage and string twine between them (shown above). Another option is to add an additional panel of remesh wire on top – creating a double cage (shown below)!
When we’re growing notoriously and abnormally huge tomato varieties (like sungold cherry tomatoes) sometimes we’ll start off with a double-tall tomato cage from planting time. Yet other times a monster creeps up on us, so we add the second layer of remesh later. Or, when we don’t feel like looking at the double-tall cage for months before it is needed. To make the double cage as stable as possible, it is best to overlap the top and bottom cage by a couple rows of squares (at least 6 inches). Meaning, you’ll need to make the joining portion ever-so-slightly smaller or larger on one cage in order for them to fit together.
How to Store Tomato Cages Off-Season
One slight drawback of this style of homemade tomato cage is that they can’t stack together like many premade types do. To store our tomato cages during the winter, we keep a few in the rafters of our garage and another few in our side yard. If needed, you could also undo the wire or zip ties holding the tomato cage together, lay them flat, and stack the compact sheets of remesh together somewhere.
And that is how you make and use a large homemade tomato cage!
Pretty simple, right? I hope you found this tutorial helpful in your summer garden adventures. Once your tomato harvests start pouring in, be sure to try our simple roasted tomato sauce recipe. It is legitimately the easiest recipe ever, and both freezer and canning-friendly! Or, try these delicious “sun-dried” tomatoes with herbs. Please feel free to ask questions, and spread the thrifty DIY love by sharing this post.
I will be back soon with more tomato tips, including how to plant tomato seedlings, pruning, general growing tips, and more!
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