Summer is here, which means tomato growing season is in full swing. While the average backyard gardener is happy to harvest an abundance of fresh tomatoes for snacking, canning, and slicing, there’s one thing that most tomato growers can’t stand: using those pesky cages.
If you've had any experience trying to cultivate tomatoes, you probably know what I'm talking about. These cages, which have now been a gardening staple for three decades, are about two feet tall, made of simple wire, difficult to push into rocky soil, and can be a real pain to put away for the winter. While they've served their purpose in many gardens over the years, it's too often that tomato cages just don’t do enough to keep quick-growing (and huge) plants in their place.
In many cases, standard tomato cages will work for you. They’re easy to insert into soft soil, even easier to come by, and will last for several seasons. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a little more control over your tomato plants, there are several alternatives to consider.
Swap Thin Cages for Wire Fencing
Instead of using those unreliable tomato cages this growing season, try making your own out of fencing wire! A five-foot by five-foot square of fencing can easily be rolled into a tube and secured by twisting baling wire between its two ends. Next, you’ll want to use stakes to root this DIY cage to the ground to prevent it from blowing away in the next storm that hits your garden. When buying supplies for this project, remember to look for material with a large mesh. This will allow you to reach into the cage instead of having to remove it altogether when the time comes to harvest your ripe tomatoes.
While you'll still technically be using a tomato cage, it’ll be a much stronger one than any of the single-wire versions you would find at the hardware store. Fencing wire can support more weight than standard cages and is one of the best materials you can use to create your own reusable enclosure.
Plant Upside Down
A few years back, hanging a few upside down tomato plants in your patio seemed like nothing more than a “made for TV” fad. However, if you only plant a few tomatoes each year, this trick can eliminate the need for cages and save you some valuable garden space. Hanging tomatoes will never need to be weeded and won't eat up a ton of your cash. In fact, you can easily turn a five-gallon bucket into a planter by cutting a four-inch hole in its bottom and putting a plant's root ball through that hole. You’ll want to fill the bucket with a lightweight potting medium—garden soil can be too heavy for hanging baskets of this size, especially over porches or other areas where you’ll be suspending multiple plants. For the same reason, you'll want to hang varieties that produce smaller fruit, like cherry, grape, or roma tomatoes. This will allow your plants to thrive despite their defying gravity. It’s also important to select healthy, robust plants that will be able to withstand this new growing direction and the weight of all their fruits. Leggy plants aren’t a good option here.
Create a Tomato Trellis
Building a tomato trellis is no different than building one for any other garden variety. Trellises are much sturdier than simple wire cages and will particularly benefit any planters living in windy regions. Make your own tomato trellis by hammering dowel rods, wooden posts, or T-Posts into a row and stringing twine, rope, or another strong material horizontally between them. As your plants get bigger, weave them between the wires to keep them growing upward and in place.
Tomato trellises can be constructed in many other ways, like in A-frame shapes or with vertical strings in place of horizontal ones. Based on your garden space, you'll want to determine the design that works best for you.
Stake ‘Em Up
If you have some extra dowel rods or T-posts at your disposal, you can always try staking your bulky tomato plants up. Simply drive a post into the ground near a tomato plant and secure the two together in multiple areas. Gardeners who use this method tend to have their own preference of tie-down material, but twine, fabric strips, reusable twist ties, plastic clips, and hook-and-loop fasteners are all sturdy options. By growing tomato plants on stakes, you'll be able to keep securing them as they grow.
Everyone has their own go-to method for corralling their summertime tomatoes, but you might want to try something new if last year’s cages left you feeling more frustrated than supported. You may just stumble upon your new favorite way of keeping your plants in check.