Cage Your Way to Tomato Success: Using Cages for Stronger Plants
Tomato plants are rapidly growing vines that need support, especially once the heavy fruits begin to ripen. Tomato cages are a practical, affordable option, especially when you're growing just a few plants. Cages are designed to provide structure, support vines, and keep fruit from contacting soil which causes it to rot. Gardeners have plenty of options regarding size, material, and ease of use, but there are several factors to consider when choosing the best tomato cage for your crop.
1. Choose the Right Metal Tomato Cage:
Select cages that are sturdy and tall enough to support your tomato plants as they grow. They should be made of durable materials like galvanized steel or heavy-duty plastic. The spacing between the wires should be large enough for you to easily access the plants for pruning and harvesting.
When selecting a tomato cage, it's important to consider the size and characteristics of your tomato plants, as well as the overall aesthetics and functionality you desire. Here are a few popular types of tomato cages to choose from:
(1). Cone-Shaped Tomato Cage:
These cages have a cone or pyramid shape, with wider openings at the base and narrower ones towards the top. They provide good support for indeterminate tomato varieties that can grow quite tall. The wider base helps stabilize the cage, while the narrower top keeps the plant growing upright.
(2). Square Tomato Cage:
Square tomato cages are similar to round ones but have a square shape. They provide more surface area for the plant to rest against, offering better support for indeterminate varieties. They're also less likely to tip over in windy conditions.
2. Place the Cages Early:
Install the cages shortly after planting your tomato seedlings or young plants. This will prevent root disturbance and make it easier to train the plants as they grow.
3. Install the Cages:
Gently push the legs or stakes of the tomato cage into the ground around the base of the tomato plant. Place the cages at least 6 inches deep to provide stability and prevent them from toppling over as the plants grow heavier.
4. Train the Plants:
As the tomato plants grow, gently guide the main stem through the openings in the cage. This will encourage the plants to grow upward within the cage, keeping them contained and preventing sprawling.
5. Prune for Air Circulation:
Regularly prune the lower leaves of the tomato plants, especially those that come in contact with the ground. This helps improve air circulation and reduces the risk of fungal diseases.
6. Secure Branches:
If the tomato plants have multiple branches, you can secure them to the cage using soft plant ties or twine. This helps distribute the weight of the branches and prevents them from breaking under the weight of the fruit.
7. Monitor Growth:
Keep an eye on the growth of your tomato plants. If they start outgrowing the cages, gently tuck new growth back into the cage openings to maintain an upright shape.
8. Harvest Easily:
Tomato cages make it easier to spot and harvest ripe tomatoes. The fruits are less likely to touch the ground, reducing the risk of rotting or damage.
9. Consider Pruning Suckers:
Tomato plants often produce "suckers," which are small shoots that emerge in the junction between the main stem and side branches. Some gardeners prefer to prune these suckers to focus the plant's energy on fruit production. If you choose to do this, it can also help keep the plant within the cage's structure.
10. Remove at the End of the Season:
After the growing season is over and you've harvested all the tomatoes, remove the cages from the garden. Clean the cages and store them properly to ensure they last for multiple seasons.
When to Add Tomato Cages ?
It's always a good idea to add cages at planting time. Add cages to potted tomatoes right after planting to make sure everything fits snugly and correctly. In the garden, you can wait until young plants begin to branch out, two to three weeks after transplanting. They are entering into vegetative growth when vines grow rapidly and root systems begin to spread. Waiting too long to place a cage can leave you stymied by a tangle of vines and anchor stakes can damage feeder roots.
Ultimately, the choice of tomato cage will depend on your specific gardening needs and preferences.