As tomatoes start to plump and turn red, the weight of the fruit will cause the plant to bend or even break. Fruit ripening on the ground is susceptible to insects, blight and rot. Plus, a mature tomato plant left to sprawl uncontrolled will consume a lot of your garden space. Staking or caging your plant early in the growing season will help support that weight and keep your fruit safe and handy to reach come harvest time.
Determine the type of tomato you are planting by reviewing the information stake in the seedling or by asking for specific size instructions from the garden center. Some types of tomatoes are better supported by being tied to stakes than by using a tomato cage. Some varieties can grow very large plants with heavy fruit, and a toppled wire cage in a heavy mass of growth can cause you more problems than letting the plant go unsupported. Ask for help in choosing the correct size of cage for your plant type and expected growth size.
Prepare the soil by carefully mixing compost into the soil. Tomatoes thrive in a low-nitrogen, high-potassium setting. Too much nitrogen will result in huge, gorgeous plants with no fruit. Take a sample of your soil to your local agricultural Cooperative Extension office for testing, if needed, to find out what you might need to add to give it the proper nutrients.
Plant your seedlings, keeping plants 2 to 4 feet apart to allow room for the cages.
Water the seedlings well and mulch heavily with straw. Straw helps maintain a moist soil, keeps weeds out, and helps protect from pests.
Place your cage as per the instructions that might come with more expensive models. Some are made of heavy metals or wood in circular or square designs. Generally, you want to place your cage with your seedling in the middle.
Pound your cage into place using a rubber mallet, making sure it has a sturdy foundation.
Train your tomato as it grows, manipulating shoots as needed to guide them through the right sections for support. Generally, the plant should bush and fall into place on its own.
Things You Will Need
- Tomato plants
- Tomato cages
- Rubber mallet
- Inexpensive wire cages like those found in department stores work best for smaller varieties of tomatoes like a Roma or cherry tomato. Heavy plants like beefsteak need heavy-duty cages or stakes to support them.
- Using the right cage to support your plant means less work than staking or using a ladder. When using those methods of support, you need to prune and tie branches to the support system. A cage simply holds everything in place.
- You may chose to add extra support to your cage by staking poles deep into the ground and attaching your cage to it.
- Cages may make it harder to reach fruit growing on the inside because the plant is growing at its own pattern.