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How to Stake, Cage, or Pen Tomato Vines

I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

A one-time investment of sturdy metal tomato ladders will last a lifetime.

A one-time investment of sturdy metal tomato ladders will last a lifetime.

Tomato Support Groups

Small Tomatoes

Small tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes, pears, or cocktail tomatoes, keep producing fruit all summer and on to the first frost. The vines may not be weighted with heavy tomatoes, but they do keep growing taller and taller. So get your supports or stakes in place before they are necessary.

Really tall plants can become top heavy, fall over, and snap. A single length of fishing line will be enough to guide the vine to amazing heights. Or simply prune out the top of the plant. Topping will encourage branching, producing even more tomatoes that are easier to pick.

Big, Heavy Tomatoes

Large, weighty tomatoes need support as they grow. Indeterminate plants keep growing and producing fruit all season. If you are aiming for the biggest tomato category, don't lose the contest because heavy tomatoes snap the vines.

The easiest of all supports is a simple 1'x2' pine stake pounded into the ground beside the tomato plant. Buy stakes at least six feet tall. Saw one end to a point, making it easier to drive into the ground. Keep pounding the stake until it is solidly in the ground.

Place one stake on either side of an indeterminate tomato vine if big plants and big tomatoes are expected. Frugal gardeners can re-cut to the sharpen the pointed end and flatten the top in a couple of years when they dull or split. Store in the corner of the garage or under the house, away from winter weather.

Determinate Tomato Plants

Determinate tomato plants only grow to a specific height. These tomatoes may never get more than 3 to 5 feet tall and, don't need to be staked. But I do stake even short tomato plants because a ferocious summer storm can snap an unsupported tomato vine.

Collapsible tomato pens or folding cages are ideal support for tomatoes if they are well made. Folding cages make for easy winter storage.

Collapsible tomato pens or folding cages are ideal support for tomatoes if they are well made. Folding cages make for easy winter storage.

Tomato Ladder and Spirals

Tomato ladders will support big vines loaded with tomatoes. Most will provide solid support and do not need to be driven as deep into the ground as wooden stakes.

Spiral stakes or thin wavy metal stakes are best for determinate or smaller plants. Or, use two stakes per plant. Some large tomato vines simply become too unwieldy for this support method. If you keep plants well pruned, spirals are a good choice.

I like the artful tomato spirals for paste tomatoes and smaller fruited tomatoes. They take up a minimum of space during the winter. Bundle them all together and tie at the top and bottom plus, in the middle of the bundle. Now, storage is a snap.

Collapsible or folding tomato cages are great for winter storage. Do not waste your money on flimsy versions. These may be pricey, they good, sturdy cages and be used for years, making your initial cost a bargain.

Stakes, ladders or spirals all work well if you are watching the tomatoes daily and pruning regularly. Big plants with lots of tomatoes can quickly get out of control toppling over or breaking the plant. All will allow air circulation and easy access for picking.

Artful Spirals Are Attractive and Easy to Use

Artistic tomato spirals are ideal for Roma tomatoes and determinate vines.

Artistic tomato spirals are ideal for Roma tomatoes and determinate vines.

Make Your Own Cages and Ties for Tomatoes

Collapsible tomato cages or pens and homemade tomato cages are sturdy and provide good support. Well-made cages will last for years. Make sure the wire mesh is in 4 x 4 inches or 6 x 6 inch squares for good circulation and easy tomato picking.

Build your own tomato cages from a roll of wire, concrete-reinforcing wire, or woven-wire stock fencing. Four-foot wide reinforcing mesh makes great tomato cages because of its strength and large four-inch square holes. It is very stiff and difficult to work with.

You need heavy-duty wire cutters or bolt cutters and work gloves. Cut the roll of wire at 56 to 60 inches to make a cage about 18 inches in diameter. Form cages by wiring the cut edges together with lengths of lighter wire, or use pliers to form hooks from the horizontal wires and hook them onto the vertical wire on the other end.

Tie tomatoes to the stake with twine, kite string, rags or floral wire. I've used stretchy plastic tape, ties cut from plastic bags or cloth strips made from rags. Tie tomato plants to stakes with flexible plastic tape, soft foam tape or inexpensive kitchen twine.

Do not tie plants tightly. Leave plenty of room for plant growth and avoid cutting off circulation. Use a recyclable material that can go right into the compost pile, or ties that are easily retrievable at seasons end.

Tie Tomatoes to Allow for Growth

By midsummer, soft and reusable foam ties on bamboo stakes are barely noticeable in the tomato vines.

By midsummer, soft and reusable foam ties on bamboo stakes are barely noticeable in the tomato vines.

Even With Staking, Plants Should Be Pruned

This tomato support works well in containers or in the garden. To get easy access to fruit, keep plants pruned.

This tomato support works well in containers or in the garden. To get easy access to fruit, keep plants pruned.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Patsy Bell Hobson

Comments

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on May 15, 2015:

Those small tomatoes are so prolific, they can weigh down a plant the same as giant tomatoes. Staking even the little ones also makes them easier to pick. Thank you for your kind comments.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on May 15, 2015:

You crack me up, poetryman6969. Since CA produces the majority of produce for our entire country, I don't think the state will begrudge you a few homegrown tomatoes. Some of my best friends grow tomatoes in CA. It's OK. Thanks for your comments, you made my day.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on May 15, 2015:

Hope you separate your three tomato plants, setting them at least 2 feet apart. I have windsock in the garden, that keeps the birds away from the tomatoes. Ribbons tied to stakes will work too. Enjoy those tomatoes!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 14, 2015:

I purchased this little peat container of tomato seeds. The directions said to just plant the peat pot in soil. Well, I rolled my eyes and followed the directions. Lo, and behold....I now have three beautiful tomato plants. I threw the label out like a dummy, so now I don't know what I have. I would be so happy to have some home grown tomatoes! One year the birds ate my tomatoes before I could enjoy them!

Voted this UP, etc. and shared.

poetryman6969 on May 14, 2015:

Stake those tomatoes because like vampires they had it coming! Besides they're red.

Where I am going, California, I would imagine they discourage gardening due the drought. But I vicariously appreciate your industriousness.

That tomatoes need to be penned or caged make me think of that movie: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

Audrey Howitt from California on May 14, 2015:

Your tomatoes look great! We also grow the small ones, but the weight of them pulls the vines down so much!

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 05, 2013:

If those squirrels have something else to eat or drink, they may leave your tomatoes alone. Put corn cobs as far away from the tomatoes as you can. Nothing is better than a home grown tomato. Don't give up. Good luck, keep me posted about your progress. Thank you for the comment.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 05, 2013:

Thnks for the comments. May this be your best tomato season ever.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 05, 2013:

If you stake those little cherry tomatoes, they will just keep growing and producing until frost. They can grow10 ft tall! Thanks for the comment.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 04, 2013:

ignugent17 I appreciate your comment. As weather gets warmer, tomato plants will grow very fast and need continued staking to get the best and biggest tomatoes.

ignugent17 on June 04, 2013:

My tomatoes are already having flowers and they really need a cage. Thanks for this useful information.

Have a great day! :-)

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 04, 2013:

Hi, Patsy - you gave me some ideas to try 'once again' to have luscious tomatoes in my yard. So far, it's been nothing but disappointment and the honor of giving a few fat squirrels something to chomp on. One year, I had potted tomatoes - and I went out one morning & found every single one had just one bite taken out of it. Stupid squirrels - you'd think they'd realize after the first few bites that they didn't care for the cuisine!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 04, 2013:

Great hub with beautiful photos. You have me motivated to do something about those tomatoes while they are still knee-high.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on June 04, 2013:

Good information! Love my tomatoes! Never tried the ladders or cages, but I have seen those cherry tomatoes get out of control! Thanks for sharing!

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 03, 2013:

phdast7 Thank you. You made my day.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, SEMO on June 03, 2013:

RTalloni, thank you for your kind words. I hope your tomato plants are loaded the year.

RTalloni on June 03, 2013:

Thanks for this look at supporting tomato plants. Though we only grow the tiny ones, the plants are so loaded that they need to be staked and/or caged. This is a good reminder to get them supported before it's too late.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on June 03, 2013:

Such a helpful Hub, well all of your hubs on tomatoes are! Thank you very much. Definitely SHARING.