How to Stake, Cage, or Pen Tomato Vines
One time investment = years of use
Tomato support groups
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 wire 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 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 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.
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 tomato cages, or folding 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 easy to use and are attractive
Make your own cages and ties
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 x4 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.