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Tired of small, flimsy tomato cages that get swallowed and crushed by your indeterminate tomato plants? Here’s how to make your own DIY tomato cages that are large, strong, and built to last.
How to make large, strong, and durable DIY tomato cages
There are innumerable varieties of perennial, biennial, and annual food crops that can be grown in an organic garden, but one variety that is nearly ubiquitous is the tomato.
Tomato plants come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. On one end of the spectrum: small dwarf determinate tomato varieties that are only a couple of feet high and set all of their fruit at once. On the opposite end: large indeterminate tomato varieties that continue producing fruit throughout the summer and in to fall in our growing region.
We like and grow tomato varieties of all sizes, from tiny to huge. However, if you’ve ever tried to grow a large indeterminate tomato plant inside the small, flimsy cages that you find at most garden centers, you know how difficult it can be.
Many indeterminate tomato varieties can easily grow to be over 6′ tall x 3′ across. So the standard 4′ tall x 1′ wide tomato cages at the nearby garden center just doesn’t cut it. It’s like trying to put children’s clothes on an NFL lineman!
Small, weak tomato cages can lead to increased plant diseases
Tomato cages that are too small to adequately support your plants aren’t just an aesthetic problem. They can cause tomato plants to flop over on the ground, or lead to leaves and branches that are stuffed too tightly inside the cage.
Both of these problems can increase the likelihood of plant damage or even foliar diseases that decrease fruit yields and shorten your tomato plants’ lifespans.
Also, many of the store bought tomato cages are so poorly made that they’re bent or broken after a single growing season. Surely, there’s got to be a better tomato cage solution out there, right?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have high-quality tomato cages that:
- look good,
- are as tall as your tomato plants,
- can support the weight of your tomato plants without breaking or getting crushed,
- could last for years.
Below, we’ll show you exactly how to make your own DIY tomato cages that will do all of the above!
Easily make your own DIY tomato cages
Getting the right tomato cage material
The best material we’ve found to make durable, reusable, and attractive DIY tomato cages is concrete reinforcing wire. You might want to call around first, but you can almost always find concrete reinforcing wire at Lowes, Home Depot, and Tractor Supply.
Concrete reinforcing wire might come in silver-colored rolls, but we think it looks better in an edible landscape once it’s rusted and brown in color. This is especially true if you use mulch/wood chips to top-dress your garden beds since the rust-colored wire blends in with the mulch.
Note: This isn’t a problem once the tomato plants have matured and filled out the cage, because you can’t even see the cage at that point. However, it is a problem when your tomato plants are still young and much smaller than the cage they’re growing into.
What size is best?
Our preference is the 72″ high rolls of concrete reinforcing wire. This will make finished DIY tomato cages that are just under 6′ tall. (The bottom few inches are below the soil surface as stabilizing spikes to hold the cages in place.)
DIY tomato cages: final cut sizes
Another nice thing about using concrete reinforcing wire, is that you can cut it to create finished cages of any height, circumference, or diameter you want. For instance, we use it to make:
- thin 6″ diameter trellises for spring peas,
- stocky 3′ tall pepper and eggplant cages,
- large 6′ tomato cages, and
- everything in between.
If you’re growing large indeterminate tomatoes, we recommend cages with the following MINIMUM dimensions (you can go larger):
- 5′ height
- 4′ circumference
- 16″ diameter
(Definitions: In case you don’t remember that day in math class, circumference = distance around a circle, and diameter is the distance across the circle through the center point.)
How long will these DIY tomato cages last?
It depends on your climate and how much abuse you heap on them. The tomato/plant cages shown in the photos above are now 10 years old (as of 2019)!
They get abused regularly, and live in a very humid/wet climate (southeastern US), but they’re as good as they day we made them. Eliza (who also works with GrowJourney) has some that she inherited from her grandfather, and they’re finally becoming unusable… 40 years after he made them!
6 Tips When Making Your Tomato Cages
1. Two people are better than one.
This DIY project will go a lot faster and be a lot easier with two people. Include a friend or a spouse.
Making tomato cages together also constitutes an exciting first date, especially if you talk about soil microbiology. Ha!
2. Wear thick gloves, protective eyewear, and other protective clothing as-needed.
You don’t want to cut or poke yourself. Ouch.
3. Use heavy duty wire cutters.
Concrete reinforcing wire is thick and strong – after all, that’s why it makes great tomato cages! You’ll need to use heavy duty wire cutters (like the ones pictured below) that will cut through the thick wire like butter.
4. Wrap cut end pieces back for vertical reinforcement.
Cut your vertical wire to allow for a piece to wrap back around the vertical frame. This gives your cages reinforcement all the way up the cage, which creates extra strength. (See below.)
*Safety note: if you’re worried about you or a young child poking their hand or arm on these wire points, you can stick a wine cork on the end.
5. Cut off the bottom vertical wire to make ground spikes (picture below), then reinforce.
We also recommend adding extra reinforcement by either:
a) For smaller cages/plants – Stick garden/landscape staples in the ground where your cages touch the ground.
b) For larger cages/plants – For larger cages where you plan to grow your biggest plants, you might also want to drive a rebar stake into the ground right next to your cage and attach it to your cage with wire or twine.
It’s no fun walking outside after a severe summer storm and seeing a pile of blown over cages and tomato plants – especially when you could have potentially prevented this up front by reinforcing your cages!
6. Put your cages on sooner, not later.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting for your plants to be large enough to “need” a cage!
We put our cages in position over our plants when they’re still seedlings or recent transplants, then train their branches through the cage openings as they grow. If you wait too long to put on your cages, it’s very easy to snap branches and damage your plants!
Do you have to store your tomato cages over the winter?
Nope. We leave our tomato cages outdoor in our garden year round. No special winter storage needed.
Now get out there and grow some beautiful ‘maters!
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Black beauty tomatoes. We’ve had some that get almost uniformly dark black/purple, but these beauties have some gorgeous red flame action going on below those purple shoulders. All the best flavor notes you could want in an heirloom tomato with some extra anthocyanin for your health. #blackbeautytomatoes #heirloomseeds #growjourney #heirloomtomatoes
We hope this gardening tip was helpful, and your huge tomato plants finally get the DIY tomato cages they deserve! If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments section below.
Additional Tomato Growing (and Using) Resources:
- How to graft heirloom tomatoes on to disease-resistant rootstock
- 5 tips to successfully grow tomatoes in pots or containers
- Top-5 reasons you keep killing your potted tomato plants
- GrowJourney’s complete guide to growing tomatoes
- 18 simple recipes to help you use up lots of tomatoes