This year while I was busy creating a new garden I got lazy with my tomatoes. They were planted on time and given nutrients. I even spent a few weekends pinching out suckers to give them plenty of room to grow. What I did not do was purchase tomato cages to contain them. Now this lazy gardener is struggling to cage her tomatoes before it’s too late.
Why did I wait so long?
Partly, it was money. I didn’t want to spend $5.99 each for 16 sturdy tomato cages. That’s almost $100 for tomato cages that will probably buckle under the weight of the plants anyway.
And, let’s be honest, my big garden dreams got in the way. I had visions of creating sturdy cages from cattle panels. I even did a bunch of research on putting them together, but rainy weather and daily life got in the way of completing the project.
Reality has finally set in. I’m growing indeterminate tomatoes and they get wild and sprawling when you don’t cage them. I need to get to work right away.
Why Do We Cage Tomatoes Anyway?
All tomatoes except patio varieties benefit from being grown on supports. The traditional tomato cage can be purchased in several height and gauge thicknesses and are suitable for determinate varieties (those that grow and then set their fruit all at once). Indeterminate tomatoes can become a sprawling mess without some kind of support.
- Caging helps to keep fruit off the ground and away from bugs
- Caged tomatoes are easier to see and therefore harvest
- Studies have found that caged tomatoes are less susceptible to disease
- Caging can increase fruit yields
- Overall, it makes for a tidier garden
I am growing two kinds of tomatoes this year – Mortgage Lifter, an heirloom variety good for slicing and sauces, plus Juliet, a semi cherry variety that will do double duty in salads and sauces. They are both indeterminate varieties, meaning that they will continue to grow and set fruit until the first frost. Indeterminate tomatoes can get 3 – 4 feet tall and once they are set with fruit, the vines tend to be heavy.
They have been known to buckle a traditional tomato cage.
Caging Tomatoes Lazy Gardener Style
I have decided on several methods to train my tomatoes this year. The Mortgage Lifter plants are being supported with 3-foot t-posts that I already had around the homestead from a previous project. I cleaned up the plants and drove the posts into the ground next to them. I used Velcro plant ties to secure the tomato to the pole. This stuff is cool. It’s reusable and relatively inexpensive. My 45-foot package will go a long way. (there’s an Amazon link below in case you’re interested)
As the 8 Mortgage Lifter plants grow, I plan to continue adding the ties up the post. This should give the tomato needed support and make harvesting fairly easy.
Now that I’ve used the items I have around the house, I need to purchase supplies for the remaining 8 Juliet plants.
The local big box store wants $3.49 each for an additional 8 t-posts, so I’m looking for another option. I settled instead for 4-foot metal poles with a plastic coating, thinking that I only needed one per plant. That didn’t turn out to be cost effective.
Each plant will require at least 2 poles to be of any real support to the plant. I ended up buying enough to cage 4 plants and paying $3.76 for per plant. Not cost effective at all! At that rate, it would have been better to purchase a set of t-posts instead.
If I only had a patch of bamboo to use… that would the best option of all.
I’ve decided to run a little experiment here in my southern garden and mulch heavily under the plants. So, My last 4 Juliet tomato plants will not get a cage at all.
What are your favorite ways to cage tomato plants and have you ever let them go “wild” without a cage at all?
I thought I’d share a few other tomato caging ideas I found while I was doing my research – before laziness settled in. Can lazy gardeners be frugal too? Not with tomato cages, it seems.