Tomato Cages, Stakes or Trellis - Which Do You Prefer?
Support For Your Tomato Plants
For any vegetable gardener whose passion includes growing tomatoes, at some point you must make a decision on the best way to support your tomatoes, especially if you are after those huge prize winning tomatoes. So one question you will resolve, which is better tomato support cages, spirals or tomato trellises.
First a quick look at why you want to see in any sort of tomato support. Depending on the type of tomato that you are growing, you will find that especially determinate tomatoes will end up sprawling all over the place. This makes it difficult to weed around the plant, to harvest the fruit when it's ripe, or to even see the fruit as it's ripening. If a tomato plant lays in contact with the soil for a while, it quickly grow roots from the stem and secure itself to the ground.
Watering is complicated by the fact that it's best to avoid splashing water on the tomato plant leaves. Getting soil splashed up on the leaves is one way soil borne disease are transmitted to the plants. With all this in mind we will look for the best support.
Finally, storage is always an issue with these supports. Large tomato cages can be a great solution, but if they don't fold up or unroll you have to find a place to store them.
The old standby - these can be fashioned at home. Two favorite materials for tomato stakes include a 6-8 foot section of rebar, or more traditionally, a length of bamboo. In both cases, the pole or stake is driven into the ground near the main tomato plant, and the plant is tied to the stake every foot or so. In order to keep the tomato trained to the stake, it's necessary to prune the plant fairly aggressively. You can also find commercially available stakes that aren't a single pole, which allows you to prune less and have a fuller tomato bush.
There are also some stakes that are spiral shapes. These have the advantage of allowing you to train the plant into the spiral and won't need to be tied nearly as often, with the added advantage that you may not need to prune as heavily.
Many gardeners make their own cages, with reinforcing fence or chicken wire type. One other popular material to make a tomato cage from is PVC piping. The PVC can be built without gluing it up so that you can partially disassemble it for storage in the wintertime.
Some cage designs are like small fence sections that easily disconnect and will fold flat for storage. There are some designs that are circular but still can be folded flat. The typical tomato cages you see at the hardware or home improvement store can do the job, but they are cheaper for a reason. Those that have only 3 rings, and with spot welds will break quickly, and the legs bend way too easily, will rust and break off. They will get you through a season or two but they end up in the trash sooner than you would like. The thicker the wire the better, as some tomatoes will put a real load on the cage as they start to bear fruit.
Smaller cages are the best choice for some of the smaller determinate varieties like Celebrity and Carnival. Ironically, while you might expect something like a cherry tomato to do well with a small cage, they are indeterminate and get grow to 8 feet or more over a long season if properly trained.
Trellises can work great for tomato varieties that grow very tall. These are also popular for growing other vine type vegetables like cucumbers (or even melons). One way to make a trellis is by putting a support beam or pipe overhead, and often this will stretch over more than one plant. From that pipe you can drop twine and secure it to the ground near the plant, and allow the plant to grow up the twine, and to tie it to the twine like you would a stake. You can use more than one line per plant to allow them to spread. The other alternative is to use a classic wooden trellis and tie the tomato plant on to that. Trellises are usually easier to break down and store, and will handle much larger plants if properly put together, so if you are growing larger determinate tomatoes, this can be your best choice.