Growing Tomatoes Without Cages (Spoiler: They Just Don’t Work!)

Tomato plants are vigorous growers, requiring some type of sturdy support to keep the plants upright and off of the ground.

Reaching up to 12′ long and producing multiple 8 to 16 oz fruits at any one time, it’s not unusual for a maturing tomato vine to actually bend a wire tomato cage.

Those things are flimsy and give way quickly; trust me, they’ll hardly be recognizable by the end of the season.

The truth is, growing tomatoes without cages is the way to go; there are dozens of different ways to support your tomatoes, and cages simply aren’t one of them.

Unless you’re growing dwarf plants or heavily pruning your tomato plant, of course.

In those cases, things can work out.

“Volunteers 2009” by Nostepinne is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

How to Choose a Support for Your Tomato Plants

Now that the cages are out of sight and out of mind, we’ll find some better alternatives to those cages that we see in every single garden center, nursery, and home improvement store in the country.

To choose the right structure, you’ll have to build, purchase, or assemble something that can reach 5′ to 8′ in height, if possible. If the best that you can do is 4′, that’ll work, too! You want to give the vines an opportunity to climb up, then fall down towards the ground as the season wears on. For most, a 12′ structure isn’t feasible; it would be difficult to train the plants, prune suckers, pick fruit, and treat for pests.

“Beach garden” by normanack is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Next, you’ll want to consider your budget. If you’re trying to spend as little as possible, you’ll want to source the cheapest options, including:

  • Stakes or T-posts
  • Welded wire fencing
  • Limbs and branches
  • Up-cycled fencing or building materials
  • Old hunting stands

Another Consideration: Are You Growing Determinate Plants, or Indeterminate?

Your choice of support could be inadequate or overkill, depending on the type of tomato you’re growing.

If you are growing determinate tomatoes, you may only need between 3′ and 6′ of support. Determinate tomatoes don’t vine; small varieties don’t need much more than a 3′ support.

Indeterminate tomatoes are the ones that will vine out, reaching 12′ in length in many cases. Those plants will quickly make a mockery of 3′ supports; eventually leading to a mess of tomato vines that are nearly impossible to separate, as they sprawl across the garden.

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