Growing Tomatoes Without Cages (Spoiler: They Just Don’t Work!)
Stakes and T-Posts
Stakes and T-posts can generally be found in lengths up to 8′. This means you’ll have a maximum of 6′ of post exposed. However, the general rule of thumb is to sink 1/3 of any post, stake, or beam to ensure sturdiness. In clay soils, we can get away with 2′, as long as we don’t have severe wind.
This is an excellent, affordable option for both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. With these, you can gain up to 11′ of indeterminate vines, if you allow the vines to fall towards the ground once they reach the top. You’ll pay between $1 and $10 for the stakes, with 2′ round tomato stakes being on the cheaper end, and 8′ T-posts being on the more expensive end.
Use jute twine, clips, baling twine, or any other weather resistant item to secure the plant to the stake at multiple points; be sure to secure any branch that is bearing fruit heavily.
Tents and Teepees (Limbs, Branches, and Small Trees)
Tents and teepees are very effective structures in the garden. If you have a wooded area, a bit of will power, some elbow grease, and a bit of twine, you can construct incredible tomato supports for free.
Pick 3 large, rather straight limbs, arrange them into the shape of a teepee, and secure them at the top with twine. You can grow one tomato plant on each leg, with a cover crop along the floor of the teepee (such as greens, onions, garlic, basil, or other tomato companion plants!)
Expanding Teepee Tomato Supports into Tents
A tent is a very similar construction project, and can be built in a similar manner. Link two teepees with a single beam over head, securing the beam at the head of each teepee. You can then grow a line of tomato plants beneath the beam, using string to guide the plants upward, essentially staking them to the beam.
You can also build a more traditional tent design, with 4 total legs and a beam overhead. These are both incredibly frugal and ideal designs for indeterminate tomatoes!
Wooden Beams and String
I would like you to imagine a single wooden 4×4 beam, held up by a 4×4 post on either end; forming a sort of doorway. Strings extending downward from the beam, towards the ground, greeting small tomato seedlings that eagerly wrap around them. As the plants grow, the string guides them to the top of the beam, where they will flow over as they produce a bounty of fruits for you. Using string to trellis (as seen above, in a greenhouse) is a common, effective method for intensive production.
This system would cost you less than $50, and it would be an excellent structure to use year after year for tomatoes, beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, melons, and much more.
For determinate tomatoes, you could use a Florida Weave technique, as seen in the video below.
Wooden Beams and Overhead Fencing
One alternate to the above is to run parallel rows of posts and beams, attaching fencing overhead. This would be a simplified arbor or tunnel, providing a plain, sturdy structure for tomato plants, gourds, and beans. I recommend keeping this structure under 6′ in height, as it may otherwise become difficult to harvest the tomatoes that are growing at the top of the vines.
I recommend using fencing with large 4″ squares, allowing you to reach through for harvesting.
Supporting Tomatoes with Cattle Panels
Cattle panels are becoming increasingly popular for tomato gardens, as they are sturdy, strong, and last for a very long time. However, few realize how versatile they are! The easiest cattle panel structure is a large circle. You could simply join the ends of the cattle panel, and plant the tomatoes around the outside of the circle. Of course, you may face a weed problem inside of the panel.
Cattle Panels and T Posts
If you’d like to run a continous length of cattle panel along the ground, drive a few t-posts along the row. Mount the cattle panel approximately 8″ to 12″ above the ground, making it easier to control the weeds below (and add extra height to the support.) Plant your tomatoes beneath the support, and simply tie them up to the bottom of the trellis. As they grow, weave the plants through the cattle panel.
Cattle Panels and Wooden Beams
Wooden beams will be more expensive than T-posts, but they are a more attractive and sturdier option. Wooden posts can also be built upon, allowing you to easily expand your support in any direction.
XL DIY Fencing Cages (And Stacked Cages) with Welded Wire
I love welded wire fencing: it’s lightweight, it’s cheap, it’s pliable, and it serves more purposes than you might imagine! Including the amazing, portable, reusable XL “cage!” I know we said no cages; however, this isn’t your cheap, short, flimsy store-bought cage. This is a true support.
Simply take a length of welded wire (let’s say 4′, for a diameter of 1.25 feet), join the ends with wire, j-clips, or other braces, and place it over your tomato plants! The plant won’t weigh the cage down, you can store the cages at the end of the season, and you can stack the cages on top of each other to double their height!
Wooden Tomato Plant Towers and Obelisks
Have you seen the amazing wooden towers yet? They’ll take longer to make than the welded wire fencing supports, but they’re another excellent, long lasting, sturdy tomato support; to boot, they’re more attractive in the garden.
Simply grab 4 legs of 2×2 wood that are 6′ in length, and secure them with 2′ perpendicular supports on all four sides, as well as the top and bottom. It will form a tall, rectangular box, that looks as if it was formed from 4 ladders. Below, you’ll see a video for obelisks, which are differently structured.
PVC Pipe Tomato Towers
If you want a tower that is more lightweight, cheaper to build, and longer lasting than wood, you could opt for PVC pipes. You will use a similar design, linking the pipes with joints rather than screws or nails.