QUESTION: I grow tomatoes every year, and in the past I have used cages – first the round ones commonly available at the big box stores, and later some of the square type. Even with the square ones the plants always overcome the cage. They get leggy and end up coming out of the cages on the sides and then bend over the wires. This year I tried staking the plants and did not use cages, but I encounter the same issues, the side growth spreads out and I have to tie them every which way. What am I doing wrong? — Wayne
Those flimsy wire cages – the round ones – must be some kind of joke. Anyone who grows tomatoes knows that they don’t do much to support a full-size plant. Even if the vine doesn’t grow out over the top, the weight of a bumper crop of ‘Better Boys’ will topple those supports. The square cages are a little better, but they still won’t contain all those wayward limbs.
If you want to use cages, the best bet is to build your own, using sturdy wire fencing (or some suggest panels of concrete mesh, which has openings large enough to reach your hand through). Using the cage in addition to a tall, sturdy stake should keep the tomatoes standing upright and within bounds a little better.
Still, if the tomatoes are indeterminate varieties – that is, they continue to form tomatoes throughout the growing season — it helps to do a little pruning. As the plant grows, it will develop “suckers” in the angles between the main stem and the side stems. You should pinch or snap or cut these suckers off to keep the plant from getting too bushy. As the tomato plant grows taller, tie the main stem loosely to the stake.
By the way, it’s best to install stakes and cages at planting time. It’s surprising how quickly a tomato plant can grow out of control. Keep that in mind for next year.