Best tomato cages: Six picks from the pros
Brandywine or San Marzano? Cherokee Purple or Early Girl? Once you get past the questions of what kind of tomatoes to plant, you quickly reach question No. 2: What kind of support is best? We surveyed six L.A. garden pros about their favorite tomato cage and got six different answers, including some clever tweaks on garden-store staples:
Scott Daigre: The owner of Powerplant Garden Design in Ojai and the organizer of the Tomatomania! events said tomato vines are more flexible than you might think.
He wrote an article titled “Your Tomatoes Deserve Better Support” for Fine Gardening magazine last year in which he explained how he likes to train tomato plants across trellises made of concrete reinforcing wire or heavy galvanized animal fencing, often called hog wire, sold at feed stores.
The effect is a bit like espalier — a sort of living fence, a surprisingly elegant strategy for corralling one of summer’s most gangly crops.
(Photo credit: Scott Daigre)
Rhett Beavers: The Los Angeles landscape architect offered his own artwork to illustrate his design.
“I take the standard cages and stack them, using a bamboo pole as a support,” Beavers said.
His arrangement of basic, cone-shaped cages was born out of his method for planting tomatoes: Seedlings go in a deep layer of compost — so deep that “they develop roots along the stem that would normally be above ground. With all the new roots to support the plant, the plants grow really tall.”
The stacked tower accommodates the plants' height and helps to give a new look to a common form.
For more pros' favorites, keep reading ...
Nicholas Staddon: The director of the new plants team for grower Monrovia likes those traditional cone-shaped cages with three prongs to anchor in the ground. When tomatoes no longer need the support, he uses the cages for kiwi, raspberries, clematis, honeysuckles — all sorts of vines. You can turn vines into shrubs by letting them grow on these cages, he said. In his yard, they become resting spots for birds, particularly hummingbirds. The cages now come in all kinds of colors, as pictured here, but Staddon said he goes with the basic unfinished gray. (Photo credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
Ivette Soler: “I make my own from rebar and concrete reinforcing mesh, but I do recommend these tomato ladders from Gardener's Supply all the time.” said Soler, the L.A. garden blogger behind thegerminatrix.com.
The ladders (pictured at right and in detail at the top of the post), are modular, so each 32.5-inch-tall piece can be used individually or stacked.
They’re sturdy — made of steel that’s heavier than the cages you typically see in garden centers.
And they’re powder-coated with a weatherproof finish that’s colorful (available in red or green) and attractive while the plants are young.
Price: about $50 for a set of six.
(Photo credit: Gardener's Supply Co.)
Yvonne Savio: The manager of the UC Cooperative Extension’s Common Ground Garden Program said her favorite design is a square cage that is connected at all corners but is still able to fold flat. Alas, the design appears to be no longer commercially available.
“The ones that are currently available have one open connection that doesn’t always keep shut,” she said.
So Savio makes do in various ways. For some plants she stacks square cages as double-deckers with a pole driven deep into the soil in one corner. For extra stability, she secures another pole horizontally between cages with recycled-plastic ties. (Photo credit: Yvonne Savio)
John Lyons: The garden consultant and instructor behind www.thewovengarden.com said he couldn't find a tomato cage that he liked in stores, so he is designing and fabricating metal tuteurs for his clients. The design is meant to provide “an architectural element to the vegetable garden” as well as “hold the plant through the entire season without keeling over.”
Every year the L.A. at Home crew is amazed by the passion with which readers try to perfect the art of growing tomatoes. The zeal comes a close third behind that of dog lovers and cat lovers. (Sorry, felinophiles, but yes, you are second. But a close second). So let the tomato cage debate begin: Send us your homespun tomato-support solution to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll post some submissions in the weeks to come.
Corrected: An earlier version of this post included a photo with the description of John Lyons' metal tuteurs. Lyons has since said he accidentally sent a photo of the wrong design, so we have deleted it from the post. When we receive a new photo showing Lyons' design, we will add it.
— Craig Nakano
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