Do My Tomato Plants Need To Be Staked or Caged?

Updated: Jul. 03, 2023

All tomato plants need support. Some gardeners stake their plants; others cage them. Is one method better than the other?

side by side of a tomato plant with a stake and a tomato plant with a cageGETTY IMAGES (2)

I stake my tomato plants because my dad staked his. But my neighbor next door cages his tomato plants. Who did it the right way? We both did! Either method works just fine.

Do All Tomato Plants Need a Stake or Cage?

Yes, all tomato plants need some support. Indeterminate varieties, aka pole tomatoes, keep growing through the season and can reach six to eight feet tall. Even determinate tomato varieties, aka bush tomatoes, benefit from some support because some grow three to four feet tall.

No matter where you garden, if you don’t stake or cage your tomato plants, you’ll end up with tomatoes on the ground, where they may rot or be eaten by small animals. Plus, an unsupported tomato plant that’s allowed to sprawl can take up lots of space in a garden.

Pros and Cons of Tomato Plant Stakes

Staking is easy. Place each a few inches from each plant or your seeds to avoid disturbing the roots.

As the vine grows, prune your tomatoes by removing the suckers (aka side shoots) from the point between a branch and the main stem (aka the axil). If left unattended, suckers will eventually grow into branches that produce leaves and fruit, resulting in a bushy plant.

Tie the main stem to the stake with sturdy twine, narrow strips of cloth or my favorite, vinyl plant ribbon. Place ties approximately eight to 12 inches apart.

Pros

  • Stakes take less room in the garden.
  • Stakes allow more airflow around plant vines, which help control diseases.
  • Ripening tomatoes are more exposed to the sun because the suckers have been removed, allowing faster ripening.
  • Suckers can be rooted in a glass of water, then planted as new. This is a great benefit for gardeners with a longer growing season.

Cons

  • Stakes take more time because you need to inspect plants every few days to pinch off suckers and tie up the vines.
  • You may get less yield by removing suckers, which can also produce flowers and fruit.
  • In hot, sunny climates, staked tomatoes may be exposed to too much sun, causing sun scald.

Pros and Cons of Tomato Plant Cages

Buy or build a cage large enough to support a fully-grown tomato vine. For most indeterminate tomato varieties, cages should be about three feet in diameter and at least four feet tall.

Large cages like these are hard to find for sale ready-made, so some gardeners use concrete reinforcement mesh to make their own. Cages need to be secured by tying them to stakes in the ground. This prevents the cage from falling over as the plant grows.

Pros

  • Caged tomatoes take less time to maintain. Once the cages are set, you can let the tomato grow inside it without removing the suckers.
  • You may get more tomatoes because you aren’t removing the suckers.

Cons

  • Big cages can be hard to store when not in use.
  • Smaller cages may be quickly overgrown by indeterminate plants.
  • Ripe tomatoes may be hard to reach deep inside a cage.

Alternate Tomato Plant Support Method

For some gardeners, it’s better to set up a support system in a row and weave vines through it. This is sometimes known as a Florida or basketweave.

Susan Mulvilhill, author of The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook, secures a heavy-duty metal fence post at each end of an eight-foot-long raised bed. Then she fastens a sheet of four-foot by eight-foot concrete reinforcing wire between them and plants her tomatoes 18 inches apart along the fence.

“As the tomatoes grow,” she says, “I carefully weave them in and out of the wire and occasionally tie the plants to the wire with jute twine to give the plants extra support.” She says this lets her to grow more plants in a single bed. And it’s easier to harvest tomatoes because you avoid reaching into a cage.

Best Tomato Plant Stakes and Cages

Here are some of the best ready-made stakes or cages:

Sturdy tomato stakes

A simple metal fence post will last for many seasons.

Color-coded cages

Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm Podcast uses color-coded tomato cages to keep track of the different types of tomato plants he grows. He plants early tomatoes with one color, yellow tomatoes with yellow cages, etc.

Spiral stakes

I support my tomatoes with spiral stakes. These can be difficult to secure in the ground, so I cut one-inch PVC pipe into two-foot sections, grab a small mallet and pound them in at least one foot deep. Then I drop the spiral stakes into the pipe.

Cages for smaller tomato vines

Ready-made cages are a good option here. Some cages are four feet tall.