New uses for tomato cages

Judith Adam

It’s time someone stood up to say a few words about tomato cages. I’m thinking of the spindly kind made from painted green wire and found nested together in hardware stores and garden centres. They’re lightweight and it’s easy to grab several at once. The six I once bought are still hanging from a ceiling hook in the garage. I saw them today when I was out rattling the boxes of gardening tools to assess if I’ve got absolutely everything I might need in spring. There are stronger, heavier weight cages with larger dimensions, but I don’t have any in my stash of garden gear. The smaller cages made from thinner gauge wire seem to be what are commonly available for purchase, and it surprises me that there hasn’t been a consumer revolt. (Gardeners can be too acquiescent.)

In my experience, these flimsy cages are useless for tomatoes. A well-tended tomato is a strong, robust plant, quickly overwhelming the height and girth of a standard tomato cage. When the thin wire legs are anchored in soil, the cage stands about 27 inches (69 cm) tall and 14 inches (36 cm) wide, and most indeterminate (vining) tomato plants grow twice that tall, or more. The weight of the fruited branches drags the cage over, and what you have is an alarming heap of metal a   nd tomato.

I suppose the cages would fit a compact determinate tomato cultivar, such as ‘Sunstart’ ( with six-ounce (170-g) fruit in 65 to 70 days, or ‘Lunchbox” ( with three-ounce (85-g), egg-size fruits in 62 days on a plant reaching 36 inches (90 cm). But you’ll likely come to grief if you’re trying to grow plants like six-foot (1.8-m) yellow-orange ‘Kellog’s Breakfast’ ( or meaty ‘Bulls Heart’ ( with fruit weighing up to two pounds (1 kg). See what I mean?

What I’m really concerned about is finding something else to do with my useless cages. In recent summers they’ve been handy for supporting all sorts of other plants. I stabilize the cages by weaving two or three strong bamboo canes or metal stakes down the sides and anchoring them in the soil. They work well for corralling the stems of sprawling clematis like non-climbing Clematis x ‘Durandii’, which flowers for 12 weeks in my garden. I add additional light bamboo stakes to the sides, tying each clematis stem up to stand vertical and make a blooming tower. I’ve also used the cages for clumps of tall, leaning perennials like meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebruneanum ‘Lavender Mist’) and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’, and as a brace for flopping Michaelmas daisies like Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’ (syn A. novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’), which frequently ends up with her face in the dirt. In a pinch, the cages (braced with strong canes or stakes) will even work as substitutes for peony rings.

Just because retailers tell us these flimsy cages are for tomatoes doesn’t mean it’s true. Rise up! Use your imagination!


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10 thoughts on “New uses for tomato cages”

  1. To Judith and all respondents regarding “tomato cages”…

    Thanks to everyone for sharing all your ideas… I will try my peas this year using the back-to-back tomato cages – great idea!!! For me, many flowers benefit from the tomato cages. My Mom, a gardener from the 60s, always used steel rods (the type used for cement foundations). I still have a few, but they are hard to find, but they are the most durable. Every other product bends at some point. Personally, I find the only use for tomato cages is for a small Italian plant, however, last year, even that plant was so plentiful that it fell over with the cage. When using steel rods, you attach as they grow. Providing you root the steel rods in deep enough, they will not bend!! I’d like to start some seeds but am a little green in that regard. Have started some flower seeds, with minimal success. My Mom, on the other hand, used to start her whole garden by seed!!!! And that was before this trend was fashionable!! My basement is very damp, have a stream running underneath, with a sump pump that runs 365 days a year, along with a dehumidifier… Judith, do you think I could start a few seeds under these conditions??? Can’t put anything upstairs as I only have a West side after 2:00 along with 5 cats that eat everything!!
    Love everyone’s comments, especially yours, Judith…. can’t wait for spring and my visit to Canada Blooms!!!!
    Cheers to all!

  2. Hi Judith
    I stubbornly keep using ‘tomato cages’ for tomatoes and every year forget to stake the cages to the ground. Most of the cages are helping support a few tall and droopy perennials. I just might try those super tall twisty poles to grow tomatoes up this year…

  3. Hello,

    Oh! I am so glad to hear that there are people out there that think like me! When I first started gardening 15 years ago I never knew that these wonderful cages were even FOR tomatoes!! I am laughing as well! I have never grown a vegetable or tomato garden. Fifteen years ago, when I started out in my gardening journey and I saw these wonderful cages I grabbed a bunch of them and stuck them in with all my perennials. My Yarrow, Echinacea, Lilies, and of course, all my Daisies and Delphiniums all found themselves completely surrounded by these steel prisons. Of course, in return I did apologize to all my lovely plant friends, but nonetheless they continued to complain. They all warned me that if I did not praise them, sing to them, and beg, beg, beg them for blooms that maybe they would all gang up on me and decide that no blooms would be in order until I removed those horrible, unseemly, and unsightly contraptions! I knew that I had mutiny on my hands so I met all the demands of my garden gang and when they realized that no harm had been done, it actually had proved benefit for their health, and that they now had more freedom to reach and breathe and stretch than they had ever had before, it was only then that they forgave me. Now, many years later some of my dear plant friends have branched out and have moved on to bigger and better places in my yard and it is amazing how we all have grown a deeper understanding and mutual respect for each other. We have reached the stage in our growth here on earth where no one can even really remember those first few uprisings that were on the delicate yet crisp edges of what looked like could turn out to be an all out, garden variety, revolt. We can only imagine. Yes, new members into our garden feel that same mound of nervousness that their counterparts felt long ago, but that is soon relinquished because of the great wisdom that lives and breathes all around them. However, because I am the one that is ultimately in charge, the manager and owner of this garden I will never ever take any plant for granted. So now if you were to pass by my yard on one intoxicating, rich and beautiful summer day, you will still be able to hear me singing and chatting to all those flowers that ever so delight me!
    From Denise Cooney

  4. Hi Sue (Feb. 4),

    Another good idea! I’ve been using chicken wire for peas, and now, I might also try the tomato cages this spring. It’s a world of opportunity for hardware store tomato cages, once we realize they don’t work very well for tomatoes!

    — Judith

  5. My next door neighbour did the double tomato cages in a large container and planted peas in it. They were wonderful, providing a great yield in a small space, such as a south-facing balcony.

  6. Hi Beverley (Feb. 2),

    That’s a good idea, and I can just see vines like Thunbergia (black-eyed Susan vine)and Ipomoea x multifida (cardinal vine) creeping around in that frame. I’m going to try it!
    — Judith

  7. Hi Beverley H. (Feb 1)

    Yes, I get the picture! Truth be known, last year I took one cage and stuck the bottom legs into soil, then put another on top, turned upside down, so that the wide open ends met in the middle to form a tower, stabilized with a 7-foot bamboo stake. I tied them together with supermarket twist ties, and used a thick rubber band to bring together the wire legs sticking up at top, and grew clematis in this contraption. My new neighbours took a look at this rickety arrangement and probably questioned their choice in location!
    — Judith

  8. Hello,
    I have even used them in pots upside down as a smallish trellis for short climbers. Another excellent article, Judith.

  9. Hi Judith.
    Can’t begin to tell you how I laughed at the memory of my own experience with my “tomato cages” last summer… I bought a Beefeater tomato plant from Walmart this year, that provided 3 pound tomatoes. It was remarkable!! Don’t recall their provider, but I am going back there next year, as this was the best produce I have ever had. Needless to say, I had to stake up the plant with several steel poles!!! Even my Italian tomatoes were bountiful. Cages are great for tall flowers, but useless for tomatoes!! Happy gardening!!


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