Staking Tomatoes with Concrete Reinforcing Mesh

For years we’ve been using concrete reinforcing mesh to stake our tomatoes. It’s a 6-inch square grid of wire and is used to reinforce concrete slabs. I buy it in 3 1/2-feet by 7-feet sections at my local home improvement center. To make a tomato cage with it you find a flat stretch of patio or driveway and bend the wire into a tube. I overlap it a bit and tie it together with wire.

This year, thanks to a tip from Craig Ruggless, I decided to double the height of the cages using two per plant to make them 7-feet high. As the plant grows, you simply tuck the vines into the cage, with no pruning necessary. But you do have to stay on top of the tucking, otherwise you risk breaking off stems. Since a 7-foot cage can be very top heavy I staked them deep into the ground with some rebar I had laying around. Long wooden stakes would work just as well. You could also choose to grow shorter tomato varieties. The San Marzano tomatoes in the middle of the picture above are half the height of the other two and way more productive.

Another staking option is to buy Texas Tomato Cages for $99 for six 24-inch by 6-foot cages. The advantage with the Texas cages is that they fold flat when not in use. The disadvantage is the price. If you buy your concrete reinforcing mesh in bulk, on long rolls, the price would be significantly less than the Texas Cages and I think reinforcing wire is just as attractive if rolled carefully.

I would avoid the tiny, flimsy conical cages I’ve seen for sale at most nurseries as almost every tomato plant will easily outgrow them and stems will break as they spill over the top.

For a roundup tomato staking techniques see the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners website.

And leave some comments about your favorite staking and/or pruning methods.

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20 Comments

  1. My sister is trying the concrete reinforcing wire for the first time this year, only now she’s having a hard time getting the tomatoes to grow!

  2. True story, this spring I was seriously thinking of using CRW for my cages. I just got off the phone with a local concrete builder supply who sold it in 50 foot rolls for about $25 (it was hard to find a place that sold something other than the 100ft version which wouldn’t fit in our Fit) when a concrete contractor pulls up next door. Up pulls several other trucks and one blocks my driveway to offload a back hoe. I tell the guy, I have to leave in a few minutes surprisingly to go buy some CRW. He asks how much I’m looking for, I say…ummm 100ft. He gets another worker to unroll 100ft and cuts it for me right then and there. He asks for $40 buck and I say…cool, way cool.

    I love the CRW cages and have even found that they work great wrapped around my Earthboxes as well. I get the need for doubling up (maybe next year) as my tomats are already a foot over the top.

    Prior to finding a local supplier of 25ft CRW, I purchased a set of Texas Tomato Gages. They certainly aren’t any better than the CRW but I did find that they are great for my corn. I put 6 stalks inside each of two cages and my corn has done great and have not been blown down by the winds (as in the past) and for some reason the squirrels don’t seem to bother the corn in the TTCs. Maybe this is just antedotal, I’m not sure but I am very, very happy and will fill all 6 TTCs next year with my corn.

    jed

  3. Thanks for this post! I am always curious about how people support their tomatoes since most “tomato cages” are completely useless. I had also found the Texas Tomato Cages, but was also turned off by the price.

    We ended up going with the cattle panel option. They’re the exact width of my raised beds, and we had them cut in half so they’re 8 feet tall. We suported them on the sides with 2x2s attached with zip ties. As the plants grow I weave them in and out of the panels. It seems to be working really well so far.

  4. Now that’s a tomato cage! I use garden fencing bent into a tube. But even these are proving to be no match for a determined (but indeterminate) tomato.

    How hard is it to cut CRW? Maybe it would be easier to cut out two rows of the horizontals to make the bottom all exposed prongs and then sink it into the ground a bit. But I’m guessing some sort of staking would still be a good idea.

    The little, flimsy, conical, comically ineffective cages? When people want to get rid of them, I accept them and use them to stake my chili peppers and eggplants. These plants don’t need a huge amount of support, but a little helps, since we get thunderstorms with serious wind at least a few times each summer.

  5. This year I built a frame about 4×6′ out of some 3″ young tree sections I pruned, and some driftwood and other scrap. Best setup I’ve had yet, as I’ve used the flimsy conical junk in the past. I don’t even know why they manufacture those, really.

  6. I actually use the cheapo tomato cages, and they work fairly well for me. My determinate vines don’t get too big, and the indeterminate ones, especially the cherry tomatoes, are so vigorous that as long as they’re somewhat off the ground, they just don’t care. They go up the inside of the cage, down the outside, up the outside of their neighbor’s cages…the plants get quite a bit mixed up by the end of the year, but I like not having them so high that I can’t get to them easily, or that they make to much shade for the rest of my garden. I think that if I had a really good solution, it wouldn’t be cages at all, but fences on both sides of the row. Or maybe even just one side–one year I tied a plant to the porch railing, and it was happy enough.

  7. I agree with Catherine above that the “tiny, flimsy conical cages” work perfectly well for determinate tomatoes.

    For my indeterminates I use 10-foot rebar sunk two feet in the ground with jute twine strung between. At the end of the season I can compost the vines and twine all together.

  8. That works well for pot plants, too. Speaking of which, perhaps you should go down to your local doctor and pick up a 215 card for anxiety or something and grow some major weed in your back yard down there. I bet all the CO2 in the air would really swell your buds.

  9. Kate,

    I cut the CRW cages with a circular saw fitted with a metal blade.

    Catherine,

    You certainly could grow determinate tomatoes in the “flimsy” cages, but most of the time I’ve got indeterminate varieties since they are much more common and I have some space to play with.

    And Nathaniel,

    Perhaps after the November ballot initiative passes. For now I’ll stick to the related hops plant whose buds are swelling as we speak thanks to all the smog and opinionating around the Homegrown Evolution compound.

  10. We also use the concrete reinforcing mesh as tomato cages. We’ve had our current ones now for 3 years. I’ve heard that you can cut them into thirds and attach them so that you end up a triangular cage that can fold flat.

  11. Great tip! At 7 feet that might just make good deer fence. The price seems right. Local cedar posts with bamboo stays from landscape plants …. Next year, I’ll save the tipsy conical cages for tall umbelliferous plants that I leave for seed-saving. I have 2 parsleys that would have benefited from them.

  12. I use the conical cages for my determinates. I have beds 2-2.5 feet wide, placing the cages side by side, both along the row and in two columns. I plant the tomato plants inside the cages, placing the cages so that they touch at the widest ring at their tops. Then I tie wrap all the cages to their neighbor. Except for the end cages, all cages have three fastened neighbors. I’ve had a lot of success crowding the plants like this for many years, although, If the environment is extremely wet, the lack of air flow between plants will breed disease.

    I am definitely going to try the concrete mesh cages for my indeterminate plants. I’ve never not suckered indeterminate tomatoes though. I wonder if there is an increase, a decrease, or no effect on the amount of harvested fruit.

    • Go to the website for either Home Depot or Lowe’s
      >building materials
      >concrete and masonery
      >rebar and remesh
      >both sites have panels 42″ x 84″ for $7.25 (good to use if you want a tall 7′ “stake”) and 150′ rolls of 5′ wire for $107 – I use the old-school formula of pi x diameter = circumference to see how much to cut for each tube.) Cut what you need, wrap it ’till the ends touch, and wire it together. Makes a great cage, custom sized for your beds, only disadvantage is that they are “only” 5′ high and really aggressive tomatoes will escape out the top – just encourage them to go down or across or next door to the next cage if that happens.

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