The Q&A Archives: Indeterminate Tomatoes: Details On Caging, And Caging Vs. Staking

Question: I am gearing up to transplant my tomato seedlings, once the night temperatures get above 50 F. In preparation for this, I am considering the question of staking vs. caging, and if I cage, the type of cage and proper spacing.

The tomato varieties in question are the Super Sweet 100 and Early Girl.

I was planning on caging, using the generic cone-shaped cages from the local home store, but I've seen reference to their inadequacy for supporting indeterminate varieties that grow above their 3-4' height. The alternative seems to be making your own with something like concrete reenforcement mesh (6"x6" mesh, heavy gauge). What has been your experience in this matter?

In scanning your question database, I saw reference to spacing cages 4' apart for indeterminate tomatoes. Why is there such a difference from the standard 2' spacing rule? Is this a recommendation specific to cages, or should staked indeterminates be spaced wide, as well?

That last question is one of the deciding factors for me between staking and caging. Here's the loaded (subjective) follow-up question: In general, do indeterminate tomatoes lend themselves more to staking or caging?

Answer: In my experience, Super Sweet 100 rarely grows over 4' high, so staking or caging with a standard cone-type tomato cage is adequate for these plants. A really prolific Early Girl can exceed the height of standard tomato cages and your idea of staking is a good one. It isn't necessary to use reenforcement mesh, but you can if you have it on hand and want to fashion cylinders around the plants. I've had good luck with three stakes per plant, six feet tall, with jute or similar soft material attached to the stakes in a zig-zag fashion.

The reasoning behind the spacing is probably to provide adequate elbow room for each growing plant and to allow for good air circulation (to ward off disease problems). If you have the room in your garden, it's better to err on the side of too much space than to crowd your plants to the point where they compete for moisture, nutrients, sunlight and good air circulation.

I prefer to stake my plants rather than cage them, using 6'-8' stakes. This gives them plenty of room to grow and I have access to each stem and branch, both for ease in harvesting and for pinching and pruning as needed. When all the stems and foliage are "out in the open" I can scout for insect and disease problems, as well.

Just to complicate the issue, commercial tomato growers often allow their indeterminate plants to sprawl on the ground. You can do this too, but mulch the bare soil with straw to keep the fruits clean.

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