Growing vegetables vertically on trellises and other supports has never been more popular. The reasons are obvious. First, it allows you to grow more vegetables in less space. Second, it gets vegetables off the ground where they are less susceptible to soil-born pests, foliage pests are more visible, and fruits like cucumbers and tomatoes are easier to pick. (Spotting pests early can allow you a head start on control measures). Third, trellises add structure and order to the garden, giving it a more architectural, layered feel. And lastly, growing vegetables vertically is easy.
Most nurseries sell prefabricated wooden trellises as well as some materials, such as stakes, posts, string, and lattice, that customers can use to build their own. But if you want to build your own, you may need to visit a hardware store for some additional components, such as nails and hinges.
Building your own trellis is not difficult and can be very creative. It may be as simple as tying some bamboo stakes together to create a teepee-like structure for growing beans. Portable, A-frame trellises are easy to make by constructing square frames from 2x2 inch redwood posts, securing the corners with metal braces, and connecting one side with appropriate hinges. The support for the vegetables can be string, crosshatched and tied to small nails along the posts, for lighter vegetables like beans or peas. Netting or materials used for tomato cages also works. For heavier crops like melons or cucumbers, the support can be sturdier, made with metal fencing or concrete reinforcing wire anchored to the frame with u-shaped nails. If you use metal, the mesh should wide enough to put your hand through for easy picking and so the vegetables don’t get caught in the mesh and grow misshapen.
Vertical trellises can be attached to the sides of raised beds or supported by posts anchored in the ground. Some lattice fencing can double as a trellis.
You can even go vertical when growing vegetables in pots. Large containers, like half barrels, can support teepees for beans, and A-frame trellises can be placed between two, long narrow, wooden boxes to support a variety of crops.
Vegetables That Climb
The best vegetables for trellising are ones that climb or sprawl. Here are some favorites:
Beans. Lightweight, fast growing and wonderfully twining, pole beans are naturals for vertical gardening. They will easily climb over 6 feet high on string, netting or thin bamboo stakes as support. And there is a huge variety of types – both green and dried – to choose from. The teepee trellis, simply made by angling bamboo stakes and tying them off at the top, is a favorite for kids. Add colorful varieties, such as scarlet runner beans for even more fun.
Cucumbers. Both pickling and slicing cucumbers are perfect for A-frame trellises. The dangling fruit stays clean and straight, plus it’s easy to harvest. You can also use small wire cages or cylinders to trellis cucumbers in the ground or large pots (compact varieties are best). However, some gardeners prefer not to use metal supports with cucumbers because it may get too hot and burn tendrils or fruit.
Melons. Many types of melons, including cantaloupe and icebox watermelon, can be grown on sturdy A-frame trellises, but the heavy fruit will need a little extra support. Slipping sections of nylon stockings over the fruit when its small, tying a knot in one end and attaching the other end to the trellis is one to support melons. The nylon expands as the melon grows. Another option is to cut cloth cradles and tying each side to the trellis.
Peas. The delicate tendrils of peas will attach to any thin material, including twine, netting, bamboo and metal. Choose vigorous varieties, but even some of the more compact types are best grown on a trellis. For a little color and fragrance, suggest mixing in some sweet pea seeds.
Squash. We’re so used to bush varieties of zucchini, we forget that there are sprawling varieties as well. Although the seeds may be hard to find, look for varieties like the heirloom ‘Trombocino’ or newer ‘Black Hawk’. Miniature pumpkins can be grown on a trellis, but most winter squash is best left to grow the ground.
Tomatoes. Not truly climbing like the other vegetables here so more tying will be necessary, but indeterminate varieties need support of a wire cage, stake or other support, and this upright nature fits perfectly in vertical vegetable garden.
Think carefully about positioning trellises. Most A-frames should be tilted toward the south. They should also make sure that as plants mature, they don’t shade nearby plantings.
All trellises should be securely anchored so as plants fill the space, they don’t blow over in strong winds.
Young seedling may need help attaching to a trellis.
Untreated, biodegradable twine makes cleanup easier in the fall. It can be cut and composted along with the spent plants rather than having to untangle everything.