Vertical growing has got to be in your game plan if you are aiming to make the most of your garden space, but things can get messy if you don't have a strong trellis system and a plan. So to help you out, I will share the three trellis variations that we are using this season. They are all strong, organized, and productive.
Variation 1: Permanent Wooden Frame
We'll start with the simplest trellis variation which is just a 6 inch square polypropylene mesh pinned to an existing fence frame. This was once a wooden picket fence, but I pulled the pickets off and replaced them with this trellis mesh to make it more suitable for growing. The lesson here is that it's ok to just use what you've got, as long as what you've got is strong and well positioned in your garden. We've grown snap peas, melons, and now pole beans on this trellis with great success.
There are two qualities that we really appreciate about this netting. The first is that it doesn't stretch. We need our trellis to remain tight all season long to resist wind load and support the plants as they become heavier. Some types of twine will stretch and degrade as they are exposed to the elements and that really weakens the trellis. The second quality we like about this netting is that all of the joints are bonded together permanently. This leaves no loose ends to become tangled so we can set it up and take it down quite easily. In the past, I've woven together my own trellis grid with vertical and horizontal lines of twine. This takes quite a while to set up, and at the end of the season the lines become so tangled that all attempts to salvage and reuse the twine have failed. You can find a link to the exact netting we use on the Tool Shed page.
Variation 2: Portable Metal Frame
The next trellis system is the most adaptable option we use. It is a system we developed ourselves because we wanted something that was strong, lightweight, long lasting, and portable. It uses almost all metal components so it doesn't degrade, and everything is available off the shelf at our local hardware stores. The main structural element is 1/2 inch galvanized electrical conduit. You can find a video tutorial explaining the assembly of these trellises in our online Classroom so check that out first before you start buying parts. There are some very critical components in this design that are hidden in the photos.
Since this trellis system can be moved so easily, we use it in different beds every year and for different crops. Snap peas, pole beans, indeterminate tomatoes, and cucumbers, have all grown really well on this trellis system. The snap peas require the 6 inch mesh described above for support, but the beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers can all climb vertical lengths of twine hung from the top bar of the trellis and anchored at the base of each plant.
Variation 3: Lower and Lean
The last trellis system brings our trellised crops to a whole new level. It is called the lower and lean system. The key new component that this system requires is a spool of twine at the top bar of the trellis. When the plants reach the top of the trellis, the spool can be unwound a little then moved horizontally along the top bar. While this does not increase the overall height of the trellis, it does increase the distance between the base of each plant and the top bar, so the plants can continue to grow longer. This allows us to grow a 20 foot long cucumber vine on a trellis that is only 7 feet high, while keeping the growing tip at the top of the trellis right where it wants to be.
While we have used this technique on our portable trellises, it really works a lot better with a higher support bar so we primarily use it in our high tunnel. Here, the top bar of our trellis is 7 feet high so we have a bit more room to work with. You will also notice that we have two top bars over each for this system, which allows us to slide plants in opposite directions with minimal entanglement. When we tie the plants to the top bar for the first time at the beginning of the season, we arrange half of them on each bar. Then when we start the lower and lean process, the hooks on one bar move to the left and the hooks on the other bar move to the right. If you could see the lower and lean beds from above, it would look like the vines are all winding up in a clockwise pattern. It's actually quite organized.
There are plenty of other vegetable trellis variations that you'll come across, but these are the three systems that rank the highest for us. Since they are all really effective and long lasting, I don't imagine us changing them up any time soon. Take them into your own garden and make them your own, or try to invent something altogether different if you like. Just know that these are proven systems that will work very well for you, and when you get your trellising right, there will be no looking back.