Reasons Some Plants Need Trellises
Ah, plants... They grow up so fast, don't they? One minute, your cucumber plant is a tiny seedling, and the next, it's a sprawling jungle that's consuming your entire garden.
Instead of letting these plants take over our gardens the way a starving teenager takes over your pantry, we can help them grow up. Up up. Up a trellis, that is.
Here are four reasons to give some of the top plants you might want to grow in the kitchen garden their own trellis to climb up and over.
Reason #1: Trellises Maximize Production
Some edible plants need to climb in order to fruit and produce; if they run out of space or if their ambitious little tendrils no longer sense a higher rung for them to stretch for, they'll just stop growing. It's much better to give vines all the space they need to grow vertically, rather than horizontally, especially when growing in smaller spaces or aiming to make the most of your garden space.
Reason #2: Trellises Keep Plants Healthy
The leaves of the plant that's growing on the garden trellis will stay clean and dry with all that air circulation, but the veggies growing down below will also stay healthier because they'll have access to plenty of space, sunlight, and air flow, as well. This prevents mold, diseases, and pests. The fruits on the vine will stay clean and will be less likely to rot.
Reason #3: Trellises Increase Your Available Growing Space
Garden trellises mean you can have both vining plants growing up and smaller plants growing along the width of your raised beds. Instead of just having the square-footage of the horizontal space in the garden, you now have available all that vertical space that stretches out over the the garden beds.
Reason #4: Trellises Keep the Garden Tidy
Instead of letting some plants sprawl where they will, trellises bring a bit of much-needed order. Vines are trained to grow in one place, and fruits are held upright, where they can receive plenty of sunlight to help them ripen and then be easily found for tending and harvesting. While trellises are at their best covered in vines and flowers, they continue to lend a finished look to the garden even when they're bare in the middle of winter.
Plants That Need a Trellis for Support
Some of my favorite plants to grow in the kitchen garden require some type of trellis to climb up. These include:
- snow peas
- sugar snap peas
- asparagus (yardlong) beans
- fava beans
- cherry tomatoes
- grape tomatoes
- small squash varieties
- luffa gourds
- miniature pumpkins
- small melons
- purple pole beans
Non-edible favorites to grow up a trellis include:
- sweet peas
- climbing nasturtium
- passion vine
- hyacinth beans
- coral vine
While some pea varieties don't grow particularly long or tall, others produce long vines that need support. Sugar snap peas and snow peas, for example, have slender tendrils that need to find a rung to wrap around so that the plant can continue growing up. These climbing varieties can reach 6 to 8 feet tall with the support of a trellis.
I added wire along the base of my arch trellises to give my peas the tight rung spacing they prefer. (Here's more on how to grow your sugar snap peas up a trellis.)
Bush beans don't require a trellis, but pole beans need something to climb (as the name suggests) and can grow 6 to 8 feet tall. Their stem needs something slender to spiral around for support. Pole beans like fava beans are ideal for planting around the outer rim of an obelisk trellis. When given support, the vines will form pods at a slow but continuous pace for you.
(Read more tips to grow your own organic beans.)
Vining tomatoes (indeterminate tomatoes) originally grew to spread along the ground, but with a little help from you (and some twine), they can be trained to grow up a trellis. These vines can become their own canopies covered in heavy fruit, so it's important to give them a sturdy trellis (in other words, not a tomato cage).
We love arch trellises for cherry and grape tomatoes. A productive vine can quickly grow taller than a panel or obelisk trellis and then have nowhere to go, but an arch gives more than enough room. If you have a long warm season, your tomato vine could even grow all the way over and then be turned back. Metal trellises ensure that the structure is sturdy enough to hold all those fruits you're going to be harvesting.
Tomatillos, which are in the same family as tomatoes, are great to grow on a trellis if you live somewhere with very hot summers. Make sure to plant two for pollination.
Get the step by step to grow tomatoes on an arch trellis.
Cucumber plants need a strong support that their tendrils can grab onto to pull the vine off the ground. Growing cucumbers upright also gives pollinators easy access to the flowers to help you increase your production.
For more on why you should grow your cucumbers on a trellis, check out our post below guest-authored by garden coach Laura Christine.
Small Squash, Gourds, and Pumpkins
Many summer squash varieties are bush types, but you may come across some fun varieties of squash, gourds, and miniature pumpkins that would benefit from being grown vertically and can be trained up with twine.
Larger squash and pumpkins should be grown on the ground—their fruits are just too heavy to trellis.
Melons are obviously large and require a very strong structure to hold them. To prevent ripening melons from falling to the ground and bursting open, you can make slings from cloth strips to support them. Watermelons are simply too heavy to grow on a trellis, so they'll need to be grown in the ground and given tons of room to spread out (don't waste the precious space in your raised beds trying to get a watermelon crop, trust me).
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What to Grow on Your Trellis in a Year
Plants to Grow on a Trellis Season by Season
Here's what an entire year on your garden trellis could look like. (Note: not all of you will have hot and/or cold seasons.)
As soon as your soil is workable, plant your trellis with sugar snap peas, fava beans, or snow peas. When the weather warms a bit more, plant your trellis with runner beans.
Plant your arch trellis with indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, or pole beans. Starter plants can be planted at the base of your trellis while you wait for your cool season plants to finish up.
Plant your arch trellis with tomatillos, asparagus beans, Armenian cucumbers, or luffa gourds.
Plant fast-growing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.
In the fall, plant pole beans, which will continue to produce until frost arrives.
If you're regularly getting frost and temperatures below 32 F, it's too cold to grow vining plants. Your trellis will continue to look beautiful in your garden even without any greenery on it.
Flowers That Need a Trellis
Want to grow flowers on your arch trellis? I love that idea.
In the Cool Season: Plant your arch trellis with sweet peas (just be sure everyone knows not to eat from these plants—they're poisonous!).
In the Warm Season: Plant your arch trellis with climbing nasturtium, passion vine, or hyacinth bean.
In the Hot Season: Plant your arch trellis with passion vine or coral vine.
How to Attach Plants to a Trellis
While some plants want to climb and will be perfectly fine wrapping tendrils around rungs on their own, other plants will need a bit of help from you.
I recommend twine to hold plants like cherry tomatoes or sugar snaps in place because it's gentle on stems. You don't want to use something that can rub or damage tender vines and leave the plant vulnerable to disease or pests.
The best way to tie is by looping the twine around the metal rung and then crossing the two ends before wrapping around the plant stem—think like a figure eight—and tying in a bow. Leave some slack in the twine instead of pulling tightly to give the plant room to grow and sway in the wind.
Time to Add a Trellis or Two or Three to Your Kitchen Garden
Trellises aren't just important to the health and production of some plants, they're also beautiful. In fact, my favorite reason to use a garden trellis is because of its visual appeal. If a trellis mirrors the architectural style of the house, then it helps to create harmony and a sense of peace between the house and the garden.
Now that you know what can be grown on a trellis, you might need help figuring out which trellis is best for your space. We've got your trellis questions answered.
Join Gardenary 365
Inside Gardenary 365, you can focus on a different aspect of gardening each month—from growing your own microgreens indoors to designing and building your very own kitchen garden, complete with trellises and raised beds. You'll be harvesting your favorite fruits, veggies, and herbs with confidence in no time.