How do I trellis veggies?

Ray_Scheel(z8b/SS31 E. TX)January 1, 2013

Image by: Mel Bartholemew
Sample plot with trellis
Ever tried to support a tomato with just a cage? You know what happens. Halfway through the season, the tomato (or cucumber or other vining veggie) overgrows its bounds, growls in angry victory, and bends, uproots or topples its support, creating a mass of vines to hide the precious produce and encourage mildew, nasty bugs and other unmentionables. Ever tried to grow a cantaloupe or vining squash on the ground without any support? You know what happens there too. The plant takes over at least 100 square feet of space, sprawling all over your garden area just to produce a few veggies or fruits for you. It's a waste of precious garden real estate. Intensive gardeners like to grow their larger, vining crops vertically. All but the big watermelons and pumpkins can be trained up a support, and some judicious pruning of side shoots keeps them within their bounds and producing abundantly. Crops are easy to pick, mildew is discouraged, and bugs are easier to spot and eliminate. The classic Square Foot method from Mel Bartholemew involves using a sturdy vertical frame (as high as you can reach), anchored well into the ground. An upside-down U made from electrical conduit or other pipe works well and doesn't break the bank (3/4" copper plumbing pipe used for this purpose is a little more expensive but very nice-looking). To support the individual plants, string is tied horizontally just above ground level and then vertically between the top bar and bottom string. Nylon is recommended to prevent rotting. The picture can give you an idea of how this works. As the vining crops grow, the new growth is wrapped around the string, and offshoot branches are pruned to keep the plant focused on growing and producing fruit along its main vertical stem. Mel includes extensive info on this method in his book and website. Other intensive-method gardeners have used other methods as well:

  • T-posts or fence posts secured in the ground with welded wire or cattle panels attached as a super-sturdy open lattice that requires no top support.
  • Landscape timbers outside of the bed with wooden lattice nailed on and a top-beam with a narrow piece of lattice nailed flat across the top.
  • Nylon Trellis Netting - is soft like yarn, not hard like plastic or fishing line. It is made of high-quality nylon and will maintain 60% of its original strength after 20 years in the sun. This heavy-duty nylon netting has a 60 lb. breaking strength that will support extremely heavy crop loads.

As your happy, healthy fruits and veggies get larger on their vertical vines, the bigger ones (like cantaloupe and icebox melons) will need to be supported with slings made of panty hose or something similar that allows the produce to breathe while still being supported.

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