Trellising plants in the vegetable garden is an art, a science and a lesson in practicality all in one!
Although it is unknown when and where the trellis was invented, such structures have been mentioned in literature and botanical writings throughout history. Trellises continue to be used in vegetable gardens (and berry patches) today for many good reasons.
Trellising capitalizes on vertical space and frees up precious real estate for other crops. By using trellises, you can grow more fruits and vegetables in the same space and increase your yield per square foot of garden.
Trellises improve air circulation around plants and maximize exposure to sunlight, helping to prevent the buildup of moisture on leaves. This in turn discourages fungal and other diseases. Getting the plants off the ground also decreases damage by snails, mice and other ground pests.
Growing your vegetable plants on trellises makes tending your garden and finding (and picking) produce easier. This feature is particularly desirable for gardeners with physical challenges because they often can tend the trellised plant from a standing position or a garden seat.
Trellised plants create a shady area for plants growing beneath their canopy. If you take advantage of this cooler zone you can grow cool-weather crops, such as spinach and brassicas, well into the heat of summer.
Trellises also add character to your garden; they can be used to display the ornamental aspect of a plant, decorate an otherwise barren wall or hide less attractive spots in your garden.
Trellises come in a wide variety of shapes, styles and materials. Common shapes include teepees, A-frames, vertical fences, cages and ladders. Support posts can be made out of wood, PVC, metal pipes and other materials.
When using trellises, be creative — but follow these basic rules:
• Situate plants to be trellised along the north side of your garden so that when trellised, they do not cast a shadow over nearby plants unless you are specifically trying to create a shadier spot to protect sun-sensitive or cool-weather crops.
• Use sturdy materials that can handle the weight of the plant as it grows. Anchor your trellis by sinking support posts deep into the ground.
• Match the support to the plant. Knowing the plant’s growing tendencies can help you choose the right support structure.
• Install the supports when you plant. You can damage roots by sticking supports into the ground after planting or break vines trying to lift them off the ground.
• Guide your plants onto the trellis as they grow. Young plants and new branches will be more flexible and less likely to break when manipulated than older plants.
• If you need to tie plant branches to the trellis, use soft materials (such as fabric strips or old pantyhose). Loop the tie around the support, cross the two ends, and loop them around the plant stem (forming a figure eight) to prevent damage to the stem as it moves with wind, rain and its own weight.
Pick your climbers
Which vegetables benefit from trellises and supports? Climbing and vining crops such as pole and runner beans, peas, small-fruited squash, cucumbers and tomatoes do well when supported by a trellis.
If you choose to trellis vegetables with larger fruits (larger squash or melons) you will likely need to provide additional support (such as individual hammocks) to prevent the fruit from separating from the vine prematurely.
Why not lure your vegetable crops toward the sky this year? Trellising is a great way to increase your harvest, improve its quality and make gardening easier for you. Give it a try.
Judy English and Jeanette Stehr-Green are WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardeners.