Introduction: My Best Vegetable Trellis: Durable, Collapsible, Flexible
(I'm aware that it might not be the best, but it is the best I've ever used.)
When I started growing cucumbers in my small garden, I rejected most store-bought trellises, and tried a few. They all fell short. Some were too flimsy to last more than a season. Others relied on string or twine, which was hard to reuse and ended up a tangled mess in the garbage. Some I didn't even consider because they were made of plastic. Others I ignored because they were clearly designed to be cute and whimsical, not to be functional. As far as I know there are no magical creatures at the back of my yard (other than some very cool insects), so I don't need the fairy garden look.
I needed a trellis that would support the weight of the plants, give them plenty of room to climb and still allow me to reach the highest ones when it came time to harvest. Because they have a habit of hiding among the leaves, I needed to find a way to force cucumbers into the open. I wanted a tall trellis that was stable without driving posts into the ground or running guy wires from the top, since neither of those methods would allow me to rearrange the garden easily (and I would definitely trip on guy wires).
I also wanted a solution that was durable, cheap and easy to build,easy to move out of the way and store in winter, and didn't have to be built again the next spring. Finally, it had to work with the raised beds I’d already built.
At least 10 years later the trellis I improvised from scrap lumber and a leftover piece of remesh was still fit to do its job. It didn't look very good, and—no surprise—the wood was starting to get soft at the bottom where it had been in constant contact with the ground for 120 months or more.
Above is that original trellis, before I disassembled it to reuse the remesh, and the new one (plus a couple of the plans that led up to building it (I had to do something while waiting for the snow to melt).
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- 2 8-foot 2x4s, pressure treated** or cedar
You could go with 10- or 12-foot 2x4s if you want (or 6 feet, for that matter), but it'll be harder to reach the highest cukes and it seems to me that the whole thing will be a lot more prone to tipping over.
- 2 2x4s 53.5 inches long, pressure treated or cedar
(could also use 5/4 x 4, as I did, but I don’t think 1x4 would be sturdy enough)
- 1 or 2 1x4s (or 5/4 x 4 or 2x4) 43.5 inches long (the actual length you need may vary*)
- 2 1x4s (or 5/4 x 4 or 2x4) 40.5 inches long (the actual length you need may vary*)
(All the 1x4s needed could come from 2 8-foot boards.)
- 2 4-inch carriage bolts, 3/8 or ½ inch, plus a washer and a nut (or wing nut) each
- 2 large screw eyes, (or eye bolts or u-bolts, with nuts and washers as needed).
If you don't plan to anchor it, skip this.
- 12 deck screws, 2 inches long (add 4 screws if you're adding the optional 1x4 near the bottom of the frame)
(get the most corrosion-resistant ones you can, such as stainless steel or some of the modern coated ones)
- Fence staples (or you could just use thin nails and bend them over)
- 1 piece of remesh. It's in the concrete and cement department, near the rebar.
(The ones sold at Home Depot, which is what I had on hand, are 84 inches long and 42 inches wide, with 6 inch squares. Other stores sell it in different sizes, so find out how big yours is going to be before you cut any lumber.)
Total cost for all materials was between $30 and $40, which isn’t bad for something that will last 10 or 20 years. If I hadn’t used up most of my excess scrap lumber, it would have been even cheaper.
- Drill bits:
1 that is sized appropriately for your deck screws (meaning a little thinner than the screws)
1 that is bigger than your carriage bolts (1/2-inch bit for 3/8-inch bolts, 5/8-inch bit for ½-inch bolts)
- Saw (I used a miter saw, but circular saws or hand saws will work)
- Tape measure
*NOTE: The measurments given here are based on the size of the mesh I used. If yours is a different size, you’ll have to adapt the instructions. Basically, the width of the entire trellis will be the width of the remesh plus 1.5 inches. If you have a smaller space or plan to plant fewer plants, you could cut the mesh down to fit your needs.
**Another note: According to the reading that I've done, the new formulas used to treat lumber are either totally safe or such a slight risk as to be basically totally safe. I'm not claiming to be an expert. I will say that this trellis, if used with raised beds, never has any contact with the soil. If it's used on the same ground that the plants re growing from, it's still barely in contact with the soil. If you are concerned, you might want to put flat stones or cement pavers under the feet. You could also use cedar or redwood instead of treated lumber, or you could just use regular lumber. It might not last as long, but if you take care of it and keep the feet from sitting on wet ground, it should still last a long time.
Step 2: Build the Frame
Attach remesh to sides
- Stand the 8-foot 2x4s on edge on a solid surface—the ground or a sturdy platform of some kind.
- Line up one corner of the mesh with the end of one 2x4, at the center of the thin (1.5-inch) side.
- Pound in one staple, being careful not to smash your thumb and finger if the staples are short (this is experience speaking). You may want to use pliers to hold the staple.
- Put in a second staple a few feet down from the first, keeping the edge of the mesh parallel with the edge of the board so it does not end up crooked.
- Repeat these steps on the second 2x4.
(I do not put in the third staples on each side until after I’m sure everything lines up correctly and I’ve cut away the parts of the mesh I don’t want (see below).
- You could cut the remesh now. If you do, then go ahead and add the third staple on each side.
Add top of frame
- Measure across the top, from the outside of one 2x4 to the outside of the other. If you’ve centered 42-inch remesh on both boards, this measurement should be close to—or exactly—43.5 inches.
- Cut a 1x4 to this length
- Drill 2 holes (for deck screws) ¾ of an inch in from each end of the 1x4 and screw it across both boards.
This and the remesh (and the optional second 1x4—see below) will provide the rigidity to keep your trellis from twisting or bending.
Optional lower brace
- Add another 1x4 (the same length as the one at the top) near the bottom of the frame (about 7 inches up would work).
- I recommend notching the 2x4s so the brace does not stick out. This can be done with a circular saw with its blade depth set to the thickness of the cross piece.
Add screw eyes
- If using screw eyes or eye bolts to stake down the trellis, drill holes near the bottom of each 2x4, a few inches up and roughly centered. The exact placement is not important. I wanted mine to be a few inches off the ground.
Step 3: Drill for the Legs
Decisions... Calculations... Guesses...
Deciding where to drill for the bolts that connect the legs to the frame is not an exact science, and it might be useful to have another person to hold up the frame at various angles while you figure it out. I did it by leaning the frame against a wall at an angle that seemed about right, then marking it with a pencil at about where I thought the legs should attach. I would like to say that I drilled two holes because I wanted to have options, but the truth is that my first one was too low. Cucumber vines will grow through the unused hole to remind me.
The upper hole on mine (the one I will use as it allows the legs to be vertical and lets the lower cross piece sit against the garden bed) is 62 inches up from the bottom of the 2x4. (The lower, useless, hole is at 55 inches.)
- Measure for the holes on both 2x4s and drill with the bit that is a little larger than the bolts you’ll be using.
(I actually drilled mine before putting the mesh on the boards, which allowed me to drill through both of them at once.)
- Wiggle the bit around a bit to make sure the hole is big enough to allow the bolt to slide through easily.
Step 4: Cut the Remesh (optional)
You can do this now, you might already have done it, or you could do it later.
I cut the remesh so I could bend the bottom 18 inches into a vertical position above the plants. This will make it easier for them to get a grip and start to climb.
- Using an angle grinder, bolt cutters, hack saw or something else that works, cut as close to the welds as possible so there aren’t sharp ends sticking out (you won’t be able to see them once the plants take over, and they will cut you)
- File down any sharp bits!
The trellis will work fine without doing this, but you might have to lift vines up to the mesh to get their climb started, or tie pieces of twine of some kind to the mesh so they hang down above the plants.
Note (added after a full summer of using these things): Do this step. I did it on 2 of 4 trellises and it worked. On the others I had to put in some sticks of bamboo for the vines to climb to reach the remesh. Next year they'll all be cut and bent.
Don’t forget to add the third staple on each side if you haven't already.
(And yes, I know I need to replace the grinder’s wheel. This was fine for these 8 quick cuts, so I didn’t dig into the tool box for a new one. I wish I could remember what I cut last that wore it down so far.)
Step 5: Assemble the Legs
Cut the legs:
- Determine the length of the legs.
To do this you can lean the completed frame against a wall (again) and hold a board against it to mark the length. (Or just use my dimensions.)
- Cut the two legs to length
- Drill a bolt hole near the top of each leg.
Make sure the hole is at least ¾ of an inch from the top of the board, and dead center (1.75 inches from either side of a 2x4).
- If you plan to notch the legs for the cross pieces, do that now. If they will be 1x4s, the notches will be 3.5" wide.
- When I want identical notches, I clamp the two boards together, mark the ends of the notch, and cut both at once with a circular saw.
If you look too closely at the photo above you will see that I did a pretty poor job of it this time. I used my miter saw instead of my circular saw, meaning I couldn’t just set the depth and had to trust my eyes. Don’t do that.
Things to keep in mind about the placement of the cross pieces:
- The bottom one should be as low as possible, particularly if the plants will be growing from the ground. You don’t want to have to climb over it or bang your shins on it while pulling weeds or harvesting.
- If you want to, you could even attach it flat across the bottoms of the legs so it lays flat on the ground. It’ll rot faster (though it will still take years), but it will never be in your way. Mine will always be used with raised beds, so all I had to remember was to make sure it was lower than the lip of the boxes.
- The top cross piece should be as high as possible without getting in the way of the bolts or of your hands when tightening the nuts. It could be placed across the top of the legs, but it would hold moisture longer that way and might make it harder to tighten the nuts.
- I did not measure exactly—I just eyeballed it—but it turned out to be almost exactly 3.5 inches below the top of the legs.
- Notice that in some photos the leg assembly is installed with the cross pieces on the outside (toward the camera) and in others (and in my plans) the cross pieces are facing the back of the trellis.
If my bed would fit between the two legs so the cross piece could rest against the box, I would have the cross pieces on the front of the legs. This box was a little too wide and a storm was about to hit, so I didn’t flip the leg assembly around until after it passed. (You can see how wet the cedar is in the photos where the legs are turned around.)
Attach the Cross Pieces:
- Drill two holes at each end of the cross pieces. Use the drill bit that is a little smaller than your deck screws.
Make sure the holes will allow the screws to hit the center of the legs. For example, if the legs are 2x4s, then the holes should be ¾ of an inch in from the end of the cross piece. If the legs are another thickness, measure and figure out the center.
- Screw the cross pieces into the notches with deck screws.
Step 6: Assemble Your Awesome Trellis!
You now have legs and a frame, so the last step is to join them.
- Place a bolt in each side of the frame and push it through until it’s about to come out. Have another person hold the frame up at an angle or lean it against something.
- Slide the leg assembly between the frame’s sides
- Line up the holes and push the bolts through the holes at the top of the legs.
(If you want a washer on the bolt in the space between frame and leg, you’ll have to put that on the bolt before pushing it through the leg. It might be a pain, and I don’t think it’s necessary.
- Slide a washer onto each bolt, then put on a nut.
- Tighten nuts until snug. There’s no need to get a wrench—this thing isn’t going to be moving around a lot and unless your garden is on the high seas or the back of a truck driving bad roads the nuts are not going to work themselves loose.
- If you have room, you could also do all that with the frame on the ground, mesh side down. Probably safer that way.
If you want or need to anchor the trellis, you can put a piece of rebar, a long (10-12 inches) anchor bolt, a dowel, or some other kind of stake through the screw eyes and drive it into the ground. I’ve not found it necessary, but I added the option just in case the cucumbers are so heavy they threaten to topple it.
Note (added after a full summer of use): One of my 4 trellises did tip. It wasn't staked down, and it was covered in vines and, more importantly, leaves. A wind coming from an unusual direction caught the leaves, and since it was top-heavy with all the foliage and fruit (see the photo in the last step of this instructable), it tipped. Luckily it hit the top of another trellis and did not fall. I really thought the anchor idea was overkill, but now I'm convinced.
Step 7: Plant Something, Be Patient, Harvest, Enjoy (and Clean Up for Winter)
There you have it: half a day’s work has resulted in a fully functional, extremely durable, totally flexible, highly attractive cucumber producing machine (or beans or peas or anything else that climbs). I will come back and add photos of my bumper crop later in the summer, and maybe of the pickles that are the reason for this trellis. In the meantime, I have to put together 3 more of these because my cucumbers are about ready to start climbing.
- The height keeps the vines from bunching up close to the ground and hiding the harvest.
- It exposes the leaves to maximum sun.
- The angle makes it a lot easier to spot the cucumbers (or whatever) and harvest them.
- When the season is over, the whole thing will fold flat.
Or you can just leave it in the garden until spring. As I said, the first one I built was out there for more than a decade (through all the rain of springs, the heat and rains of summers, the snow and cold of winters) and it could have lasted a few more years if I hadn’t decided to get fancy and make this one.
If you don't need it to collapse, replace the bolts with some screws. Just make sure you're happy with the angle before you lock it down. You could also add a couple of pieces joining the sides of the frame to the legs (like the horizontal line in a capital A), as I did in my original version (see photo at the top).
By the way, remesh is also a great way to fence off your garden or raised beds. I bend it to fit my beds as a 42-inch tall fence so the dog, the kids or flying basketballs don’t destroy my pepper plants.
A note regarding small varieties of cucumber: If you're growing smaller cucumbers (or whatever) that don't have enough weight to pull themselves down far enough to be easily visible, you might want to modify the design so the mesh is closer to horizontal. I had only grown large varieties on the old trellis, but the smaller ones (especially gherkins) I'm growing this year aren't much heavier than the leaves, so don't hang down as conspicuously.
Step 8: Results!
When I promised I'd come back and add photos of the trellises in action, I knew there was a chance I'd procrastinate and eventually forget to do it. It happens. What I didn't realize was how much I'd love going out every day to look at the progress of my cucumbers and take photos. This trellis design has a benefit I didn't think to include in what I wrote above, which is that it makes it easy and fun to gauge your plants' growth. It's like they're climbing a graph charting their progress, and you can't help but be gripped by the biological drama.
I built the three more trellises I mentioned near the end of the previous step and everything is (so far) going according to plan. All my cucumbers are at or near the top of their grids. Some of them climb a foot or more a day when the weather is right. I'm thinking I should have made these things even taller, but it would then be impossible to harvest without a ladder.
I'll come back in another month with some pickle photos.
Thanks for checking this out. If you make this, PLEASE add photos of your build and your vegetables in the comments, and PLEASE share your design improvements and ideas.
Grand Prize in the