Introduction: Vertical Gardening Trellis for Tomatos or Squash

About: I'm a biologist, and a professional geek. I can't believe they pay me to do science!

Got a small garden?

Want to grow big plants?

Then you'll have to start growing vertically!

Lots of common garden vegetable plants are vines, and with a little help, they will happily climb to surprising heights. this means that a large plant can take up very few square feet of garden.

I created this trellis to grow tomatoes, but it would work great for squash, cucumbers, peas, beans, or any other viney plants. Mine was attached to the walls of a raised bed, but it could easily be made free standing, or attached to stakes or other ground anchors.

My tomato plants grew to around 8 feet tall (taller than the trellis!), and each plant produced around 15 pounds per plant. I planted 8 plants in a 4 x 7 area. So that's around 120 pounds of tomatos from 128 square feet. that's about a pound of tomatos per square foot!

If you like this idea, vote for it in the urban farming contest.

Step 1:

Materials for each trellis:

  • 2 cedar fence pickets (5.5 in x 6 feet)
  • 1 cedar or pressure treated 2x3 (8 feet long, or as long as you need)
  • 1.5 inch deck screws (12 of them)

Triangles are inherently strong, so I used A-frames at each end.

The uprights can be made from any wooden stakes, but I used strips cut from cedar fence planks. I got these incense cedar fence pickets at my local big box hardware store for about $2.50 each. They smell great when you cut them, because its the same kind of wood used for pencils. it smells like a freshly sharpened pencil, and it's super rot resistant.

For each A-frame:

  • Cut about 4 inches off the end that has the trimmed corners, and save that piece. you'll use it at the top of the triangle.
  • Now cut the rest of the plank in half lengthwise. I used a band saw, but a table saw would make straighter cuts. Or you could just use the whole plank and it would be super strong.
  • Now screw each of the long pieces to the little cutoff piece. Attach them each with a single screw, so they can swivel a little bit. Then attach the free end to the outside of the bed walls, again, with a single screw. I recommend rust resistant coated 1.5 inch deck screws.
  • Install one A-frame at each end of the bed.

Now attach the 2x3 horizontally between the two A-frames. Cut it to the correct length and rest it on top of the two a-frames. Attach it with deck screws. you may need assistance and a ladder for this step.

Step 2: String the Trellis.

you will need:

  • About 20 feet of coated wire. Regular insulated electrical wire is fine, or any rust resistant, strong wire. I prefer solid core wire, not braided or stranded wire. it is easy to bend. you could probably use heavy duty cord, like paracord.
  • trellis twine. probably 100 feet.

Near the bottom of each leg, attach an eye bolt. Take two pieces of wire and stretch them between the eye bolts. These wires will be used to hold the trellis twine.

now string the trellis twine. each piece of twine is tied to one wire, stretched over the top of the trellis beam, and tied to the opposite wire. Place the strands of twine about 6 inches apart. make sure the twine is not slack, but not too tight. you might have to go back and tighten some strands.

the wire should be pulled up into a slight arching curve.

Step 3: Plant Crops, Train Plants to the Trellis

Select plants with nice long vines, not bush varieties. For tomatoes, get "indeterminate" varieties. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing all summer, and produce tomatoes until frost or disease kils them in the fall.

The position of the plants will depend on what kind of plant.

  • Tomatoes should be placed in a single row between the bottom wires, about 2 feet between plants.Tomato plants will need to be pruned to about 4 main vines. Select two branches on the young plant and tie these to the twine. Let those each grow and in a few weeks select two branches from each. Repeat until each twine has a vine attached. keep tying the vines to the trellis every foot or so using strips of fabric or pantyhose (twine will dig into the vines and injure them). Don't let the vines droop or hang down or they could break. Pinch off any side branches or "suckers" that grow from between the leaves and the vine.
  • Squash, cucumbers, or pumpkins should be planted in the same pattern as tomatoes, but instead of single plants, plant clusters of 3 or 4 plants. each cluster or "hill" should be about 2 feet apart. Cucumbers can be a bit closer together, about 1 foot apart. Squash vines have tendrils that will wrap around the twine but they still may need tying. These tendrils are not quite strong enough to support a fully grown plant with squashes on it, so you'll have to tie the vine to the twine. Squash fruit can be supported with small "hammocks" made from fabric or netting. I like to use pantyhose or the mesh from cheap mesh laundry bags. Make sure it's something that will dry quickly and is breathable.
  • Peas and beans should be planted directly under the wire, about 3 inches apart. extremely vigorous beans, like pole beans, should be about 8 inches apart. Peas and beans will climb all by themselves once they find the twine, but might need to be guided to the trellis wire at first.
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