How to Build and Use a Vegetable Trellis


Grow pumpkins vertically with a pumpkin trellis

Pumpkin and other heavy vine produce can grow on a sturdy trellis to save space in the garden.

I have a lot of “garden junk.” It’s actually my trellising equipment.

“Garden Junk”

I use a lot of fence posts to build trellises for the garden. Fenceposts are one of my favorite things to use in the garden. They are hard to put in and sometimes to take out, but they are sturdy, reliable, easy to store,  and can be used year after year for lots of different things.

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I also use heavy duty electric fence wire. (Not barbed wire). They come in large spools, so they automatically come bent in a curve so they can be used to cut in pieces four- to six-feet lengths to cover wide beds to put netting over if you need to or plastic. It’s very useful.

Old tomato cages can also be used for small trellises. They are no good for tomatoes, but they do work very well for peppers and onion or carrots that you are letting grow tall to go to seed. They also work very well for tomatillo plants.

One of the very best materials for trellises is concrete reinforcement wire. You have to go to suppliers of heavy duty construction materials, but it is well worth it. Concrete reinforcement wire comes in big spools, so it has a natural curve that makes it ideal for building very solid tomato cages that support my tomatoes that regularly grow over 6 or 7 feet tall.

Concrete reinforcement wire also makes a supurb trellis for my low plants like peas that need support. I’ve always had a problem with peas fall over, especially the taller varieties. I plant my peas in a triple row down a 30-inch raised bed. But my peas grow high, begin to fall over, and the peas lie on the ground. Then the slugs love to crawl along and chomp down on my delicous peas. So, I take my trusty concrete reinforcement wire and plop it over the top, press the ends of the wire into the soil, and this 8-foot section of bed is trellised in about 10 seconds of work. I just add these trellises down the row, plop, plop, plop. The peas will grow right up through the trellis. But because the squares are 6 inches, I can easily get in and harvest the peas. My crop produces much better because they can get light easier, and they tend not to get as much mildew or decay on the leaves because they don’t get on the ground with the micro-organisms in the soil. When my peas are through bearing, we take them off and stick them on the pepper bed.

The day the peas are done, you will take the concrete reinforcement wire off the peas and move them to the pepper bed. The peppers will just be getting large enough. The peppers will likewise grow right through the trellis, be supported, and will bear wonderful peppers.

Another use for concrete reinforcement wire is to put it over a bed of fall lettuce. Then you put plastic over the top and you have an instant mini-greenhouse. It is very easy to hold the plastic down by filling small sandbags with sand and placing along the plastic. The sandbags are easy to move around, they will last several years, and they are heavy enough to hold the plastic down very tightly. Yet they are easy to remove one side to remove the plastic if necessry.

Tomato Trellis

After years of struggling with keeping my tomatoes supported, I finally found that the best tomato trellis can be made with concrete reinforcement wire. Concrete reinforment wire make excellent strong, inexpensive trellises throughout the garden, but they make wonderful trellises for tomatoes.

You have to go to suppliers of heavy duty construction materials, but it is well worth it. Concrete reinforcement wire comes in big spools, so it has a natural curve that makes it ideal for building very solid tomato cages that support my tomatoes that regularly grow over 6 or 7 feet tall. From the spool, you will cut a length of about 7 to 8 feet in length. Roll them into a “tube” and bend the wire so they maintain a cylindrical shape, about 2- to 2.5 feet in diameter and 7 feet tall. The mesh has 6-inch squares, so it is easy to get you hands through to pick and maintain the tomato plants.

I found the easiest way to keep these cages standing upright is to put a fence post at the end of each row and wire them together. I have rows around forty feet long. I put a fence post at each end and one in the middle. I run a wire from the top of the fencepost, through and connected to each cage, around the middle post and then continuing on to the end fence post. I sometimes wire the fence posts to each other between rows so that they stabilize each other from side to side. If you have shorter rows, you can probably just wire them at each end and you will be fine.

If you are growing a bush or smaller variety of tomato, you can also use regular fence wire. The gaps in this wire is only 4 to 5 inches, but you can still get your hands in to pick and maintain the vines. Fence wire is less expensive, especially if you have a farmer who may be removing some fencing; you might be able to get it free or greatly discounted.

The wire is to keep the cages from tipping over. It only needs to keep them supported horizontally to the fence posts. The strength of the cages is what holds the weight of the tomato branches and fruit.

We live at the mouth of a canyon. We regularly get powerful gusts of wind, particularly in the morning and evening that will blow just about any plant right over. This type of tomato cages will have no problem with any typical winds. Of course, if you live in a hurricane or tornado zone, none of these methods may be adequate.

Bean Trellis

Trellising pole beans can provide a much greater yield. As a matter of face, without a trellis, your beans mostly wrap around themselves, fall to the ground, and become very hard to harvest. However, creating a trellis for pole beans will lift the plant into the sunlight, help the bean grow 3-5 times the length and energy of a non-trellised counterpart, and produce many times the quantity of healthy bean pods. For pole beans, trellising is pretty much a must.

My most effective bean trellis is created by planting steel fenceposts into the ground. I buy or use the tallest fenceposts that I can find. We have purchased long lengths of 1 1/4 inch angle iron. We drill holes through angle iron and attach the angle iron to the fence posts. My husband has welded 1  1/2 inch caps to the angle iron so that they sit sturdily over the top of the fence posts. Then I plant the steel posts in the ground at the correct distance apart and set the caps, welded to the angle iron, over the top of the fence posts. They sit their very sturdily.

The placement of the caps should be about 2 inches from each end of an 8 foot angle iron. This leaves about four feet in the middle. Thus, your fence posts will be planted each four feet. An eight-foot row of pole beans will produce far more beans than you need for one household. However, you can grow different varieties of beans on the same trellis. If you would like a longer trellis, you can simply buy a longer, maybe slightly thicker angle iron to hold the weight of the trellised beans.

I also create another row of 1 inch angle iron that mount to the bottom of the fence posts, about six to eight inches from the grround.

The next thing is that I have welded small nails to the top and bottom angle iron about every 3 inches. The head of the nail will stick out about 1/2 inch. This leaves 1/2 inch to tie the strings, but the nail head will keep the string from sliding off. Now I can tie vertical strings. This creates a very sturdy vertical trellis. Once you have welded the angle iron, this piece of equipment can be assembled and re-assembled year after year with little effort.

Once the trellis is constructed, it is important to begin to train small bean plants to find the right string. As the beans naturally put out their tendrils, you simply wrap the little curly tendril around the string once and nature takes it from there. Once in a while, if you have different varieties, you may need to gently remind them to quite going over to visit their neighbor, but generally bean plants are well minded.


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