Space Saving Vegetable Garden Ideas
Growing vertically is an effective way to use tight space to increase your harvest. There are many different ways of creating vertical solutions, but it’s important to remember why we are building them in the first place. That way, we don’t build them only to realize that we put together the wrong type of trellis.
The solutions below are great ideas for small space gardens. But first…
Why Grow Plants Vertically?
To support the plants proper growth.
Trellises are our way of supporting the plant as it tries its best to develop its sessile self. We need to make sure that future fruit-bearing vine branches will be able to support the weight of the fruits or vegetables they produce.
To promote better fruit or vegetable development.
The less stressed a vine is, the more its energies will go to the actual food-production.
To make sure that there is good airflow between the vine branches.
If vine branches become too tangled, crowded, or lack air circulation, there is more chance of them being susceptible to rot and bad fungal growth. This is especially true of cucumbers.
Choosing Your Vertically Growing Plants & Their Trellises
Types of Climbers
Before you design your trellis, you should have an idea of the type of climber you’d like to grow. This will help you to plan the needed strength of your supports as well as the type of mesh you’ll need for the plants to wind their way up. There are 4 types of climbers; twining, tendrils, clinging and scrambling.
These types of vines have stems that curl and wrap around thin long supports in an exploratory fashion. They have trouble wrapping around thick posts, and fine mesh, but they don’t need too much encouragement or management to find their way up poles and loose meshing.
Examples Hardy Kiwi Hops Pole Beans
In the case of tendril climbers, the plant actually sends out special tendrils to wrap around and latch onto anything that it hits. These climbers will hold on tightly to whatever they’ve found for support, but need management to prevent latching onto themselves or nearby fellow vines.
Examples Snap Peas Cucumber Passionflower Grapes Melon
These vines don’t have a specialized way to climb up a fence, but they generally are flexible enough to manually thread through mesh support. The support needs to be strong enough to hold the weight of the plant as well as the fruit and provide a loose enough mesh to thread the main trunk of the plant through as it grows.
Examples Winter Squash Sweet Potatoes Watermelon Tomatoes
These plants actually “cling” to the surfaces by using aerial rootlets to grab onto any vertical surface. These vines have a bad reputation because they can damage the surface they are climbing up (English Ivy, Trumpet Vine). I’m not aware of any edible “clinging” vines, so we won’t go into any more detail on them.
Design Your Vertical Support
Once you know the type of climber your target plant is, you’ll need to figure out how best to design your trellis to comfortably support your vining plant. Vertical supports can be designed many different ways, so I’d like to focus on the three main constraints that affect your design; shape, framework, and mesh.
this is usually a single vertical rectangular or arched frame. These can be effective for narrow spaces and use the smallest garden footprint, but need to have a sturdy enough base to support the plant. They are also limited in the length of vine you can support and don’t naturally support scrambling vines (you will need to manually attach these). These are probably best for twining or tendril vines that are not too long, like melons, cucumbers, or peas.
A tent trellis consists of 2 equals sides leaning up against each other. The advantage of this trellis over a wall trellis is that the frame provides some natural support for the plant. Also, longer vines can be trained up one side of the trellis and down the other.
A cage/tipi has historically been used for supporting tomato plants because the plant is able to support some of it’s weight. Pole beans can also be trained up the tripod supports of the tipi. The advantage of the tipi is mainly that it’s easy and cheap to build. It also works well if you have isolated vines or a pattern of vines that isn’t suited to a large support structure.
You can use metal, wood, or bamboo for the structural framework of your vertical support system. Metal is very sturdy but is heavy, hard to shape and worry about rust/maintenance. Wood is aesthetically the nicest structural support, but depending on the wood chosen can be expensive and may warp over time. Bamboo is cheap and sustainable, but depending on the weather conditions can rot and deteriorate the most quickly.
The grid that your vines will wind through as they climb can be constructed of metal, nylon string, rope, or wood. The holes in the grid mesh size are important since some tendril and scrambling vines have trouble fitting through holes that are too small. You can make your own mesh grid, but it’s usually easier to purchase ready-made mesh and cut or shape it to attach to your framework. Nylon mesh is very cheap and easy to attach but doesn’t support larger fruiting vines well. Sturdier options include woven branches and cattle fencing panels.
Can you use a tree for support? I’m thinking specifically of planting cucumbers or watermelon under fruit trees? Thanks for any thoughts!
In Permaculture, we call this planting in layers and stacking functions by using one element in your garden for multiple functions!
What would be the best way to use mix of vertical plants to cover my chain fence? I would love to have some combination of vegetable and flowers. Can you advise the plants?
Here’s a photo of GIY Member Andrea’s Balcony in Hungary. She is growing melons and cucumbers up that trellis, but also flowers. Some climbers I personally love are clematis, Passionflower and scarlet runner beans. I love grapes too! I would study what you and your family eats, and also what flowers you love. See which vines grow well in your climate and then go out there and experiment. I hope these initial ideas get you going!
We’d love to invite you to our Monthly Garden Planning session to help you out!