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 (so we don’t get sucked into the art of constructing them).
Most vertical solutions are aimed at extending the growing space for vining, fruiting plants. Instead of letting that melon plant sprawl 20 feet across your garden for the potential of an 8lb melon, the actual root footprint of the plant is much smaller, maybe 3-4 sq. feet tops. So if you can grow your vining plant vertically (and support your fruit when it forms), you’ll be able to grow many more vining plants, which can dramatically increase your overall yield.
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 3 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.