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Trellising Made Simple

Small tomato cluster growing with trellis system

An ideal way to conserve space in the garden is to train vegetables, flowers and fruits to grow upright using a trellis. In addition to saving space, they allow more light for photosynthesis; higher quality crops; less disease and insect damage; easier harvesting; and more fruit crops that require pollinators for cross pollination.

Many garden crops can be trellised using simple, low-cost methods. Typically crops which should be trellised include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, beans, grapes, raspberries and blackberries. Trellising tomatoes improves fruit quality and eases harvesting and can be done using wire cages, woven wire fence, livestock panels and stakes (wooden, rebar or metal fence posts). When trellising tomatoes, it should be at least 48 inches high to accommodate the height of most tomato varieties. Since tomatoes do not produce tendrils, which attach to the plant to the trellis, use twist-ties, cable ties or string to secure the tomato to the trellis. Tomatoes are staked two weeks after transplanting. Peppers and eggplants are brittle, and trellising with wire cages or twine prevents the plant from breaking when it has a heavy fruit load. Place one stake for every three plants and loop string around posts to support the plants, adding multiple layers of string as the plant grows. Place the first set of strings at transplanting.

Pole and half-runner beans can be trellised by using novel technique, such as using other tall vegetable plants, such as corn, as a scaffold. You can recycle volleyball or soccer nets, when supported by metal t-posts, to make a great trellis for beans. A “teepee trellis” can be made from wooden posts and then planting the beans in a circle around the post. Beans don’t need support to climb to the top of the posts. Most bean trellises are 6 to 9 feet high.

Cucumbers and vine crops benefit immensely from trellising. Fruit quality and harvest duration are increased by trellising. Cucumbers are trellised by using wire fencing and netting. The lower 18 inches of leaves of the cucumber plants can be removed as it grows up the trellis to improve disease control. Gourds can be trellised into an arbor, adding to your landscape design for the garden.

Small fruits, such as raspberries and blackberries, are trellised to keep the canes upright and to prevent tip layering from brambles such as black raspberries. A simple trellis made from metal t-posts and baling twine with the stakes every 15 feet will be effective for brambles.

Trellises can be used to shade companion crops that may not thrive in full sun, such as leafy greens, but be careful the trellis doesn’t block adjacent crops that need that light.

By Lewis W. Jett – WVU Extension Specialist