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News from the Edible Demo Garden

July 2023: Trellises for Plants that like to Climb

Pole beans and indeterminate tomato varieties grow best with sturdy support
Pole beans and indeterminate tomato varieties grow best with sturdy support
Last month volunteers worked on building permanent trellises for several garden beds. Constructed of metal stakes and heavy wire, the trellises will provide strong support for beans, peas, cucumbers, and other climbing edible plants. Too often in the past, these plants have overwhelmed their temporary supports. Now that the permanent trellises are in place, the climbers have designated growing spaces.

Why build a trellis?

There are many good reasons to provide trellis support for edible plants:

  • Saving space. Plants that can grow vertically leave more space for ground level plants.
  • Increasing production. Climbing crops have more access to sunlight and pollinators making bigger yields possible.
  • Easier harvesting. Crops at eye level are more accessible for monitoring and picking.
  • Esthetic appeal. Vining plants just look tidier when supported to grow upward instead of sprawling along the ground.
  • Damage control. It is easier to spot and manage pest problems when plants are above ground level. Harm to vegetables and fruits from contact with the soil is prevented.

Vertical strings help bean plants to climb
Vertical strings help bean plants to climb
What makes a good trellis?

Any structure that can support upward plant growth can serve as a trellis. The options range from the elaborate ornamental trellises found in upscale nurseries to the simple repurposing of an old ladder. In the classic combination of corn and pole beans, the corn plants provide a living trellis for the beans. A-frame or tepee structures can be easily constructed using wood or bamboo poles. Wire fencing or wooden latticework are other possibilities. Two dimensional trellises that supply both vertical and horizontal support are the most versatile. While beans use only vertical supports, peas and cucumbers use both vertical and horizontal ones. Tomato cages are essentially circular trellises.

Helping plants to climb

The growing tips of vines can be gently guided to the supports
The growing tips of vines can be gently guided to the supports
Plants can need a little help to find their way to the trellis supports. In the Edible Demo Garden, vertical strings are attached to the horizontal wires to give the young bean plants some climbing assistance. Beans climb by twining around the strings. The growing tips can be gently guided to the supports. Plants such as peas and cucumbers, climb using tendrils and these also can need some climbing assistance. Wayward plants may require ties to attach them to the trellis as they grow. It’s important to have the supports in place before the plants are tall enough to need them.

To make best use of your garden space, do not grow horizontally what you can grow vertically. The right trellis can be the answer to a more productive and attractive garden.