Trellises are a fantastic addition to any garden, adding both aesthetic and functional appeal.
Our first trellis was a wire mesh fence encircling our garden. For most of the season, it dutifully supported our vining plants–floral and vegetable. But somewhere around the end of September, our hubbard squash grew so heavy, it pulled down the fence and everything with it. That’s when we learned (the hard way) that trellising your garden plants requires careful planning.
The good news is that trellises are a fantastic addition to any garden when installed correctly. Not only do they add aesthetic appeal to your outdoor space, they also provide a functional purpose when matched with your preferred crop or plant. In most situations, trellises are excellent for supporting climbing plants and can help create a vertical garden. They also come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, so it’s easy to find one that suits your needs.
Why use trellises in the garden?
Trellises are ideal for small gardens or anytime you need elevation for climbing plants. They allow you to grow varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers and beans that take up less horizontal space but still produce a bountiful harvest. They also have other benefits.
Trellises add a touch of elegance to your garden, giving it a polished look. They come in different shapes and styles, from modern designs to traditional wooden frames, allowing you to choose one that complements your garden’s aesthetic.
Trellises can protect your plants from some insect pests and slow the spread of disease. By growing plants vertically, they are also less likely to be attacked by ground-dwelling pests.
Better air circulation
Climbing plants grown on trellises have better air circulation than those grown on the ground. This helps reduce the risk of fungal infection and ensures that the plants receive the necessary sunlight and nutrients.
What materials are best?
Trellises can be made from various materials such as wood, metal or plastic. The material you choose should be durable, weather-resistant and able to support the weight of your plants. The following options are most common:
- Wood: Wooden trellises add a natural, rustic look to your garden and provide adequate support for most garden plants. They work well in cottage gardens and for trellising vegetable plants.
- Metal: Metal trellises are more modern and sleek. While some offer added strength, others may bend under the weight of heavy plants like winter squash. Metal offers added versatility for decorative options.
- Plastic: Plastic trellises are available, though we caution against anything that isn’t made from UV-stabilized polypropylene, as this material is resistant to the sun’s harmful UV rays and can withstand extreme temperatures without cracking or breaking. Polypropylene has a higher impact resistance than PVC options, though neither are sustainable options given that recycling is unlikely.
What about design?
Fan-shaped, pyramid or flat? Trellises come in a wide variety of designs, many perfect for specific uses. The design you choose will depend on your personal preference and the specific needs of your plants. Consider the following:
- Wall mount: A wall-mounted trellis is one of the most basic trellis designs and is a great way to add vertical interest to a garden or outdoor space. Having roses, honeysuckle or clematis rambling up the side of your house softens edges and adds a cottage garden to feel. You can also attach climbing vegetables to wall mounted trellises to further expand your growing space.
- Bed mount: Trellises mounted to raised garden beds or planter boxes provide added height for climbing vegetables and ornamentals. They can also act as a screen for patio areas and cast much-needed shade during summertime.
- Garden arch: Like the obelisk option below, garden arches can draw the eye to a favorite spot in the garden while keeping your plants off the ground. A garden arch trellis is perfect for climbing plants such as roses, wisteria, honeysuckle, or jasmine. You can also grow vegetables such as beans or peas. Just be sure the height of the trellis is tall enough for the plants you want to grow. Having them cascade up and over the arch is one of this trellis’s visual pleasures.
- Espalier: The French word ‘espalier’ means something to rest the shoulder against. Its goal is to create a flat, two-dimensional pattern with the branches of the tree or plant using a trellis or wall for support. Trellises provide excellent options for this small-space gardening technique, providing they are strong enough to support the weight of the tree or plant, along with the fruit it will produce. While many espalier trellises are made from horizontal wire, we prefer a grid-like pattern that allows you to tie the branches to the trellis at regular intervals.
- Fan-pruning: Training the branches of a fruit tree to grow in a fan shape against a wall or trellis is known as fan-pruning. This method can be particularly useful for peach trees, which tend to have a natural spreading growth habit. It can also keep them up against the wall of a building and out of the rain in areas where precipitation leads to poor harvests. Fan-shaped trellises are perfect for this use.
- Obelisk or pyramid trellis: You may have seen these trellises in the center of a garden bed. Used as a focal point in the landscape, obelisk or pyramid trellises tend to be for shorter plants, such as low climbing roses, honeysuckle, and sweet peas. You can also trellis pole beans on tall tipi-style trellises, making great secret hideaways for the hot days of summer.
Finding the right location
The placement of your trellis is essential. It should be positioned in a spot where climbing plants can receive enough sunlight and grow without obstruction. It’s also important to consider the trellis’s height and how it will affect nearby plants and structures. Will it cast shade on anything nearby? If so, be sure to plant the right variety of plants in this area.
Choose the right climbing plants
Not all plants are suitable for growing on trellises. Climbing plants such as beans, cucumbers, peas and tomatoes are ideal while others do well with stakes or left to ramble. Choose plants that are vigorous and have strong tendrils to help them climb the trellis. These include:
- Clematis: These gorgeous, showy flowers come in a variety of colors and bloom from late spring to early fall. They can grow up to 20 feet tall and are perfect for covering a trellis.
- Honeysuckle: This fragrant plant produces trumpet-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. They bloom from late spring to early summer and can grow up to 20 feet tall.
- Wisteria: This fast-growing vine produces clusters of fragrant, lavender-blue flowers in the spring. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and is perfect for covering a trellis or pergola.
- Climbing Hydrangea: This slow-growing vine produces large clusters of white flowers in the summer. It can grow up to 50 feet tall. While no trellis is quite this tall, you can keep it confined with regular pruning.
- Jasmine: This fragrant plant produces clusters of small, white or yellow flowers that bloom in the summer. It can grow up to 20 feet tall and is perfect for trellising along a fence or wall.
- Trumpet Vine: This vigorous, fast-growing vine produces bright orange, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom from mid-summer to fall. It can grow up to 30 feet tall.
- Climbing Roses: Oh for a cottage garden! These classic, romantic flowers come in a variety of colors and bloom from spring to fall. They can grow up to 20 feet tall.
Passionflower – Looking for something exotic-looking? This vine produces unique, intricate flowers in the summer. It can grow up to 20 feet tall.
- Bougainvillea: If color is your aim, this vibrant, tropical plant produces clusters of colorful flowers in the summer. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and is perfect for climbing up a trellis or wall.
- Cucumbers: One of the fastest-growing vining plants, cucumbers are a popular choice for trellising and can be grown vertically to save space in the garden. Low, U-shaped trellises are a good fit for cucumbers.
- Tomatoes: These classic garden vegetables can be trained to grow up a trellis, which allows the plants to get better air circulation and more sunlight.
- Peas: One of the best cool-weather vegetables, peas are perfect for trellising and can be grown in the spring or fall.
- Pole Beans: Bush or pole? These high-yielding beans produce long, tender pods that are perfect for cooking or snacking. They are a popular choice for trellising and can be grown vertically to save space in the garden.
- Squash: These prolific plants can be trained to grow up a trellis, which saves space in the garden and helps to keep the fruits off the ground. Just be sure to provide adequate support, since many varieties grow big enough to pull down a fence.
- Melons: These sweet, juicy fruits are perfect for summer snacking and can be grown vertically on a trellis. They require plenty of space to grow, so trellising them is a great way to save space in the garden.
- Grapes: Growing grapes on a trellis is a must if you want a healthy crop. Regular pruning will keep them trained, healthy and productive.
- Kiwi: Like grapes, these sweet, juicy fruits need trellising to thrive and produce fruit. They require a warm, sunny location.
- Blackberries: Sweet and juicy: these berries work well on trellises, particularly to keep them contained and productive. They require plenty of sun and water to grow and produce fruit.
Maintaining your trellises
Regular maintenance of your trellis is crucial to ensure its longevity and effectiveness. This includes cleaning, repairing any damage, and pruning the plants to keep them from overgrowing the trellis.
Up, up and away!
Trellises are an excellent addition to any garden. They provide a space-saving solution, add aesthetic appeal, protect your plants from pests, and ensure better air circulation. By choosing the right material, proper placement, suitable climbing plants, and regular maintenance, you can effectively use trellises to create a beautiful and functional garden.