Trellises and Plant Supports

Whether you plan to use the stake-and-string method, wire cages, trellises, some homegrown contraption you’ve cobbled together from two-by-fours, duct tape and dental floss…or all of the above…the one thing they all have in common is the need to have them in place BEFORE you plant!

If you wait until your plants are large enough to need the supports, jamming those stakes or wire cages into the ground next to the plant could cause severe root damage. In the case of trellises, it’s better to have them in place from the beginning in order to train your plants as they grow. If you’ve never had the experience of trying to redirect a long, tangled pumpkin or squash vine after letting it go too long, consider yourself lucky! The foliage has sharp little spines that will draw blood.

Tomatoes do well in cone-shaped wire cages, or surrounded by a sturdy chicken-wire cylinder. Make sure to stake those cages, though, as some particularly fast-growing tomato plants can actually pick the cages up off the ground. We’ve seen it happen! Here is a unique approach to growing tomatoes: the spiral stand. Sturdy, no need for staking or tying, and it’s a lot easier on the eyes than those metal wire contraptions. See for yourself!

You can build or purchase decorative trellises (avoid plastic – not only does it look tacky, but it becomes brittle and can break after a number of seasons exposed to the elements) to climb the walls of your house or shed, or to arch over the entrance to your yard or garden, which is a great way to sneak edible landscaping into your urban organic garden. Particularly if space is at a premium. If you are the DIY type and would prefer to build your own, here are two trellises that will require several 8-10 foot long poles and something to tie them with – such as jute rope or wire twine.

The Tipi Trellis

Jam three poles 18 inches to 2 feet into the ground, angled in towards the center, forming a three-pointed circle. Bring the tops of the poles together and secure them with the rope or twine. Plant two vining plants near the base of each pole, on the outer side of the circle. Beans, cucumbers, peas, squash, even tomatoes. Inside the tipi circle, you can plant vegetables that require some shade, such as lettuce or spinach, and the growing vines will provide it.

The Longhouse Trellis

You will need 13 poles for this trellis. Draw a rectangle in the soil roughly 5 X 8 feet – or if you want to be really precise, use the wooden stake and string method to mark it off. On one long side, jam poles #1-5 18 inches to 2 feet into the ground, 1 foot apart, angling toward the opposite side. Repeat on the opposite side with poles #6-10, angling them towards poles #1-5. Secure each pair together (1/6, 2/7, 3/8, 4/9, 5/10) with rope or twine about 6 inches from the top. Add poles #11 and #12 to each end, angled in and secured to pairs 1/6 and 5/10. Set pole #13 in the V-shaped track along the top of the trellis, and secure each pair of poles to that top pole. You now have a very sturdy trellis. As with the tipi trellis, plant two vining plants near the base of each pole, on the outer side of the longhouse. Inside the longhouse, plant your shade-loving vegetables.

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