The beauty and charm of climbing flowering vines growing up arched trellises help make your garden a place you want to spend time, but have you considered growing edibles like cucumbers, squash or melons on an arbor? Learn how to grow on a vegetable garden trellis.
Gardening on trellises is surprisingly successful and affordable and it makes harvesting a lot easier.
I shared how to build a DIY garden arch trellis for about $30 in this blog post because I want other people to be able to grow on trellises even if they are on a budget.
Learn everything you need to know to successfully plant and grow fruits and vegetables using trellis arbors.
Why I Love Growing on Trellises
Arched trellises do more than create beautiful garden spaces that add symmetry and charm to the garden. They make gardening more successful and easier on the gardener.
By reducing the footprint of large sprawling plants to grow (like melons and cucumbers) to just a few square feet, arched trellises can really expand your garden space.
And who doesn't love walking under growing plants? It's just so magical!
What is the Best Way to Set Up Arched Trellises?
I install my trellises in raised beds so that they go up and over the walkways between garden beds, but you could also build them right on the ground.
Wherever you install your trellises, make sure you leave room for the plants themselves.
I like to leave about 6 inches of space in the raised bed on the inside of the trellis to plant. You could definitely plant in the wood box on the outside of the trellis too. It does not make a massive difference, but there are a couple of reasons I choose to plant on the inside.
First, as the plant grows up the inside of an arched trellis, it will naturally grow through the trellis to the outside on its own which makes for less work.
Secondly, I find it easier to weed, water, and fertilize when the plants are on the inside of the trellis versus in the middle of my raised bed behind the trellis.
Planting with Trellises
Plant spacing suggestions on the back of packages are not really applicable to growing vertically on trellises. They instead take into consideration the space that the plant will need to sprawl out on the ground.
With trellises, you want that beautiful, green arch of foliage with fruit hanging down that is so stunning when it is in its prime. If you underplant, it will look sparse and bare. But if you overplant, the plants will compete for water and space and choke each other out.
Then you may end up with withered, sad-looking plants drooping off your trellis. The ideal spacing produces healthy plants with airflow that eliminates fungal disease. Here are my recommendations for the ideal plant spacing when using 4 foot wide cattle panel trellises.
Growing Cucumbers on Trellises
Cucumbers are natural climbers. For cucumbers of all sorts like gherkins, pickling cucumbers, slicers, and Armenian Yard-long cucumbers (which are technically melons) plant two plants on each side of the trellis about a foot in from the edges.
This should leave at least 24 inches in between the plants for root space. These four plants will fill one trellis out really nicely. If you look back through my Roots & Refuge garden tours throughout the years, you will see two cucumber plants per side growing on each trellis.
If you plant a cucumber at the base of a trellis, it will grab hold of the trellis with its tendrils and just take off. As the cucumber grows, you might have to catch little runaways and train them back up by tucking the leaves through the trellis.
Keep an eye on them because cucumbers have a tendency to grab hold of their neighbors and can choke out other plants. However they are super easy to grow on a trellis and by growing them upwards, you avoid a lot of the blights, funguses, powdery mildew, and other problems that often take out cucumber plants.
Growing Melons on Trellises
I love to grow small melons on trellises. They are natural climbers and have tendrils that will grab hold of the trellis.
Personal-sized melons work especially well, like cantaloupe, honeydew, kajari melons, banana melons, or any melon that is less than a few pounds.
Use the same plant spacing as cucumbers, two plants per side of the trellis.
When growing melons, especially larger ones, you have to offer some additional support to keep the stems from breaking towards the end of the melon ripening. I have used pantyhose before to support my melons. If you decide to grow melons, or anything with larger fruits vertically, make sure that you choose one of the sturdier trellis options.
Growing Beans and Peas on Trellises
Naturally climbing plants such as snap peas and pole beans do really well on the trellises as well. Long beans are stunning visually because they hang down through the trellis.
With any bean or peas, I plant a seed at the base of each metal rod of the cattle panel, which is 4 inches apart.
Just plant them at the base of a trellis and they will do the rest. You don’t even need to try to coax them. Each plant will essentially each have a metal stake to climb up and they will fill the trellis out nicely that way.
You can grow way more beans on one pole bean plant than on one bush bean plant because essentially when it comes to beans, a pole bean is the equivalent of an indeterminate tomato and a bush bean is the equivalent of a determinate tomato variety (here’s more info on determinate and indeterminate tomatoes).
As long as you continue to provide support and nutrition for pole bean varieties, they will keep producing more flowers and more beans indefinitely. Bush beans will only produce a certain amount so, when they’re done, they’re done.
If you have a small amount of space, you will get much greater production by growing a row of pole beans instead of a row of bush beans. But you do have to provide your pole beans with some kind of trellising so that they stay upright and stay healthy.
I used to grow dried beans on trellises too. The problem is that one trellis didn’t amount to a hill of beans. I have a large family and now I grow my dried beans in a larger space, but if you aren’t looking for large production, you can grow dried beans on a trellis.
Growing Tomatoes on a Trellis
Tomatoes are not natural climbers, but I do grow them on trellises. They naturally sprawl out on the ground and grow more roots if given the chance.
While most tomato cages are 32 to 36 inches tall (a jumbo tomato cage might be 48 inches tall), we suspend 4-foot tall cattle panels 20 inches off the ground for our tomato plants.
I plant my indeterminate tomatoes in a row in front of the cattle panel and train them to grow up it. So my tomato plants are a lot taller than I am! If you provide more space for tomatoes to grow up, you will get more tomatoes!
Growing Squash on a Trellis
Plant one winter squash plant per trellis. Each squash plant will grow all the way up and over a cattle panel arched trellis.
By putting winter squash on an arched trellis, I have minimized its footprint greatly. One winter squash plant can take up to almost 20 square feet if it’s allowed to trail along the ground.
When the squash starts to get really big, I provide them support with either pantyhose or a plastic grocery bag.
Tip: if you are trying to figure out if a particular squash is going to need vertical support, find out if it is a bush habit or a vining habit. Vining habit squashes can be trained to a trellis.
In my experience, growing bush summer squashes like zucchini and yellow crookneck vertically is really not worth it. You could force it to grow up, but it takes daily coming out and tying it up.
A mature summer squash plant’s main stalk is about 30 inches and even when you train it up, it will still take up a radius of several feet. You just don’t gain enough to make all the extra work worth it.
How do You Train Plants on a Trellis?
Many plants are natural climbers, and when planted properly, won't need any additional help to direct the plant toward or up the trellis.
However, for plants that need a little extra coaxing, a soft material such as pantyhose, garden twine, or cotton shoelaces will do the trick.
Just keep in mind that new climbing vines can be very tender, and hard materials such as zip ties or garbage ties can cut into the vines and damage the plants.
More Tips for Your Garden
- How to Build a Garden Arch Trellis or Garden Arbor (for $30!)
- How to Build a Raised Garden Bed (On a Budget)
- Growing Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes
- Growing A Garden From Grocery Store Food
- Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds
- Garden Planning Basics (How to Plan Your Garden)
- A Complete Guide to Seed Saving
- My Must Grow Heirloom Seed List