Did you know there are three types of climbing vegetables? Learn how to choose the right trellis to grow your climbing vegetables vertically.
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Climbing vegetables—such as cucumbers, squash, and beans—are happiest when allowed to grow the way they naturally desire: vertically. However, there are other benefits, too. Growing vertically saves space, can produce higher yields, and can reduce susceptibility to many plant diseases.
Types of Climbing Vegetables to Trellis
There are three major types of climbing vegetables:
- Tendrilers (my made-up word to describe vegetables with tendrils)
Knowing the difference in their growing tendencies can help you choose the right support structure.
Cucumbers, squash, peas, pole beans, tomatoes and sweet potatoes are some of the most common vining vegetables. I assumed all trellising structures were created equal, until I noticed that certain climbing vegetables didn’t seem to take to the structure I provided it.
Let’s look at the three common types of climbing vegetables and what kind of trellis will best meet their needs.
How to Trellis Tendrilers (Cucumbers, Peas, and Many Squash Varieties)
Cucumbers, peas, and many squash varieties have tendrils that reach out from the plant’s stem in search of something to grab onto and climb. The tendrils can go upwards and sideways.
Tendrils prefer to grab onto something organic and non-metallic, such as a twine trellis or wood lattice. Consider something sturdy, like a wooden obelisk. You can make a metal trellis friendly to the tendril climber by wrapping twine around the metal supports and creating a twine grid in open spaces.
I found this out the hard way. One year, I ran out of wooden stakes to create vertical support for a cucumber plant. So I used a metal trellis and planned to wrap it with twine. Unfortunately, I got busy and didn’t add the twine in time. Because the tendrils of the cucumber plant couldn’t latch onto the metal, they just flopped over. Consequently, I had to manually tie the plant to the metal trellis as it grew.
Read more about growing your best cucumbers.
To support the weight of heavier vegetables like winter squash, consider using a sturdy teepee or A-frame trellis made with bamboo stakes (like these) and garden twine. I use the twine to create 4-inch grids between the bamboo poles.
A note on squash: There are many varieties, but if the variety you are growing is a vine/climber, then it will follow the tendril rule.
Would you like to learn more about growing vegetables efficiently to reduce maintenance and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
How to Trellis Twiners (Pole Beans)
Pole beans are twiners, meaning that as the vining stem grows upward, it will wrap itself around anything it can touch. Twiners aren’t picky about what they climb, therefore you can grow them on any type of trellis, support structure, or fence that you want. Just be sure it is tall, as they can grow almost indefinitely.
When the beans reach the top of the grid on my privacy fence, I pinch off the ends of the vines to prevent them from growing over the fence and onto my neighbor’s side.
One interesting thing to note is that pole beans twine in a counterclockwise habit. If you’re training a bean plant to grow up a support structure, observe its pattern and be sure to twine it in the direction that would be natural for the vine.
Below, my beans are growing on the privacy fence using a trellis made of galvanized wire fence.
How to Trellis Scramblers (Tomatoes and Sweet Potatoes)
Tomatoes and sweet potatoes aren’t in the same family, but they’re both scrambling vines. If left to their own devices, they’ll scramble happily along the ground, rooting in the ground as they go from nodes along the vine.
That’s why it’s common to support tomatoes with cages, ladders, or a trellis. Because tomatoes don’t have tendrils to attach themselves, you may need to tie the plants to the support structure as they grow.
If the plant falls over for some reason, it may root itself sideways and keep going, as running along the ground is its natural tendency. Encouraging the plant to grow straight up means that it will put more energy into making tomatoes than into rooting itself.
Sweet potatoes are probably the most low-maintenance vegetable in my garden. I grow them vertically to save space, but as a scrambler, I have to train them to do so. Wooden stake-and-twine structures allow me to weave the vines in and out of the twine grid as they grow.
Since the sweet potato plant is a prolific vine, an A-frame trellis or teepee provides sturdy support.
Read more about harvesting, curing, and storing sweet potatoes.
I hope this helped you understand how different climbing vegetables grow so that you can choose the right trellis or support structure. Enjoy adding vegetable climbers to your garden for a beautiful, vertical dimension, an efficient use of space, and disease prevention.
Need more ideas for growing vegetables in the permaculture garden?
- Starting Seeds Indoors: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Tips for Year-Round Gardening
- When to Start Seeds: Your Guide to 30 Garden Vegetables
How do you trellis the climbing vegetables in your garden?