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.
Would you like to grow more food with less effort? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Vegetable Garden.
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.
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.
(I have these cages and these ladders from Gardener’s Supply Company.)
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.
How do you trellis the climbing vegetables in your garden?
Honey Rowland says
Oh, I LOVE using vertical space. I set it everything that can climb to climb. Even watermelons & pumpkins will dangle down. Super cool how strong the stems grow to support the weight too.
Heidi @ Pint Size Farm says
I love that frame trellis.
Your gardening ideas are always inspiring to me, Amy! I just got my seed catalog, and am in the middle of planning my new garden at our new house. This is helping me with my brainstorming about which varieties (bush vs vine) I want to get this year. Love all your permaculture tips too!
A new garden is always so exciting! <3
Jen @ The Easy Homestead says
I love reading all of your gardening posts. They really inspire me. Thanks for sharing on Homestead Blog Hop!
Followed your lead on growing up last year….tender yummy snap peas were a hit!
I tried bamboo, but found they carried fungus from one year to the next. I now use 8 foot x 5 foot cattle panels, which are sturdy and can be sterilized with bleach between seasons. I support them with rebar and wire or zip ties. They work really well for tomatoes and beans.
Thanks for your comment about bamboo harboring fungus–I hadn’t thought about that before. Although bamboo will last a few years before biodegrading, it does seem to get more mildewy in its later years. I wonder if wiping it with hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar between seasons would help?
But as you said, cattle panels work great for many types of vegetables.
Thank you for these tips! I’m a rather new gardener, and lucked out putting up trellises that my flowers and vegetables liked the first few years, however last year I grew flowering vines at my front porch and learned they only twine vertically, my standard grid-style twine-with-bamboo trellis didn’t work very well for them. Good to now know the basics for different categories of plants.
I am watching my cucumber tendrils. They start off in the morning wrapped around my iron railing but by the afternoon they have let go and move to the wooden one. The wooden one is not very sturdy. I am wondering if the plant likes the sturdy rail but the temperature in the afternoon”burns” it as the rail would get hot.
Seems like a decent hypothesis 🙂
My cucumbers like chicken wire, which is metal but reflective and with not much surface area to get hot. So maybe it is the heat rather than the metal itself that the tendrils avoid, as you suggest.
I searched the internet on “bean vines growing counterclockwise up a trellis” and ended up here! (This is the only mention I have found so far.) I just noticed that for the first time in the garden this year as I was clearing dead vines off a cattle panel trellis this week.
Is there a size of the opening that they like? I have extra hardware cloth that has 1/4” openings and wondering if that is too small for beans to use to climb
Robert Stacey says
Is it ok to the up runner beans and sweet pea plants with copper wire
Personally, I would not use copper wire for trellising. Although very small amounts of copper are good for plants, it can become toxic very quickly to the soil, crops, and gardeners that come in direct contact with the weathering copper.
can you tell me more about the trellis for squash
how wide is on the bottom and how many plants does it support.
are the plants on the outside or the inside?
This trellis can be built to work with the materials you have available. Bamboo will biodegrade after a few seasons, so it isn’t permanent. The taller the poles, the wider you can make the base (and the more plants it will support). Depending on the length/height of the poles, I use as many poles as I need to place them 8-12 inches apart. Then I sow seeds about 12 inches apart around the outer perimeter.