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Vertical Supports in the Vegetable Garden

Vertical A frame support

Vertical garden supports and frames can save a tremendous amount of ground space in the vegetable garden.

Beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins—nearly all vining and rambling crops—can be grown on vertical supports. Some studies say that the yield per square foot for vine crops can be doubled by growing them vertically.

Location. Place vertical supports at the north end of the garden where crop growing upward will not shade other crops.

Types of vertical supports and examples:

Back Support Frame

Back support frame made of pipe with beans to train up line. CLICK on photos for full screen views.
Back support frame made of pipe with beans to train up line. CLICK on photos for full screen views.

This frame extends upward at least 6 to 8 feet. It can be made out of 2-by-4s, iron pipe, or electrical conduit. You can stretch a 1-inch to 4-inch mesh netting or chicken wire across the support to give vines something to cling to. You can also stretch lines of field wire (standard fencing wire used by ranchers) or garden twine from the top to bottom to train vines up single cords. You can use the back support to support rectangular wood trellises.

A-Frames

A-frame support--two trellises form the A-frame for beans.
A-frame support–two trellises form the A-frame for beans.

A-frames can be made from 1-by-1s, 1-by-2s, 2-by-2s, or bamboo poles. You can make an A-frame any height. You can design an A-frame to fit into any space. Make the A-frame portable by adding hinges at the top and you can move around the garden from year to year and store it easily. You can cover the frame with chicken wire or leave it slated. Set it facing east and west and plant beans on one side and cucumbers on the other. And you can intercrop the space beneath the frame with onions, leaf lettuce, radishes, or turnips; harvest the lower crop before the vines shade them out.

Wire Cages

Wire cage for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans.
Wire cage for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans.

Wire cages can be used for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini. Cages allow you to get a maximum number of plants into a small space—keeping fruit and foliage off the ground clean and rot-free. Use cages 4 to 6 feet tall for indeterminate tomatoes; use shorter cages 3 to 4 feet tall for cucumbers and bush varieties of melon, pumpkin, and winter squash. You can set six cucumber plants around a 3- to 4-foot-high, 19- to 24-inch-diameter wire cage—plant in a horseshoe shape to allow easy access to fruits on the inside of the cage.

You can make cages out of 4-inch or 6-inch-mesh concrete-reinforcing wire—or choose a lighter galvanized fence wire if the mesh is too stiff. Choose a mesh wide enough to put your hand through so that you can remove the fruit at harvest, or cut a hole on one side of the cage. Be sure to drive wooden or metal garden stakes about 6 inches into the ground and wire them to the cage for extra support.

Poles and Posts

Tomatoes on stakes allow for more intense planting of vine crops.
Tomatoes on stakes allow for more intense planting of vine crops.

Vining crops can be trained to single poles or posts—like tomatoes pruned to a single leader or stem. Or poles and posts can be used to support horizontal wires, ribbons, or twine, or wire mesh, or netting. Place an X-frame or umbrella-frame at the top of the post, drive nails into the post and run string or wires between the top and bottom of the post; plant beans or cucumbers in a circle around the post and train the vines up the strings.

Tripods and Quadripods

Tripods are easy to assemble and easy to store at the end of the season.
Tripods are easy to assemble and easy to store at the end of the season.

Tripods (three-legged frames) and quadripods (four-legged frames) are easy to make and keep vines off the ground—pole beans, runner beans, and limas. They are easy to move and can be taken down in minutes for winter storage. Make the legs from 8-foot length of 1-by-2 lumber. You can hinge the tripods at the top.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. Hello Steve,

    I really enjoy your newsletters. Recently moved to BHS and I am in planning stages of making a vertical garden with pallets and
    wondered besides growing herbs, do you think If I make 10 ” deep soil area, it is deep enough to successfully grow veggies other than herbs?

    Thank you for your time.

    Katherine

    • The soil will hold all of the nutrients and moisture vegetables need to thrive. Ten inches is on the thin side. However, if you feed your crops with a liquid all-purpose fertilizer and can keep the soil from going dry, you should have success. Fruiting crops such as tomatoes tend to be deep-rooted; you will have to ensure the roots get enough moisture and nutrients to push fruit development.

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