A Vertical Gardening Ideas Guide

by | Feb 14, 2019

Why grow vertically?

As many of us have started to realize the value of growing our own food, a large struggle we face is finding space to grow. In my own backyard, my raised bed space started with 119 sq. feet for growing food. Experimenting and learning to grow things vertically allowed me to fit a lot more in my garden. Utilizing many different vertical gardening ideas allowed me to grow watermelons and squash (which are notorious space hogs) and still have almost all my square footage left. As you read this article, I encourage you to look at the photos and imagine those vines sprawling over the raised beds. You’ll definitely see how much room they would have occupied if not grown vertically. Before getting into the specific tips and tricks, I quickly want to highlight some of the benefits of growing vertically:

♦Save Space-maximize how much you can grow in your garden.

♦Disease prevention-your plants will have better air circulation which can prevent certain diseases.

♦Easier harvesting-growing off the ground can make produce easier to spot.

♦Protection– prevents food from growing on the soil which can lead to rot, fungus, or attack from critters.

♦Aesthetics-creating height in the garden can be absolutely beautiful!

An example of one of my favorite vertical gardening ideas: Tromboncino squash growing on my DIY cattle panel trellis. If you want to learn how to make this trellis see DIY Garden Arch: How to Build a Cattle Panel Trellis. 

squash is a wonderful vegetable for growing in the heat of Summer on a trellis

Squash and melons are my favorite crops to grow over my cattle panel trellis in the Summer. Pictured here: tromboncino squash vine growing over arch

Natural Climbers Vs Creative Climbers

When thinking about what you can grow vertically, there are two general categories: plants that naturally have the ability to grab onto a trellis (Natural Climbers), and plants that you have to secure and manipulate to get them to stay on a trellis (which I like to call Creative Climbers). Let’s start with some vertical gardening ideas for natural climbers that you can grow in your garden.

What are some natural climbers I can grow vertically?

Snap Peas, Shelling peas, or Snow Peas

With Spring coming up, I thought I’d start with peas. Whether you are growing snap peas or peas for shelling, they are climbers! They have tendrils that curl around structures and can easily support the vine. Sometimes you do have to manually take the tendrils and guide them to your trellis, but once they grab on, they curl very tightly and hold. Some materials that pea tendrils like to wrap around are: wire trellises, tomato cages, and twine. I’ve used bamboo sticks in the past, but it can be a struggle to get them to grab on due to the thickness and smoothness of the bamboo (not recommended).

Furthermore, one of my favorite vertical gardening ideas for peas is to create a “pea wall”. Essentially, I grow my peas pretty close together for a full “pea wall.” Sow your pea seeds close together, and you can thin them out as they grow to ensure you get a full wall. In the end, my pea plants are usually about 4-6 inches apart. You can read my full Guide to Growing Edible Peas for my tips and favorite varieties to grow in my garden. 

Edible peas growing on my cattle panel trellis in the Fall/Winter garden.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers, as long as they aren’t a bush variety, will easily grow vertically! I especially like to grow cucumbers vertically because they easily rot or get attacked by critters when left to grow along the ground. It’s much easier to suspend cucumbers off the ground to get blemish-free cukes! Also, I have found that cucumber leaves are less susceptible to powdery mildew when they have more air circulation.

Cucumbers and sunflowers make good companion plants. One unique vertical gardening idea is to grow cucumbers up the stems of sunflowers.  Sunflowers also make great pollinator plants in the garden which is why they made my Favorite Potager Flowers List!

Beans

Beans are one vegetable that grows very easily on a trellis. Again, there are some varieties that are bush beans, so make sure you are choosing a climbing bean if you want to grow it upwards.  Simply provide a trellis, and beans will climb! I like to sow most of my bean seeds directly in the garden with one exception: when I want an earlier crop, or to get a head start, I will sow bean seeds indoors during the cold, late winter months. This allows me to have beans ready for transplant the minute it is warm enough outside. Other than that, I will sow beans in Spring directly in the ground. Pictured below are my Scarlet Runner Beans (which are a dried bean) that bloomed and produced profusely all Summer—hummingbirds will love this vertical gardening idea because they are attracted to the red flowers. For more information check out My Obsession with Dried Heirloom Beans.

a large heirloom bean plant growing on a wooden trellis in the garden

Scarlet Runner beans are vigorous climbers. Their red flowers are wonderful for attracting hummingbirds, and the dried beans are lovely purple and pink shades with speckles.

Vertical Gardening Ideas for Creative Climbers

Now I want to discuss some things you can grow vertically with a little extra work! Creative climbers don’t have tendrils that grab, or if they do, the tendrils are not strong enough to support the entire vine from breaking off the structure as the fruit grows (such as melons). With some simple tricks, you can grow these larger items vertically and save tons of space in your garden!

Tomatoes

Tomatoes can also be grown vertically. In fact, a lot of gardeners believe that growing tomatoes vertically allows for better pruning and fruit production. While I haven’t had great results from pruning or single-stem traning my tomatoes, I have really enjoyed growing them vertically to maximize space and have better airflow.

If you want to grow tomatoes like a vine on a trellis, I recommend looking for indeterminate varieties. Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and produce fruit for  a whole season until they die from frost. For example, some vines can get as large as 7-10 feet tall! A cattle panel makes a great trellis for tomatoes. If you’d like more information on growing tomatoes you can also read my Tomato Growing FAQ: Grow Your Own Delicious Tomatoes at Home!

gardener picking tomatoes growing vertically on a trellis

This one one of my first setups for growing tomatoes vertically in the garden. The idea was to string train tomatoes and attach those strings to the trellis above. This vertical gardening idea takes more work, but it does have benefits.

Another vertical gardening idea for tomatoes is to train tomatoes up multiple strings to keep them off the ground. This is different from traditional single-stem training (where the gardener will only keep one, main stem and prune heavily).  Basically, we created a frame structure that allowed us to run some of our jute twine down from the top of the structure to a loop that was tied loosely around the stem (at the base of the tomato plant). Make sure your loop is loose enough to allow the stem to thicken as the tomato grows. As the plant gets taller, you simply wind the string around the tomato—kind of like an ice cream swirl pattern. You can do this with any main branches that come off the tomato plant. Be careful when maneuvering the tomato stem around the twine because tomato stems are very crisp and snap easily.

Watch our quick tutorial on tomato string training below↓

Once the first cluster of fruit develops, you can trim off all the leaves below that first cluster to allow for better air circulation and to make room for planting things around the bottom. Some amazing companion plants for tomatoes are basil and marigolds. My favorite mini basil is spicy globe basil. It’s extremely pungent and grows in a low mound which is perfect for borders and underplanting. IMPORTANT NOTE: if you aren’t growing anything the base of your tomato plants, you can leave the bottom leaves on if you live in a hot climate. This will protect your tomato plant from sun scald. In Southern California I prefer to not prune and leave foliage on my tomatoes to protect from sun damage.

Melons

Now, I want to talk about something you don’t see growing vertically very often—-melons! A couple summers ago, we grew petite yellow watermelons on a trellis that my husband built for me from scrap wood. To this day, the vertical watermelons continue to be some of my most asked about topics. Many of you have asked me for my tips for growing melons on trellises, so here we go!

The key to growing melons vertically is to choose the correct variety. You want to select a variety that is known to be more “personal size” or some people call them “icebox melons.”  If you choose melons that grow too big, chances are they will break their stems while hanging vertically and you’ll never get to taste a ripe one. Save yourself this pain. Even growing smaller melons, we have lost some due to snapped stems and it is heartbreaking. In 2017 we grew Petite Yellow watermelons that grew to about five pounds, and in 2018 we grew Amy Melons which grow to about three or four pounds.

How do I get the melon vine to stay on the trellis? First, for melons in particular, thicker trellises are better (see video below). This is because melon stems are not very thick and if you weave them through something like a thin metal bar, that bar is more likely to cut into the stem like a butter knife due to the weight of the fruit. That being said, I have seen melons growing on cattle panel trellises, so I know it is possible—just watch those stems!

To grow melons vertically, plant your melons at the base of the trellis. I like to keep about one foot in between the vines. On my wooden trellis, I typically will plant two to three vines on each side so they can grow upwards and towards each other. It creates a nice look as well. To learn how to train your melon vine onto a trellis, watch my video below.

Do I need to support the melons while growing? Like I mentioned in the beginning of this section, choosing personal-sized melons is best for growing vertically.  Melons can often support themselves BUT we have lost melons before because the stem broke before it was ripe. If you only have a few melons, why not protect them to ensure you get a harvest? Now, if you have lots of melons to spare because your vine is prolific, maybe experiment and see what happens if you don’t support them.  

How do I support melons on a trellis? There are many options out there for supporting the fruit as it develops. As soon as the fruit reaches the size of a baseball (approximately), I would support it. We chose to support our melons with slings made of pantyhose for a couple reasons: First, I had some already tucked away in my drawers and second, they breathe well. Other things I’ve seen are these net cradles or old pieces of fabric. Whatever you choose to use as a cradle/sling, make sure you cradle the melon and then tie off the sling to the trellis (not the melon stem). If you aren’t growing vertically, there are also these ground cradles that you can stick in the ground to keep your fruit from touching the soil.

 

Pumpkins and Other Winter Squash

This is one of my favorite vertical gardening ideas! I love growing winter squashes on our cattle panel trellises.

Cattle panels are usually large, at least  4 x 16 feet. To get ours home we had to use our truck. Some home hardware stores sell metal grids/mesh that look like cattle panel, but they too flimsy to hold winter squashes. Make sure you are buying the right item. It’s hard to order them online due to their size, but I did a full DIY tutorial on How to Build a Cattle Panel Trellis that talks about how we sourced ours.

A lot of people think that you are supposed to plant winter squashes during winter, but that is not the case. Winter squashes are meant to be grown during the summer, cured, and then stored for use during winter.

Again, remember to always choose smaller varieties to grow vertically.

For training winter squashes to grow vertically, follow the same procedure as the melons—weaving the vine through the trellis. Although, I found that some squashes had tendrils that were pretty good at grabbing the trellis. As far as support, have you ever noticed how thick pumpkin stems are? They also become more wood-like as they dry. Because of the thicker stems, it’s likely that the stems can hold the weight on their own. Use your judgement here. The sugar pie pumpkins I grew got to about three to four pounds, and they were just fine without support. The delicata squash were smaller, so they were fine as well.

What’s your vertical gardening idea?

When it comes to growing vertically, imagination is your ally! There are so many vertical gardening ideas and options for unique structures, re-purposing items, and trying to grow something vertically that you have not seen done before. Regardless, you are allowing yourself to save space for other plants that can’t grow vertically—and in the small garden game, saving space is the way to go!

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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