Multi-Purpose Garden Trellis Plans

Use these garden trellis plans to build a clothesline trellis that serves double duty, or skip the clothesline and use your trellis to shade a comfortable garden bench.

March 2015
By Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt

Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency (Cold Springs Press, 2014), by Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt, shows you exactly how to build dozens of projects for a self-sufficient lifestyle, with beautiful photos and complete plans for each. Four categories—Food Prep & Preservation, Homestead, Garden and Animals—cover a broad range on popular projects, often with a creative touch or two to make them easier to build or more efficient to use.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

Modifying or repurposing a clothesline support to serve as a trellis is not a new idea, but it’s certainly a good one. It’s also kind of a head-slapper, as in, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

After all, you’ve got this tall, sturdy, utilitarian structure taking up space in a sunny spot that’s easy to reach from the house…so why not grow some plants on it?

If you don’t already have a clothesline support or two that you can be turned into a trellis, you can build this one from scratch. The construction is easier than it looks. All of the beams and uprights are joined with special timber screws, so there’s no complex or custom t-joinery. And you can build the entire trellis in your shop or garage, then dig a couple of holes and get it set up in one go.

The basic structure of the trellis is inspired by the Torii, a traditional Japanese gateway to a shrine or other sacred place. The overhanging top beam, or lintel, is a characteristic feature for this type of structure and in this case can be used to support hanging plants or wind chimes or simply be left as is for a clean look. The vertical spindles in the center of the trellis are made with 1-1/2-inch-square pressure-treated stock. (You can also use cedar or redwood.) They’re offset from one another in an alternating pattern for a subtle decorative effect. You can change the spacing of the spindles as needed to suit your plants, or even use a different material, such as round spindles, wire or string.

This trellis makes a great garden feature that looks good year-round and can serve as a focal point or a divider between landscape zones. You can build just one trellis and run the clotheslines between the trellis and a fence, your house or garage, or a garden shed or other outbuilding.

Tools and Materials

• Miter saw
• Cordless drill and bits
• Nail set
• Tongue-and-groove pliers or adjustable wrench
• Posthole digger
• 6-inch self-drilling timber screws (24)
• 2-inch exterior finish nails
• 3/8 x 2-3/4-inch galvanized or stainless-steel
• screw eyes or screw hooks (4, with lag-screw threads)
• Gravel

Cutting List

Materials table

Note: All lumber can be pressure-treated or all-heart cedar or redwood or other naturally rot-resistant wood.

Build the Clothesline Trellis

Cut lintel

1. Using a miter saw or circular saw, cut both ends of the cross beams square. Cut the ends of the lintel at 30 degrees. Cut the top end of each 10-foot post to ensure a clean, square cut with no splits; the bottom end will be buried at least 3 feet deep, so overall length isn't critical.

Mark posts

2. Mark the inside faces of the two posts for the cross beam locations, using a square to draw layout lines across the post faces. Mark the underside of the lintel in the same way; it is centered over the long posts, while the center post is centered on the lintel.

3. Mark the 2 x 2 spindle locations on the cross beams. For more contrast, you can offset the locations – but remember to mark the opposing sides of the cross beam as mirror images. Here the spindles are placed 3/4-inch in from the edges and spaced 4-5/8 inches apart.

Fasten cross beams

4. Test-fit the frame assembly on a flat work surface. Fasten the cross beams to the posts with two 6-inch self-drilling timber screws at each joint.

You may need to drill pilot holes if the screws are difficult to drive. Drive the screws with either a drill or an impact driver and a hex-type nut driver or other bit (special bits often come with boxes of timber screws). If your 4 x 4s are well-dried, you can attach the lintel now; if not, save some back strain and bolt it on after the posts are upright.

Squaring posts

5. Dig two holes at least 3 feet deep for the posts. Shovel a few inches of gravel into each hole, then tip the whole assembly in (use a helper—wet-treated wood is heavy). Plumb and brace the posts with 1 x 2s.

Leveling trellis

6. Check that the cross beams are level. To raise one side, simply add a little gravel under the post. Fill the post holes with alternating layers of soil and gravel. Or you can fill the holes with concrete. Check level and plumb as you fill the holes. Tamp the dirt and gravel so that the posts are firmly locked in place.

Setting lintel

7. Set the lintel in position, aligning it with the marks made earlier, then fasten it in place with timber screws.

8. Cut the 2 x 2s to fit tightly, then fasten with predrilled 6d casing nails or a pneumatic nailer. Use two nails at each end.

Clothesline trellis 

A garden trellis such as this is not only very attractive all in its own right, it also serves two functional roles — holding up plants and holding up laundry!

Clotheslines for Climbers

Here are a few tips for planning and setting up a decorative and highly functional clothesline system:

• When the leaves are out, the trellis can create a nice shady spot for a bench on the side opposite the clotheslines.

• A typical load of laundry needs about 35 linear feet of clothesline and weighs about 15 to 18 pounds after spinning in the washing machine. Therefore, running three or four 12 to 15-foot lines each strikes a good balance for minimizing sag on the loaded lines while providing plenty of room for hanging.

• Clothesline materials include solid-metal wire, stranded wire or cable, plastic-coated cable, and traditional clothesline rope. Wire lines last longer and stretch less than rope, but many clothesline devotees prefer rope for its natural look and feel as well as its thickness and texture, which make it ideal for gripping fabric and clothespins.

• Pulleys allow you to hang and retrieve clothes from one standing position. Metal pulleys are strong and won’t break down with UV exposure (like plastic wheels will), but make sure all metal parts are rust-resistant (stainless steel is best).

• Turnbuckles provide means for tensioning wire lines without having to restring or reclamp them. Tighten rope lines by simply retying them, or you can add a hook and a trampoline spring to maintain tension and make it easy to remove the line without untying it.

More DIY Plans from Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency:

DIY Compost Bin Plans
How to Make a Soil Sifter

Reprinted with permission from Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency: DIY Projects to Get Your Self-Reliant Lifestyle Started by Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt and published by Cool Springs Press, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

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