The Ultimate Tomato Trellis

Build this trellis and watch your tomatoes climb high!

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by John Laurie

DIY Garden Projects (Hardie Grant Books, 2016) by Mat Pember and Dillion Seitchik-Reardon is all about fun and practical projects that will transform your backyard into a functioning vegetable garden. Included are step by step instructions for 38  projects that will get you out of the house and into the garden! The best part is that these garden projects are made using inexpensive or upcycled materials. This excerpt comes from chapter 3, “X-Factor.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: DIY Garden Projects.

Things You’ll Need…

• some pretty handy skills
• 4 x 5 ft 11 in hardwood stakes
• measuring tape
• carpenter’s square
• marker
• 12 x L-brackets
• drill set
• 3/4 inch timber screws
• spirit level
• 1-1/2 in timber screws
• 19 ft 8 inch x 7 ft 10-1/2 in) sheet of reo mesh (with plenty of leftovers)
• bolt cutters or angle grinder
• cable ties

Serious tomato growers are serious people – particularly when it comes to growing tomatoes – and there is a hidden culture built around these people and the trellising systems they use. Being part of a sub-culture is all about walking a fine line. You need to strike the balance between recognition of invention and ingenuity, along with managing the secrecy and legend of the group.

As tomato culture emerges into a popular one, the trellising systems that people use to grow their plants are beginning to receive more attention and the race is now on to design and build the definitive system. We don’t see this move into the mainstream as a threat, but instead an opportunity to harvest bigger and better ideas for the greater good. And we have some of our own.

An ultimate tomato trellis, for a serious grower, cannot be a single unit designed for a single plant. No-one entrenched in the tomato culture grows only a single tomato when in season, so the ultimate trellis needs to accommodate many plants.The system also needs to be sturdy so that it will endure years of good service. The ultimate system should be a loyal one.

We have always enjoyed playing around with stakes and twine but this is a little more serious. There will be lots of foliage and lots of fruit relying on this system, so your hands need to be splinter-free. For that reason, we’re calling in the big guns! It’s a material that every Italian tomato grower has a great affinity for: concrete reinforcing mesh!

person holding a ruler to stakes lined up and using a permanent marker to draw a line across all of them

1. In actual fact, I lied about the splinter part. There are four long wooden stakes in this set-up and therefore plenty of potential to gather some splinters. These stakes will provide the braces to hold the trellis frames. To each stake, you’ll need to attach three L-brackets, so measure down 1 foot 11-1/2 inches and 3 feet 11 inches from the top of the stakes.

man holding a drill against a wooden stake attaching an L-bracket to it

2. Attach each L-bracket using a 3/4-inch screw. One will be right at the top and then one at 1-foot-11-1/2-inches and the final one at 3-feet-11-inches.

four wooden stakes laying parallel to each other on a concrete surface with a man kneeling down holding a drill on the end of one of them

3. Repeat for all four stakes and then go grab the tweezers to get to work on Round 1 of your splinters.

man holding a yellow level up to an upright wooden stake in front of a fence surrounding square wooden framed garden boxes

4. It’s time to attach the four wooden stakes to each corner of the crates. Have the L-brackets facing out and use a spirit level to make sure they are perfectly level.

man holding a drill screwing a wooden stake in to the frame of a garden box filled with soil

5. When securing the stakes to the crate, make sure they are all set at the same level. We drive each stake 12 inches underground and then use two 1-1/2-inch timber screws to fix them to the crate.

man holding a wooden stake at the corner of a wooden framed garden box filled with soil

6. With the stakes in and secured properly, that’s the framework installed. It’s finally time to get into some power tools!

man using an angle grinder to cut through a portion of orange reo grid

7. It’s time to prepare the reo mesh. Cut three 3-foot-11-inch squares using either hefty bolt cutters or an angle grinder – each small square in the reo grid is 8 inches, so count out six of these smaller squares to get the right length for the large squares.

man using an angle grinder to cut out the interior bars of an reo grid to form quadrants

8. Taking three of the squares you have cut, two will need to be altered. Take one and cut out the internal bars to leave (effectively) a window frame and cross through its center (four squares).

man using an angle grinder to cut out portions of an reo grid to form a 3 by 3 grid of 9 squares

9. With the next square, there is a little less to cut out. This time, discard enough to leave you with a 3 x 3 of nine squares. The final large square does not require cutting. These three frames will be used to create the levels of the ultimate tomato trellis, the most open one at the lowest point and the untouched mesh at the highest point.

three reo grids laid next to each other with one cut in to a 2 by 2 grid, one cut to a 3 by 3 grid, and another left uncut in a 6 by 6 grid
person using an angle grinder to cut pieces sticking off the edge of the reo grid frame

10. Messy cuts can leave messy sharp edges that can lead to messy cuts of another nature. Use the grinder to smooth out any sharp edges.

two men holding a metal frame segment over top of wooden stakes in a garden

11. Start by slipping the bottom window frame segment over the top of the stakes and then slide it down to the bottom level of brackets.

man holding a metal grid part way up the side of four wooden stakes framing a garden box with another man standing to the side
two men holding a metal grid part way up the sides of wooden stakes in a garden box setting the edges on to L brackets screwed in to the stakes
man using a black plastic zip tie to secure a portion of a metal grid to a wooden stake at an L bracket

12. To secure the mesh properly we could get a welder and show off our craft, but we want to be able to dismantle this easily and put it aside when the season is over, so a small cable tie will work well. Cable tie each corner to each bracket.

a man on a ladder holding a metal grid at the top of four stakes at the corners of a garden box while another man is holding on to one of the stakes

13. Now, slide on the second level. This is the 3 x 3 grid and holds the majority of the tomatoes.

man holding a black plastic zip tie pulling it to secure a metal grid to the top of a wooden stake while standing on a ladder

14. Finally, the third frame and top level of this trellising system is about to be unleashed on some new spring tomatoes.

man planting tomato plants in garden box with trellis

15. Plant the new season tomatoes. This system accommodates four beauties, so center them under your lower level grid. For their initial climb, they’ll need a small stake for support, but once they reach the trellis, they’ll be supported beautifully.

A serious system for some serious tomatoes.

More from DIY Garden Projects:

DIY Mobile Planter Box

Reprinted with permission from DIY Garden Projects by Mat Pember and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon and published by Hardie Grant, 2015. Photos by John Laurie. Buy this book from our store: DIY Garden Projects.