Vertical Gardening Techniques for Maximum Returns

You can improve yield, grow bigger vegetables, and make more efficient use of growing space through vertical gardening.

| December 2010/January 2011

vertical gardening

Gardeners have invented or adapted a variety of implements to facilitate vertical gardening. Clockwise from top left: Rigid livestock panels do double duty as a fence and support for tomatoes, plus they can be bent to create an arched entry; saplings or bamboo poles are easy to use for pole bean tipis; pea tendrils love to cling to twiggy brush; and so-called “tomato” cages work better to support peppers and eggplants.


Whether your garden is large or small, you can make better use of every square inch by using vertical gardening techniques to grow upright crops. Pole beans typically produce twice as many beans as bush varieties, and the right trellis can double cucumber yields. Then there are crops, such as tomatoes, that need some type of support to keep them above damp ground, where diseases have a heyday. All properly supported plants are easier to pick from and monitor for pests, plus you’ll get help from bug-eating birds that use trellises as hunting perches.

How Plants Climb

Plants that benefit from garden trellises use a variety of methods to cling to support, including curling tendrils, twining stems or, in the case of tomatoes, long, ropy branches that form roots in places that touch the ground.

Curling tendrils produced by peas and cucumber-family crops will twist around whatever is available, so you have plenty of versatility when supporting these crops. Tendrils cling to horizontal and vertical parts of a trellis, so netting woven from biodegradable string attached to posts often works well. Twining stems spiral around their support, growing steadily upward until they turn back on themselves — a growth habit seen in hops, pole beans, Malabar spinach, and yard long beans.

Twining stems have little use for horizontal lines, so they do best with trellises composed mostly of poles or an upright fence. 

Tomatoes like to throw themselves over their support. They must be trained and tied to an upright trellis, which isn’t as easy as growing them in wire cages. The larger, more robust the tomato plant, the more you need a sturdy tomato cage that provides support on all sides.

Temporary or Permanent?

In my experience, a truly sturdy upright garden trellis must be anchored by T-stakes or vertical 4-by-4 posts (or 3-inch-diameter saplings from the woods), sunk 18 inches deep. Installing this semi-permanent garden structure takes time and muscle. In my garden, the most versatile trellises are about 8 feet wide, stand 4 to 5 feet high, and are made of woven wire fencing or a livestock panel attached to two posts. Allowing 4 inches of clearance between the bottom of the fencing and the ground makes the area easier to weed and cultivate. The advantages of such a trellis are the ready availability of the structure each spring and the option to make an attractive permanent feature in the garden.

6/11/2014 9:22:00 AM

Some of the leaves on our tomato plants are turning yellow. The tomato plants are in hanging planters. Could the problem be too much water?

1/22/2014 6:48:06 AM

My biggest problem with growing tomatoes is the friggen possums! Here in Sydney, Australia the little buggers can decimate a plot of veggies overnight. It's totally demoralizing! They're smart too. If you put meshing, I've had some chew threw it even... I use these vertical gardening systems. They look just like bamboo!

8/26/2013 10:27:27 AM

We offer quite a few vertical gardening kits that you might find useful.

7/25/2013 9:29:51 PM

I just started with Square Foot Gardening and it advocates verticle gardening. I will be trying this with my next year's garden. This year I don't have much planted, but am planning on my next year's garden layout.

6/21/2013 3:58:28 PM

I use two 4x8 pieces of concrete mesh bound together on one long edge and set up as a teepee between two rows of whatever will be climbing it. Drive a vertical pin or stake into the ground at each end and wire up the top corners to support the weight of your produce. You can use tent stakes if you need to tie down the bottom edge. The first ones I bought over 8 years ago are still solid with a good rust patina that the cukes love to grab onto. At the end of the season they fold up and go against the back shed wall.

5/3/2013 11:31:21 AM

While this is not vertical gardening my favorite tomato support for the larger tomato's such as Prudens and Brandywine is making a ladder from two birch saplings that sits on 12 inch "legs". The space between the rungs provides ample space for the large plants and it provides heavy duty support and can easily be moved for garden rotation until its time to compost it.

4/26/2013 9:35:40 PM

For cukes, beans or climbers,  I  bought  5, 1x2s 8f ft long, and 2- 8fr 2x2s,  then layout a grid with the 2x2 cut at 4 1/2 ft ft lenths,   lay a grid out with the 2x 2s set 6 inches in from each end and one in the center, put the 1x2 across, one at the top, and then rest 8 inches apart,   use screws with washers, as this will not split the wood and will last a long time,  the stand it up and use a metal fence post on each end next to the uprights.   then use some string up and down about every foot or so, to help the vines grow up,    this trellis makes is so much easier to pick cukes and green pole beans,  take it down every fall after the vines have died and dried, easier to pull off,    can store inside or outside,  ;  I also put two or three in a row for 16 feet or more of beans,  can move this trellis every year to prevent diease,     I also grow squash on this,  

nancy smith
4/20/2012 1:54:24 AM

Great Ideas! I've been wanting to make a garden trellis for several years. Thank you so much for the instructions and illustrations! Nancy

susan popielaski
7/13/2011 12:03:07 PM

I used the 5ft. green metal fencing posts and 14 gauge wire for my tomatoes and I purchased plastic tomato clips to attach the vine to the wire, so far it's work like a charm. Of course all my tomatoes look like they're on house arrest, all handcuffed to the fencing.

2/1/2011 12:11:23 PM

I use 8ft. sign posts 4ft. apart on center and hang 4 x 8 plastic lattice panels with the 4" squares pattern, hang about a foot off the ground to allow cultivation and air under them. Grows very nice long Holland cucumbers and the plastic does't seem to heat up as much as the steel fence does, so it won't cut the vines. Good shade for lettuce and radishes.

1/29/2011 11:27:26 PM

I had just purchased 10 cattle panels on sale at Thanksgiving with the intent to use them as an archway and outer walls for my container garden. I had just built two 3x6 wicking raised beds and wanted to set them up beside a the panel 'walls' for vertical gardening and then saw your article on my exact setup! I love knowing I'm on the right track! Thanks for reading my mind and illustrating my plans.

doug lass
1/29/2011 10:16:50 AM

I've used the Square Foot Method the past three years. The method they use involves electrical conduit for the support and using a nylon mesh or rope inside this support. The conduit is cut into 5 foot lengths for the vertical and whatever length you want for the horizantal. These are connected by 90 degree elbows and set onto concrete rebar driven into the ground. The mesh or rope is then tied onto the frame with the mesh or rope having 5 to 7 inch spaces for the different vegetables or fruit growing up to be supported. It has worked well for me! Thanks Doug Lass

betty d
1/28/2011 8:54:12 AM

Large tires work wonderful as extra garden space. Tipi type trellises are very easy to insert prior to filling with triple mix. They also hold the heat overnight, and do not dry out quickly because of the inside rims.

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