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Growing UP & Making Cool Trellises

Unusual trellises for gardens -

Whether you’re an avid vegetable gardener or giving it a try for the first time this season, there comes a time when your garden can feel like it is taking over the neighborhood. That’s when you have to look seriously at:

Growing UP instead of out

I cherish every inch of my own yard space because…well, I have to! I only have 1/10th of an acre here. So growing UP makes sense for me in a big way.

Growing UP is all about using the airspace above the soil as opposed to letting wandering, vining vegetables have their way with what can be precious (and often limited) real estate. All you need is a trellis – or support – for your wandering veggies.

But what makes a good trellis for vegetables?

Before you grab your keys and head for the nearest big box store, let’s toss around some interesting ideas and think outside the box store. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

Creating trellis structures out of unusual things can be:

  • Free (at the top of my important list)
  • Eco-friendly (that item just dodged the landfill)
  • Beautiful (the most unexpected bonus)

Where do you find these unusual trellises?

Oh let me count the ways…

How to find unusual trellises for the garden -

Finding Unusual Trellises

If you’re anything like me, the typical trellis found at the garden center leaves me feeling “meh”, complete with a sigh and a shrug. You’ve seen them; mostly run-of-the-mill, flimsy, fan or square-shaped, and then you get to make that big decision — red or white? Of course you’ll also run into lovely, (and pricey) ironwork trellises.

But before you settle for the mundane or move money around with your bank app, take a look at what you have around your home.

Take a peek into your neighbor’s your side yard at the items that are headed for the landfill.

Don’t forget to ask your friends and family about orphaned items that are about to be tossed out. Many a gorgeous gate or vintage ladder is rescued and given new purpose just because someone happened to ask.

And of course there are garage sales, flea markets and my favorite…dumpster diving!

Be on the look-out for:

  • Bed frames or mattress springs
  • Vintage gates
  • Fence panels
  • Ladders
  • Cement reinforcement wire
  • Hog Panels
  • Sawhorses
  • You get the idea…
Unusual trellises for gardens -

Old baby crib bed springs as a trellis.

Materials That Help Plants Climb

Once you have a structure as a general trellis, you may find that you need to add something to the center or the sides in order to support the little climbers.

Vegetables such as pole beans or peas will do fine with the lightest materials such as netting or regular twine. You’ll need sturdier stuff for melons and pumpkins.

Here are some ideas that will give your plants a leg up.

Wire mesh panels — These are also known as hog or cattle panels. Farms and ranches may have them lying around. These panels are made of galvanized welded steel rods made into a grid pattern. These bad boys hold up forever.

Unusual trellises for gardens -

Concrete reinforcing wire on the walls

Concrete reinforcing wire — looks the same as the hog panels but is thinner and ungalvanized (which means they rust). Personally, I like the rust look.

Unusual trellises for gardens -

Chicken wire — What I love about chicken wire is that I always seem to have an extra roll or piece hanging around. It’s simply always available. What I hate about chicken wire is that once those plants twine around it, it’s nearly impossible to get the dried vines off in order to reuse it. Life is full of tough decisions, people.

Nylon netting — I’m referring to the stuff specifically made for climbing vines. It can be a great choice for any lightweight crop and I can usually get a second season of use out of it if I really try. Often laziness creeps in right about the end of the warm season, truth-be-told and I just rip it out. But it works in a pinch.

Twine — You might call it jute or string. But in any case you probably already have some around the house (check your junk drawer). For light plants like peas, you can string it vertically going from top to bottom. Or once you have it strung vertically, you could weave it through horizontally for a sturdier support (and you’ve just invented netting).

Chain link fencing — If you can get past the bad looks, nothing compares for sturdiness. Chain link makes an excellent support for heavier vines, but it’s not easy to pull away the dead vines at season’s end. Still, it’s probably worth it because should you become smitten, you’ll be able to hand this material down for at least several generations.

Unusual trellises for gardens -

Best Vegetables for Trellises

When growing UP, it is always easiest to plant true climbing vegetables and fruits. Since we’re talking about vertical vegetable gardening with trellises, be sure to choose climbing varieties such as indeterminate tomatoes, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, peas, pole or runner beans, gourds, other squashes such as acorn, and butternut — even kiwifruit, berries, and grapes.

If you’re planting melons or pumpkins, choose varieties that mature between 2-6 pounds. As the fruit grows, it’ll need support from a material fashioned like a sling (nylons, old t-shirts, and bird netting are perfect) that’s been tied onto the trellis to bear the weight.

Growing vines (hops) on repurposed trellises -

Yep – That’s a ladder in there covered with hops

Interested in learning more about growing up?

I could not write a post on growing UP without telling you to check out the book Garden Up – Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet. These two very talented women have created a great resource here that goes into more detail and has tons of photo examples…including a few shots from my own garden. Yeah!

What items have you recycled as a garden trellis?

Tell me in the comments!

Disclaimer: Book links are affiliate links. You are not charged extra for using these links, but I do get a small cut which helps pay for this blog.


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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.


  • Karen says:

    Right now the only thing we re-purpose are old wooden ladders. Love them. I just don’t have enough right now. I love the crib bed springs. I will definitely keep my eyes open (up) for more ideas.

  • Carole says:

    I found an old cast net while cleaning up the river. It made a great trellis for my snow peas here in Florida this past winter.

  • Renee says:

    This was my first year vertical gardening so I just took it slow. Some lemon cucumbers did well on some old wire fencing I purchased many years ago and never used. I was pleased with the results and now will be keeping my eyes open for more fun things to use as a trellis

  • Sara says:

    I need to work on trellising. I’ve gotten as far as poles of some sort (broken broom or shovel handles or ski poles) with string between them. I need to start poking in the barn again.

  • Diamond says:

    An old metal swingset frame has been the most useful ” trellis ” I’ve ever created out of a piece doomed for the trash pile. Its not that heavy and this year I have leaned two very large pallets ; one on either side ; for the trellising part. I have wire loops hanging from the center pole at top and have hung salvaged hanging baskets from those wire loops. Oh and the huge pallet pieces are from the lawnmower shop across the street when they receive shipments of new equipment. I think I’ve got it made as far as finding materials for trellises. LOL

  • Nancy says:

    With limited space in our double-city-lot (double a small space is still pretty small!), I do a lot of vertical gardening with a lot of creative (read: “cheap”) re-used items for trellises. My favorite: an old dog kennel. We had a GIGANTIC metal-framed kennel for one our old dogs which took apart into floor, top and four sides, all of which we use for scarlet runner beans, different kinds of cukes, Malabar spinach and Minnesota Midget melons (softball-sized muskmelons: perfect for trellising and super-yummy!). We also Espalier fruit trees, which is a terrific way of using that vertical space, wherever you live.

  • Deb says:

    I use a lot of hog panel and have found they make a wonderful hoop. By covering them in the winter with row cover I can extend the life of the tomatoes a few more weeks.
    Any metal fencing can be cleaned fairly easily with a torch. If you don’t have one for killing weeds, maybe you have a kitchen torch for making Cream Brulee. Just torch the dead vines and sweep ’em off when cool, if necessary.

    Theresa – how come this blog doesn’t have a box for me to check to be notified of any new comments? Other than that, I think it’s a wonderful blog and am having a lot of fun reading older posts. Now if I could just find where Dish put your show on their schedule. . .

    • theresa says:

      Hi Deb-

      Excellent tip about the blow torch! Thanks.

      And we are in the process of redesigning the website now for a launch in about a month. I will look into the notification again. I had a plug in for that once before and ran into problems with it. But will check on other options.

      Don’t forget, all of our episodes can be watched online! You can find them here:

  • Erin says:

    Caution on using anything old with paint that could contain lead. Leafy greens can accumulate lead when it gets into the soil. I have been using masonry ladder from a home supply store (under$2) for many things, you can make them into any size arches by either tying two together (lengthwise or widthwise) with wire or cutting them down. They are lightweight, easy to move around every year when rotating crops, and easy to hold up Remay or other frost protection fabric when the weather turns. I’ve even dome a dome shape for the kids to have a “summer igloo”.

    • theresa says:

      Good point Erin – Thanks. They have those lead paint testers at the home improvement store. We should test using those.

  • Kat says:

    The owners of the bike shop in town saved a dozen various lightly bent bike wheels for me to make into a trellis. Got a few metal posts from my uncle-in-law, painted those a lovely lemon yellow, bolted and wired the wheels on so they didn’t spin, and started growing hardy kiwi vines on them. They’re so much fun!

  • growingequality says:

    My first year trellising, i used the wire frame from a box spring getting tossed and tied it upright between poles. Since its too narrow 4 the pole beans, its the snow & snap pea support now. Next I got 10′ lengths of pvc from an irrigation system tear out, and made a giant teepee. Kids love em, but i found i couldnt reach 2 pick when all the vines went ‘jack’s beanstalk’ on me [at least 18′ intertwining to make a self-supporting trunk]. Then I bought 2 lovely arbors and tied twine between them for melons and gourds, most beautiful garden yet, but the arbor legs rusted away w/direct contact w/ soil. Now i use concrete mesh, and limb cuttings from large brush to support them a-frame style, and anither as a hoop. Yes, ugly and utilitarian, but planting clematis and hyacinth beans on the ends pretties it all up and when full, u cant see any structure anyway. Just lush cool shade 2 pick under…

  • growingequality says:

    almost forgot, used fence boards are also a great resource. making a stepped platform this year for my self-watering system trial.

  • Renee Mustard says:

    I am going to grow my cucumbers on a trellis this year. I sure hope I am successful! I also ordered the book by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet. I can’t wait to read it and get some more ideas!

    • theresa says:

      Awesome! I have a podcast coming out next week with an interview with Susan Morrison on smart garden design. You will love it.

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