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How to Choose the Best Trellis for Your Garden

Plants growing on a plant trellis in springtime
Whether you need some help with your climbing roses or support for your snap peas, a trellis can probably help out in your garden. Charlie Rogers/Moment/Getty Images
  • A trellis can help you to maximize space or hide an eyesore.
  • Supporting a plant with a trellis can mean healthier plants!
  • Before you buy a trellis, know what you're growing and how much space and support it needs.

Whether you're looking to take your garden game up a notch, or just want to have a successful crop of delicious veggies, look no further than a trellis or two to get the job done. Although trellises can take many shapes and sizes, they all tend to be made of weatherproof metal or wood. They're also vertical in form, so that they can achieve their major function, which is helping plants grow and climb upward.

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Why Buy a Trellis?

Save Space. Not every gardener has tons of acreage to work with. Trellises can help to maximize space because they grow vertically, instead of sprawling along the ground. "I was a small space gardener for more than 25 years and anytime I could grow vertically it meant I had more room to grow more plants," says Melinda Myers, gardening expert, author and host of The Great Courses' How to Grow Anything DVD series.

This also means that additional plants can be placed at the base of the trellis, creating a layered effect. This technique is especially popular in community food gardens, which have to use limited space as efficiently as possible to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs to feed at-risk groups.

Dress Up the Area. This directional advantage allows the gardener to draw the eye to a higher focal point with beautiful blooms. "Many trellises are decorative features on their own, and adding plants allows you to change the overall look with the seasons," Myers explains. They can also cover up an eyesore, such as a shed, concrete wall, fence or otherwise less-than-pleasing view.

Sugar snap peas growing in raised garden bed with trellis for support
Sugar snap peas will appreciate a nearby trellis. You may want to make the trellis only as tall as you can reach however.
Barbara Rich/Moment/Getty Images

Provide Support. Vegetable gardens are a popular gardening project, but the yield can be pretty sad if an appropriate trellis isn't put in place. "Tomatoes for example, may start out as small as 5 inches [nearly 13 centimeters], but can easily grow to 5 feet [1.5 meters] or more by the fall. Without a trellis, the plant would be a jumbled mess and the lack of air circulation will surely result in diseases," says Toni Gattone, speaker and author of "The Lifelong Gardener, Garden with Ease and Joy at Any Age." Fruit from a trellis-supported plant is also likely to be cleaner and straighter than if left without support, plus it helps to keep bugs and other pests from wrecking the crop.

In addition to tomatoes, savvy gardeners use a trellis for vine crops, such as peas, beans, cucumbers, melons and squash. These do require some light maintenance, however. "For squash and melons with large fruit you need to sling the fruit to the support so it does not break away from the vine," Myers explains.

Certain decorative plants also will languish without the right trellis. "Climbing roses and vines also need strong support to grow and be healthy," says Gattone. "Whether the trellis is made of wood or metal, without the appropriate trellis, climbing plants will not survive."

A trellis shouldn't be an afterthought, though. "It's important to put the trellis in place when you initially plant because if you wait to install it later, you could conceivably damage the roots and kill the plant," says Gattone.

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Trellis Considerations

Several factors need to be considered when selecting a trellis:

  • The trellis must be sturdy enough to support the weight of the vine/plant you're growing.
  • Some vines cling to structures, while others wrap around them as they climb. Know which type you're planting, so that you can pick the appropriate trellis. "If the spacings are far apart you may need to provide extra support to hold the vine to the trellis," explains Myers.
  • Some trellis options lean up against or are affixed to a structure. Before installing, make sure you'll still be able to access the area for any necessary maintenance, such as painting.
  • Before you buy a trellis make sure it suits your climate and its demands. Is it weatherproof? Can it be left outside year-round?
  • Lastly, does it complement your particular landscape design? Do you want the trellis itself to be a standout focal point, or is it merely there to show off the plant?

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Types of Trellises

There's a lot of variety in trellis type and appearance, but it doesn't need to be overwhelming to pick one to suit your needs.

Homemade crop trellis. A lot of veggie gardeners make their own trellises out of some pretty basic supplies. All you need are two metal or wooden vertical supports (three if it's pretty wide). Pound them into the ground about 1 foot (0.3 meter) deep, spaced 5 or 6 feet (1.5 or 1.8 meters) apart. Using staples, nails, zip-ties or wire, suspend some type of mesh or netting between the supports. Many people opt for galvanized fencing or chicken wire, but make sure you pick something sturdy enough to support any large crops. Price: less than $20 for basic supplies

Ladders and cages. The less ambitious vegetable grower can probably get by just fine with an affordable metal ladder or cage. Just stick 'em in the ground or container and watch the plants climb! Price: less than $10

Flat trellis. These portable trellises can be moved around (as long as nothing is currently growing on them), to wherever you need a pop of color or a little privacy. They are particularly good for climbing roses. Those do have an expected height and width, so choose a trellis that matches up with its growth potential. Otherwise, the roses will get all tangled up and be susceptible to disease. Although it seems counterintuitive, be sure to snake the roses horizontally on the trellis, rather than pushing them vertically. This will result in a stunning wall of blooms. Price: There's a big range, depending on how fancy you want to get. About $40 for a straightforward wood trellis while an ornate metal trellis can cost $200 and up.

London home with Oriental air and rattan pieces by OKA
This garden adds multiple trellises to great effect.
Andreas von Einsiedel/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Arch trellis. Another great option for flowering vines are arch trellises, which are larger in size, similar to a doorway. These are not for every garden, since they make such a statement. Price: Again, there's a big range. Walmart offers a simple metal arch trellis for $25, while more detailed ones go for hundreds of dollars.

Obelisks. These pieces make a serious decorative statement and can be placed directly in the ground or in a container. Again, make sure you're getting the right size because you don't want a small obelisk to be totally overwhelmed by an overenthusiastic climber. Price: A cool steel trellis may cost $300; a simple expanding wood one meanwhile $25.

Teepee trellis. Another cool homemade option, the teepee trellis is three stakes of some building material (usually metal, wood or even bamboo). Stick one end of each in the ground at an angle, then affix together at the top. Price: less than $10

A-frame trellis. Similar to the teepee trellis, but with only two pieces. Plant on each side, then sit back and enjoy the angular growth. Price: less than $10

Wall trellis. Only install this type of trellis if you're OK with it being permanent. The wall trellis attaches to — not surprisingly — a wall. Then plant climbers at the base. Another beautiful way to hide an ugly or otherwise unimpressive outdoor wall space. Price: starting at $50 and up, depending on how big/detailed

Ready to buy a trellis of your own? There are tons of suppliers who are happy to help you, including DuraTrel, New England Arbors, Gardener's Supply, Master Garden Products and H Potter to name a few.

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