Have you ever seen a wild tomato vine? It sprawls over the ground, climbs over other plants, and wraps itself around whatever it can find. That’s great for the tomato vine, but it’s not so great for any other plants nearby.
If you want to grow vining plants like indeterminate tomatoes, its best to tame their wild nature just a bit and give them a nice, tall trellis to climb up. There’s a variety of materials you can use to create a vertical structure—from a bamboo teepee to chicken wire or cattle panel—but we’ve found metal garden trellises to be consistently excellent choices. They will last a long time in your garden space and lend the most support to your climbing plants, especially those with heavy fruit.
Before we get into which fruits and veggies you can train up a garden trellis, let’s look at five benefits of vertical gardening. (This is basically our pitch for why we think metal trellises are worth the investment.)
VERTICAL VEGETABLE GARDENING GIVES PLANTS ROOM TO STRETCH OUT
Rather than spreading horizontally over the ground, trellises help plants grow vertically and give them all the growing space they need. Some plants will flat out refuse to produce fruits if they feel cramped, so it’s important to have a tall trellis with evenly spaced rungs for the tendrils of your plants to find.
VERTICAL GARDENING KEEPS PLANTS HEALTHIER
Holding plants up and off the ground is a great way to ensure their leaves and fruits stay clean and dry, which prevents mold, disease, and pest pressure. The veggies growing around your vertical plants will be happier, too. They’ll enjoy better air circulation, receive more sunlight, and find space of their own to stretch out.
VERTICAL GARDENING GIVES YOU MORE AVAILABLE GROWING SPACE
What would you do if you ran out of space in your beloved family home but couldn’t expand the first floor? You’d build up, right? Well, adding a trellis to your garden is like building a second and even a third story onto your house.
While your vines are climbing up and over your trellis, smaller plants can be growing at their base. You now have all the vertical space along your trellises and all the horizontal space across your raised bed surface to grow your favorite plants.
VERTICAL GARDENING MAKES HARVESTING EASIER
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of sticking my hand into a jumbled mess of leaves to feel around for something I want to eat—not with the snakes and spiders we have here in Central Texas! Trellises save you the trouble by holding the vines and their fruits upright, where you can easily find them and harvest them.
VERTICAL GARDENING IS JUST PRETTIER
We might be biased on this one, but we strongly believe that raised beds with trellises just look better. Even without a lush green plant attached to the rungs, trellises still manage to add beauty, structure, and grandeur to a garden.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THAT GROW BEST VERTICALLY
I’ve divided our favorite edible plants to grow vertically into our growing seasons in Central Texas so that you can get a better idea of what vertical growing can look like all 12 months of the year here. As soon as a plant from one season is finishing up, you can plant something for the next growing season at its base that will soon take over your trellises.
If you live outside of Central Texas, no worries, all you need is your average high and low temperatures for your city. Visit US Climate Data to look up your city.
Cool Season is when the average high is 65 degrees or lower, with chance of freezing temperatures or frost.
Here in the Austin area, our cool growing season runs from about late November through mid-March. This is our time to grow sugar snap peas, snow peas, and/or fava beans up a vertical support. These plants can handle some frost and will cover your vertical trellis in beautiful growth.
Bean and pea plants need a lot of sunlight on their leaves to help them form delicious little pods. Since the days will be much shorter during our winter months, it’s super important to pick a sunny location to grow these cool season favorites.
There’s nothing like a bountiful harvest of delicious sugar snaps while gardens in colder climates are covered in snow.
If you live outside of Texas (sorry about rubbing our year-round gardening ability in), you likely have two cool seasons, one in the spring and another in the fall. More peas for you!
Warm season is when the average temperature is 66-85 degrees with no chance of frost or freezing temps.
Texas Hill Country enjoys two warm growing seasons, the first running from about mid-March to June, and the second running from September to November.
My favorite fruits and veggies to grow vertically during this season include indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans.
There are two different types of tomato plants you can grow in the garden. Indeterminate tomatoes are the vining type that need a support structure to climb. Determinate tomatoes are the bush type that tend to not grow more than 4′ tall or so. While tomato cages are fine for bush tomatoes, I recommend having a more substantial support system like a metal garden trellis for the long vines of indeterminate tomato plants. Learn more about our favorite varieties and how to grow tomatoes vertically here.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans will start struggling near the end of the season when our temps spike above 95 degrees. I prefer to remove them from the garden until temperatures are more suitable to grow them again. If you live somewhere with a long warm season over the summer, you just might be able to grow a tomato vine over an entire arch, turn it around, and grow it back the other way.
Shop our trellises
Warm to Hot Season
There are other warm season plants that we can grow at the beginning of our warm season in mid-March that can push all the way through our hot season. These plants include tomatillos, malabar spinach, winter squash, cucamelons, and melons.
Unfortunately, tomatillos won’t stretch up and over an arch trellis the same way their cousins, tomatoes, do. They still benefit from some vertical support and are really fun plants to grow in hot weather.
Malabar spinach sounds like something that would produce a couple leaves and stay low to the ground, right? It’s actually an incredibly beautiful vining plant with edible leaves, flowers, and even dark purple berries. If you’re looking for something that will thrive in a hot climate and look beautiful in a vertical container garden, this is your plant.
Hot season is when the average high temperature is greater than 85 degrees.
The summer months here in the greater Austin area cover our hot growing season—and this time is just as unbearable for most of our vegetable plants as it is for humans. Fortunately, there are still some really great edible plants that will grow and even thrive in the heat. These plants include luffa gourds, asparagus beans (AKA yardlong beans), snake beans, and Armenian cucumbers. Both asparagus beans and snake beans taste like green beans but grow to be over a foot long!
THE BEST FLOWERS TO GROW VERTICALLY
If you’d prefer to have beautiful non-edible plants growing up your trellises, you could grow sweet peas in the cool season (just make sure everyone in your household knows not to eat from these poisonous plants). In warm seasons, you could grow climbing nasturtiums, passion vine, or hyacinth beans. And during our hot, hot summers, you could grow passion vine or coral vine.
TIPS FOR A HEALTHY VERTICAL GARDEN
Follow these tips for vertical gardening success:
Lend Additional Support When Needed
Some vines will wrap their tendrils around your trellis and climb up on their own, while others could use a little assistance to make sure they’re nice and secure. Peas and cucumbers like some additional support when they’re just getting started, and tomatoes appreciate extra support throughout their entire time in your garden. (You’ll notice tomatoes don’t have special tendrils to grab onto the trellis like other climbers do.) Use twine to hold your tomato, cucumber, and pea vines in place by tying loose bows that still allow the plant to move in the wind and continue its growth.
Grow the Right Types of Plants for Your Season
It doesn’t matter if your plants get full sun or have lots of space to spread out on the trellis if you’re trying to grow them in temperatures they just don’t like. Plan ahead to figure out which plants you’ll prioritize growing on your trellis each season.
Look for Compact Vines if You’re Growing in a Small Garden
You can still grow vining plants in a container garden as long as your container is big enough to hold some kind of trellis or support structure. Look for seed packages that say things like “dwarf” or “compact vines” so you know you’re getting a plant that will do well in less space.
Install Your Trellis Before Planting for the Season
If a plant needs any kind of support, make sure to install your trellis before you sow seeds or transplant a young plant. That way, you won’t risk disturbing roots later. It’s also really important when you’re growing something likes sugar snap peas that their first delicate vines find something to cling to almost immediately; otherwise, they’ll slow their growth.
Practice Good Watering Habits
Even though vertical gardening helps to prevent fungal diseases, you’ll still want to aim water at the roots of your plants, not the leaves. This is especially important to avoid powdery mildew in damp climates. Learn more about how to water your plants here.
And that’s all there is to it! Now all you have to do is pick a trellis for your backyard garden and start growing your favorite plants vertically! We’re confident you’ll find growing this way up, up, and away better!