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Trellis Tricks: Grow “Up” for Bigger SFG Harvests

Written by Chris McLaughlin

sling watermelon

Stems of trellised fruits will thicken, don’t worry – but some gardeners do add a sling.

Growing vegetables vertically on a trellis has big advantages for gardeners. You’ll harvest more yield in the same area, you do less work, and there’s fewer weeds, pests, and disease.

The leaves of veggies grown vertically enjoy better air circulation, too. And having no contact with the ground means less trouble with pests and disease, giving you healthier and stronger plants, less rotting, and beautiful, unblemished fruit.

In All New Square Foot Gardening Third Edition, Mel Bartholomew shared his enthusiasm for growing vertically and included step-by-step instructions (pages 98-105) to build three kinds of trellises. He said pole beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and more were perfect for a trellis. And climbing flowers like morning glories, black-eyed Susan vine, and nasturtium can share a square to add beauty and attract pollinators.

Before choosing a trellis type, know which veggies you plan to grow vertically. Small to medium sized melons may need extra support from a sling (think pantyhose or onion bags) as they mature. In this case, a sturdier trellis is warranted since you’ll need to tie off the slings. Below are two of my go-to trellises for Square Foot Garden beds.

Livestock or Cattle Panel Trellis


Cattle panels in SFGer Suzanne’s Georgia garden.

This simple trellis is my favorite as its strength makes it so versatile. Called livestock, cattle, or stock panels, it’s made from galvanized, welded steel. Buy them at your home improvement center or livestock feed store. They last forever, don’t rust, and will hold anything.

Sizes start at 4’ wide, perfect for a single SFG bed. Wider panels are available too, for those who have connected additional beds together. And since the panels are flat, they’re easy to store.

While they’re not terribly expensive, there is a cheaper version called ‘concrete reinforcing wire’ which is thinner and will rust as it is not galvanized. If you choose the cheaper material, you could always spray paint it.

Make a DIY Livestock Panel Trellis:

  • Livestock/Cattle Panel or Concrete Reinforcing Wire
  • 2 T-posts
  • T-post clips for securing the panel to the t-posts (or heavy-duty zip ties).
  • Pliers or tool to bend the T-post clip ends onto the panel.
  • Mallet or T-post slammer to get the posts into the soil.
T-post clip

T-post clip

First, plan to put your trellis where it will NOT shade squares that need full sun. Conversely, that shadow can be super helpful for shade loving crops like lettuces.

Mallet or slam your two T-posts at the edges of where your panel will go. Place the cattle panel between the T-posts and use the pliers to secure the t-post clips to the panel. See this helpful YouTube video on easily securing T-posts. You could also forego the clips and pliers and use heavy-duty zip ties instead.  Want an arch instead of a wall? Buy 4 T-posts, and watch this YouTube video on installing an arch.

Shop at Home and Upcycle a Trellis

Trellis ideas

Trellises can be simple (bamboo) or heavy duty (A-frame sandwich board) for runner beans, peas, cucumbers and mini pumpkins.

Other clever ways to get your garden going skyward is to use upcycled ladders, fences, gates, and leftover lattice. Here’s some ideas:

  • Tomato cages can be useful trellises for climbers other than tomatoes.
  • Ladders make good trellises on their own. But if you net the entire ladder, peas and other twining plants will have an easier time.
  • Hang on to pruned tree branches. Especially useful are ones with bendable wood such as willows, birch, hickory, elm, and cedar. Make a simple rectangular frame, then get artistic with the branches you use on the inside.
  • Cotton nautical netting for party decor can be wrapped around a bamboo stake tepee for a pea trellis. Sink the four stakes into the corners of your square.
  • Have an old baby crib hanging around? Take the sides off and stand one up in the garden so the bars are horizontal.
  • Old wood pallets make a quick trellis, too.

What if DIY is not your thing? Check out your local nursery center, home improvement store, or online etailers like Gardeners Supply and Amazon. Pick a look you like:  expandable willow or bamboo lattices, folding metal trellises, metal or stick obelisks or arches that create a tunnel.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to trellis options for your Square Foot Garden!

If you find this blog informative, consider donating to the Square Foot Gardening Foundation. Your support helps us to continue providing tips, resources and the mission of Square Foot Gardening.  

Chris McLaughlin

Chris McLaughlin is a writer and author of nine books on gardening and small livestock. Her primary focus is on regenerative gardening and wildlife habitats. Chris’ current project, The Good Garden: How to Nurture Pollinators, Soil, Native Wildlife, and Healthy Food - All in Your Own Backyard (Island Press). Chris lives on their small family farm in Northern California's Gold Country.

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