Have you ever wondered what a trellis is or why you need to stake or cage a plant? I know that when I began gardening a few years back, I had no idea what the benefits of any of these things were. I didn’t know what the words even meant, but I quickly learned out why they can be vital to your garden and how they can help you grow more food in a smaller area.
When we lived at our old house, we began our vegetable garden knowing next to nothing about gardening. We felt confident in the method of gardening we were going to use, but aside from getting our garden bed ready and planting seeds, that was about the extent of our knowledge.
Trellises are a framework, typically made of some sort of wood or metal lattice (such as fencing) which allows plants to be trained upwards. Staking is the process of using a stake (typically wood or bamboo) and tying the plant to it to keep the plant upright. Caging is using some type of cage to help hold a plant up off of the ground, usually without any kind of tying.
Some plants do not need to have any of this done to them. Corn will grow tall and strong, and if you plant it in “blocks,” it will keep the stalks from falling over. Most peas need something to climb, or the plant will not thrive. In fact, they will often only grow to a fraction of their height if not properly supported. Then there are beans which grow in bush and pole varieties. The bushes are, well, bushes. They can be staked, but certainly don’t need to be. Pole beans are climbers and will produce much more abundantly if given something to climb. And then you have tomatoes which produce so vigorously that they often lay on the ground. The problem with that is the tomatoes become prone to rot and pests such as slugs. That’s not to say that staking, trellises or caging will prevent any and all issues you might encounter in your garden, but it will be beneficial in so many ways.
We learned a lot in our first two years of gardening, one of which was the importance of supporting our produce for the best results, and the other being that if we lifted vining plants off of the ground, it allowed us to significantly increase the amount of food we were able to grow in our semi-limited space.
There were the peas we planted the first year. We gave them no support, and they floundered. By the time we had our first ripe pea pod, the plants had begun to die back. I noticed that one of our pea plants had found its way over to a tomato cage and started to thrive, but by that point it was too late. The next year we planted the peas along a wire fence so that they could climb, and any plants farther from the fence struggled and did not produce as many pods. We finally figured it out and it turns out our pea plants will get to be over 2 feet tall if they are given the proper care, and they will produce much more abundantly.
We had tomatoes that second year, and had it not been for the fact that somebody told us we would need to stake our plants, we probably wouldn’t have, and would have lost a lot of tomatoes. And our pumpkins climbed right over the top of our fence. Sure it was only a 2 foot fence, but it still caught me off guard. I knew pumpkins grew on vines, but it never dawned on me that they would like to climb.
In our garden last year I trellised our tomatoes, but because we were in the midst of an unexpected move, I didn’t maintain them as well as I could have and we lost a lot of tomatoes. We trellised our sugar pumpkins and those results were fun and exciting. The pumpkins were so easy to harvest. I didn’t have to bend down searching through scratchy leaves to find our pumpkins. I was able to easily spot and harvest the pumpkins, and because they were such great climbers, it took little training from me to get them to go where I wanted them to. (Training is the just that…you teach the plant where you want it to go.)
This year we do not have nearly as many trellises in our garden, but that has more to do with our schedule than anything. I want to have more again in the future because it allows us to plant the maximum amount of food in whatever space we are working with. While still at our old house, we lived on .25 acre of land which is a pretty decent size for a city lot, but still, not a ton of land if your goal is to be self-sustaining. That is where trellising really came in handy. We were able to grow more food in the same amount of space just by moving those large vines up off of the ground. By keeping the tomatoes off of the ground, we had more fruit to harvest because it hadn’t gone bad, and we grew more peas every year by giving them the support that they need to reach their full potential.
If the idea of increasing your gardening yields is intriguing to you, there are some great books on vertical gardening and square foot gardening out there. They gave me a lot of great ideas and were definitely allowing us to grow large amounts of food in just that quarter of an acre. Had we stayed there, we would have continued to refine our techniques and probably would have had virtually no lawn by the time we were done!
The failures were not fun, but they were a great learning experience. We’ll share a little more about how we built some of our trellises in the coming weeks, as well as show how the plants are thriving with their use.
Have you ever used trellises or stakes or cages? Did you build your own or buy them? What worked for you and what failed? Don’t forget to leave your comments below!