The 2022 garden season is well underway in Southern Ontario (Zone 6B) and with it comes another year of experimenting with trellis and cage options to help get the most out of my plants. Over the last few years, I’ve built and tested a variety of trellises to varying degrees of success. Most importantly, I’ve built many of them with the desire to limit my cost and environmental impact.
Throughout this blog I’m going to showcase images of these systems, which ones worked, which ones failed (and why they failed), as well as which plants thrive best with each trellis type. I’ll be reviewing a t-shaped scrap wood trellis, a ladder trellis, a teepee trellis, a t-post trellis with rolled fencing, as well as cages for potatoes and strawberries.
The purpose is simply to provide some unique and budget-friendly ways to maximize your space and increase your crop yield. I hope these help with your next garden project!
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T-Shaped Scrap Wood Trellis - This one's been scrapped
Last year I built two dozen of these for my tomatoes and had a limited level of success.
Building Advice: I used repurposed wood for mine simply because I had wood on my property and I like to repurpose materials whenever I can. Hammer a long piece vertically into the ground, then screw a horizontal piece at a convenient height. The ones pictured above are 5′ tall, with horizontal pieces at 2′ and 4′. I chose this design so that I had plenty of options for securing my tomato suckers as they grew. It was a $0 project that only used two screws per trellis. Affordability score 10/10.
Level of Success: After a full year is said and done my recommendation would be that this may not be strong enough for something as bushy and heavy as tomatoes. The wood degrades over time, and I ended up having some wood snap during high winds. That said, the horizontal pieces were great anchoring points for my tomato suckers, and it helped keep them contained in their bed without bushing into the walkway. In the end I’ve built a different trellis system this year for my tomatoes. Success score 2/10.
Which Plants Are Best: Based on the degradation of the wood and the challenges that heavier, bushier plants have with wind, my suggestion would be to stick with options that are lightweight and thin. Some options that come to mind are peas and pole beans. If you’re growing those I’d recommend the Teepee Trellis or T-Post Trellis instead, depending on your budget.
The Ladder Trellis - Unique, Effective, and Attractive
In spring 2020 I decided to build three ladder-style trellises for my butternut and spaghetti squash. The idea was that I could train and tie the plants up the ladder, and gravity would hang their fruit beneath the ladder for easy harvesting and good airflow.
Building Advice: To build these trellis’ you’ll need 2″x2″ wood, nails, and screws. I also chose to use L brackets on the 90-degree joint for extra strength. Cut and connect the individual sides of the ladder first so that you can work on it while it’s flat on the ground, then connect the two sides of the ladder with the L bracket. Lastly, use a piece of wood horizontally to create a triangle just above the ground for additional strength. Otherwise, the ends of your ladder may slip and flatten throughout the season, especially with the weight of your plants on them. You can also bury the ends into the earth to help secure them. Affordability – 7/10. Difficulty – 5/10.
Level of Success: Honestly, I loved this trellis system. The plants were easy to train, and it works as expected. The fruits supported themselves and hung beneath the ladder, and the airflow to the plant helped to delay powdery mildew a bit. The only con with this is that it takes up quite a bit of space in the garden. I was able to plant six squash on my three ladders, taking up a 3’x15′ area to do so. In general, squash takes up A LOT of space compared to other plants, but this didn’t help to reduce it. Success score 8/10.
Which Plants Are Best: I’m really happy that I used this for my butternut and spaghetti squash. I think they’re the perfect option for a ladder trellis. If you were to make one that was more vertical, it could be used for lightweight plants like pole beans. If you’re going to hammer the ends of the ladder into the ground to secure it you could get away with planting squash in a taller, more vertical ladder trellis.
Teepee Trellis - Lightweight and Reliable
The Teepee Trellis is one of the oldest, most common, and most reliable trellis options used today. It can also be known as an Obelisk Trellis or Tipi Trellis. It’s strong, easy to make, and can support a wider range of plants than any other trellis.
Building Advice: Building a Teepee Trellis is super easy. The base materials can be any combination of wood, scrap wood, or even branches and vines. For most plants, your vertical pieces should be at least 1″-2″ thick. Either push or hammer three or more pieces vertically into the earth, then bend and tie them together about 6″ from the top. Once the top is secured, you can strap additional supports horizontally as needed. These also create great anchoring points for your plants as they grow. Affordability – 9/10.
Level of Success: This is the most common trellis option for a reason, it works. It’s a very strong trellis, though I do have two cautions to help ensure that yours does as well as possible. If you’re in a high-wind area, I’d recommend driving your vertical pieces in as far as possible and anchoring them into the ground with wire and pins so that they don’t blow over. Secondly, wood will rot over time. At the start of each season, inspect the wood for integrity to avoid a break mid-season once your plants are established. These two additional pieces of advice come from my own experience of having a trellis break from the wind and snap/rip my 6′ tomatoes out of the ground as it fell. Success score 8/10.
Which Plants Are Best: The Teepee Trellis offers as much flexibility as any other trellis out there. It’s perfect for planting pole beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peas, and any other crop that can vine on it’s own or be ties to vertical supports.
T-Post Trellis With Rolled Fencing - A Permenant Solution (I Hope)
For the 2022 garden season I’ve decided to improve the quality of my trellis systems and moved away from sourcing scrap wood into actually purchasing materials. I’m hopeful that investing in a long term solution will lead to reduced work each spring, easier plant management throughout the year, and better stability in windy weather. I’ll add an edit to this blog at the end of 2022 with any critical updates.
Building Advice: My first piece of advice for building T-Post trellis’ is to source your materials carefully. The hardware stores near me ranged from $8 – $12 per T-Post, and fencing ranged drastically depending on the gauge of wire, length, height, and size of the holes. These may seem like minor adjustments, but if you’re purchasing 10 or 20 posts, along with hundreds of feet of fencing is can add up quickly. I used 7′ T-Posts spaced about 7′ apart, a step ladder, and a sledge hammer to drive them roughly 18″ into the ground. I chose to angle mine slightly into the direction of the wind to help increase it’s strength over time. Next, use a zip tie to tightly latch the fencing at ground level on one end of your trellis. Pull the fence tight and zip tie it onto the next T-Post, snipping with wire cutters once you reach the end. Most fence wire will be 3 or 4 feet in height, which means you’ll need to roll it out in two levels for your trellis to be tall enough. Once done, bend in any metal that is sticking out from where you used wire snips to avoid being scratched or cut throughout the year. Affordability – 3/10. Most expensive on this list at about $4 per linear foot.
Level of Success: So far it’s been the best and easiest trellis I’ve ever used. The spacing on the fence allows me to use a “Florida Weave” technique and avoid needing additional stakes or ties for any plants. It’s held up to wind and weather so far as well. I’ll report back in fall 2022 with any updates. Success score TBD.
Which Plants Are Best: I’m currently using this trellis for all of my vining crops, including peas, cucumbers, and cucamelons. I’m also using it for plants that I’d normally need to tie up and attach to a trellis such as tomatoes and butternut squash. I’ve been loving not needing to tie any of my plants, simply weaving them through the fence wire as it grows.
Potato Cages - All About Containment
When I first grew potatoes I didn’t realize how huge, tall, bushy, and floppy the foliage would turn out to be. By the time July arrived the leaves and stems were spilling all over my walkways being trampled. This time around, I’ve built a simple containment system to keep them in their lane.
Building Advice: This is another option that can be done with virtually no equipment or shopping. I’ve used leftover scrap wood from previous trellises and hammered them into the ground at about 3′ high. Twist tie or zip tie some horizontal pieces at about 2′ and you’re good to go. If you’re extra serious about containment you could place verticals at 1′, 2′, and 3′ to ensure that they don’t spill over the edge of their bed. Affordability and simplicity – 10/10.
Level of Success: I wouldn’t say this completely solves the problem, as potatoes can be extremely top heavy and fall over easily. That said, it’s pretty easy to just push them back inside the cage as needed. This is as successful as it needs to be to get this job done. Success score 7/10.
Which Plants Are Best: Well, potatoes for sure. I’ve got a similar cage built for my raspberry bushes as well and it’s doing the job!
Strawberry Cage - Win the Battle for Your Berries
Growing strawberries can be very rewarding. It’s the earliest berry to harvest, and is the definitive spring fruit in Southern Ontario. That said, it’s also the plant that attracts the highest number of animals, making a cage the best option if you want to be the one eating your berries.
Building Advice: Having a decent crop of strawberries that are actually protected from animals is one of the harder, more challenging tasks I’ve faced in my garden. If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time rather than making feeble attempts for years like I did. Hammer 2′ vertical supports into the ground every 4′, protect the base with boards that are at least 6″ high, shoving them slightly into the earth before fastening them onto your verticals with screws or nails. Wrapping and stapling the entire cage securely with metal chicken wire. For the cage door. I’ve hinged mine and added a latch to hold it open. It allows me to prop the cage open while I’m working in it without needing to fully remove the lid each time. The images above showcase the cage shape and structure, the lid, hinge, latch, and wire installation. The costs on this are largely from the hinges and chicken wire. Scrap wood can be used, or a few 2″x4″x8′ lumber will do the trick. Affordability 5/10, Simplicity – 6/10.
Level of Success: The evolution of my strawberry cage has been driven by my failures. Year one – all excitement, no berries. The plants were too young and the animals (mice and squirrels) took the small berries that did exist. Year Two – Introduce the cage, no berries. I used a plastic mesh rather than a metal chicken wire which they quickly chewed through. The mice and squirrels also dug underneath the fence to get in. Finally, year three (the year the building advice is based on), I’ve got metal chicken wire in place, a wooden border along the ground to reduce digging, and mature plants that actually product berries. Success Score – 9/10 – Finally.
Which Plants Are Best: I’d recommend this cage system for any berries or crops that you’re worried about losing to animals. Currently, I’ve got a similar setup for my blueberries and strawberries.
Thank you for taking a look through these trellis and cage ideas. Fingers crossed you’ve found one that meets your needs, and that your veggies turn out to be everything you’ve hoped!