Can You Dig It is a new monthly series by Kristin Guy in which a real-life garden DIY is tackled with style. Whether you’ve got an expansive outdoor plot or just a few houseplants, Kristin will inspire you to grow even more with easy-to-accomplish projects and horticultural know-how.
Let’s talk about some gardening SOS I wish I’d learned back in my early growing days: trellising. It’s one of those things that can make or break your harvest yield—especially when it comes to those towering types of vegetables. If you’ve ever had a plant shift into hyperdrive overnight (I’m looking at you, indeterminate tomatoes and just about any runner bean), then you know that a quick top-heavy growth spurt—especially when loaded with veg—can cause your plant to flop over and even snap in half if unsupported. Not exactly something you want to experience after waiting months for those juicy beauties to ripen for your weekend Caprese. So I’m here to help you skip those missteps and get that plant prop in place on time.
Preparing yourself with the appropriate support group doesn’t need to be overwhelming. There are a lot of fancy-looking rigs out there that can work in a pinch but aren’t necessarily worth your dollar. In fact, why not make your own using a pack of bamboo poles and some flexible cording.
What I love most about using bamboo poles is the versatility of being able to build one shape for one season and then deconstructing and reusing the poles for something completely different the next. Not to mention that bamboo is a sustainable choice, and a neutral design element that lets your plants be the centerpiece of the garden.
For this DIY, we will explore three basic trellis designs that can play a supporting role in your summer garden blockbuster: a cage trellis perfect for tomatoes and dahlias alike; a tripod-style tepee for beans, hops, and cucumbers; plus an A-frame that can be customized for a number of support-needy vegetables. And for those working with small spaces, this one’s for you, too! Any of these shapes can be downsized to fit within your container of choice; in fact, I’m not even including specific measurements, so build something that’s customized for your garden space.
Also, speaking of extra help, I highly recommend getting yourself some reusable garden clips to further aid your plants’ climb.
Bamboo poles — Ideally 4 to 6 feet tall. Swap: hazel poles, upcycled wood from other projects, tree trimmings, or reused metal poles/plant stakes.
Timber saw — Note that dull shears are more prone to cracking the poles.
Swap: handsaw or garden shears.
Lacing twine — Swap: hemp/nylon rope or even zip ties.
Garden twine — Swap: cotton rope or jute twine.
Reusable garden clips — A sustainable swap for that plastic garden tape.
Know Your Knots
First things first: It’s time to get to know your lacing twine. This is the magic glue that will keep your poles snug in a number of formations. This cord is made from polyester and then heavily coated with wax to reduce fraying and hold your knots. If you’d prefer to use garden twine that’s already lying around, go for it, but just make sure your joint knots are secured extra tight.
One of the most versatile knots is square lashing, for your basic cross panels. This might seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice (and there are YouTube videos if you need them) you’ll be a master maker of knots. The key to this knot is giving yourself ample cord length to work with—each knot surprisingly needs about 2 to 4 feet of cord depending on the thickness—but it’s worth it.
Another good-to-know knot is the transom knot, which is a variation of the square lashing that can be used for your X-shaped poles. These will come in handy when tying together the joints of your A-frame structure.
I’m going to add that there are a lot of gardening knots. That said, you can tie however you see fit for any of these designs, or just use a few zip ties—no judgment! Just keep in mind that your bamboo joints need to be tight and your overall frame strong enough to take on the elements and the weight of your growing plants.
Let’s get building.
This is a great grid-style trellis to master for a number of reasons—as one large-scale panel, it could serve as an incredible vine-covered wall (think: a sturdy privacy screen for city balconies). Here, we are creating a smaller four-sided enclosed structure, which is an incredibly attractive option for tomatoes, beans, and dahlias.
- Four 4- to 6-foot bamboo poles for the legs
- 8 shorter poles for crossbar support
- Lashing twine, garden twine, or zip ties
How To Make It:
Cut everything to the size that works best for your growing space and the type of plant you’re growing. If you’re working in an open bed, go big, but if you’re confined to a 24-inch pot, build to fit. I like to construct these with poles already stuck into the soil, along with the newly transplanted seedling in place, to get the most customized fit.
Place four poles into the ground surrounding your tomato or dahlia plant. Cut crossbars to size and secure with a square lashing knot at each joint. For this cage I’m starting with two levels of crossbars for support, but you could easily add more.
This three- or multi-legged tepee is perfect for multiple vining plants such as peas, beans, hops, and cucumbers. It’s a must-use for windy areas, as the circular shape helps shield plants from gusts and allows for multiple plants to grow from all sides.
- 3 to 6 bamboo poles, approximately 4 to 5 feet tall
- Lashing twine
- Garden twine
How to Make It:
Take your poles and place them into the ground in the same area that you plan to plant. Arrange them in a circular pattern (or a triangle if you’re only using three). Some people like to use a trash can lid or a cardboard cutout as a template, but I tend to freestyle my shape. Depending on how flexible your poles are, you can bend them inward and tie them together, but you might need to arrange yours a bit more on an angle for easier fastening. You can easily just wind twine around each individual pole and then connect to the next one until they’re all secured together as a bundle. For some extra gripping points, string twine around the structure, looping around each individual pole as you go to create a lateral grabbing point for your vines.
The most widely used and perhaps easiest to construct, the A-frame is your quick-to-put-in-place trellis that will grow everything from beans, tomatoes, and squash to even melons. What I love about this particular design is that you can pitch the frame as narrow or as wide as you’d like, depending on the amount of space you have for growing. To further the customization, and depending on the vegetable you’re growing, you can string either vertical lines of garden twine for straight vertical growth, or create more of a horizontal netting for sprawling vines.
- At least 7 bamboo poles that are 5 to 6 feet tall
- Lashing twine
- Garden twine
How to Make It:
This is yet another design where building in place will be the easiest way to make sure you’re building it to the size you need. Simply create an X shape using two bamboo poles, adjusting their angle and width to the size of your growing area. Secure the joint with a transom knot (zip ties work, too) and repeat with another two or three sets of X shapes spread the length of your growing plot. Run one long pole over the top of each X shape and secure in place with twine. Run garden twine either vertically or horizontally, depending on what you plan to grow: Hops, beans, and tomatoes do great growing up one long vertical string, while cucumbers, melons, and squash prefer a horizontal netting-type support for their sprawling vines.
Have you ever built your own trellis? Let us know in the comments!