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CAROLE McCRAY's THE POTTING SHED/Reach for the sky with vertical plantings

on May 26, 2013 2:40 AM

According to the National Garden Bureau, which shared this information, growing plants vertically makes good use of space in the smaller gardens people tend nowadays. With vertical plants, harvesting is easier — no stooping to cut the fruit or vegetable from the vine. And then there is the architectural interest that vertical plants add to the vegetable garden, a design out of the ordinary and utilitarian into the well-planned perennial border. So why shouldn’t your edible garden be as attractive as the rest of your efforts?

Vertical vegetables can be combined on the same A-frame trellis. Beans and cucumbers or peas and gourds growing vertically give you double the harvest for the space.


Pole beans will climb just about anything, including other plants. Native Americans, who employed the traditional “Three Sisters” method by planting beans with corn and pumpkins (the three sisters), knew about growing plants vertically. The corn stalks provide support for the beans to climb while the pumpkins or other squash sprawl on the ground beneath as living mulch. Sow pole bean seeds around bamboo tepees along a netted trellis or an arbor.

For a change of pace, try scarlet runner bean, with its pretty red flowers on a fence or arbor.

Small gardens could place single poles in a row at the rear of the garden or even bordering a back walk. Pole beans produce longer than bush beans as long as you continue to pick the pods.

Gourds and Winter Squash

Gourds look really attractive growing on trellises and form very long lines, as long as 25 to 30 feet. Winter squash is less overpowering with vines up to 9 to 10 feet. Support the heavy fruits of winter squash with individual cloth slings tied to the trellis or fence.


Cucumbers in containers or in the ground produce straighter, cleaner fruit when you grow them vertically. Sow seeds along a cage, netted A-frame or flat trellis and guide the plants onto the netting in the beginning.


Melons also climb like cucumbers by means of tendrils. Their heavier fruit require some buttressing when you grow plants vertically to prevent the weight from pulling the vines down. Use the same type of slings used for winter squash.


Shelling peas produce short vines which need no support. Many of the edible-podded and snow peas produce longer vines that readily climb string or netted trellises by means of tendrils. Training them vertically makes harvesting easier.


Trained on stakes, tomatoes bear cleaner fruit and, of course, take up much less space. Look for interdeterminate, varieties, those with stems that keep growing through the season and produce a larger crop. Seed packets and plant labels will tell you whether a tomato is determinate or intedeterminate.

To help tomatoes grow vertically, you need to tie them at intervals to a support with soft ties. More decorative supports than simple bamboo poles are available at garden centers and mail-order companies for attractive alternatives. Where a fence encloses your garden, you can train tomatoes to grow up by using hooks (for wooden fences) or ties (for wire fences).

Regarding placement and planting techniques when you grow vegetables on trellises and other supports, set them on the north side of your plot and toward the back of a row or bed so they do not block the sun from other low-growing plants.

This gardening season, reach up. The sky is the limit!

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