Trellises help vegetables grow up

Cucumbers, such as this Boothby’s Blonde, are great candidates for trellising in a garden. Other vegetables to consider trellising are beans and peas.

If there’s no room to grow out, you must grow up. That’s been the primary rule for constructing trellises in my garden in the past. But I’ve recently discovered that trellising has advantages beyond conserving space in a garden.

Many vegetables, particularly those with a vining habit, are well-suited for vertical gardening. Certain types of tomatoes are better than others at this, but you can train them to climb a trellis instead of propping them up with cages or letting them sprawl on the ground. Beans, peas and cucumbers are the perfect candidates for trellising, and roughly half of the cukes I grow for my pickle business are climbing trellises.

First of all, something that grows vertically is easier to pick. It’s harder for me to miss a perfect little cucumber if it is dangling in front of my face like a Christmas ornament. It’s easier to miss a cucumber that will be an unusable monster in a few days when you have to lift all the vines and leaves, which are usually quite poky and irritating, by the way.

Cucumber plants are susceptible to a problem called powdery mildew, which usually strikes about the time the plants become really productive. This seems to hit right around the time after we’re lucky enough to receive some monsoonal moisture here in the Grand Valley.

Although powdery mildew is a fungal disease, it thrives in arid climates. A white, talcum powdery substance appears to cover the leaves and vines and shrivels the plants to nearly nothing. Although water doesn’t need to be on the plants for powdery mildew to take over, the humidity around the plant needs to be high (which would happen when you irrigate).

One of the best suggestions Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service offers to prevent powdery mildew is to give your plants room to breathe. Crowded, shaded plants will suffer more from powdery mildew than those with space and air, which is exactly what a trellis can help you provide.

I also would like to think trellising cucumbers would make their blossoms more available to pollinators. I mean, if I were a bee flying around, would I want to crawl around on the ground to get to a flower? It would be so much nicer if a thoughtful human strung a smorgasbord of pollen-laden blooms on a fence. But it’s hard to tell if bees are more successful if the flowers are more accessible, especially with cucumber blossoms only lasting a day or so. So I admit this is purely a theory, and not scientifically proven whatsoever.

Some people use PVC irrigation pipe, wooden frames or electrical conduit with nylon netting to construct trellises. I made do with a roll of welded wire fencing and some T-posts. It depends on how fancy you want to get, but as long as a trellis is sturdy enough to support what you’re growing, it should work. There are even kits you can buy through Gardeners Supply Co. and other retailers.

If you’re interested in seeing some cool examples of trellising, there are several plots to be seen at the community garden, on the corner of Fifth Street and Chipeta Avenue, by the Mesa County Library.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, apprentice master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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