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Vertical Growing With Cages, Trellises and Tepees

Often times, plants in the kitchen garden will need a little support to keep them from falling over, creating a mess and smothering out neighbors. Cages, trellises and tepees train tall plants and vine crops, while making your kitchen garden more tidy and productive by using vertical space.

Tomatoes are one crop that usually needs to be staked or caged. You can purchase ready made tomato stakes or cages at TSC or you can make your own.

Square wire fencing or concrete-reinforcing wire 5’ or 6’ wide works well, as long as the squares are 4-6 inches so that you can get your hand in easily to tie up or sucker branches and harvest ripe tomatoes.

How to Make Round Tomato Cages

  • Cut a length of 6 ½’ square wire fencing.
  • Form it into a circle with a 24” diameter.
  • Bend the cut ends to hook together with pliers, this makes it easy to take apart in the fall and flatten back out for easy storage.
  • Pound in one or two stakes to give the cage extra support so the tomato plant won’t topple it as it grows.

How to make a tomato sandwich cage for a 4’ x 4’ raised bed

  • Cut a 20’ x 5’ hog panel in five 4’ sections.
  • Secure two 4’ sections with stakes or metal fence posts on each end leaving a 24 inch space between for the tomato plants.
  • Lace garden twine or wire on each end.
  • If your bed is 4’ x 8’ cut the hog panel according, using a support stake in the center of each panel piece and on the ends.
  • Use the extra piece for a trellis.

The tomato sandwich cage takes up less space and is more compatible and productive (I can fit in an extra plant) with a square raised bed garden. Use the space on each side for growing friendly companion neighbors like basil and parsley.

Single Tomato Fence

  • Use a 4’ x 5’ piece of hog panel for a raised bed or any length of wire fencing for a row garden.
  • Anchor each end with a fence stake. For a long row use more stakes.
  • Stager tomato plants on either side of fencing.
  • Tie up the tomatoes as they grow.

Trellises can be made quickly and easily and give more opportunities to grow ‘up’. A 4’ x 5’ section of hog panel with a stake on each side makes a seasonal trellis for beans, cucumbers, peas and gourds.

An old ladder makes a fast trellis for climbing vegetables. Push the legs into the ground or support with a couple of stakes and watch cucumbers, melons, squash, gourds and even pumpkins wind their way up and over.

Two 4’ x 5’ sections of hog panel in a A-Frame configuration with two stakes in the center to hold in place makes a sturdy, steady trellis for cucumbers, squash, melons, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Use the space underneath for veggies and herbs that would appreciate a cool spot in heat of summer.

Tepee gardening is an old idea that is getting new play in today’s kitchen gardens. Many plants do well when trellised. From cucumbers to string beans “up” is the way to go. If you are horizontally challenged in your kitchen why not go vertical, after all there is a lot of unused space up there.

A Tepee is a simple way to trellis fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Use wooden stakes, bamboo sticks, cedar posts, metal fence posts (unless you live where it gets really hot in the summer) or whatever will be sturdy enough to support the plants you plan to grow vertically. Tree limbs cut and trimmed to equal lengths work well and give your garden a natural rustic look. Aim for equal lengths of 6’ to 12’. Here are some quick and easy ways to build your own tepees:

Tepee Recipe #1

  1. Use three for a simple tri-pod tepee and up to 8 stakes for a larger frame. I have seen tepees with many more stakes but it is not necessary.
  2. Bundle the stakes together and lay them on the ground – hopefully where they will be living in your garden. A tepee is awkward to move once it is put together.
  3. Tie a heavy twine or wire around one end (about 6” from the top) firmly but not too tight.
  4. Stand it up and pull the stakes out to form a 3’ - 6’ or more diameter tepee. Push each stake into the ground 6” or more if possible for added strength and stability.
  5. Weave string around the legs of the tepee to make a net or wrap chicken Wire around the tepee for climbing plants to attach themselves to if necessary.

Tepee Recipe #2

  1. Pound a large post or stake into the ground a foot or so deep.
  2. With (3 – 6) bamboo, stakes or trimmed limbs form tepee out from center post.
  3. Push stakes into ground a couple of inches around the center post equally spaced.
  4. Attach stakes to center post with a bungee cord, wire or heavy string wrapped around to hold in place.
  5. Wrap the legs with string or chicken wire for plenty of grab-on places for plants to attach themselves and fill out for complete coverage.

Grow a Living Tepee

Plant tall varieties of sunflowers in a circle about 8 – 10 inches apart, when they reach 4 to 5 feet, gently pull the tops together and wrap them with cotton string loosely to form a tepee. For access to the ‘inner circle’, Leave an opening or take out one or two plants to create a doorway which will delight any youngster (or those of us young at heart).

Plant beans, gourds, or climbing nasturtiums for warm season harvest or peas for the fall to climb the sunflower plants. Give the sunflowers a head start before planting climbing seeds in between sunflowers.

Need a shade area? A tepee can help create shady areas in the garden to extend cool season crops like lettuce and greens in the warmer season or to tuck in plants that don’t like to deal with heat in the south like nasturtiums, parsley, and cilantro.

If the tepee is large enough a comfy chair or two might be a shady respite in the heat of the day. Children love tepees in the garden to play in and it will keep them busy while you weed and harvest. Plant Scarlet runner beans to invite butterflies and hummingbirds to join in on the fun.

Read more about attracting backyard pollinators.

Plants to tepee in the kitchen garden: Pole beans, scarlet runner beans, lima runner beans, cucumbers, grapes, small melons (may need to add some support), climbing nasturtiums, gourds, hardy kiwi, sugar snap peas, sweet peas, tomatoes and mini pumpkins.

Tepees are not only is a space-saver but a back-saver as well. Plus it is just easier to see produce when it is growing vertically.

Available at TSC

Pick up materials to take advantage of the vertical space in your garden at TSC

  • Square wire fencing
  • Fence stakes
  • Tomato cages
  • Tomato stakes
  • Garden twine
  • Heavy duty wooden stakes
  • Hog panels
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire
  • Bamboo sticks
  • Seeds
  • Water wand
  • Hose
  • Garden ties
  • Garden twine