Growing Vertical–How to Support Your Plants

square foot gardening garden august

One of the biggest advantages of Square Foot gardening is that you can grow more plants in less space. However, if you don’t provide the plants with adequate support they will fall over, or sprawl ver the entire garden box, and you lose what you gained!

I’m going to show you several methods of supporting your plants so you can “grow vertical” and fit even more into less space.


Vertical Trellis

This is the way I prefer to support peas, cucumbers, and some varieties of tomatoes. I use a trellis made of galvanized steel that I purchased through the SquareFootGardening.com website. To install it, I pound two pieces of rebar (included with purchase) halfway into the ground, and then slide the tubes over the rebar. I shove the whole thing down an inch or two into the ground, and it’s ready to go.

This uses nylon trellis nettingsquare foot gardening with 6″ openings. I find that I need to replace the netting every 2-3 years. When the plants start to grow, I wind them through the netting, and use garden Velcro tapesquare foot gardening for extra support.


Supporting Peas

square foot gardening july peas and onionsAt first, I put my trellis against the fence, but that made it hard to train the peas to go up the trellis, as well as to harvest.

square foot gardening west north 062110Now I put my trellis in the front. You can do it this way, or perpendicular to the fence.


Supporting Cucumbers
square foot gardening support cukes

On the left I have cucumbers and tomatoes on the same trellis. I found that they were always competing for space, and didn’t yield as much as I wanted. So the next year (on the right) I planted 4 squares of cucumbers and gave them the entire trellis. You can see them just starting to grow, with potatoes in the background.

The potatoes and cucumbers grew well together–the cukes liked the shade from the large potato plants. I had more cucumbers than I knew what to do with! It is really important to train the cucumbers to go up the trellis or they’ll just sprawl horizontally. It’s helpful to wear gloves–they’re prickly!

Supporting Tomatoes

square foot gardening support tomatoes

In my very first square foot garden, I grew tomatoes in one square each, and trellised them. As I already mentioned, the trellis was against the fence, which made it difficult to train, prune, and harvest them. With such limited space, I had to prune them regularly or they’d go out of control. I had great tomatoes, but not many of them. So now I only grow cherry or grape tomatoes this way. I give them 2 squares each, and prune them down to 3 or 4 main vines.

Trellis Placement

square foot gardening support middle As I’ve mentioned, I learned to place my trellis perpendicular to the fence so I have easier access. But you don’t have to put them only on the ends of your garden. Richard, who uses the Square Foot gardening method in Louisiana, gives a good example of this. I have to say, I’m jealous of his garden, since it’s still snowing in Utah!

Supporting Melons and Squash

I’ve never tried it, but you can grow watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, and winter squash on a trellis like you would tomatoes or peas. My friend reports that you just train the plant up the trellis, then back down again, making an “M” pattern. Use gloves, because they can be pokey!

I have found a method of growing squash and cucumbers that I love.

square foot gardening 2013 29july southwest
This is one piece of cattle panel I purchased at my local ag co-op. I tucked it inside the sides of a 4’x8′ bed, pounded rebar stakes into the corners, and wired the trellis to that. It’s amazing. The vines grow strong enough to support the fruit–this pumpkin weighed in at 20 pounds!

This doesn’t work as well with peas, because they want to grow straight up.


Horizontal Trellis

square foot gardening support corn

Supporting Corn

My very first square foot garden I decided to grow corn. But since the soil is so loose and soft, it doesn’t offer enough support for corn, especially in an area as windy as mine.

So I rigged this horizontal trellis using PVC pipe, elbows, and nylon trellis netting. It did a great job, but in the end I decided that I didn’t harvest enough corn to justify dedicating a whole box to it.

Supporting Tomatoes

I was inspired by the idea, and tried it with my tomatoes. I planted 6 tomato plants in my 4’x8′ bed, which gave them about 6 squares each. I built a horizontal trellis using PVC pipes and elbows, and nylon trellis netting.

square foot gardening support tomato1
As the tomatoes grew, I added more layers of support. This made it so easy to see and harvest my ripe tomatoes. I also saved on space, because without this type of support each plant requires 9 squares. square foot gardening support tomato2
The only problem I found, is that I used 1/2″ PVC pipe and elbows. This size tends to bend a little, and it didn’t hold up to the wind as well as I would have liked. square foot gardening support tomato3

Tomato Cages

No matter how expensive or fancy, I have yet to find a tomato cage that adequately supports indeterminate tomatoes–until now! One of my readers sent these photos of her tomato cages, and gave me instructions on how to build them. They are 5′ high, and can handle the largest of plants!
square foot gardening IMG 5068

square foot gardening IMG 5482

These are made with steel remesh, and have 6″ openings, which makes it easy to reach in and harvest tomatoes.I think the best aspect of these tomato cages is that they fit in just 4 squares of the garden. This truly takes your tomatoes up, instead of out, and saves tons of space. square foot gardening 2013 august 2 I’ve converted to this system of supporting my tomatoes–here is a 4’x4′ bed with 4 tomato plants in it. They look like trees, and start growing over the fence!


Staking

Supporting Tomatoes

Another method of supporting tomatoes is to stake them. Generally, you pound a 6-8′ stake into the ground, then plant your tomato plant 3″ away. It’s best to have the stake on the north side, so it doesn’t shade the plant. As the plant grows, tie it to the stake with old pantyhose (does anyone really still wear those?) or garden Velcro tape.square foot gardening

Similar to growing tomatoes on a trellis, when you stake tomatoes you have to prune them diligently. You will get less tomatoes, but they will ripen sooner and get bigger than if you let them sprawl.

Supporting Peppers

Peppers can also be staked, using shorter, 2′ stakes. Technically, they don’t have to be staked, but it helps if you have a lot of wind (like I do). Again, put the stakes in just before you plant, so you don’t damage the roots.

Sorry, no pictures because I’ve never used this method.


No matter which method you choose, be sure to offer your plants some support! Not only will it save you space, it will keep the fruits and veggies from rotting, scalding in the sun, and getting lost a mass of sprawling greenery.

Happy Gardening!

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44 Responses

  1. Emily MySFG says:

    Cindy,

    I suggest going through the steps on my site and/or purchasing my e-book!

  2. Cindy Kimmer says:

    I have an 18×24′ garden in east central Iowa. I pretty much at Where to plant everything. All my peas and beans were eaten, and I had no idea that lettuce needed shade although it’s doing quite well. My indeterminate tomatoes are caged but getting stuck coming up. My suddenly large canteloup plants are not caged and getting ready to overgrown my spinach. Any advise on how to correct my current crisis? Guessed * where to plant everything. Also like to add …. this is the largest garden I’ve ever had and am used to having very little space. I still like the idea of using the space to its utmost potential so the techniques for SFG could still apply. I also gave too much space to tiny peppers not knowing how small they would stay, a good friend gave me her extra seedlings. Feel free to combine both of my messages into one coherent thought before posting if you like :) thanks in advance for any input. Cindy

  3. Emily says:

    The fabric is great, but in the end it will degrade. The only problem I have with weeds coming in is grass, and it’s a pain! So the biggest thing you can do is REMOVE AND KILL all grass around the boxes. Other than that, I would not hesitate to puncture the fabric with stakes or cages.

  4. In my SFG, I have landscape fabric under the boxes. If I use stakes or the tomato cages (which I have from previous incarnations of my garden), I’ll go through that fabric at the bottom of my box. Won’t that be bad in terms of letting my soil out and perhaps weeds in? Or is it really not that much of a big deal?

  5. Emily says:

    I don’t recommend two trellises running parallel, because I find it’s important to get to the veggies from both sides. However you can position them to get to all sides, that’s it!

    Put tall plants on the north, unless you want the shade for things like lettuce.

  6. Donna Bentkowski says:

    I have a ?, Is it ok to put 2 trellises parallel to each other.I am wondering if i did this correctly last yr. ,because all of my cucumbers grew on both A and B trellises.I only got a few Pole Beans on the outside bottom trellis B, didn’t get any pea pods. Did get 2 small watermelons on the outside of trellis A.

    Note for the Watermelon plants (One plant /Square so i just put the seeds on one side of the trellis.
    Should one only put their TRELLISES SIDE BY SIDE, not back to back or parallel ?
    Cucumbers I Cucumber I Watermelon I Watermelon
    # I # I $ I $
    outside of trellis
    — — — — — — –Trellis A — — — — — — — — — —
    Cucumbers I Cucumbers I I
    # I #
    ___________________________________________________________________THIS IS THE TOP OF THE BOTTOM SQUARE

    Pole beans I Pole beans I I Pea pods I Pea pods
    X X X X I X X X X I O O O O lO O O O
    — — — — — — –Trellis B– — — — — — — — — —
    outside of trellis
    Pole beans I Pole-beans I Pea pods I Pea pods
    X X X X I X X X X I O O O O l O O O O

    Would appreciate any ones input. Which way r u suppose to put your taller plants on N ,S W or E?

  7. Emily says:

    This sounds like a great idea–if you do it this year, send me a picture!

  8. Wes Morrow says:

    Years ago I remember using a large mesh wire panel mounted horizontally (on stakes) above my tomato plants that worked really well. The plants (indeterminate) grew up through the openings,and then laid on top of the panel, with most of the tomatoes hanging under the panel. I’m ont sure, but I think the panel was only about 18″ above the ground. I think I am going to try this for this year’s crop. Any comments would be helpful.

  9. Godzeal says:

    I am now inspired to try vertical farming with tomatoes as i can now support them with trellis or cages.
    Thanks so much.

  10. Becky says:

    Thanks so much – this is exactly the information I needed!!

  11. Mark says:

    Thanks for all of the ideas on how to go vertical with the SFG. I’m debating on just using the cages I have for the tomatoes and perhaps try them out for the cucumbers and winter squash. I have a few different kinds that worked reasonably well for indeterminate tomatoes in my raised bed in the past. The cages are about 5′ tall and fairly wimpy. Thoughts?

  12. Emily says:

    Susan–I think that’s too many plants to put them on both sides. But, I’m also very into trying new things! One thing that’s good, peas will grow until July or so in my area, while tomatoes are just getting going. The peas will die by the time the tomatoes are large. So it might work.

  13. Susan says:

    Hi Emily, I love the information about the experimentation you’ve done, and your site is lovely! We just got a community garden plot and are following the method in Mel’s book, but because of this post I decided to try a couple tomatoes in cages as well. We want to grow a lot of things that need to be supported, and I had planned (according to the spacing in Mel’s book) to alternate tomato plants, pole beans, snap peas, watermelon, cucumber, and butternut squash — and to plant them on BOTH sides of the trellis.
    Will it be possible to support plants on both sides of a trellis?

    For example, in one of my beds I have the plan

    Tomato | Bean | Bean | Tomato
    ————-trellis———————–
    Peas | Peas | Peas | Peas

    Would this spacing work, or do the plants overwhelm the trellis even when planted on only one side (kinda my impression from your pics above!)? I was hoping the tomatoes and beans planted on the south side would shade peas a bit so that we could still harvest some peas even though we are late planting them in our climate (coastal Southern California).

  14. mickey says:

    I use 6 and a half foot half inch rebar spaced 8 ft apart to support my white half runner green beens. I pound the bars down with a one inch pipe nipple one foot long with a cap on it. The rebar hold a string nicely at six inch spacing which the beans seem to appreciate.The end bars are supported by 5 foot electric fence steel supports at a 45 degree angle which stay in place by tension. Works like a charm!

  15. Gloria Treis says:

    For all of my vertical supports, I am going to try the concrete remesh attached to metal posts (the same wire mesh that you use to make tomato cages). You can also get the concrete remesh in sheets (42″ by 7′) that are nice and flat for this purpose.

  16. Emily says:

    The methods I’ve tried and researched are outlined here.

  17. okocha inya says:

    I need materials on staking methods as regards fluted pumpkin.
    Thanks

  18. Emily says:

    Yes, that’s what I used it for. It worked great, but I didn’t feel I could fit as many plants as I can with the cage.

  19. doug hicken says:

    have you used a horizontal trellis with indeterminite tomatoes?

  20. Emily says:

    It probably won’t work to move it, though you can try. You’d want to dig wide and deep to not disturb the root, just take the whole plot of dirt and turn it. Or, just guide it the right direction. Don’t bend it, but turn it until it goes the way you want.

  21. Heather says:

    Hi Emily,
    First, congratulations on adopting!!! Being a mama is so wonderful! Secondly, thanks for this nice site, you have done an excellent job. Now for my question, I planted a ‘small sugar’ pumpkin in a hill that takes up 2 squares on the north end by the trellis. Only one of the seeds has come up, but looks beautiful. One problem though, it is growing the wrong direction! It is heading straight into the carrot squares. Do I dig it up and do a 180*? It looks to tender to bend.
    Thank you so much!

  22. Christi says:

    I’m not sure if this would help with your spaghetti squash, but I sent this link to my mother-in-law about her zucchini. They use an upside down tomato cage to keep them more contained. I thought that was an awesome idea!

    http://engineeredgarden.blogspot.com/2010/06/keeping-squash-from-getting-out-of.html

  23. Emily says:

    You might try a trellis, or a teepee support. I wouldn’t hesitate to stake them, just do it 6″ from the roots/stem. Unlike tomatoes or peppers, squash tend to have one large root, so as long as you’re a short distance from the stem, you’re not likely to damage it.

  24. Sarah says:

    This is my first year doing SFG. I have spagetti squash that is getting quite large and I don’t want it to crowd out the plants next to it. Can I use something to support the spagetti squash vertically? If so, what’s the best thing to use? Since the plants are already big, I don’t want to damage any roots by placing a stake.

  25. Emily says:

    Check out these images–a picture is worth a thousand words!

  26. Teresa says:

    Hey Kirk,
    What is the Florida weave method you mention for tomatoes?
    Thanks!
    Teresa

  27. Adele Milano says:

    Thank you for the video. I am a visual learner and it helped to see it.

  28. Emily says:

    If you read around the site (especially the comments) you’ll see that I’ve talked about this in a bunch of places. Yes, you can grow in 1 square foot–I did it (with a trellis) and was not satisfied with my harvest. To keep it manageable, you have to prune the tomatoes diligently. So I’ve tried giving them more and less space, with different types of support. Now I grow them in these tomatoes cages, in 4 squares each.

  29. Jane says:

    I just read the New Square Foot Gardening book (almost cover-to-cover) and am a little confused that you allot more than one square per tomato plant. It’s my understanding that each tomato plant can grow in one square foot…as long as you stagger similar plants. This is my first time to try my hand at square foot gardening, but to allot 8 or 9 squares for one tomato plant is actually giving each plant way more space than in the old traditional row-type garden, and counteracts the entire premise of a square foot garden. Have you tried to plant tomatoes in one square each and just not had good luck?

  30. Turk says:

    I’m using the Florida Weave method for my tomatoes in the SFG this year…. I’ll keep you posted how it works out. My beds are all 4×8, so we’ll have a couple “rows” to weave.

  31. Emily says:

    Dina–go to /color and figure out your color planting group, then sign up for my newsletter. It will give you a great idea of when to plant. You always want to adjust it–with common sense and advice from neighbors who have gardened in your area. But it’s a great starting point.

  32. Dina says:

    I am in Rigby Idaho…the ground is still frozen here and we are not really safe from the first frost until July 4th…so I am told… So, I am really confused about what I should plant and not plant…I grew up tending a garden, but really did not have a lot of experience gardening…I need and want a garden badly and have NO idea where to go for help…
    Thanks for this great site!!!

  33. emilyrhp says:

    Working on it! :)

  34. Jane says:

    Has anyone tried The Tomato Stake product? http://www.thetomatostake.com

    I think its wonderful and so easy… wish I would have thought of it first!

  35. Emily says:

    I’ve never grown squash horizontally, but I’ve heard you can do it sort of a mix of both–put remesh over your garden like a covered wagon, and grow them up and over. Plus, that will give shade to the plants underneath (lettuce) and extend the growing season for those.

    I’m not familiar with patty pan squash–if it grows like zucchini, there’s no way to really trellis it and you have to use 9 squares. If it vines like pumpkins or butternut squash, 2 squares is enough IF you trellis it.

  36. Courtney says:

    This is amazing information – thank you!

    I was mulling over summer squash and pattyy pan squash and how to grow them – maybe a mixture of both horizontally and vertically?

    If I do the horizontal method – are you recommending 1 plant per 9 squares? I am growing them from seed but when I’ve purchased squash seedlings from the nursery – it comes in a set of two – would it be the set of 2 per 9 squares?

    If I do it vertically – is it 3 squares per plant? I hope this is not a silly question. I am new to this – thank you!

  37. Emily says:

    You can save tons of space by trellising those indeterminate tomatoes, but you HAVE TO prune, which is hard to keep up on. And I did feel like I didn’t get as many tomatoes. If you only want them for fresh salsa and cooking, it was plenty. But my goal is “I want more tomatoes than I know what to do with.” That means, salsa, canning tomatoes, fresh and cooking. Last year I met that goal, but I also adopted a baby in the middle of the harvest, so I sort of ran out of time and energy for canning. :) Trial and error is a great way to learn–all my helpful hints can’t make up for experience!

  38. Jennifer says:

    Emily-Thanks for the advice. I just finished planting half of the tomatoes today. I might have to cover them to keep them safe for a couple more nights. We’ll see. All of my indeterminate tomatoes will grow on a trellis. You didn’t like doing that? It saves room. Maybe that will cut down on the # of tomatoes I have??? We’ll see. I did plant my 2 Romas in the center of 4 squares as well as the other determinates. I’ll give 1 square per indeterminte since they’ll be growing on a trellis. Does that sound right? The trellis will be on the North West side of my most northern box. Any suggestions of what to plant in the box to the south of each tomatoe ona trellis? I’m new to SFG so, trial and error here I come!

  39. Kylee says:

    I am starting my VERY first SFG this year.. and your blog/website has been JUST as helpful and informative as the SFG book! Thanks so much for all your time and effort you put into your posts to help the new people like me!
    This post especially is helpful as i staked my tomatoes/ cucumbers and peppers last year and it didnt work out so well! but this pvc trellis is AMAZING!

  40. Emily says:

    Jennifer–Okay, I think with determinate tomatoes like Celebrity, you can easily plan 4 squares per plant. That would allow 8 in one of your garden beds. For semi-determinate tomatoes like Roma, they need a little more room than that, more like 6 squares each. In your garden beds you could fit 5 Roma plants. They do need some support, but nothing huge–maybe a cage that is 3′ tall. If you used a horizontal trellis, I think you can fit more (4 squares each, fitting 8 per bed).

    For indeterminate plants like Better Boy and Early Girl, I typically recommend 8-9 squares, so you could put 3 or 5 per garden bed. These really need a lot of support! With good support like a horizontal trellis, you may only need 6 squares each, and would be able to grow 5 per bed. With the huge tomato cages you are supposed to be able to fit them in only 4 squares. I haven’t tried this yet (coming this year!), but I think even though you can fit 8 per bed I would not fill a whole bed with them. I might plant 4 per bed, and grow other veggies in between them. That way if they get big and bushy, they don’t grow into each other and you can still have good access to them.

    Hands down, you have enough space. If you only grew indeterminate and gave each plant 9 squares, you would fill 5 garden beds, and still have 3 to spare. Get ready to sweat it out in the fall, because you’re going to be canning until the cows come home! :)

  41. Jennifer says:

    I was planning on growing about 15 tomatoes plants. I have 8, 8’x4′ boxes. About 9 of them are inderminate. I was going to try to trellis them. Is it worth it? How much space do I need for the determinate types such as Roma? Do I need a 5ft tall cage for determinate types? They don’t get that big do they? I’m just trying to figure out my spacing for all those tomatoes to can yummy salsa this year. Oh, I live up here in Kaysville, UT.

  42. Summer Wilda says:

    Emily – I am looking for an easy way to ‘share’ some of your posts! Have you considered putting sharing buttons at the bottom of your posts or starting an FB page to which your posts are directly ‘posted’?
    Site looks great! congrats on everything!

  43. Emily says:

    I am going to make changes by adding more emitters and possibly more lines. I prefer to water every 6″ instead of every 12″.

  44. Cameron says:

    Hi Emily,

    This is completely unrelated to the post, but I wanted to follow up on your drip irrigation post from several months ago to see if you’ve made any changes. Your plants look like they’re doing quite well, so they must be getting enough water, at least :)

    Thanks!