Trellises come in many forms, from elaborate and decorative plant structures to simple, functional sticks or wires. Made from many types of materials, trellises incorporate a multitude of garden styles. Trellises vary in their design greatly. While some use strict geometric precision, interwoven at exactly measured points, others are thatched together in seemingly random ways. The most important features of a trellis, however, include its strength and ability to support your plants.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word "trellis" dates back to the 14th century, having evolved from Latin to French and into Middle English language. Trellises have been used for centuries in formal gardens and in farms around the globe and are an essential part of the care and maintenance of a vegetable garden. The chief importance of a trellis is to support and lift vines, keeping fragile fruits or flowers off the ground. Trellises are used in small gardens as a means to grow vertically so as to conserve ground space. Gardeners in formal gardens use trellises to train plants into elaborate designs.
Trellises for Function
The simple function of a trellis is to support plants. Many vegetable gardens incorporate trellises into their designs to keep legumes, peas, cucumbers and a variety of other vine vegetables off the ground. Keeping the blooming fruits and vegetables from sitting in the dirt helps keep them free of disease and many pests. These trellises also allow for more growing room in the vegetable garden since they allow the plants to grow upright instead of taking up valuable ground space.
The most common type of free-standing trellis is an arch. Many gardeners enjoy using latticework to form an archway to mark the entrance to their gardens. These arches are ideal for growing vine plants such as clematis, wisteria or ivy. These plants grow rapidly and intertwine with the woven trellis design, creating a beautiful and inviting entryway for a traditional garden.
A wall trellis is used to train plants to grow up the side of a wall. This kind of trellis usage adds dramatic beauty to a variety of home styles. The visual effect can vary drastically depending on the style of trellis and the plants used. Thickly growing plants are used on trellises to cover and decorate the sides of buildings, nearly hiding the structures underneath or, if the gardener chooses to use long, woody plants he can train them along strictly confined areas for a more simplistic look.
Trellises are very commonly and inexpensively made out of wooden lattice strips or purchased from garden stores as plastic, preformed pieces. Trellises can also be framed using common household materials such as PVC pipe or strips of wood. Fishing line can be woven onto the framework to make an inexpensive trellis for beans or cucumbers in a garden. If bamboo is plentiful, long bamboo poles can be woven together to form latticework and can be tied together at the crossing points with rope for a more natural trellis effect---and can also be accomplished with long, thin branches.
Plants That Require Trellis Support
Trellises are recommended for plants that are classified as "twining" such as Honeysuckle and Wisteria; "clinging" such as Virginia Creeper or Boston Ivy; or vines with "tendrils" such as Grapes or Clematis. Climbing roses require trellises to grow to their full potential, and many vegetables also benefit from being trellised. These vegetables include beans and legumes, peas, cucumbers, melons, kiwis and tomatoes. Larger curcubits (squash, melons or pumpkins) will require extra support in the form of small nets to keep fruits from pulling and breaking the vines as they grow heavier.
Choosing the Right Trellis
When choosing a trellis, considerations should be made for the type of plant grown, the desired design of the garden and the materials used. Know your plants and how they grow to best determine your trellising needs. Grape vines are dense, woody and heavy, so if a trellis system is purchased for them, it would need to be sturdier than a trellis used for light, flowering vines such as clematis. If you are growing a perennial plant that you expect to keep on a trellis for many years to come, be sure to choose materials that will withstand the temperatures and conditions that it will be exposed to. Trellises that are used for annual plants can be less expensive and less durable, if desired.