I really like making the most out of my garden footprint. I have a decent-sized yard for a suburban lot, but I want to be able to get as much out of it as possible. This means...growing upward!
If you read my previous post on trellising, you'll know that I'm a huge fan. We have a vairety of trellises for growing food. We even have a just-for-fun conical trellis in the lawn for the kids’ ‘clubhouse.’
Every square foot counts, especially when you are growing your food on a standard suburban lot. What better way to maximize your growing area than to grow upward! Not to mention, growing vertically can add another layer of interest and greenery to your garden.
You’ll first need to make sure that your soil, light/exposure, and trellising structures are suitable for growing your desired vegetables. Once you’ve ticked those boxes, you’re good to go! You might consider adding plant clips or ties to the climbing vines to help them out or encourage directional growth, but this might not be necessary.
Through my experience and research, I've come across lots of options for vertical gardening:
Peas; shell, snap, snow varieties. There is a great range of height between these varieties, so check the packet first. Alderman peas can grow up to 9 feet tall, while other varieties are so short, they don’t even require staking! Be sure to check if the variety you select is pea enation resistant if planting later in the season.
Beans; pole. It’s said that pole beans have better flavour than their bush bean cousins. I am taste testing this statement in my garden this year. I prefer pole beans for their easy picking. My favourite variety is Purple Peacock. The vines and leaves have a purplish hue, the flowers are a beautiful lilac colour, and the beans themselves are a rich purple. They make for stunning plants in the garden as well as being delectable. When cooked, they turn bright green.
Scarlet runner beans (pictured above). I love these just for their beauty alone. They are also magnets for bees and hummingbirds. After the first year of growing scarlet runner beans, I learned that some people actually eat the small tender beans on the vine. I look forward to trying this out later in the season! Even if you don’t eat them, these climbing vines are as sturdy as they are beautiful. The prolific bright red flowers attract hummingbirds and bees from all directions. I add these to my decorative trellises, my kids’ bean tent, and the pots surrounding our pergola. These fast, tall climbers are a wonderful multipurpose plant. They might even be perennial in your hardiness zone which is a bonus!
Buttercup squash. This is a new vegetable that I am trying in my garden this year. Initially, I was skeptical that I would like it enough to go through the trouble of growing it so I bought one at our local produce store. It was great, so I planted three! The variety that I chose is called First Taste Kabocha which is suitable for trellising and it has a long storage life. Apparently it is also sweet and provides multiple harvests from summer until fall. As of right now, my happiest and most vigorously growing plant is in a large container.
Pumpkin. Typically, you think of both edible and decorative pumpkins as being either too large for trellising or not suitable for edible landscaping. This is where mini-pumpkins (Jack Be Little, in particular) come in handy. Not only do they add a splash of colour to the garden and provide you with some seasonal decor, but they are also prolific and most certainly edible. Too cute! I can’t wait for them to be ready.
Tomato. If you are reading this post, you probably already know that different tomato varieties have different growing habits; either vine (indeterminate) or bush (determinate). If you want to grow vertically, plop some indeterminate tomatoes into your garden. They don't have grasping tendrils though, so you’ll need to give them a hand by securing them to your trellis structure. You might also want to read up on tomato pruning. My tomatoes are typically prolific producers to the point where I just can’t keep up with them.
Cucumber. Hands down, cucumbers are my favourite thing to eat fresh in the summer. I think i have at least nine plants in four different varieties (last count), and there’s still time to add more if i need to! It’s late May and I already have a five inch cuke that I’m eyeballing. Cucumbers are heavy vines and heavy feeders. They need a bit of space and a solid trellis. I’ve grown them at both an angle and completely vertical and they seem agreeable to either. Their tendrils will help them to climb but you might choose to fasten them with ties or clips for extra support.
Grapes. This is another new endeavour for me this year. Grapes are fast growing, hardy, and, of course, delicious! I am growing both green and red table grapes. I have high expectations though I’m sure that I’ll probably have to chase away critters who will try to get them first. If you choose to grow them in the ground, be prepared to try to keep them in check as their bigot can translate to invasiveness.
Broad beans. I love broad beans but I find that they’re a lot of work. They don’t have climbing tendrils, so you will need to fasten them. I also find they are prone to aphids, rust, and fungal disease. Maybe you will have better luck with them than me. Here I am trying them yet again, so they must be worth it! There nothing like fresh broad beans; they’re so creamy and tender when cooked just right.
You might also consider:
Kiwi vine. There are people who are head over heels for these little gems. One caveat: some require both a male and female plant in order to produce fruit and some are self-fertile, so choose carefully.
Hops. Why not? It is an interesting climbing vine (well, bine actually) with visual interest and vigorous growth. It’s also a perennial. This would be a fun plant to consider, especially for a hobby brewer.
Melon. Melons are heavy in comparison to most other climbing fruits and veggies. If you decide that you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need a very sturdy trellis and melon hammocks/slings (yes, this is a “thing”).
You may have some degree of wiggle room on meeting all the perfect conditions for growing for these plants. I once heard a saying that “if you don’t plant it, it won’t grow.” That is to say, gardening is a learning experience through trial and error. If it doesn’t work, oh well! You’ve learned something for next time. You won’t have any success if you don’t try it at all.
Now that you’ve decided on which vegetables you want to grow, you’ll need to make your trellis.
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A zone 8a gardening enthusiast!