In addition to having a master's degree in sustainable development, Susette works in water conservation and sustainable landscaping.
There are many ways to grow healthy plants outside of the typical garden, including on balconies. Because most balconies have limited space, trellises are a godsend. With a trellis, you can grow up instead of out, whether you’re growing houseplants in the shade or garden plants in the sun. They save a lot of space.
For several years I worked in water conservation, conducting water audits and showing hotel managers how to save water in landscaping. Most of those hotels had balconies with plants, some with trellises, which is how I discovered their value. With my love of houseplants and beautiful balconies, it’s a tidbit I saved for later use.
This article will describe the benefits of having a trellis on your balcony and show you how to build three simple ones. But first, let's look a little more at what trellises are and why you might want one on your balcony.
What Is a Trellis?
A trellis consists of two vertical supports with wood or mesh mounted between them to provide support for climbing plants. The center can be made of wood slats, bamboo rods, metal or plastic mesh, or even string—whatever is strong enough for the particular plants of your choice to grow up.
A trellis is generally unsupported, so it needs to be attached to a wall with bolts or nails, or a balcony balustrade (railing) with twisted wire.
Can You Put a Trellis on a Balcony?
Any trellis that’s relatively flat and has been stabilized (to resist wind) is great for a balcony. You can place and/or fasten it in front of your balcony railing or against one or both walls, whichever works best for you. Here are possible objectives for each placement to help you decide.
Reasons to Put a Trellis on Your Balcony Railing:
- Provide a living screen for privacy
- Soften the sound of traffic or other loud noise
- Train a pretty climber to cascade over the outside of the balcony
- Take best advantage of the sun for your plants
- Help keep dust off the balcony
Reasons to Put a Trellis Against a Wall:
- To soften the concrete wall and give it life
- To protect plants from wind or too hot sun
- To balance out the long, narrow look of a balcony
- To have beauty on the balcony without blocking the view
Trellises are primarily for climbing plants to grow up, but different types of climbers need different types of trellises. Climbers that are woody—like climbing roses or wisteria—do well with sturdy, wood-slat trellises. Climbers that are winders (where the stem winds around a support)—like beans, morning glory, honeysuckle—do well with the bamboo fencing. Climbers with tendrils—like sweet pea or passion flower—do better with bamboo or chicken-wire trellises, since their tendrils need something to curl around that’s less than 1” thick.
There are other types of trellises as well, but these types are well suited for balconies since they don’t take up much room. Therefore, these are the three I will show you how to build.
3 Easy DIY Trellises
Here are three simple trellises you can build in a few hours. Note that costs listed are for materials only—I’m assuming you already have the tools. Note also that all of these trellises will cost less if you already have materials sitting around.
- Wood-slat trellis ($50)
- Bamboo-flex trellis ($60)
- Chicken-wire trellis ($100)
I will also include videos for building more complicated ones, so you have an idea of the possibilities, and a link to a wood trellis kit with a planter box that you can buy for around $100 if you’d rather not build one yourself.
1. How to Build a Cheap Wood Trellis for a Small Balcony
This type of trellis is sturdy enough to grow your more woody climbers, like climbing roses. The wood to make one is easy to come by. Either you or a friend may have some on hand already, or you can buy some at your local hardware store (like Lowe’s or Home Depot). If you ask, the store will cut boards to the length you want.
Here is what you’ll need to build a simple wood trellis.
- Wood lattice board, 4ft x 8ft
- 2 each, 2”x4”x96” lumber for the sides
- Staple gun with staples
- Measuring tape
Wood Lattice Board ($50)
- Place the two pieces of lumber 3.5 feet apart. Make sure the width is even, top to bottom.
- Lay the lattice over them, with a few inches overlapping each board. Make sure the edges are straight. The finished width should be about 4.5 ft wide.
- Staple-gun both edges of the lattice to the two boards, top to bottom.
- Stand your trellis up and move it into position against the wall.
- Fasten the boards to the wall or place heavy potted plants in front of each one to hold it up.
- Position your climbing plants in front of the trellis and start them winding through the slats, or tie their stems to the slats and let them wind themselves up.
2. How to Build a Bamboo Flex Trellis for a Small Balcony
This kind of trellis is great for medium-sized climbers, like honeysuckle or morning glory. You can adjust the size of the trellis wider or narrower to fit your wall, or to give more room for additional potted plants next to it now or in the future.
When you buy a flex trellis or fencing, you’ll notice the edges are left open. That’s so they can move as you narrow or expand the width of the trellis.
- Bamboo flex fence, 72” high
- 2 each, 2”x4”x72” wood for the sides
- Thin rope or wire to use as ties
- Scissors to cut the rope, wire cutters for the wire
Bamboo Flex Fence ($60)
- Cut several pieces of rope or wire at least 18” in length.
- Open the flex fence and position the edges against the side boards.
- Run one tie rope around the side plank and through one of the bamboo pieces where they join. Pull it tight and knot it.
- Tie all of your other ropes the same way on both sides. You should be able to lift both sides and have the bamboo fence come up with it.
- Now lift the trellis in place (you might need another person) and pull it as wide as you need to fit your balcony wall. Note that the wider you pull it, the shorter it gets in height.
- Fasten each board to the wall where you want it, or place a heavy planter in front to hold it in place.
- Position your climbers and start them winding up the trellis.
3. How to Build a Chicken Wire Trellis for a Small Balcony
A chicken-wire trellis is for more delicate vines. It’s also a little more expensive and a little harder to build than the others, though still fairly easy in itself.
Chicken wire netting comes in rolls, so you will have to buy more than what you need for just one trellis. You can use it for many other things, though—like another trellis, as a wraparound guard for baby trees or bushes, to protect a food garden, to build a small chicken coop, any of which helps reduce the cost.
- Roll of ½” wire fencing, 4x25 ft.
- 2 each, 2”x4”x72” wood planks for the sides
- 2 each, 0.5”x4”x48” wood planks for top and bottom
- Hammer and 1–1.5” nails
- 4 each, 2–3” nails with big heads
- Wire cutters
- Staple gun
Chicken wire trellis ($100):
- Lay your wood boards 40” apart, spaced evenly top to bottom. Overlap the top and bottom planks, even with the outside of the boards.
- Nail the plank ends to the sides. You should now have a big rectangle.
- Now partially hammer in one long nail on each corner.
- Open the chicken wire bundle and lay it out over the boards, hooking it over the long nails to hold it in place. Cut to size, using the wire cutters. The chicken wire should come just inside the outside edge of each board (to prevent scratching).
- Make sure the netting is tight and even. Using the staple gun, staple the netting to the boards and planks on all four sides. Pull out the long nails.
- Stand the trellis against the wall and fasten in place.
- Place your planter box in front, fill with soil, and plant your seeds.
Simple Twine Trellis
In India, balcony gardens are very popular. This video shows how to create a simple trellis for your vines out of string.
This video shows how to build a planter-box trellis from a kit. (A planter-box trellis is similar to a raised-bed trellis.) The trellis you buy in a kit is necessarily a flex trellis, rather than a solid one, so it can be sent through the mail.
DIY Planter-Box Trellis—Video
Here are excellent instructions for building a nice trellis from scratch. This one is for a patio, but you can use the same trellis for a balcony. Materials came from Home Depot.
Purchased Wire Trellis
How to Fasten a Trellis to a Balcony Wall
The way in which you fasten the trellis will depend on the type of wall you have. Most balconies these days are made of masonry. Older balconies were made of wood. Some are extrusions from the building, supported by strong brackets beneath or steel bars above that "hang" the balcony on the wall. Others are the outside portion of an apartment or condo whose windows are recessed into the building and whose roof is supported by columns.
Some have walls and others don't. Some walls are made of masonry, some of wood, very few of plastic siding. And some don't have walls at all, just a balustrade or glass enclosure. Trellises for balconies that just have a balustrade can be easily fastened to a side or front railing with pieces of twisted wire.
To fasten the trellis to a masonry wall, you will need to mark where you want it fastened, then use a masonry bit to drill holes, and insert steel screws to attach the trellis. You can either drill a hole through each side beam of the trellis or attach a strap to the wall, which will then wrap around the trellis sides to hold it up.
If you have walls made of wood, just use a regular wood drill bit, drilling in the places you've marked, then fasten the trellis in the same way—either directly with wood screws, or by attaching a furniture strap to the wall. Furniture straps actually work best, since they offer a little space between the wall and trellis for plants to climb.
How to Attach a Trellis to the Wall Without Drilling
The best way to attach a trellis to a wall without drilling is to hold it up with something else or tie it to something else. Some people have outside lights on their balcony walls. You could tie the trellis to that or to any other wall fixture you have.
An alternative is to hold it up with heavy pots in front of each side—planted with a tree or tall bush. The pot will hold the trellis in place at the bottom, and the tree will hold the trellis in place at the top.
The pots would need to be heavy, so make sure they’re made of ceramic or clay. Fill them with a mix of potting soil and a heavier garden soil. The tree should be a woody one, not the lighter fern type, and not too broad. A dwarf citrus, Japanese maple, or sweet bay tree would be great for this.
If one trellis side is next to the balcony railing, you can tie it onto the balustrade with wire and just put a potted tree on the other side.
Or you could move the entire trellis to the balustrade and avoid the wall altogether. In that case, you’d fasten it to the railing with wire at the top and bottom of the railing on both sides (rope will fray and rot). That placement will make you feel more enclosed, but it will also make your balcony look more beautiful from the ground when your plants grow through and the flowers start cascading down. Plus you might like the privacy.
What Plants Are Good for a Trellis?
Lastly, I’ve mentioned a few plants above that like to climb on trellises. Here are 15 plants with their botanical names and links, so you can look up their growing conditions and history. There are many more, of course, but these are the more common ones. Good luck and enjoy the project!
- Nasturtium (edible)—Tropaeolum majus
- Passion flower (fruit edible)—Passiflora edulis
- Clematis—Clematis lanuginosa
- Morning glory—Ipomoea purpurea
- Bougainvillea—Bougainvillea glabra
- Jasmine—Jasminum officinale
- Honeysuckle—Lonicera japonica
- Climbing hydrangea—Hydrangea anomala
- Wisteria—Wisteria frutescens
- Sweet pea (edible)—Lathyrus latifolius
- Climbing rose—Rosa canina
- Pole beans (edible)—Phaseolus coccineus
- Cucumbers (edible)—Cucumis sativus
- Grapevine (edible)—Vitis labrusca
- Black-eyed Susan—Thunbergia alata
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Sustainable Sue