How to Build a Simple Trellis for a Tomato and Vegetable Garden
A Simple Trellis
Supporting unwieldy plants in your vegetable garden can be a challenge, especially for tomato plants. There are a myriad of options when it comes to trellises. Your search for a sturdy, inexpensive option is over. You can make your own tomato trellis using supplies from a home improvement store. Here is a list of supplies and instructions for how to build your own trellis for $20 or less. When plants are healthy, they produce a lot of fruit and get quite tall. For certain types of tomato plants, tomato cages and spiral plant supports just don't cut it. To give your tomato plants proper support, maximize sun exposure, reduce plant disease and keep fruit off the soil, a tomato trellis is a great option.
Supporting Tomato Plants and Other Heavy Produce
Of course, depending on the variety of tomato you are trying to grow, it may or may not be a challenge to support the plant. Take the Roma tomato as an example. They grow to be quite bushy. It becomes difficult to support the multiple stems that grow from the one plant. The bush ends up shading itself and other plants, there is less air flow around the plant to help it dry between rains, and the fruit can weigh branches down to the ground. In the end, you have more disease, more insect problems, and if diseased you have less fruit. Depending on your climate, a sturdy trellis might be the only successful way to grow tomatoes.
Note: No one method is right for everyone. Some prefer to grow tomatoes unsupported and are successful at getting healthy fruit. It may be less frustrating to support the tomatoes in a more organized way.
Tomatoes Without Trellis
Trellises and Square Foot Gardening
Roma tomatoes are an indeterminate variety which means they will continue growing taller and producing new fruit all season, as opposed to determinate varieties that set fruit at one time once the plant has reached it's full height.
For Roma tomatoes, one way to manage them is to prune the 'suckers' (or new side shoots) as the plant grows so that the plant's energy goes into one stem, instead of many. That one stem can be wound up the trellis for support. In theory, even though this means less stems producing fruit, that one stem has more energy, growing taller and producing more efficiently with more sun and less disease. Even if it means less fruit per plant, there is now more space to grow, and you can have more plants in the area where one bushy plant would have grown.
You might decide to keep more than one stem per plant. If you look at each season of gardening with an experimental outlook, then you will learn what method works best for you and your climate.
If you've decided to use the square foot gardening method for tomatoes and are going to build a trellis for support, note that not all varieties will respond equally to being pruned. Within the Roma family, I've had one heirloom variety perform beautifully next to another Roma variety whose growth was stunted. If you've tried letting the plants grow freely and were unhappy with the results, then you may find that using a square foot gardening method with a trellis for support will result in plants that have a better chance at being healthy and producing more fruit.
List of Supplies to Build a Simple Trellis
The total cost of supplies listed below is about $20; available at your local home improvement store.
- 1/2 inch electrical conduit (electrical piping system sometimes referred to as thin-wall or EMT - Electrical Metallic Tubing) - This is an inexpensive and sturdy pipe that is lightly coated to stand up against rusting. Purchase enough to make the top (length of the garden) and two sides (2 times the desired height). In this case 7 feet top length plus 2 lengths of 6.5 feet for the sides. This is quite tall, but then the option is there to make it shorter if needed.
- Elbow brackets to connect tubing at each corner - 2 brackets
- 1/2 inch rebar 36 - 48 inch length depending on your preference- 2 rebar
- U brackets to fasten tubing to raised bed on each end (if applicable) - 2 brackets
- Screws to attach U brackets to raised bed - 4 screws
- Nylon trellis netting - inexpensive to buy premade for a trellis, usually sold in 5 ft height by various lengths. In this case a 8 ft x 5 ft size.
Instructions for Building Your Own Trellis
- On the outside edge of the garden, hammer half of the rebar length into the ground. About 18-24 inches should remain above ground. Be mindful of underground utilities.
- Cut the electrical conduit to desired lengths. In this case, to rise 6 ft above the 6 inches of soil in a raised bed, the side supports should be cut to 6.5 ft. The top length should equal the distance between the two rebar, in this case, just over 7 ft. The pipes can be cut with a dremel fitted with an attachment appropriate for cutting metal. You might find that the home improvement store will cut them for you. Note that if you are using 5 ft high trellis netting there will be about a foot between the top of the soil and bottom of the netting. If you want to begin stringing the plants on the trellis earlier, you will want either shorter pipe lengths or longer trellis netting.
- Lay the three metal pipes on the ground and connect them with the two elbow brackets, forming the frame for the trellis.
- Tie the nylon trellis netting to the top of the trellis before lifting it into place over the garden.
- Have someone help you fit the sides of the trellis over the rebar. Slide the pipes down to be level with the ground.
- If using a raised bed, secure the pipe to the side of the bed with a U bracket. This will help hold the pipe straight.
- Tie off the sides of the nylon netting so that the nylon is pulled tight. Cut extra netting off.
Maintaining the Trellis
Although the electrical conduit is coated to protect against rust, the protective layer can wear away over time. Monitor and spot treat for rust as needed. Using a design where the conduits are attached using elbow brackets, the trellis can easily be disassembled and stored in the off season, prolonging the life of the trellis.
DIY Tomato and Vegetable Trellises
A trellis made of metal piping is both inexpensive and effective for a tomato and vegetable trellis. Use this list of supplies and instructions to build a DIY trellis for your garden. Using square foot gardening in conjunction with a sturdy trellis will help keep the garden neat. A trellis gives plants more sun exposure, more air flow and less contact with soil. These factors can help lower incidence of disease and insects, increasing overall yield.