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Vertical gardening has become a popular option for gardeners that are working with limited space because it gives you the option to grow up instead of out. And the best way to garden vertically is with a trellis structure. But, it can be hard to figure out exactly where to put a trellis once you have one.
The best direction to face your trellising structures is from north to south. This way your plants have access to plenty of sunlight for most of the day without shading out other parts of the garden.
Read on to learn what the best orientation is for several different trellis types and why it’s important to get your trellis orientation right. As a bonus, I’ll talk about what side of the trellis you should plant your crops on.
What plants need trellising?
Several common vegetable crops can greatly benefit from growing on a trellis. Growing plants vertically can provide extra support to plants bearing heavy fruits. They can also keep fruits from rotting too quickly due to being on the ground for too long.
Trellising structures provide good airflow between plants which helps prevent the spread of diseases. Vertical gardening is a great option for those working with smaller gardening spaces. If you don’t have a lot of ground space to work with, then go up!
The convenience of space saving and harvesting makes trellising one of my preferred methods for growing certain plants.
The best plants to grow on a trellis are tomatoes, beans, and anything in the cucurbit family. Cucurbits include cucumbers, melons, and all kinds of squash. Because these plants are vining or, in the case of many tomato varieties, indeterminate, trellising them is the best way to ensure maximum fruit production.
We have a whole article on the best plants for vertical gardening that you can check out.
Sometimes, plants need a little bit of help to find and attach to trellis structures. This is called training. Some plants can be trained with twine to hold them in place close to the trellis system. Others just need guidance by hand.
For example, tomato plants may need to be twined to their stakes or cages to help hold up their heavy and brushy branches. Alternatively, as cucumber plants get longer, their stems can be carefully wrapped around the trellis to help them grow upwards.
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Why is trellis orientation important?
Orienting your trellis correctly is crucial to the growth of your plants because they need as much sunlight as they can get. Because trellis structures are tall, they create shadows in your garden. As you probably already know, plants that spend too much time in the shade will have very stunted growth.
For most trellis systems, you’ll want to orient them north to south as this will cut down on the amount of shadow the structures create. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west so orienting long trellis structures north to south will also ensure that individual plants are getting sunlight for most of the day.
Orientations for different types of trellis systems
Depending on what trellis structure you use will determine what orientation is best. Here are some of the most common trellising structures for gardens and what way you should orient them.
Cages are most commonly used around tomatoes but can also be used to grow beans. I’ve trellised beans by using square cages and planting the seeds at each corner of the cage. Then, when the beans sprout, they almost immediately latch onto the cage and start growing up.
Cages are so easy when it comes to orientation because they don’t need to be oriented. If you’re only placing one or two cages in your garden, then you can place them anywhere you’d like that gets ample sunlight.
But, if you plan on having a long row of cages, it’s best to orient these cages north to south. Especially if the cages are being used on tomatoes. Indeterminate tomato varieties can get quite large and bushy and will create large patches of shade in your garden if not oriented correctly.
Teepee or A-frame trellis
Teepee and A-frame trellis systems can be oriented in any direction depending on how your garden is set up. A north-south orientation is great for maximizing sunlight access and minimizing shade patches, as we’ve previously discussed.
But, an east-west orientation can give you enough shady spots to grow shade-tolerant plants or grow cool season crops, like brassicas, in the hotter summer months.
A-frame trellis structures are a little more permanent than teepee trellises which can be moved as needed. If you find that your trellis orientation didn’t work well one year, you always have the option to move it to a better location.
The grid trellis structure is the one that I prefer and am most familiar with. It’s best for cucurbits and beans but will work with tomatoes too.
There are a couple of different types of materials you can use to set up a grid trellis like metal fencing type material or even wood. But I’ve found that the easiest way is to attach hortonova netting to a row of T-posts. I like this method because it makes for quick and easy clean-up come fall.
Again, the best way to orient the rows of your trellis is north to south. But if you’re looking to have more than one row of grid trellis in your garden, you’ll need to make sure that you leave enough space between the rows.
Generally, you’ll want your rows to be at least two feet apart. This will give you enough space to walk between your trellises but also create enough space between plants that one row isn’t shading out the other.
Of course, there is always the option to use other plants as trellises themselves. There is an indigenous gardening practice called The Three Sisters that uses corn, beans, and squash grown in tandem with one another in a way that benefits all three.
The squash provides ground cover to keep the soil cool and suppress the weeds. The beans fix nitrogen back into the soil. And, the corn provides a trellis structure for the beans to grow up with no harm done to the corn stalks.
To successfully use corn as a trellis, they need to be planted first so that they’re tall enough to actually work as a trellis. If you plant corn at the same time as your beans, the beans might grow quicker than the corn!
Due to its height, you should plant corn on the northern or eastern side of your garden. This way, the other plants in your garden have access to plenty of sunlight without getting shaded out by the tall corn.
You can check out this article for a complete guide on growing corn in the garden.
What side of the trellis should you plant on?
The trellis structure you use in your garden will help to determine what side of the trellis to plant your crops. For example, cages are easy because the plants usually go right in the middle of the cage.
In the case of the teepee and A-frame trellis, you’ll want to plant several seeds around the base of the poles or posts that you used to build the structure. That way, the vining plants can grow directly up the poles.
But, with the grid trellis, it’s best to alternate with the planting on either side so as not to let one side of the trellis get too heavy and start to lean or even fall.
Hopefully, this article has helped you determine the best way to orient the trellises in your garden. Trellises can be so fun and, depending on what you choose to grow, add some color and coziness to your garden space.
In general, try to orient your trellises so that they’re facing north to south. This way, everything in your garden gets ample sunlight. And don’t be afraid to try out several different types of trellises to figure out what you like the best.
Check out these must-have gardening products
You don’t need much to start gardening, but some tools and products will make a difference in how comfortable and effective gardening can be for you. Here are my favorites:
- Garden Trowel. A good garden trowel will last you many years. I love how sturdy this hand trowel from WOLF-Garten is, the metal doesn’t bend and it has a nice grip.
- Trimming Scissors. I use them for delicate pruning and harvesting all summer long, and they’re super handy. These Teflon Trimming Scissors are extra nice because they don’t rust as easily.
- Dutch Hoe. Dutch hoes may seem old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like a quick sweep through the topsoil to get rid of small weeds – no bending required. I love WOLF-Garten’s selection: this dutch hoe coupled with their universal handle.
- Grow Lights. These grow lights from Mars Hydro are super strong, yet dimmable, so they fit every stage of growth. They don’t put out too much heat and are very economical.
- Seedling Trays. There’s an art to choosing the best size for seedling trays so that it holds the perfect amount of water and gives the roots enough room to grow. These germination plugs are perfect when coupled with 1020 bottom trays.
- Liquid Fertilizer. You’ll need to feed your plants from the seedling stage, all the way to fruiting. This organic fish & seaweed blend is a very versatile option. Use it half-strength for young plants and full-strength for established plants.
Browse our list of tools, fertilizers & pesticides, indoor growing products and seed shop recommendations – we hope you find our selection useful and it saves you some time!