Living in today’s world, it’s safe to say we can all benefit from a little extra support from our family and friends. In the world of nature, there are numerous climbing plants that need support as well. In our gardens, that support comes in the form of a structure known as the trellis.

What is a trellis?

It is a solid vertical structure commonly found in gardens that supports and displays the many varieties of climbing plants including flowers, vegetables, fruits and climbing vines. Trellises come in a variety of shapes and sizes providing gardeners with an opportunity to garden not just within the horizontal landscape, but to expand into vertical dimension – adding height and visual interest.

Types of garden trellises

Before choosing the right trellis for your garden, note the different types of trellises to get your garden landscape literally “off the ground.”

Trellises can be constructed from a variety of different materials including wood lattice, wrought iron, wire fencing, bamboo, vinyl plastic, twine and heavy-gauge livestock panels, to name a few. Some may be purchased online or at your local garden centers.

Some of the more popular trellis designs include:

  • Fan trellises – Have ribs that flare out in the shape of a fan to encourage horizontal as well as vertical growth providing support for perennial vines and different varieties of climbing roses.
  • Arch trellises – Are usually made of metal or wood, are defined by their two flat sides with a rounded or arched top joining them. These can add a distinctive look as a stand-alone feature in your garden with or without the use of trellising plants like climbing roses, clematis and fragrant jasmines.
  • Grid trellises – Are made of either wood lattice or metal livestock panels and often used to define a space, provide privacy or to decorate a barren wall or fence. Varieties of climbing vegetable plants with tendrils including cucumbers, peas and squash, are always looking to grab onto something making the grid trellis a good choice for supporting these plants.
  • A-frame or ladder trellises – Made with rot-resistant wood or strong metal, the A-frame trellis looks most at home in a vegetable garden where beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and peas will happily climb the rungs.
  • Obelisk trellises – Free-standing, pyramid-shaped structure typically 3 to 4 feet in height, this three-dimensional trellis is meant to be viewed and appreciated from every side and can serve as a dramatic focal point in your garden.

How do plants climb?

When figuring out how to match climbing plants with the right kind of trellis support, you must first understand the different methods in which climbing plants climb. Some wrap, some adhere, and some curl based on their anatomy.

  • Tendrils – Skinny, wiry structures along the plant’s stem and leaf that actually reach around in the air until they come in contact with something they can grab.
  • Twiners – Come in two varieties, twining leaves and twining stems. Twining leaves twist around thin supports such as wires or string. Twining stems twist around whatever they touch.
  • Scramblers – Inclusive of climbing roses and bougainvilleas, they have long, flexible stems resembling vines; however, they are unable to climb without some help. These plants climb with the help of thorns that grip neighboring stems.
  • Climbing stem roots – Like with the English ivy, clinging stem roots attach to their surroundings. Stem roots grow as a stout cluster and attach to almost any surface.

Choosing the right trellis for your garden

Here are some tips on choosing the right trellis for your landscape.

  • Be sure that materials used are weatherproof such as galvanized or powder-coated steel, UV resistant vinyl or painted or treated wood.
  • Decide if you want your trellis – as well as the climbing plant it’s going to support – to be a decorative feature. Decorative trellises can serve as an interesting focal point such as marking an entryway into the garden using an obelisk trellis or screening views or delineating boundaries using fences or grid trellises.
  • Always match the trellis to the type of climbing plant you want to grow. Almost any trellis design will support delicate climbing vines like clematis, mandevilla, morning glories and sweet potato vines. However, large more aggressive vines like wisteria, bougainvillea and Virginia creeper can be very heavy causing a light-weight trellis to sag and can even push and pull wood joints apart as it grows.

Using trellises can be an easy and generally inexpensive way to enhance the design and beauty in your garden landscape, so get busy and lend a hand in providing the support our climbing plants need.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at

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