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Katy G. of Santa Rosa asks: I have a very small yard, and would like to grow a few vegetables. Can you give me some tips on growing vegetables on trellis, etc, called ‘vertical’ gardening?

Answer: By using vertical gardening techniques to grow crops upright, you can take advantage of every square inch of your garden. Vegetables, such as beans and cucumbers yield twice as much, compared to growing on the ground.

Vining plants use a variety of methods to cling to their support, like curling tendrils, which are produced by beans, cucumbers, and peas. They will twist around whatever is next to them.. Tendrils cling to horizontal and vertical parts of a trellis, so netting woven from biodegradable string attached to posts often works well. Twining stems spiral around their support, growing steadily upward until they reach the top, and then turn and continue to grow downwards — like pole beans, Malabar spinach, and yard long beans.

Twining stems don’t travel along horizontal lines, so they would do best with trellises made of poles or a vertical fence.

A truly sturdy, upright garden trellis must be anchored by T-stakes or vertical 4-by-4 posts, sunk 12-18 inches deep. The most versatile trellises are about 8 feet wide, stand 4 to 5 feet high, and are made of woven wire fencing or a livestock panel attached to two posts. Keep 4 to 6 inches of clearance between the bottom of the fencing and the ground to make this area easier to weed and cultivate.

The most successful garden trellises increase the leaf-to-fruit ratio of the plant by allowing more sun to get to all the leaves and fruits. A good support should also allow you to see and reach through the vines to harvest your crop, and it certainly must be strong enough to hold the fruits.

Peas of any type (snow, snap, or shell) grow well on a vertical trellis made by weaving string into a grid attached to two posts, starting with the horizontal lines. The stakes should be as high as the variety is expected to grow, usually 6 feet.

Pole beans, runner beans, and asparagus beans become very heavy when they’re mature. The trellises must be sturdy or they may slowly start to give way. A tripod or teepee-style trellis, which naturally resists toppling because it pulls downward on itself as the weight it bears increases, works nicely. Nothing is worse than watching beans go unpicked because you can’t reach them without standing on something. So control the height to some extent by avoiding long-vined varieties, or limit the height of the trellis, so that the beans will grow downward when the reach the top.

The variety of cucumber will determine how well they take to a trellis. The large-fruited ones can easily be trained up an upright, grid-type trellis made of string or wire. You push the growing vines through the mesh about once a week. Smaller pickling cucumbers tend to branch more, making them a little more difficult to train. But it can be done…

Melons are great to grow, using a diagonal, or A-framed trellis. Melon vines prefer to stay close to the ground, but raising them up protects them from diseases and insects that are crawling on the ground. Small-fruited melons are excellent candidates for trellising.

Almost any garden can benefit from vertical garden trellising. They save space, make harvesting easier, discourage soil-borne disease, maximize production, and encourage beneficial insects and birds.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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