All posts by Gryphon Corpus

Gryphon Corpus is part of the gang here at Southern Exposure. Many of her blog posts are related to medicinal herbs.

Vertical Gardening: The Beginners Guide to Trellising Plants

by Jordan Charbonneau, photos by Ira Wallace

Traditional wooden vegetable garden trellising at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

In my dreams of a picturesque garden there are always trellises. They may bring to mind quaint little fairy tale cottages, but trellises aren’t just for their good looks. There are so many plants that can be grown on a trellis and so many reasons to grow them that way.

Why trellis?

Trellising saves resources.

Want to grow more vegetables in little spaces? Grow up! One of the easiest ways to make the best use of small garden spaces is by growing plants on trellises. Plants like pole beans are extremely productive and can be grown in narrow rows if trellised.

Trellised plants also use less water. Instead of watering an entire sprawling plant you can just water the base where the plants roots are located.

Trellises add structure.

Adding structure and height to a garden is often done to make gardens more beautiful. but there are other benefits too. Song birds will appreciate having places to land in your garden and they can help control insect populations.

Having the plants up off the ground also increases air flow and can help minimize plant diseases.

Trellises add shade.

Trellising plants can also help you add much needed summertime shade. A vining vegetable crop like cucumbers can be grown on a slanted trellis above a bed of a cool weather vegetable like lettuce, thereby helping you to grow a late season crop. Deciduous perennials (those that drop their leaves in the fall) can be grown on trellises on the southern side of houses to shade the home in the heat of summer and let the sun through in the winter. Some plants, like pole beans, gourds, and flowers like morning glories, have such long vines they can easily cover small structures (like teepees) making excellent summer forts for kids.

Trellised plants are easier to harvest.

Vegetables on trellises also tend to be easier to harvest. Instead of searching through a sprawling jungle of squash plants, you can easily spot them hanging from a trellis. Plus there’s little or no bending over. The fruits also tend to be cleaner and more uniform, perfect for market growers.

What can be trellised?

Decorative wrought iron trellis at Atlanta Botanical Garden

 

Many plants do well on a trellis and some require one. Below are some of the vegetables, flowers, and perennials that make ideal candidates for trellising.

Vegetables Flowers Perennials
Cucumbers Sweet Pea Hops
Pole Beans Morning Glory Hardy Kiwi
Peas Clematis Grapes
Melons Nasturtium
Gourds
Squash
Pumpkin
Indeterminate Tomatoes 

 

 

How do I make a trellis?

There are tons of trellis designs and it can be hard to choose. The major deciding factors will be your garden’s style, your budget, the materials you have on hand, and which plants you plan to trellis. Trellises can be whimsical, practical, or a mix of both. They can be shaped as arches, forts for children, or simple fences.

Use natural materials.

Many people choose to make simple teepees like these which can be made from bamboo, straight saplings, or branches, and held together with twine or wire. There are also many different shaped designs using the same materials.

Use fencing.

Cattle panel arch trellis at Heritage Farm

Hog panels or sections of wire fencing are another popular choice. Hog panels and sturdier fencing can be used two ways: as a fence or bent over as an arch.

Purchase or build trellises from lumber.

If you have money to purchase trellises or a knack for woodworking, there are designs for folding trellises that can be stored each season as well as more creative designs. You can also install large trellises in front houses or over patios.

Repurpose junk.

Some people also repurpose old junk into awesome trellises. Things like iron bed frames and gates, old umbrella frames, and old antennas are great for climbing plants.

When designing any trellis it’s important to think about what you’re growing. Is it a permanent trellis for a perennial that will be in the same spot for years or something you’ll want to rotate next year? You’ll also need to decide on the size. Obviously pea plants require smaller trellises than grape vines. Some plants, like pumpkins, melons, and larger squash varieties, will need sturdy trellises to support the immense weight of their fruit.

How do I trellis plants?

Some plants (including morning glories, beans, and cucumbers) are easy to trellis. Simply sew seeds next to a trellis and they’ll do the work. Some plants, like tomatoes, need a little help: they need to be manually trellised. You can use tomato-specific trellis methods like the “Florida Weave” which surrounds the plants with twine. Or use traditional trellises and attach plants with tomato clips or even old scraps of fabric. Just be sure that your method does not cut into the plant as it grows.

Tomato trellis of string weaving at Twin Oaks Community Farm

For some large-fruited plants like pumpkins, melons, and large squash varieties, you may need extra support. You can create small “hammocks” for each fruit from an old shirt or other stretchy material that can be tied off to the trellis as the vine cannot support the fruit’s mature weight.

If you’re ready for a super productive and beautiful garden this year it’s time to get some trellises ready! The best time to add trellises is before planting, not after, so don’t delay! It’s finally spring and setting up trellises is a great way to get out in the garden.

Want to know more about trellises? Check out these posts:

Ridge Gourds on Cattle Panel Trellising

Trellising with Bamboo

Easy Bamboo Bean Teepees

What plants have you grown on a trellis?

Garden Bloggers Fling 2016: Minneapolis

Two weekends ago I had the great fun of attending the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held this time in Minneapolis. Turns out Minneapolis is a haven of beautiful gardens.

Community vegetable garden in Minneapolis
Sprawling community vegetable garden in Minneapolis

I was especially impressed by how many pollinator-focused gardens I saw. All over the place, in small neighbourhood yards, along roads, there was milkweed and Echinacea and beebalm and rudbeckia, pollinator heaven.

Minneapolis pollinator garden 2I love photographing the insects themselves, and often find myself stalking them quietly, trying to get close enough for a decent shot without a fancy zoom lens. It makes me feel like a pollinator paparazza.

pink beebalm with bee

Check out the hot pink of this beebalm! It can range from soft lavender to darker purple, red, and as you see, firey pink. Beebalm, a member of the mint family, is a great source of nectar to bees, like the big bumblebee I caught feeding here, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a sun-loving, edible perennial, also good for a tea that is soothing to coughs. You can find beebalm as part of our Welcome to the Garden Pollinator Mix.

A delightful mix of beebalm shades.
A delightful mix of beebalm shades.

An annual that I saw less of than many other pollinator-attracting flowers is cleome, or spider flower. Cleome is tall, strikingly pretty, and easy to grow, reseeding itself readily. It attracts birds, bees, and butterflies, but also a critter one might not remember when thinking about pollinators – bats.

cleome

Cleome can come in various pinks, white, or a variegated mixture, like the Queen Mix we carry.

red admiral on echinacea

More pollinator chasing! This is a Red Admiral butterfly feasting on the nectar of an Echinacea blossom, of which I saw a great many all over Minneapolis. The adult butterflies actually prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, and bird droppings, but will settle for flowers. If you’re trying to attract and care for them in your garden, remember to feed the caterpillars too – they like stinging nettle, tall wild nettle, wood nettle, and false nettle.

But perhaps the coolest pollinator-related thing I saw had no flowers or pollinators in it at all. It was the not-yet-open Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were privileged to get a sneak preview of this beautiful new building which will house exhibits related to bees and other pollinators and whose primary purpose will be education about the tremendous importance of bees in our food chain and how we can be involved in supporting them. The Discover Center is scheduled to open in September with the main building and exhibits, as well as learning labs where the view through a microscope can be projected onto overhead screens for all to see and kids can participate in various bee-related learning activities. The longer range vision for the 28 acres of land around the Center, if they can get the funding, is to plant demonstration food gardens of varying scales, from backyard size to large farm size, which employ pollinator-friendly cultivation practices.

Read more about the Bee Discovery Center here.

——–

Are you local to our neck of the woods in Louisa County, VA? We’re hosting our annual Farm Open House and Tomato Tasting on August 20th. Come tour our farm, taste more than 50 varieties of tomatoes, as well as herbs, and have a chance to buy directly from our seed picking room. Email me with an RSVP that says which date you’ll come in order to be entered in a prize drawing! gryphon AT southernexposure.com

 

 

 

 

 

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Most of you have probably already transplanted your tomato seedlings, but here at SESE we do it a bit later than most. Why? Because we want the vast array of tomatoes we grow for the tastings at our late August open house and at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival in September to be ready for picking just at the right time for those events. We’re growing more than 70 varieties for you to come and taste!

Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch
Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch

Here’s the technique we use for quick and successful transplanting of tomato seedlings:

After hardening them off for a couple weeks in our cold frames, we’re ready to take them out to the garden. For us, this means lots of careful labelling and mapping to keep all those varieties clearly separated!

Step 1: We start by spreading hay thickly over the whole area where the plants will go. This serves to keep the ground cool, hold moisture in, and choke out weeds, and in the long term it adds organic matter to improve the soil. If you try this, make sure you get hay that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You’ll also want to get hay that’s been sitting for a year or so, giving all the seeds a chance to have sprouted and died, or you’ll be growing grains alongside your tomatoes.

Step 2: Make a nest in the hay at each place where you want a tomato to go. Space them about 4 feet apart and make each nest about a foot in diameter, pushing the hay away until you can see the ground.

tomato planting nest

Step 3: Dig a hole at the bottom of the nest, toss in a double handful of compost, and mix the compost with the soil you have loosened.

removing tomato seedling from flat

Step 4: Gently pull the seedling out of its container and lay it on its side at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, all the way at one edge of the nest space. This way you can cover not just the root ball, but also a good portion of the stem with soil. You want to bury a third to a half of the plant. Tomatoes will grow roots along any portion of the stem which is underground, and this method gives you a much sturdier root structure. Be careful that the sideways portion of the stem is supported by soil so it doesn’t break.

tomato seedling planted

Step 5. Cover the root ball and stem portion with soil and press it down firmly. Good soil to root contact is essential to get the plant sucking up water and nutrients right away. Then pull the hay back into place all around the stem of the plant, tucking it in cozily. Finally, give it a good watering and watch your baby grow!

Tomato seedling tucked in

If you do come to the Heritage Harvest Festival, here are a few of our top picks to look out for:

  • Rutgers 250 This is a brand new variety which brings added durability to a flavourful old heirloom and we plan to add it to our 2017 catalog.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry This one is always a favourite at tastings, an intensely sweet wild cherry tomato originating in Mexico.
  • Garden Peach A delightful novelty tomato disguised as a peach.