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Building a Trellis

            One of the most common and most useful garden structures is a trellis. It's also known as a "lattice," or criss-cross framework. The criss-cross aspect is important because light and air can get through the trellis, even though it's a structure. Better yet, the many angles in the cross-crossing slats give plants that like to grow by climbing lots of support, just as they need.

            Many people associate their best memories of summer with a trellis that supported Grandma's clematis, or Grandpa's grape crop. Climbing roses also are well-known trellis residents, even though they don't put out tendrils - just have extra-long canes that need to be tied as they grow.

If you aren't an experienced carpenter, you can get a book or find an online tutorial for building a more elaborate trellis structure. Or you can sink some tall posts into the ground, connect them at the top with crosspieces, and nail prefabricated, pretreated trellis sections, which usually come in 4' x 8' sheets. Beware: they can split or break quite easily until installed.

A cucumber trellis is somewhat simpler. The same A-frame trellis structure can be used for cucumbers, melons, gourds, acorn squash and even smaller pumpkins. Getting these plants into the air will help keep bugs off the fruit, which you'll appreciate, along with the benefits of improved air circulation, preventing mildew and fungus on leaves.

 Keep it simple, and use sturdy posts that will last for years, and tough 3' or 4' lengths of chicken wire. A common solution is to use concrete reinforcing mesh nailed to an A-frame of 2x3's, an ideal set-up for melons, that might get heavy.

It's smart to have your trellis face south. These crops really need heat and light. It's smart to locate your trellis on the north end of your garden, running east to west, so they won't block the wun from your other crops.

You can use the soil underneath the trellis for temporary crops such as lettuce, onions or greens such as turnips, which creates a "two-story garden" that is very space-efficient. As the leaves grow and spread on the trellis, the lettuce or greens benefit from the shade and coolness, so it's a winning situation.

Plan ahead to install your trellis on planting day. If you put a trellis in place after the roots have started to grow, you could damage the baby plant when you stake and install the support structure.

Remember to check the plants regularly; usually, you have to guide the plant up the trellis, and sometimes tie plant vines to it with jute string, soft yarn, old pantyhose or plastic garden tape. Certain melons like to be "cradled" in old nylon stockings or onion sacks, like a "sling" tied to the trellis.

By Susan Darst • Projects 06 © 2011

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