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Vining Vegetables for Vertical Gardens | Almanac.com

Vining Vegetables for Vertical Gardens

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selective focus on sugar or climbing pea leaves, tendrils growing up on agricultural netting support, plastic net trellis, with open field background
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No Space to Spread? Grow Up Instead!

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Are you trying to save space in your garden? Consider growing vining vegetables that grow up! Ideal for small space gardens, as well as container gardening, balcony gardens, and trellis gardens, there are plenty of great reasons to plant veggies that grow as climbing vines. Here are our favorite climbing vegetable varieties and how to grow each of these crops as a towering success

Vining vegetables produce more per square foot than bush-type varieties, their leaves are easier to monitor for pests, and they ripen near eye level, which makes them easy to pick. Tall trellises in the garden draw the eye upward, expanding the view, and they make a lush backdrop for smaller plants. Learn how to build trellises and supports for your garden.

Vining vegetables do have a few drawbacks. They may cast unwanted shade on their neighbors, so companion crops must be carefully chosen. You also must provide a sturdy trellis or other support that matches how the plants grow and allows easy access at harvest time, but this is part of the fun of growing vining vegetables. The tastiest vining veggies include peas, Malabar summer spinach, beans, cucumbers, long-vine tomatoes, winter squash, and small pumpkins. 

Peas

Snap peas, snow peas, and shell peas are cool-season crops that are planted in early spring and form a wall of green in early summer. They prefer to grow straight up, reaching out with curled tendrils to grab tightly to string, netting, or wire fencing. Upright trellises work best. Pea vines can run to 6 feet, with vigorous lateral branches that may require supplemental stakes and strings outside the planting to keep the vines in bounds.

In a sun-drenched garden, you may be able to grow beets on the sunny side of peas, with lettuce on the shady side. After peas pass their prime, try growing a late crop of cucumbers on the same trellis or sowing a follow-up crop of Malabar summer spinach.

Golden Sweet
Photo credit: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Climbing Pea Varieties: Mildew-resistant ‘Super Sugar Snap’ is the most productive pea that you can grow, with 6-foot vines producing fleshy pods for 3 weeks or more. The eye-catching purple flowers of ‘Golden Sweet’ snow pea are followed by buttery yellow pods. Most shell peas grow to less than 4 feet tall, but ‘Tall Telephone’ will turn a 6-foot trellis into a panel of peas. Always check your seed packet for specifics about the variety you choose.

Malabar Summer Spinach

Beautiful, nutritious, and easy to grow, ‘Red Malabar’ summer spinach (Basella alba var. rubra) is a delightful addition to the garden. Its twining red stems studded with glossy green, edible leaves grow more vigorously the hotter summer gets, with pink flowers and purple berry clusters appearing by early fall. Malabar summer spinach will grow on any trellis and can be used to form a green sunscreen by being allowed to run up strings. Lower pillar-type plantings are gorgeous, too. Seed germination can be slow, but in many climates, Malabar summer spinach reseeds itself after the first year.

Photo credit: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Beans

Long-vine pole beans and scarlet runner beans twine themselves up posts, fences, or strings and need minimal help finding their way up. Beans’ broad leaves quickly form a dense, top-heavy mass, so a tepee or tripod trellis is a good match. The increasing weight of the plants pushes down on a well-balanced tepee trellis, enhancing its resistance to wind. Pole beans cast too much shade for close companions, but adjacent rows of potatoes or peppers may benefit from being in their afternoon shadow.

Red Noodle Beans
Red Noodle
Photo credit: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Vining Bean Varieties: The ‘Fortex’ and ‘Cobra’ varieties set a high-quality standard, with crisp, stringless, green pods that are best picked young as filet beans; they can also be left to grow into full-size snap beans. But while ‘Cobra’ tops out at 5 feet, making it suitable for tight spaces, ‘Fortex’ vines run 8 feet or more. ‘Dow Purple Pod’ has flat, Romano-type, purple pods that turn green when cooked. Where nights are cool, scarlet runners make beautiful edible ornamentals much loved by hummingbirds and bumblebees. Yardlong beans like ‘RedNoodle’ make excellent crops in hot, humid climates.

Cucumbers

To grow as many cucumbers as possible in a limited space, put them on a trellis. Trellising increases cucumber yield by 50 percent, even when using low tepees or arches. Although cucumbers are able scramblers, they are clumsy climbers who often need help finding their way up trellises made from string, netting, or fencing. Plan to gently poke cucumber stem tips through to the next level to train them up a vertical trellis. Within a day, curled tendrils will secure the vine in place.

little leaf cucumbers
Little Leaf Cucumbers
Photo credit: Holmes Seed Company

Climbing Cucumber Varieties: Pickling cucumbers like disease-resistant ‘Little Leaf’ are hard to pick when they are grown on the ground because of their small size, so they should always be trellised. Curved ‘Armenian’ cucumbers and extra-long varieties like ‘Tasty Green’ are rarely seen in stores because they are hard to pack and ship, but they are great fun to grow on a sturdy fence.

All of the trellised climbers mentioned turn air space into growing room, so reach for the sky!

Tomatoes

Tomatoes cannot twine or grow tendrils but often use their curved leaf stems to hook into trellises. Consistent pruning and tying are required to grow a wall of tomatoes, and you will need a long-vine, indeterminate variety.

The most popular pruning practice is to limit plants to two “leaders” by pinching out all side branches from two main stems until the plants are 2 feet tall. As the stems grow, they are tied to their trellis with strips of soft cloth, with training and tying ebbing as flowering starts so that there will be plenty of leaf cover for ripening fruit. Tomatoes handled in this way will top a 6-foot trellis. Be sure to use fencing or other sturdy materials with wide openings for harvesting your crop.

red and green tomatoes on a vine in a garden
Photo credit: Denisfilm/Getty Images

Vining Tomato Varieties: Work with long-vine, indeterminate varieties that continue to grow and set fruit over a long season. ‘Better Boy’ often performs well on trellises, and ‘Triple Crop’ beefsteak grows vines more than 10 feet long. The 15-foot vines of unstoppable ‘Jasper’ red cherry, an All-America Selections winner from 2013, make it a top choice for overhead arbors. To grow a head-high hedge of cherry tomatoes, try ‘Super Sweet 100’.

Squash

One of the most desired add-ons for intensive raised-bed gardens are wire arches or A-frame trellises that bridge the space between beds. Spaghetti squash, winter squash, and small-fruit pumpkins are well suited to growing on high arches because they are naturally long-vine plants that grow fast in warm weather. Plus, the fruit is not harvested until early fall, so it doesn’t matter if they are hard to reach.

Popular and inexpensive, 4x16-foot feedlot or cattle panels can be bent into an arch secured to a metal T-post at each end. Some farm supply stores sell half-size “handy panels” that can be fastened together in minutes with zip ties to form a steeple-shape trellis. You also can fashion overhead arbors from fencing attached to flexible hex pipe secured to PVC posts or by tying bamboo rods together into a temporary pergola.

baby pam pumpkins
Baby Pam
Photo credit: Harris Seeds

Climbing Squash Varieties: Open-pollinated spaghetti squash is well endowed with curling tendrils and is a vigorous climber once it finds its support. Among pest-resistant butternuts, ‘Lil’ Dipper’ produces personal-size fruit on full-size vines. Mini-pumpkins and petite pie pumpkins like ‘Baby Pam’ work well on arbors, too.

Do you need more space-saving ideas for the garden? Check out our tips for gardening in small spaces.

About The Author

Jennifer Keating

Jennifer is the Associate Digital Editor at The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She is an active equestrian and spends much of her free time at the barn. When she’s not riding, she loves caring for her collection of house plants, baking, and playing in her gardens. Read More from Jennifer Keating

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