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In Season: Grow more in less space with vertical gardening

It does not take a lot of space to grow enough food to feed your family. My property is a little larger than an acre, but my vegetable beds take up less than a fourth of it. I utilize trellises on almost every raised bed that I have.

The benefits to growing vertically do not end at saving space.

Reasons to grow vertically:

Easier harvest: The fruits of your labor are easier to find when they are climbing a trellis rather than sprawling all over the ground. This is especially true if you are diligent about pruning your vines. Pruning for some plants also increases the yield as the energy of the plant is directed into fruiting instead of foliage growth. Decreased bending and stooping also makes the harvest easier and more accessible to those with disabilities.

Less physical, pest and disease damage: Because vines are not spreading across the ground, they are less likely to be stepped on and damaged. Insect pests are easier to spot at eye level and hanging fruit is harder for rodents and other critters to access. It is also easier to catch the damage that they cause.

Bacterial and fungal disease is reduced due to increased airflow. Fruits and vegetables are lifted off the ground and are less likely to rot from getting wet or from soil being splashed on their skin.

Shade: In my garden I use the vertically grown plants, such as tomatoes, to provide afternoon shade to the plants that prefer it, such as kale. The vines also shade me as I work in the garden on hot summer afternoons.

Aesthetics: In my opinion a vertical garden is simply beautiful. When I’m in my garden at the height of summer it has more of a feel of jungle than desert. It is my own little oasis.

Common types of trellising:

A vertical garden does not have to be expensive. There are several popular trellis options to choose from.

Cattle panels: Cattle panels can be purchased at a few stores in our area for less than $25. They can be bent into an arch and attached to T-posts to create a trellis that is not only beautiful but also very sturdy.

Bamboo: You can create a simple bamboo trellis by lashing together three bamboo poles with twine and spreading them open like a tripod. This style trellis is great for beans and peas. Bamboo is easy to access and can even be grown in our area. Be warned though, it does tend to be invasive.

Fencing: A chain-link fence covered with flowering vines is a thing of beauty. I love to grow morning glories of all colors mixed in with butternut squash. By mid-summer the fence is barely visible. This gives the added benefit of privacy.

Fruits and vegetables for vertical gardening:

There is a virtually endless list of fruits and vegetables that can be grown vertically. The plants that I have had the most success with are warm-weather varieties.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a favorite for many. Tomatoes that are trellised have more exposure to sunlight and tend to ripen more quickly. If you wish to grow tomatoes vertically, be sure to purchase varieties labeled as indeterminate.

Cucumbers: Another popular vegetable for trellising is cucumbers. Hanging cucumbers grow straighter and more uniform in size. My favorite variety to grow is called the Armenian cucumber, which is actually a cucumber-flavored melon. It is better for eating fresh than for pickling and can grow to baseball bat size in just a matter of days. Pick smaller sized cucumbers for better flavor.

Melons and squash: Melons and squash perform quite well when grown vertically but are not often thought of when it comes to trellising. For larger melon and squash, like pumpkin, it is helpful to support the fruit with a make-shift hammock. I know a few growers who use old T-shirts for this purpose.

If growing larger fruits and vegetables like melons and squash, check daily to make sure the fruit is not growing into your trellis material. I’ve had some interesting shaped butternut squash that grew quickly between rungs in a chain-link fence.

Malabar spinach: Malabar spinach is an edible vine that you may not have heard of. It easily survives our summer when few other greens will. It is not really a spinach nor is it related, but it makes a great substitute in salad or stir-fry. It is a perennial, which means it will return year after year.

Growing vertically is a great solution to limited space and so many other issues that one can encounter in the garden all while providing beauty and enjoyment throughout the year. Try it this summer and enjoy your own jungle in the desert.

Terri Meehan is the Founder of Southern Nevada Gardening Association a regional group. She is a garden mentor and local farmer in Pahrump. Send questions or comments to her at sonvgarden@gmail.com

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