What String Should I Use to Grow Plants Vertically?

Q. I’m using t-frames for my tomatoes,and the tomatoes are growing in to the string; should I loosen the string or cut it? I’m afraid the plants’ circulation will be cut off, as the plants continue to grow.

A. You should be using a very large string. We recommend the large nylon baling twine as being ideal. smaller string can indeed cut into the stems of your plants.

Also, you should not tie the string to the base of the plant stems, but instead attach it to a tie-wire that is run at ground level between and attached to the T-Frames.

The baling twine should have some slack in it, so that you can easily guide the plant stem around the twine without twisting, kinking, or breaking it. Don’t make it so loose that it sags, but rather leave extra string on the top (tied with a slip knot) and give more twine as needed so that it doesn’t get tight to the point that you can’t gently guide the plant stem around it.

Baling Twine for guiding vertical plants

Some folks worry about the cost of buying a large roll of baling twine. Because it contains something like 9,800 feet of twine they are concerned that most of it will be wasted.

Consider the following, and then find others with whom you can share the cost.

1. Each “string” should be 9′ long.
2. A single 30′-long bed of tomatoes, cucumbers, or eggplant would require 41 strings, or about 370′.
3. A 30′-long bed of pole beans would require 182 strings – 1,638′.
4. If the strings are cared for they will last for several years.
5. Other options are much less desirable. Smaller string will cut through heavy plants’ stems. Other materials will deteriorate faster – often in less than one growing season.

Growing Cucumbers, Melons, & Zucchini – Where & How to Remove Suckers

Q. When trellising cucumbers or melons, should I cut all but one main
stem. And I don’t seem to see how to trellis Zucchini or yellow squash.

A. To grow cucumbers and small melons vertically, by all means limit them to one stem. However, in removing the sucker stems you allow the stem to grow just long enough for the first female flower to form. This is usually at the first
leaf. Keep the blossom and leaf, but cut or pinch off the stem at that point.

Zucchini and yellow squash are determinate plants, and can’t be grown
vertically. No trellis or string is needed. However, it is imperative that you
take off old leaves and those touching the ground. Keeping air and light into
the interior of the plant will improve your yields, and it can reduce the
likelihood of powdery mildew taking over the plant.

Growing Vertically – What Varieties – What books –

Q.  I am planning on trying a vertical garden (most of the veggies) next Spring.  I have heard about “vertical” growing methods, but I am not quite sure what all the details are.   Also, when and how do you prune tomato plants?   Do all tomato plants need to be pruned? 

A.  Several of the Mittleider gardening books give good illustrations and instructions for vertical growing.  I recommend the Mittleider Gardening Course, Gardening by the Foot, Let’s Grow Tomatoes, and Grow-Bed Gardening.  The best place to obtain all of them is by getting the Mittleider Gardening Library CD.  All are available at www.growfood.com in the Store section under Books and Software.

Vegetable varieties that can be grown vertically include indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers (not the bush type), pole beans, smaller varieties of vining squash, small melons, greenhouse varieties of peppers, and eggplant.

Beans don’t need to be pruned, but all others should be pruned regularly, by removing all sucker stems as soon as they begin to grow.  Several articles on the website in the FAQ section are devoted to pruning.  I recommend you look there for a comprehensive discussion on how to prune – however, the books will be the best, as they include pictures and illustrations.

What Grows Vertically – Problems with Canal Water and Manure

Q.  I connected with your web site after admiring the beautiful garden west of Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.  (my family was admiring the giraffes!)   I like the concept of vertical gardening.  My question is this:  Can you grow stuff like pumpkins, watermelons, squash, etc.  up a wire?  If you do, how do you support the fruit.  Even cucumbers seem like they’d be too heavy.   I’m excited to try the drip irrigation system this spring.  I feel like I’ve been knocking my head against a wall for 15 years because we water with canal water and fertilize with horse manure.  My kids and I could spend our whole lives in the garden and couldn’t begin to keep the weeds out of it.  This year we’ll be using well water and trying the Mittleider method. I hope we can manage to kill off all that grass and morning glory.  Maybe you’ve got some ideas for that as well. 

A.  we recommend fruits that are less than 6# each for vertical growing.  We grow indeterminate tomatoes and eggplant vertically, guiding them up baling twine strings that are fastened to strong wire strung between T-Frames.  Cucumbers are ideal for growing vertically, as well as any of the small indeterminate squashes. 

Any of the aforementioned plants need to be pruned, in order to have success growing them vertically.  You can expect to increase your yields by 3-4 times in this way.  Detailed instructions are included in several of the Mittleider gardening books and CD’s available at www.growfood.com.  Articles in this FAQ section also deal with vertical growing and pruning.  Look under Tomatoes for several.

Keep your fruits picked as they ripen, to avoid excess weight on the vines, which can sometimes drag the vines down if too many fruits are allowed to remain.

I’ve been “knocking my head against a wall for 15 years” also, telling people to avoid canal water (or filter it) and manure for the reason you cite, as well as the problems many have with pests and diseases.  Thanks for the testimonial.

Remembering that “one year’s seeds makes 7 years’ weeds”, I recommend you get a couple of 2-way hoes as shown on the website’s Store pages at www.growfood.com under Tools.   Follow the recommendations for “E & O” (early and often) weeding, and by leaving the aisles completely dry, you will get ahead of the weeds quickly.