Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques
Trellising Vine Crops
by National Gardening Association Editors
Once the plants start growing, you can expect to have lots of vines sprawling over your garden. This can be a problem, but there's an easy way to control it.
After the first fruits develop, pinch the fuzzy growth tips off the ends of the vines. These growth tips are the beginnings of the next leaf or vine extension. By keeping them picked, you interrupt the vine growth and prevent the vines from overrunning your garden.
You also cause the plant to direct its energy into ripening fruit rather than making longer vines. If you have a short growing season, or you're just impatient for that first melon or squash, picking the fuzzy vine ends can give you ripe fruit a week or so early. However, it will cut back on your overall production.
New vines will shoot off in different directions once you start pruning the ends, but you can keep them in check with regular "de-fuzzing."
Another method of keeping vine crops in bounds is trellising. Providing support for cucumbers and melons saves garden space. You can make trellises from wooden stakes and string, wooden slats nailed together to form a lattice, or chicken wire stretched between two posts. Vines climb best on criss-crossed materials the tendrils can grab and wind around. Unless you want to pick cucumbers from a ladder, keep the top of the trellis within easy reach, no more than five feet high.
Install your trellis on or before planting day, anchoring it solidly to the ground. If you pound stakes into the ground later, you may injure some roots.
If you can, put your trellis on the prevailing downwind side of the plants. They'll lean into it on a windy day rather than being pulled away and possibly being torn down. Plant your seeds in rows on the prevailing upwind side of the trellis, and care for them as you would free-sprawling plants.
When the plants are ready to run, guide them onto the supports. Wrap the tendrils or vines around the trellis to start them; they'll continue up on their own. Stop the vines once they reach the top by picking off the fuzzy tufts on the ends.
If you trellis vegetables larger than cucumbers, you'll need to support each fruit, or the vines, tendrils and stems will break from the fruit's weight.
Once the fruits set, make a sling near each one by tying both ends of a long, wide strip of cloth to the trellis -- discarded pantyhose is perfect -- near each fruit. Gently lift the fruits into their cradles.
One trellis caution: Trellised plants "transpire" or lose moisture more rapidly because they're exposed to warm air and drying winds, so you may need to water more often. Mulching helps to conserve moisture.