What is a Trellis?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If you favor climbing flowers in your yard or park, you’ll be looking for a trellis to help support these plants. A trellis is considered garden hardscape, something that doesn’t move when set in place, as opposed to the changing nature of the actual plants that you place in a garden or a park. Unlike the arbor, which usually is composed of two or more lengths of latticed wood or other materials connected by a horizontal top piece, the trellis is a flat collection of vertical pieces that normally have lattice pieces perpendicular to the vertical slats.

Jasmine grows best on a trellis.
Jasmine grows best on a trellis.

You can find trellises in traditional, unfinished wood which can complement your garden nicely. Others may be painted white, and yet others are made of metal or plastic in a variety of colors and sizes. The trellis usually needs back support and may lean against or be nailed to a supporting wall like that belonging to a house or a fence.

Length and width of these support structures vary. Those attached to houses can run from the outside bottom of the house to several stories high. Those attached to or leaning up against a fence may be slightly taller than the fence or may be the same length. Usually the bottom inch or two of the trellis is actually sunk into the ground or “planted.”

You’ll want to give some consideration to the size of the support structure and the amount of support it can provide for various climbing plants. Those that are too short or that don’t offer adequate support may not be the best choices if the climbing plants you choose are heavy and can grow extremely tall. Gradually, the weight of the plants can pull over trellises, unless you keep the plant well trimmed.

For very tall climbing plants, like the Cecil Bruner rose, white solanum, or jasmine, trellises should be strong and tall. You may want to consider using your house as back support for the trellis. Alternately, you’ll need to trim these plants to keep them from pulling over the hardscape structure. Smaller climbers, like purple solanum may do well on trellises leaning against a fence since they tend to die back each year, and they only grow to about five to six feet (1.52-1.83m) in height. Sometimes gardeners refer to small stakes or tiny short structures used to shore up vegetable plants as trellises too.

When you have a new plant that you’d like to encourage to grow, you’ll need to do some weaving of new growth through the trellis to achieve the appropriate look. Try not to pull or harm the plant as you weave its shoots. Instead consider gentle weaving, perhaps through one lattice or section each day, that doesn’t shock the plant. You do need to weave the smaller shoots, especially when plants have sturdy vines or stems, because these will harden as the plant ages. When growth has ended for the year, trim off hanging pieces that didn’t make it into the weave, and prune roses as you would their ordinary non-climbing counterparts.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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