Newly planted vegetable garden with cucumbers and tomatoes planted vertically on trellises

Best Vegetables for Vertical Gardening

What is Vertical Gardening?

Vertical gardening is a category of growing techniques that allow you to grow plants up - vertically - rather than out - horizontally. It’s about making use of your available vertical space to expand the possibilities of what and how much you can grow in the space you have - no matter how small. Training plants up trellises, obelisks and other structures; espaliering fruit, planting in vertical planters or hanging containers and setting up hydroponic systems are all forms of vertical gardening. 

Benefits of Vertical Gardening


The most obvious reason to grow vertically is the space it saves. This is important if you have a small suburban or city lot, only a patio or balcony, or any situation with less space than you’d like to have.

But you don’t have to have a small space to benefit from growing some of your vegetables vertically. There are other advantages to growing plants up trellises that apply even if you have vast amounts of growing space.

Growing Plants Vertically is Good for their Health

A small teepee with cucamelons climbing up it in the back of a pot of hot peppers

Growing plants vertically provides a number of health benefits to plants:

  • Plants grown vertically (and pruned appropriately) have more airflow between them. Their leaves and fruit dry faster after rains, and they experience less moisture and humidity. Since disease thrives in wet humid environments, the drier conditions of vertically grown plants make them healthier and more disease-resistant. 
  • Training plants vertically keeps your vegetables and fruit up off the ground where they’re more difficult for bugs and other critters to reach and won’t be in contact with soil. This reduces opportunities for soil-borne diseases to reach your plants. Reduced contact with soil is especially beneficial for vegetables with softer skins like tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Plants grown vertically are also easier to water in such a way that the foliage is kept mostly dry, by directing the water towards the roots rather than the leaves of the plant. This, again, helps the leaves to stay dry, cutting down on disease over the growing season.

Vertical Growing makes Tending and Harvesting Easier

When caring for vertically-grown plants:

  • There is less bending down to harvest, weed and care for your plants. 
  • It’s easier to see ripe fruit and vegetables when they are hanging in front of you, at eye level. 
  • There is overall less square footage of soil that needs to be tilled, watered, weeded, mulched and otherwise prepared for planting. 
  • Maintenance takes less time. Even if you have all the growing space in the world, you probably still have limited time to maintain a garden. A compact vegetable garden can be managed in less time than a sprawling one. 

Some vegetables are easier to grow vertically than others. Depending on what and how you are growing vertically, the necessary pruning and training may add to your time in the garden. For example, pole beans and peas are very easy to grow vertically, since they essentially climb trellises themselves, whereas tomatoes and squash will require you to regularly train and attach your plants to your vertical structures.

Vertical Structures can Enhance the Aesthetic of your Garden

Vertical interest can add a lot of beauty and uniqueness to the aesthetic of your garden space. And, growing vegetables up trellises or obelisks can be practical as a temporary privacy screen to block out unsightly things from your yard - like hiding a heat pump or garbage and recycling bins. 

A vegetable garden with cabbage, fava beans and cucumbers and tomatoes climbing up trellises

Get Creative with Materials for your Vertical Structures

You can always use store-bought or fancy handmade supports and trellises for your vertical garden made of materials like iron or bamboo, but it is not necessary to spend a lot of money to create vertical structures for your vegetables. For an inexpensive vertical vegetable garden you can use things like: 

  • Foraged materials like tree branches, including bendable hazel or willow branches.
  • Old ladders, furniture or other thrifted items. 
  • Grow vegetables up existing fences, buildings or patios on your property.
  • Tall sturdy plants, like corn or sunflowers, can themselves function as trellises for lighter climbing vegetables like beans. 

Best Vegetables for a Vertical Garden

Pole Beans

Pole beans are warm-season nitrogen-fixing vegetables that prefer full sun. They can be direct-sown when the soil warms up in the late spring to early summer and all danger of frost is past (around the time you would plant your cucumbers or tomatoes), or given a head start indoors in soil blocks or root trainers. 

Growing Pole Beans Vertically

Pole beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow vertically. They climb up vertical structures on their own by spiraling their vines around. Though, you may need to help them find the trellis initially. 

Bean plants can grow 6-10 feet and can become heavy by the end of the season so you want to use a tall sturdy teepee trellis made of bamboo, metal, or strong foraged branches. You can also try planting your pole beans at the feet of corn or sunflower plants and allowing them to use the stalks of those plants as a vertical structure in the style of a three sisters garden.

White bean flowers on a pole bean plant with tendrils climbing a trellis

Choosing Varieties

For vertical gardening, choose pole or runner bean varieties which grow in long swirling vines. Bush beans, which have a bush-type growth habit and only reach about 1-2 feet tall, will not climb trellises, though they can be planted in the space at the bottom of a trellis. 

Pole beans can be picked regularly throughout the season for fresh eating in their pods, or left on the vine till the end of the season and harvested as dried beans. Check out the variety descriptions before purchasing your seeds, as many varieties can be harvested either way, but some are best suited to one way or the other. 

Stringless varieties cut down significantly on the prep time required to cook with your beans.

Some of my favorite pole bean varieties:

  • lazy housewife (80 days): A productive green heirloom variety; the first to be developed without a string. Can be used for snap or dried beans
  • Rattlesnake (65 days): A beautiful heirloom variety with variegated green and purple pods and purple blossoms. Can be used for snap or dried beans. 
When you’re ready to cook with your beans, try: fish parcels with beans, greens and anchovy butter sauce, Chicken Tinga Tostadas.


Peas are cool-season, nitrogen-fixing vegetables with delicate ethereal flowers that are best grown in the mild weather of early spring or fall. Peas can be grown in full sun or part shade and should be spaced closely together. They prefer to be direct sown but if your springs are short or overly-wet, you may have better luck starting your peas early indoors. If you do, be sure to minimize root disturbance at transplant time by starting your peas in soil blocks, root trainers or biodegradable pots. 

Growing Peas Vertically

Peas, like beans, will climb up vertical structures on their own. Aside from, perhaps, helping them find the trellis, there is no need to train them. Unlike beans, peas climb using tendrils that extend out from the plant and reach for something to twist around. 

Blue Pod Capucijners and early Alaska Peas climbing up a trellis

Pea plants are relatively light, so you can get away with more lightweight structures for them to grow on - like a small teepee or a-frame trellis. However, the weight of many pea plants together adds up, so make sure the structures you use are sturdy. Attaching a fine netting or small twigs to the sides of your trellis is a good idea to give the peas more to cling to. 

Choosing Varieties

Peas can be grown either as shelling peas, which must be removed from their pods before eating or as snow or snap peas, which are picked early and eaten pod and all. 

A few of my favorite pea varieties:

  • Early Alaska (55 days): an early-maturing cold-hardy green shelling pea that’s great for short seasons and cold climates. A semi-dwarf variety with vines that only grow about 3’, early Alaska can be grown up fences or low trellises made of lightweight sticks and twigs. 
  • Blue Pod Capucijners Pea (65 days): A striking Dutch heirloom variety with purple pods and bi-colored pink and magenta flowers. It can be picked young as a fresh shelling pea, but is best known as a pea for harvesting later in the season as a dried pea to use in soups. 


Tomatoes are warm-season, full-sun loving vegetables (or fruit, technically). In most climates they need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your soil warms up in the late spring/early summer or purchased as transplants. They like soil that is rich in organic matter and consistent watering throughout the growing season. Without diligent care they are susceptible to disease, but growing tomatoes vertically lifts the plants up off the ground and increases the airflow around them, resulting in healthier plants and higher yields.

New to growing tomatoes? Learn all the basics you’ll need to succeed in my post on growing tomatoes for beginners.

Growing Tomatoes Vertically

Tomatoes don’t actually climb up vertical structures at all - they have to be trained up or attached to trellises using clips or flexible ties, by twisting them around strings or weaving them through posts - depending on the method you use to grow them. Tomatoes grown vertically can be spaced more closely together but they will need to be pruned regularly to keep them from overtaking the trellis. 

clusters of tomatoes cascading down an a frame trellis made of foraged branches

There are so many ways to grow tomatoes vertically - tomato cages, tying each plant to a single stake, attaching them to teepees or obelisks, using the Florida weave method or string training them. You may have to just try out different methods to find the one you like best. My favorite is string training them up an a-frame trellis.

Choosing Varieties

With over 10,000 tomato varieties available, choosing varieties to grow can be overwhelming. Read my in-depth guide on how to choose the best tomatoes for you and your garden. 

If you want to grow tomatoes vertically, it is important to choose Indeterminate varieties, not determinate varieties. Indeterminate tomatoes have a vining growth-habit that reaches 6-12 feet by the end of the growing season, while determinate tomatoes have a relatively short bush growth-habit, topping out at around 3 feet. Determinate tomatoes may benefit from small cages or stakes, but they will not climb up tall trellises. 

Some of my favorite tomato varieties: 

Tomato seedlings string trained on an a -frame trellis
  • Early girl (57 days): A reliable and disease-resistant hybrid variety of smooth red medium-sized tomatoes that’s perfect for beginner gardeners, especially those with cooler weather and shorter growing seasons. 
  • Blue Beauty (80 days): A beautiful heirloom variety with medium to large tomatoes and excellent flavor. It can be challenging to know when blue, purple or black tomato varieties are ready to harvest, but the dark color of blue beauty tomatoes is concentrated on the shoulders of each tomato, which makes it easier to tell when they are ripe.   

A few of my favorite tomato recipes: Beer battered fish sandwiches with tomato relish & pan con tomate with anchovy aioli. 


Cucumbers are full-sun loving warm-season vegetables that like to be either direct-sown when the soil warms up to 15-18C (59-65F) in the late spring or early summer. Alternatively, if you have a short growing season, you can start cucumbers 3-4 weeks before you would otherwise direct sow. Cucumbers don’t love to have their roots disturbed, so starting them in biodegradable pots or large soil blocks is ideal if you are starting them indoors. 

Pick cucumbers often and early, when they are ripe but still relatively small. Leaving cucumbers on the vine to become overgrown will signal the plant to stop producing.

Growing Cucumbers Vertically

Vining-type cucumbers climb trellises, wire or string by sending out tendrils that wrap around whatever materials they can grab, though you may need to periodically help the tendrils find the trellis materials. 

Cucumbers growing up a trellis

Cucumber vines are generally shorter than tomato vines, so small to medium sized trellises are ideal. Try 4-5 foot a-frames, lean-tos or obelisks made of wood, foraged branches, or cattle panels. When grown vertically, cucumbers can be spaced more closely together, at about a foot apart. 

Cucumbers are prone to powdery mildew so growing them vertically helps to get more airflow going around them. Vertically grown cucumbers are also easier to see and harvest. When cucumbers sprawl along the ground it’s easy to miss ripe cucumbers hiding underneath the leaves, which slows production. 

Choosing Varieties

If you are going to grow cucumbers vertically, be sure to choose vining, not bush, varieties.

I find slender Asian varieties climb better, are more productive and have a better texture than the North American bred varieties I have tried. Some of my favorites:

  • China Jade (60 days): A long and slender thin-skinned variety believed to have originated in Northern China. 
  • Shintokiwa (60 days): A Japanese slender smooth and crisp variety that climbs well.
  • Lemon Cucumber (70 days): An Australian heirloom. One of the most prolific cucumbers I’ve grown, lemon cucumbers have a unique, lemon-like, appearance, though they taste like a cucumber. 

I love to serve cucumbers fresh in salads or rice and noodle bowls. Try: spicy Korean cucumber salad, scallion oil noodles. 

Winter Squash & Pumpkins

Despite the name, winter squash - like butternut, acorn, spaghetti and pumpkins - are warm-season sun-loving plants that need to be either direct-sown after all risk of frost is over or started indoors 3-4 weeks before planting out. Winter squash are long-season vegetables that take up a lot of growing space for a long period of time, and should only be harvested at the end of the growing season, just before the first frost, after they develop hard rinds.

Growing Winter Squash Vertically

Growing your winter squash vertically has the potential to save you a lot of growing space, but will require strong supports, no matter the size of the squash you grow. Try cattle panel arches, strong wooden a-frames or arbors. Attaching netting or twine to your supports will give your squash extra support and more places to attach themselves. Any individual squash larger than 3-5 lbs may need even more support in the form of fabric or mesh slings attached to the vertical supports, to prevent the weight of the squash from damaging the plant. 

A black futsu winter squash in a garden

Though most winter squash varieties have a vine-like growing habit and have tendrils that reach out to grab materials, you will likely need to regularly train the vines onto your structure, particularly in the early weeks of the growing season. 

Choosing Varieties

If you’ve got strong enough vertical supports and are willing to put in the extra work of attaching slings to your squash, you can grow pretty much any winter squash variety vertically. For a lower maintenance approach, choose only smaller Varieties of winter squash, anything that produces squash between 3 and 5 pounds. Some of my favorite varieties of winter squash varieties: 

  • Nutterbutter (90 days): A sweet and delicious smaller butternut variety than those you are likely to find in a grocery store, unless you are making a huge batch of butternut squash soup, I find these baby butternuts to be a more suitable size for everyday cooking. If harvested before frost and cured properly, these will store for months. 
  • Black Futsu (100 days): A striking Japanese heirloom winter squash variety with an unusual color and shape. They can be more difficult to prepare than smoother-skinned varieties. 
Beyond classic butternut soup, this butternut fried rice is a recent favorite recipe for using homegrown winter squash.


Melons, including cantaloupe, watermelons, muskmelons and cucamelons, are a very warm-season heat-loving fruit. They should either be direct-sown when the soil warms up in the late spring or early summer or started indoors 3-4 weeks before transplanting out. 

A cucamelon plant climbing up a trellis

Growing Melons Vertically

Like winter squash, melons can produce large vines that take up a lot of growing space. Growing them vertically can save you a lot of space. However, unless you are growing small varieties, or something like a cucamelon, you will need strong supports to grow melons vertically. Any fruit larger than 2 or 3 pounds might need additional support in the form of slings to prevent the weight of the fruit from damaging the plants.

Choosing Varieties

  • Try smaller varieties with fruit that grow to be between 2 and 5 pounds.
  • Melons require a long season of warm weather, so they may be more difficult to grow in cool climates (USDA zone 6 or lower). Choose smaller varieties that mature relatively early, ideally 90 days or less, and are known to perform in your region. Ask a local gardener with experience growing melons what variety they grow and check out small local seed companies to see what varieties they offer. 
  • Cucamelon (67 days): Also known as Mexican sour gherkin, these cherry-tomato-sized melons taste like a citrusy cucumber. They are adorable and great for snacking, pickling or serving fresh in salads. 


Gourds are vegetables in the cucurbit family, which also includes squash and melons, that are commonly grown for decorative or utilitarian purposes, rather than for eating. They store well and, once dried, their hard shells can be used as fall decorations and crafts, including bird houses and bath sponges (if growing loofah gourds). 

They have similar growing requirements to squash - full sun, rich soil, consistent watering and a long warm growing season of at least 100 days. Wait for the soil to warm up to 15-20C (59-68F) before direct-sowing seeds or, if your growing season is short, you can get a head start by starting your gourd seeds indoors in soil blocks, biodegradable pots or root trainers 2-4 weeks before you expect it to be warm enough to transplant them outdoors. Harvest before frosts and properly cure before using. 

A DIY a frame trellis made of foraged branches with string trained tomatoes

Growing Gourds Vertically

Gourds can produce very large vines, up to 30 feet long, so growing them vertically requires a large sturdy trellis. A cattle panel tunnel or other strong arch or pergola is ideal. If individual gourds become very large they may need the additional support of fabric slings. 

Gourds should be planted 3-4 feet apart, but if you are growing them vertically you may be able to get away with planting them a bit closer together. 

Choosing Varieties

  • Birdhouse gourds (120 days): Long vines that produce small gourds that, once dried, will hollow out and can be used to make little birdhouses. 
  • Luffa gourds (150): They require a long growing season but the interiors of these gourds, once dried, can be used to produce bath sponges or environmentally-friendly and biodegradable replacements for store-bought luffas. 

Summer Squash

Summer squash are warm-season heat-loving plants that need direct sun, soil that is rich in organic matter and consistent watering. Harvest your summer squash early and often, being careful not to leave fruit on the plant to get too big. You can direct sow summer squash when the soil warms up in the late spring or early summer, or transplant 3-4 week old seedlings. Summer squash mature more quickly than winter squash and tend to be highly productive plants - you will likely only need a few. 

Growing Summer Squash Vertically

Most summer squash and zucchini have a bush-type growing habit. You can sort of tie them up a stake or contain them within a cage, this might help with air circulation around your plants, but it’s not exactly growing vertically. If you want to grow summer squash up a large trellis or other vertical structure, you will need to look specifically for one of the few varieties available that actually trail and vine. 

Vegetable garden with newly planted cucumbers and tomatoes underneath DIY trellisest

Choosing Varieties

  • Incredible Escalator (58 days): A green vining zucchini variety that grows up a trellis sold by Renee’s Garden.
  • Italian crookneck varieties (58 days): Italian heirloom climbing yellow crookneck squash -  Rampicante-trombocino, Trombetta di Albenga or Tromboncino. They grow on long vines and individual fruit can become large and irregularly shaped. They need a large sturdy trellis.
  • Tatume (45 days): A small round vining Mexican heirloom summer squash variety that can be harvested early as a summer squash, or left on the vine till the end of the season and harvested as a winter squash. 
  • Odessa (65 days): A vining Ukrainian heirloom summer squash variety with sage green oblong shaped fruit. 

Malabar Spinach

Not a true spinach, Malabar (or Ceylon) spinach is a dark leafy green native to India and tropical regions of Asia that can be used as a spinach substitute in warmer seasons and climates that are too warm for most leafy greens, including spinach. Dark glossy leaves grow along long twining vines that can grow up to 10 feet long. It needs full sun to part shade, fertile soil and consistent moisture over the growing season. 

Direct sowing is only suitable in areas with very warm and long growing seasons (at least USDA zone 7 and up). In cooler zones, start malabar spinach seeds inside 8-10 weeks before you expect to be ready to transplant your warm-season crops in the late spring or early summer. Treat the timing of your malabar spinach sort of as you would your hot peppers. Minimize root disturbance of your seedlings by starting them in root trainers, biodegradable pots or soil blocks.

Growing Spinach Vertically

Malabar spinach will climb up vertical structures on its own but it requires a sturdy tall trellis like an obelisk or teepee. 

Choosing Varieties

Cook with malabar spinach the same way you would spinach. Try: quick sauteed greens, shrimp scampi with spinach, fish parcels with greens, beans and anchovy butter.
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