Growing Vegetables Vertically – 11 Veggies That Climb

One of the best ways to save space in the garden it to grow plants vertically. Trellises, cages, and tall stakes can all provide support for plants to be grown up instead of on the ground.

There are many natural climbers, plants that use tendrils to latch onto a support and grow taller. However, many other garden vegetables that do not naturally climb can still benefit from vertical growth.

In this article, I’ve shared 11 vegetables that love to grow vertically. Use these tall plants along the North side of your garden to make the most of your garden space, however large or small! Let’s get started.

1. Cucumbers

If you have a trellis or even a tomato cage, cucumber plants will happily climb upwards. These vigorous climbers benefit immensely from growing upwards instead of along the ground.

Cucumber plants climbing tomato cages

Cucumber plants put out thin tendrils that grab onto surfaces and naturally bring the plants upright. This helps improve aeration, while saving valuable soil space for growing other things in the garden.

For added benefit, the tall plants can cast shade for growing heat-sensitive plants like lettuce and brassicas. Learn more about growing cucumbers in raised beds.

2. Pole Beans

There are two main types of beans – bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans grow in a small, bushy plant that does not require staking or support. Pole beans are natural climbers, and require a pole (hence the name) or trellis to thrive.

Pole beans can be quite unruly in the garden, so make sure you provide enough space and support for the plants to grow vertically. During the season, watch out for any tendrils that have latched onto your other plants, as pole beans have a tendency to overtake the garden when left unchecked.

3. Cantaloupe

You may not think that large melons could grow vertically, but they can! Cantaloupes are natural climbers and can benefit greatly from being grow up a trellis. Some gardeners even grow cantaloupes over an archway, allowing the melons to hang down from above.

Cantaloupe growing on vine

The main issue with growing cantaloupes vertically is supporting the weight of the melons as they grow larger. To keep them from breaking off prematurely, you can use a pair of nylon tights, a piece of fabric, or a purpose-made melon hammock.

When not grown vertically, cantaloupes will sprawl out, taking over vast areas of the garden and wasting space. Just be sure that the support structure you provide is tall enough (about 6-8 feet), and that you help train the plants upwards as needed throughout the summer.

4. Sweet Peas

Some of the very first veggies that get planted in our garden every year are snap peas. These natural climbing plants are cool season plants, meaning they can get planted much earlier than some of the other vertical vegetables on this list.

Sugar snap peas on vine

For example, I like to plant peas along our trellis in late March. By the time we’ve harvested the peas in May, we can transplant our cucumbers and/or melons into the same space to use the same vertical support structure.

Tip: Peas are natural nitrogen fixers. This means that peas can actually add nutrients into the soil. So, when your peas are finished growing, be sure to snip them off at the soil line rather than pulling up the root systems.

Come fall, you can re-plant peas and take advantage of the cool weather once more before the garden is put to bed for winter.

5. Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra)

My parents have grown malabar spinach for many years, and it is always a spectacle in their small garden bed. This plant (which is not a true spinach) winds its way up a small trellis, onto their deck railing, and all the way up the stairs (at least 10 feet tall).

Just like pole beans, this crop can easily get out of hand, so don’t plant it unless you have a trellis! If you fail to give malabar spinach a support system, it may wrap around your other crops, causing a messy garden.

However, when grown properly, even a single plant of malabar spinach offers an endless supply of thick, chard-like greens, perfect for fresh salads or frying with veggies.

6. Tomatoes

Unlike cucumbers or pole beans, tomatoes won’t naturally climb upwards. They do not have tendrils or spiraling branches to keep hold of a trellis or stake. However, you can easily attach your tomato stems to a vertical support, and there are so many benefits to doing this.

For one, tomatoes need lots of fresh air and space to avoid disease throughout the season. By keeping them upright and off the ground, aeration is improved, and disease is less likely.

Tomatoes better boy
Tomatoes growing with stake for vertical support.

Also, without a support, tomatoes will sprawl and crawl along the soil, re-rooting in the surrounding soil and overtaking the garden.

Tip: Tomato cages are usually not large or strong enough for tomato plants. Instead, try pruning the tomatoes to 1-2 main stems, and attaching them to a tall, sturdy stake. Or, attach the plants to a trellis like you would cucumbers.

7. Winter Squash (Gourds)

If you like growing your own pumpkins or gourds for the month of October, you’ll be happy to know they can be grown vertically. As long as the squashes are not too large, they can hang off of the vines while growing up a trellis.

These plants may need a bit of extra training to get them to grow where you want, as they tend to spread out and sprawl. However, through selective pruning and moving branches to ideal spots, the winter squash plants can be kept fairly tidy.

8. Cucumber Melons (Cucumis melo)

Cucumber melons are not actually cucumbers, but are actually in the same species as cantaloupes and other melons. However, they look more like cucumbers than melons, so the name fits.

Cucumbers on table trellis
Cucumber melon plants growing over a “table trellis”

Like cantaloupe, cucumber melons should be grown vertically, as they are natural climbers. These melons are a delicious alternative to true cucumbers, and are known to be more tolerant of heat and moisture without succumbing to disease.

A common way of growing cucumber melons is to train them up a short trellis, and then allow them to grow over a flat table-like trellis. This takes up a lot of space, but allows the melons to hang down below, making for straighter fruits and easy harvesting.

9. Hops

If you’d like to take a crack at growing your own hops, you’ll need to give them something to grow up. This can be a simple central stake, a tipi tower constructed of fallen branches, or a string trellis. Hops will happily climb upwards, maximizing the vertical space in your garden.

Hops growing vertically

A word of caution: Be mindful of just how tall you grow your hop plants. These plants will easily surpass 12-15 feet in height in a single growing season, so make sure you can reach the flowers when they are ready for harvest!

10. Peppers

Just like tomatoes, peppers are not natural climbers. However, they are commonly grown as a vertical crop, especially in the commercial greenhouse setting.

While it may not be as practical in the home garden, you can train your peppers upwards to take advantage of vertical space. This allows you to space pepper plants closer to each other, while encouraging the plants to grow tall rather than wide.

To do this, prune off and low side shoots, and tie the main stem to a very tall, sturdy stake. Over time, do your best to discourage side shoots, and encourage vertical growth along the main stem, attaching it as you go.

11. Watermelons

Last but not least, watermelons are a great candidate for growing vertically. These delicious, sweet fruits are impressive plants that love to climb.

Just like their cantaloupe cousins, watermelons can be beautiful when grown over a tall, arching trellis. Again, the fruits are quite heavy, plan on supporting them with a watermelon hammock to prevent the fruits from snapping off the vine prematurely.

Watermelons growing vertically

Note: I would only recommend growing small watermelons vertically. Anything over 6-8 lbs may simply be too large to support on a vertical trellis, and should be grown in a large patch of the garden instead.

There are many other edible and non-edible plants that love to climb. Nasturtiums are beautiful flowers that are tasty, while clematis and morning glories offer stunning color on trellises or arches.

I hope I have inspired you to try growing vegetables vertically in your garden this year. The vertical plane is often neglected in the home garden, but it is free real estate that you can easily put to use every season!

– Calvin

As an avid gardener for many years, Calvin is always excited to learn more about the fascinating world of plants. He has a particular fascination with peppers, as well as big, showy flowers like peonies and roses

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