Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pea Trellis Tutorial

A number of you have requested I do a tutorial on how I built my pea trellises. So, as requested, here is the tutorial.

This is the finished product. It's pretty sturdy, and it will definitely do the trick for a few seasons (at least).
Materials you will need:
  • 3 cedar fence boards, 6' long (99cents each at Home Depot)
  • 6-8 long screws (2"-3.5")
  • 4 long screws (2.5-3.5") or 4 shorter screws (3/4"-1.25")
  • 8 short screws (about 3/4") or wood glue
  • Screwdriver (electric works best, though you could do this by hand)
  • Saw or a friend with a saw. :)
  • String
  • Outdoor staples with a spring staple gun, or staples to hammer in with a nail.

I like to use cedar fenceboards in most of my projects. Here's why:
  1. First off, they're sturdy.
  2. They will not decay as fast as other wood. These are the same boards that I use to make my garden beds (see picture, below).
  3. Their dimensions are easy to transport and work with: They are 6' long, 1/2-3/4" thick, and they are 5.5" wide.
  4. They BEND pretty well. No, not crazy bending, but enough that I can make something fit if need be.
  5. NO NEED TO PRE-DRILL ANY HOLES. That means I can screw in a screw, and generally, the wood will NOT split. This is a godsend, for if I had to pre-drill the holes first (if you pre-drill, wood will usually not split when you put in a screw), it would take SO much time.
Of course though, you can do this project with just about any type of wood. That's just my schpeal on why I chose what I chose.

For trellis work, the 5.5" wide boards were not the look I wanted. I wanted something thinner. Of course, you could easily leave the boards 5.5" wide.

Because I wanted something thinner, I split the boards length-wise. So, I ended up with 2.75" wide boards. I did this a few times using my hand-held jigsaw, but that's pretty awkward, the lines aren't straight, and it's kinda dangerous (because you're dealing with a long piece of wood that you're having to hold awkwardly while you're cutting).

If you don't have a saw, here's what you can do (if you want the thinner boards): either buy thinner boards (it will probably be a different type of wood), try to convince the hardware folks to cut the boards for you (they probably won't because it's such an awkward cut), OR:

Drill approximately a hole every 3" up the length of the board. Put the hole along the cut-line (the 2.75" width mark). Then attempt to break the board apart. Since the grain of the wood is length-wise, your drill holes should put enough weakness on those grains to make splitting possible.

As for me, I jigsawed my pea trellises. I have more trellises to build though, so I convinced a friend to let me use his table saw. So, this is what the final product will look like:
The final product, essentially, is a big sawhorse. You'll have one beam running horizontally on top, supported on either side by two A-frame, leaning posts.

My garden bed for the peas was 6'x3'. You'll want to measure the INTERIOR of your garden bed, not the exterior. Because my interior was 6', my horizontal beam was 6'. I wanted the bed to be between 5'-6' tall, so I just decided the legs would be 6' long too.

So, for my bed, I had one horizontal beam bar that was 6', and four A-frame legs that were also 6'. Five pieces total.

However, the question becomes: How do you get the legs to lean against the horizontal bar?
For that, I added spacers. I did that by attaching two small pieces of wood to the horizontal beam's end. I made the spacers about 2.5" long, that way, they would be hidden by the A-frame legs.

You can either drill or glue these pieces onto the horizontal bar (I'm using a thicker bar here than the cedar so I can take photos and hold it easily).
Once you have secured the spacers, you can attach the legs. See how I'm getting the lean I want because of the spacer being there? Remember, the leg width at the bottom does not need to be the perfect width of your garden bed; cedar (and most wood) bends. At this point, I either clamp the leaning wood down and screw it in, or I just screw it in. I use long screws, that way the screw goes all the way into the horizontal bar. You repeat the process with the other side.
So, the end result is that you have your two pieces leaning against the center bar, held into an A-frame shape by your spacer woods.
I should add that it is POSSIBLE to do without the spacers, but I do not recommend it. I tried this technique on one of my pea trellises, and it was not a great experience. You have to leave some screws not screwed in all the way, and the horizontal bar will not sit as nicely. But, if you want to try it, go ahead. My photo is below of my trellis without the spacers, and you can see that it looks a tad more awkward.

At this point, you have a trellis. It's probably a little awkward to move around (I had to pretty much tiptoe through my garden, holding it high above my head). I learned my lesson: build it somewhat near where I want to install it!

It's probably not the most stable either. It may stand up, but you'll need to secure the trellis. If you have raised garden beds, you do this by attaching the trellis to the bed. If you do not, you do this by digging holes, burying the trellis a little, and then putting some rocks around the base.

There are two methods to securing the trellis to the garden bed. You can either drill from the side into the wood:
Or, you can drill from the front into the wood.
If you drill from the front, you will likely need a long screw because you'll have to go through the bed front and the joint and THEN into the trellis. If you screw from the side, you'll have to be a little more precise on your screwing (because the trellis side is only 3/4" thick), but you'll need a smaller screw (1" or so).

So VOILA, you have a trellis, and it's secured into whatever your pea set-up is.

NOW I PAINT THE TRELLIS. Yes, paint does help protect the wood a bit from the environment, but really, I just like the pop of color. A TIP: If you go to Home Depot or most hardware stores, they will have "oops paint." This is where the mixing process did not go right. I get quarts of paint for $1. I don't care if it's interior or exterior paint, gloss, flat, etc. It's cheap, and if it fades, I'll paint it again. I use the oops paint for most of my projects, but this blue on my trellises happened to be leftover paint I had from my chicken coop. :)

After you paint, it's time to string the trellis! I just used cheap string. I suppose you could even use yarn, but you would have to replace the string in a year. Twine would also work.

I just did a zig zag pattern, about 3" between rows. Draw sting across trellis, staple, go up 3", staple, then go back to other side of trellis. Repeat. I tried to keep the twine pretty taut, that way it would be a stable surface for the vines to crawl up.
See, this process is continued up the trellis.
And voila, you have your trellises. I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out. I ran out of space on a few of them, and so I even put twine up the A part of the A-frame!
Total cost per frame:
Wood: $2.50.
Screws: about 50 cents
Staples: about 20 cents
String: about $1.00

Total: $4.20 per frame. It probably ended up costing me less than that, because I poked around my toolbox and yard to find the screws, string, and staples. But, if you had to buy things, this is the approximate cost (assuming you have a hammer and screwdriver).

Please feel free to comment if you need something clarified! I tried to make it as clear as possible, though that's sometimes difficult to do.

And note: This trellis form can be used for MANY plants, including beans and perhaps even tomatoes. Beans you may want to run the string vertically though. But the basic idea for the trellis is still applicable!


  1. Excellent! I love 'em, they look great. And so useful, too.

  2. Oh very nice, thanks for sending me the link. I am going to share it on the LJ gardening community.

  3. Thre is nothing more rewarding than building a trellis by hand.