When you find yourself running out of ground to grow your garden, it’s time to go vertical.
Growing vertically not only helps conserve space but can also help prevent disease due to better air movement,” says Ward Upham, Kansas State University horticulture expert. “Also, harvesting those crops can be easier. If you have a small garden, growing vertically can allow more crops to be grown.”
Structure meets crop
Tomato cages are a good example of how crops can be grown vertically, and other crops can be trained to grow up a structure, he says. They include pole beans, peas and vining crops like cucumbers, melons, squash and gourds.
“Edible-pod and snow peas are better adapted to growing vertically than English [shelling] peas because they have longer vines,” Upham says.
He suggests avoiding bush-type vining crops because they are bred to produce shorter vines. “Another thing to keep in mind is that large fruit from vining crops may need to be supported so they don’t damage the vine,” he adds.
Upham says bamboo poles can form a pyramid trellis to support pole beans. Cattle fence panels, which come in 16-foot lengths, may have to be cut in half for a better fit and then tied together to form a “pup tent.”
“Another way to support a cattle panel is to tie the panel to T-posts, so that it will stand upright,” Upham says. Then, your crops can be planted at the base of each panel.
Upham offers tips for those who want to set their tomato plants up to produce earlier in the year.
“Most people who try to get a jump on the season set their tomatoes out early and hope they do well,” he says. “However, that is often not a good plan because tomatoes have certain requirements to grow well, including an acceptable soil temperature for root growth, and an acceptable air temperature for plant growth and fruit set.”
If conditions cooperate, Upham says gardeners should shoot for a planting date of two weeks earlier than normal.
First, tomatoes need a soil temperature of at least 55 degrees F to grow roots well. Plastic mulch can warm the soil, but it takes several days to raise the soil temperature. Gardeners should check the soil temperature 2.5 inches deep at 11 a.m., or use the average of temperatures taken before and after the workday.
Second, gardeners need to protect tomatoes from late frost. Hot caps or water-filled plastic plant protectors can be placed over young plants to protect them, providing a higher average temperature to encourage growth. If the temperature drops below 55 degrees overnight, tomato flowers may not set. The plant may not be hurt, but the blossom will not set fruit or will set misshapen fruit.
Upham can be reached at [email protected], or you can contact your local K-State Research and Extension office with questions.