Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Going Super Vertical: How to Build a Copper Pipe Trellis (Without Soldering)

Photos by Ryan Benoit

This year we’ve been going up…up…and UP. For a few reasons: we’ve run out of horizontal space in our small 1,700-square-foot garden, and we needed a tall structure for one of our favorite young plants, Passiflora edulisto climb and bask in the afternoon sun. (We’re very into climbers lately.) There’s also a structure from our neighbor’s house located right over our fence. So some privacy would be nice. Peep those windows below…

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Back in January, our beloved Passiflora edulis had nowhere to climb. See how it loiters on and around the hammock? We’re staging the new trellis here.

 

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

One month later, and the passion vine is much happier.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

It’s August and we can no longer can see the neighbors’ house.

 

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

On the south edge our garden, we planted sun-loving climbers in the top planters of the new tropical vertical clay pot garden.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We’re imagining the future when this tropical clematis (Clematis smilacifolia) fills in the trellis, but in the meantime, we love the structure of the copper pipes.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Meanwhile on the south end of our garden, we have a vertical clay pot garden (DIY here) planted with tropical climbers. The plants (tropical clematis and two species of Dutchman’s pipes) are potted in clay pots six feet off the ground. We decided to give them more headroom.

These vertical gardens needed to be high and strong, and they needed to be custom built to fit our space. We flirted with wood designs, but building a trellis higher than ten feet would end up too bulky and not match the sleek industrial modern look of our garden.

Copper pipe in the form of a grid, on the other hand, was a better fit for our aesthetic. Most copper trellis DIYs that we’ve seen are soldered together (yes, requiring a torch). Not inclined to invest in extra equipment, we instead connected our copper pipes with stainless steel fasteners. This gave us two quick, lightweight trellises that met the needs of our plants. They can also be disconnected easily and even reconfigured in the future. After climbing 13 feet high throughout the first part of the summer, our passion vine is now producing fruits larger than racquetballs. Our tropical clematis and Dutchman’s pipes are still getting familiar with the grid…

Here is how we built the custom trellises for our garden. This design can be easily adapted for any size or configuration.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

1. Sketch your grid design.

– 1/2 in. x 10 ft. copper pipe (Type M Hard Temper Straight Pipe) runs about $10 each at Home Depot. Consider using thicker diameter pipe for a more rigid trellis which may be appropriate for installations vulnerable to winds.

– Depending on the climber you are growing, space the vertical and horizontal pipes accordingly. Smaller-leaf vines will normally need a tighter grid structure to fill in better. Eventually the plant will take over and the trellis will almost become invisible.

– Calculate pipe lengths and distances between intersections of your custom grid. Holes will be drilled at the intersections of the pipes and will then be bolted together.

– The copper will only stay bright for a couple of weeks before tarnishing. It will be nearly impossible to polish the copper after setting up the planter, so enjoy it while it’s shiny and be prepared for a more aged brown look after about a month.

– If mounting to a fence, consider checking with your neighbor first before going above six feet or mount to a structure not at the edge of your property.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Make your sketch. Calculate the total lengths of pipe and the distance between intersections where you’ll drill the holes.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Passion vine is very aggressive with large leaves meaning that our grid could be wide. We spaced horizontal pipes eighteen inches apart.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We made a tighter grid pattern for this trellis, as its climbing plants have smaller leaves.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

2. Gather your material:

– 1/2-inch copper pipe (quantities and lengths as required based on your sketch)
– Fasteners: 1/4-inch x 1-1/2-inch bolts and 1/4-inch wingnuts, preferably stainless steel for weather resistance (quantity as required, one pair per intersection)
– Hacksaw
– Clamps and wood scraps
– Hammer and center punch
– Marker
– Power drill
– 3/8-inch drillbit
– Lightweight flush cutters or small round file
– 1/2-inch copper tube straps (for mounting)

3. Mark, cut and pre-drill pipe sections:

– Using sketch, mark the copper pipes according to your sketch.

– Use a hacksaw to cut all copper pipes to size. Copper is very soft and easy to cut. Use flush cutters or round file to remove excess copper material.

– Group and clamp horizontal pipes together using a soft wood (we use scrap cedar fencing).

– Mark and center punch the pipes (being as precise a possible) so that the holes line up near perfectly when assembling.

– Drill through horizontal pipes at each punch. When drilling, be careful to drill perpendicularly through both sides of the copper pipe so that holes are centered across the pipe.

– Repeat for vertical pipes.

– Clean holes with with flush cutter or round file.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Use a hacksaw to cut pipe to size according to sketch.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Mark the horizontal pipes for drilling in a group. Hint: use a square for better accuracy.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We use scrap cedar fencing to clamp the pipes together and also as backing so that we don’t drill into our work surface which happens to be our picnic table!

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Using a hammer and a center punch, create indents into the pipe at each mark. This will ensure the holes will line up during assembly of the grid trellis.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Drill straight down through each pipe making sure to hold the drill perpendicular so that the holes are straight.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We use a flush cutter to clean up the holes. Copper is very soft and will not dull the cutters.

4. Assemble and fasten grid

– Loosely lay out grid, verticals on top of horizontals.

– Working one vertical row at a time, install 1/4-inch bolts upward through pre-drilled holes of horizontal pipes.

– Aligning the holes with the bolts, fit each vertical pipe against the horizontal pipe. If the holes do not align perfectly, use a tongue and groove pliers (channel locks) to twist the pipe so that the bolts slide through the hole.

– Thread on and tighten wing nuts after each vertical pipe is placed.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

With the bolts pushed up through the horizontal runs, align the holes and push the vertical pipes against the horizontal pipes.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We love any opportunity to use wingnuts!

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Work from one side to the other. Use pliers to twist pipe slightly if the holes do not line up perfectly.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

5. Mount trellis

– Mount to a fence or posts using pipe straps and deck screws. We mounted the passion vine trellis to the perimeter fence using three pipe straps. The bottom of the copper pipe trellis starts three feet off the ground. We mounted the other trellis by sliding the vertical pipes over five 1/2-inch all-thread rods at the top of our vertical clay pot garden.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

We used deck screws to secure the straps.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

You can barely see the two vertical pipes starting three feet off the ground.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Installing the tropical plant trellis over the existing all-thread rods.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

6. Grow and train your plants! 

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

This trellis turned out to be 13 feet high. We set up a ladder to give us a boost training the vine.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

This grabber tool is one of our favorite garden tools and super handy for training the vine.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

After six months we can barely see the neighbors’ house!

 

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

It’s difficult to see the trellis too! We made a bridge to our gigantic Schefflera tree! BTW, can you spot the six passionfruits in this picture?

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Waiting patiently for the passionfruit harvest.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

The harvest has just begun!

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

There are two species of Aristolochia (Dutchman’s pipe) growing here, but it’s impossible to tell them apart until we get some blooms. The two species are A. grandiflora (calico flower) and A. gigantea (pelican flower).

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

After three months, the tropical clematis is starting to get acquainted.

Copper pipe trellis DIY - The Horticult

 

 

 

  • Kathleen Henderson

    Oh my word, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for! We live on a few acres and have an unsightly outbuilding that I’d love to disguise with climbers. I’ve been racking my brain for a solution that doesn’t involve wood (which will eventually rot) or soldering, but that can be custom fit to the dimensions of our outbuilding. This is perfect!! Thank you for such detailed instructions and clear photos. Can’t wait to get started on our trellis….

    • Our pleasure, Kathleen! Happy building (and planting 😉

  • Shelby Clark

    Hi there! Great idea – looks beautiful! How has this held up over the year? I’m concerned about storms bending the pipes.