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 edulis, to 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…
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.
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.
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)
– Clamps and wood scraps
– Hammer and center punch
– 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.
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.
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.
6. Grow and train your plants!