A trellis is a great way to support flowering or fruiting vines that like to climb, such as tomatoes, squash, clematis, and roses. But it takes some thought to decide which material to use for building a trellis.
So, what are the best materials for a trellis? The best materials for a trellis are bamboo, aluminum, and vinyl. A bamboo trellis is best for a natural appearance that will last. Aluminum is best for a light trellis that won’t rust. A vinyl trellis is best for vines that do not produce fruit.
Of course, there are many more materials to choose from. Which one you use for your trellis depends on how long you want it to last, how much you want to spend, and what you are planting.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the best trellis materials and when to use each one.
What Are The Best Materials For A Trellis?
There are four basic categories of materials you can use for a trellis:
- Wood (easy to work with, but does not last as long as others without protection, such as stain or sealer.)
- Metal (harder to work with, but more durable than wood. Without protection, some metals will oxidize on contact with air.)
- Plastic (light and flexible, but perhaps not the best choice for heavier vines or fruiting plants.)
- Recycled (can be made of any or all three of the above categories.)
When making your decision on a trellis material, the main factors to take into account are:
- Availability (How widely available is the material? Can you easily get more to make repairs?)
- Cost & Availability (How expensive is the material? Does extra durability justify increased cost?)
- Durability (How long will the material last?)
- Effort (If building a custom trellis, how difficult is it to work with the material?)
- Type of Plants (What plants will you be supporting with the trellis?)
Let’s start off by taking a closer look at the types of wood you can use for a trellis, along with when you might want to use each one.
No other material can match the natural appearance of a wood trellis. It is easy enough to work with, as long as you have the right tools available (saw, hammer & nails, or screwdriver & screws).
Although wood is sturdy, it will eventually rot, unlike metal or plastic materials. Wood is best used for a trellis that is easy to move or replace (like a lean-to trellis lying against a fence, or a vertical trellis on a wall).
Keep in mind that you can treat or paint wood to make it last longer outside. However, you need to be careful about leaching chemicals into the soil and into your plants, especially if you grow vegetables or fruit on the trellis!
Of course, there are many ways to protect wood to make it last longer. There are numerous stains and sealers available that will extend the life of wood that is in contact with soil and water.
If you want to use something natural and eco-friendly, you have a couple of good options:
- A juniper-based waterproofer, such as this one from Gardener’s Supply Company.
- A whey-based wood stain, such as PolyWhey (available from Gardener’s Supply Company.)
Whether or not you use a stain or sealer, there are many types of wood you can use for a trellis (ome of which are much more expensive than others!)
A bamboo trellis can last up to 10 years before it needs to be replaced. Bamboo is strong, so it can hold up the weight of plants with long vines and heavy fruit.
Bamboo is also lightweight, which makes it easy to move your trellis if you change your mind about the location.
You can buy a ready-made bamboo trellis from a garden supply store. For example, this expandable bamboo trellis from Home Depot allows you to adjust the height and width as you like.
You can also build your custom bamboo trellis. All you need to do is to buy your own bamboo stakes, such as these ones from Gardener’s Supply Company.
Another option is to drive bamboo stakes into the ground in a row, separated by a distance of several feet. Then, connect them with wires or twine at varying heights (perhaps every foot or so.)
This gives your plants a few different wires to hold on to as they grow and climb. It also helps you to keep your rows straight!
Bamboo is somewhat expensive, so it is best used for a quality trellis that you can use for years to come.
Soft & Hard Woods
Using wood for a trellis might not be a problem if you want a temporary support structure for your plants. After the wood rots away, you can use the leftover material as mulch, or add it to your compost pile.
Just make sure the wood is untreated if you put it in your compost pile! Treated wood contains chemicals that can leach into the soil and then into your plants.
After a trellis rots, you can build a new one and put it in another location. This is useful for crop rotation, or if you like to experiment with growing plants in different parts of your garden.
Here is a list of some common types of wood you might use for a trellis. They are listed in order from least to most rot-resistant:
- Pine – a soft wood, often used for furniture. It is not quite as useful for outdoor projects, since it does not resist the elements. Pine does not hold up well when exposed to soil, water, and insects. In most cases, this wood will rot within a few years if untreated.
- Oak – a hard wood, which is stronger than pine, but more difficult to work with. Oak will last longer than pine when used for building a trellis.
- Cypress – a soft wood that holds up against rot when it comes in contact with wet soil. Cypress contains natural oils that preserve the wood so that it can resist decay and insect damage.
- Cedar – another soft wood that holds up very well against the elements in outdoor conditions. Much like cypress, cedar contains its own natural oils that help to protect it from insects and rot. Remember that the red appearance of cedar will naturally fade to gray over time, before the wood eventually rots. Cedar is more expensive than other types of wood. Here is a cedar grid lattice, available from Home Depot.
- Redwood – a soft wood, which is one of the longest lasting. Even in outdoor conditions when exposed to wet soil and insects, redwood is a champion at resisting the elements. Redwood is very expensive, but it can last up to 30 years. Here is a redwood garden lattice, available from Home Depot.
Heavier wood is a good choice for a trellis that needs to support more weight. For example, a trellis meant to support lots of tomato vines, which will become heavy as the plants grow taller and produce fruit.
Wood is easy to work with, since you can cut it to the size you want or find someone to do it for you. Some of the wood listed here is expensive, but you will pay a higher price for more durable wood that lasts longer in the great outdoors.
If you want a strong, durable trellis and you don’t care about a natural appearance, metal might be the right material for you.
Some metals, such as wrought-iron, are heavy, making it difficult to move a trellis after it is placed. Metal is also a bit harder to work with than wood.
You have a few different options if you choose a metal trellis.
Wrought iron trellises are beautiful, but iron is one of the heaviest materials you could use for a trellis. A wrought iron trellis is sturdy and will hold plenty of weight from vines and fruit on your plants.
However, the weight of a wrought iron trellis means that it may not be able to stand on its own. You will probably need to prop a wrought iron trellis against a wall or fence.
You could also drive supports deep into the ground to keep it upright. However, this method requires a little extra work.
Wrought iron will resist rust, but it is not completely rust proof. You can find wrought iron with a special finish that will help it to resist rust.
Wrought iron is tough and durable, but it is expensive. You can find wrought iron trellises here on the Rustic Garden website.
You can also find wrought iron trellises on Etsy.
Stainless steel, like wrought iron, is a heavy material for a trellis. It will hold a lot of weight, but it will be difficult to move a steel trellis.
According to Wikipedia, stainless steel is an alloy of steel (iron and carbon) together with chromium (at least 11%). Chromium helps to prevent rust (iron oxide) from forming on stainless steel.
As with wrought iron, stainless steel is expensive. You can find stainless steel trellises here on Gardener’s Supply Company.
You can also find stainless steel trellises on Wayfair.
Copper, Bronze, Or Brass
Copper, bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), and brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) are good options for a metal trellis. Copper does not form rust (you need iron to form rust, or iron oxide!)
However, copper does corrode (or “tarnish”) and turn green over time as it oxidizes (reacts with oxygen in the air). Bronze and brass will resist corrosion better than copper.
You can buy a ready-made copper trellis here on Etsy.
If you know a plumber (or are a plumber) and like to build things yourself, you can try this copper pipe trellis project from Fine Gardening.
Copper, bronze, and brass are less dense than iron or steel, but they are still heavy. They are ideal for a long-lasting trellis that will serve as a unique feature in your garden.
Aluminum is a much lighter metal than iron, steel, or copper and its alloys. As such, it is easier to build and move a trellis made of aluminum.
Aluminum does not rust (there is no iron in it to form iron oxide!). However, aluminum does corrode as it reacts with oxygen in the air over time.
The aluminum oxide that forms will protect the aluminum underneath from further damage. However, you can also find aluminum with a special clear coating protect it from corrosion.
Aluminum is a great choice if you want a long-lasting metal trellis that is light, just in case you want to move it later.
Plastic (Including Vinyl)
If you want a lightweight trellis that will hold up against the elements, then a plastic trellis is probably the best choice for you.
Plastic does not rot like wood, and it does not rust or corrode like metal. It is not too heavy, so it is easy to move a plastic trellis, or to build one on your own.
The only possible drawback is that some plastic can be flimsy (not as sturdy as wood or metal). As such, it may not be the best choice for plants with long vines or heavy fruit.
Vinyl is one of the more common types of plastic that is used to build trellises. Plastic is a common material, so there are plenty of plastic trellises available online.
For example, you can buy a vinyl lattice panel trellis here on Wayfair.
Recycled Material & Junk
The recycled material and junk category has its own place, for two reasons.
First, some of these trellises are made from one or more materials, so they defy categorization.
Second, you can find many of these recycled materials for cheap or free!
Are you doing home renovations, or do you know someone who is? Ask for anything that can be used as a potential trellis (or part of a trellis) for your garden, including:
- Door frames
- Window frames
- Support beams
Just make sure that the materials you set aside are non-toxic. Treated wood, lead, and so forth are hazards that are more likely to appear in older homes.
Wire Or Twine
If you have some old fishing wire, metal wire, or twine lying around, then you can use it as part of your trellis. You can easily make a grid pattern with any of these materials (almost like a rope ladder for plants to climb on!)
You can also drive metal poles or wood stakes into the ground and run a length of wire or twine between the stakes at varying heights. This will give your plants several different “levels” to climb as they grow.
A ready-made variation on this idea is chicken wire or rabbit wire. These materials are often used for cages or fences to keep animals in. However, you can use them for gardening if you have some leftover material, or if you want to recycle fencing that you have lying around.
You can also use a fishing net as a trellis. A fishing net has a ready-made lattice pattern, and would be perfect for climbing plants and their vines. Ask a fisherman who needs to buy new nets if you can recycle the old ones for gardening.
Are you annoyed by the sticks in your yard and garden after a heavy snow or strong wind? Well, don’t be!
You can use the sticks to build a trellis. Look for long, tall, straight sticks to build the vertical and horizontal pieces for a grid trellis.
You can also drive sticks into the ground and run a length of wire or twine between them at varying heights, as mentioned above.
A variation on this idea is to use an old ladder as a trellis. Just lean it up against a wall or fence (or open up an “A-frame” ladder and put it anywhere!) Then you can let your plants climb up and down the ladder freely.
Different Types Of Trellises
Now that you’ve chosen a material, you need to choose the type of trellis to buy (or build). There are lots of options, and some are easier to find (or make) than others.
An A-frame trellis is just what it sounds like. It is shaped like a capital ‘A’, and it touches the ground on two sides.
This gives an A-frame trellis more stability against wind than a vertical trellis. The best part of an A-frame trellis is that plants can grow up both sides (or up one side and down the other!).
Alternatively, you can start plants on one side of the trellis and let them grow all the way up to the top. They can then start working their way down the other side.
The plants growing up an A-frame will provide some shade underneath the trellis. This can be the perfect place to put shade-tolerant plants, such as lettuce (as long as they don’t grow too tall!)
These are sometimes called tomato cages, but you can use them to support any plant that climbs. Usually, these are either round or square, with 3 or 4 stakes that you can drive into the ground to secure them.
Just pay attention to the height of the plants you are supporting with a cage trellis. Many cages are only 3 or 4 feet tall, while many plants (including indeterminate tomato varieties) will climb much taller than that (easily 6 feet or higher).
A fence trellis is just what it sounds like: it has a lattice pattern and looks like a fence. A fence trellis will need some kind of support to keep it standing, especially in windy areas.
There are many options for a fence trellis if you buy one ready-made. For example, you can buy a trellis made of willow saplings from Home Depot.
An obelisk trellis is often round, similar to a tomato cage. However, they tend to be taller than tomato cages, and the vertical supports meet in a point at the top of the obelisk.
Trellis Height & Alternatives
If you are unsure about how tall to make your trellis, I go into detail about it in this article.
If you like the idea of using trellises to decorate your garden while allowing plants to climb, then you might want to check out pergolas and arbors as well – you can read more about them in my article here.
Now you have some idea for the materials you can use for a trellis, and when it might be best to use each one. You also have some ideas on what shape your trellis might take.
I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who will find the information useful.