All a vine really needs is a vertical structure for climbing, but you don't need to shell out hundreds of dollars for a trellis when you can build your own ladder trellis. A ladder has the vertical part covered and the horizontal rungs provide surface for vines to cling to as they make their way up the ladder -- especially important for twining vines that don't have sticky rootlets to help them cling to the support structure. Aged lumber helps achieve the look of an antique ladder, but you can easily use new lumber and add stain or paint.
Things You'll Need
- Measuring tape
- Two-by-two or two-by-three lumber
- 3-inch galvanized wood screws
Cut two pieces of lumber to the desired height for the ladder, usually between 5 and 7 feet. Use two-by-two or two-by-three boards for a sturdy ladder trellis, especially if you want to train heavy vines such as grapes (Vitis vinifera), which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9.
Mark the sides of the boards for the rung placement about 8 to 12 inches apart. For example, for 8-inch rung placement, measure 8 inches from the bottom of the boards and make a mark. Mark the board every 8 inches up to the opposite ends of the boards.
Drill a pilot hole through the sides of the boards at each mark, using a power drill and a 1/8-inch drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the 3-inch wood screws you'll use to assemble the ladder. The holes must go all the way through the boards.
Cut the rungs to the desired width for the ladder or about 12 inches. You'll need one ladder rung for every pilot hole along the sides. Use the same size lumber as you used for the ladder sides. Drill a centered pilot hole about 1-inch deep into each end of the ladder rung pieces.
Lay the side pieces on a flat work surface and line up the rung pieces between the longer boards. The narrow sides of the rungs should face out so the wide sides line up with the wide sides of the ladder side pieces.
Drive a 3-inch galvanized wood screw through the pilot holes in the side boards and into the pilot holes in the rungs to assemble the ladder.
Tips & Warnings
- A single screw on the sides of each rung is sturdy enough to support vines, but you should install two evenly spaced screws to attach two-by-three rungs if you ever intend to use the ladder for climbing.
- The ladder trellis can also double as a plant stand for displaying potted plants with vines growing around it. Instead of attaching a two-by-three rung at each interval, replace one or two of the rungs with a two-by-six board that's wide enough to hold a potted plant. The two-by-six boards require two evenly spaced screws at each end.
- You can also build a ladder from twigs found in the woods or in your yard, following this same basic technique. Instead of attaching the rungs between the sides, lay the twig rungs across the sides, overlapping the edges by 1 to 2 inches, and screw them into the front face of the ladder sides.
- University of Minnesota Extension: Trellises and Cages to Support Garden Vegetables
- Trellising, Staking and Caging -- Vertical Gardening Techniques for Vine-Type Vegetables
- Gardener's Supply Company: How to Choose Trellises and Supports for Climbing Plants
- Fine Gardening: Build a Bamboo Trellis
- North Carolina State University Extension: Vitis Vinifera
- The Design Confidential: Rustic Ladder Prop
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images