Vertical garden watermelon on trellis
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Issue: February 12, 2005

Vertical garden watermelon on trellis

Question:

I read what you wrote about container gardens and was intrigued by your statement that watermelons could be grown on a trellis. I live in a townhouse, and while I have a small space for a garden, I didn't think I could grow large, sprawling plants like watermelons. Does this work with other plants as well? How do you make a "sling" to hold the fruit?

Answer:

Gardeners with limited garden space, whether a small townhouse garden or a container garden, find it useful to use "vertical space" - they train normally sprawling plants to grow upward. This leaves the soil and walkway surfaces clear. It does create a problem when the plant makes heavy fruit. The solution to the problem is to support the heave fruits so they do not break the vines. Watermelons (the small fruited icebox varieties) can be grown to utilize the vertical space in a garden. Cantaloupes, honeydew melons, and even vine-type squash and small-fruited pumpkins can also be grown in this manner. The sling is simply a piece of fabric (old t-shirt or pantyhose) that supports the fruit and is itself tied to a firmly supported trellis. A stretchy fabric will allow growth of the fruit while firmly holding the fruit. Any other fabric from burlap to muslin (or other available fabric) may be used and formed into a sling such as that worn by a person with a broken arm. This is tied at each end to the trellis.

The trellis should not be just a simple trellis pushed into a pot. It must be firmly anchored to the ground or supported by placing its base into a large bucket of concrete. If using the bucket of concrete, make sure it is quite wide to provide a broad, stable base. The trellis may also be made from stout wires anchored into the garden wall. You can design something that is purely functional or something that becomes an attractive architectural element in the landscape, perhaps even forming an arched trellis under which you sit.

The use of vertical space allows for increased shade in a small garden, which can sometimes be very hot. It must not compete with trees but in some cases can replace small trees and shrubs in the small garden. In the winter, the vines may be removed allowing increased sunlight to warm the garden.

The shade created by the vertical garden can benefit other plants growing below the taller plants. If the shade is not too dense, sunscald damage to tomatoes and chiles will be reduced. Blossom end rot may also be reduced as the temperature and wind desiccation under the taller plants will be reduced. There will be additional space for other plants, either vegetables or flowers.

Don't waste the vertical space, especially if your garden is small.

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Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.