By Su Reid-St. John
Here’s a simple, beautiful way to support tall-growing (aka indeterminate) tomato plants: a Bamboo Trellis Tower, brainchild of horticulturist and garden designer Charlie Thigpen of Birmingham, Alabama. Bamboo can be surprisingly easy to find, as it grows vigorously and often a little too enthusiastically for those on whose property it resides — chances are they will welcome your taking some away. (Still, be sure to ask first!)
Here’s another benefit of bamboo: Once the tower begins to break down after two or three years, you can compost it. Simply take it apart and add it to the compost heap.
Can’t find bamboo? You can also make this structure from sturdy, mostly-straight branches or rebar. Whatever material you choose, you can also use the trellis for beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons. Just plant around the “footprint” of the tower.
Here’s how to build your own Bamboo Trellis Tower:
1. Cut the following using a pruning saw: four 8½-foot poles, four 28” cross-pieces, four 14” cross-pieces, and eight 42” pieces.
2. Cut the thicker end of each pole into a sharp angle to make it easier to drive into the ground.
3. Loosely gather the thinner ends of the four poles together and secure them.
4. Set the bottoms of the poles about 34” apart and drive them a few inches into the ground.
5. Using zip-ties, twine, or fishing line, attach the four 28” cross-pieces horizontally to the poles at about 32” above the ground.
6. Attach the four 14” cross-pieces horizontally to the poles at about 66” above the ground.
7. Use the eight 42” pieces to create an X in the middle of each side of the tower, between the cross-pieces. Be sure to position them with the thinner parts at the top.
8. Tighten the top of the tower as needed (where the poles come together).
9. Plant an indeterminate tomato plant in the center. As it grows, keep branches and foliage inside the tower, using twine to help train the growth.
Charlie Thigpen owns Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery, located in Birmingham, Alabama.