Do you love fresh vegetables but you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to them? If this is the case, climbing vegetables can be the answer to your problem. We’ve picked out 21 of the best climbing vegetables that you can easily grow vertically with a little support. You can grow them up over your garden walls, over tipis and trellises, and even on wire support systems. Growing your own vegetables isn’t just a way to get healthy, fresh vegetables either; it’s also good for your mental and physical health.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order for them to grow their own food, they need a huge space. This mindset can easily prevent people from even attempting to grow anything. However, it’s possible to successfully grow vegetables on a patio, in a small backyard, or even on a balcony. All it takes is some clever support systems, such as trellising or raised beds, and the right climbing vegetables.
Vertical gardens are gaining in popularity, especially since they’re great for people who have very little space to grow fresh vegetables.
1. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon actually falls into the same family as squash, cucumber, and watermelon. Even though we could place them in the melon category later on, we believe that it deserves its own entry on the list of climbing vegetables. Not many people know of this plant, but it’s a very beginner-friendly option that grows very vigorously when you plant it on an arch, trellis, or pergola.
Generally speaking, this climbing vegetable grows best in subtropical or tropical climates because they need a lot of direct, full sunlight. However, you shouldn’t let this deter you from attempting to grow it if you live in another zone. Just make sure it gets as much sunlight as it can. Bitter melons usually top out at eight inches long, and each plant will produce 10 to 12 fruits. These fruits are an acquired taste as, as the name suggests, are very bitter.
Chayote is a green fruit that is a more unusual climbing vegetable to feature in your garden. This vining plant produces pale green, pear-shaped fruits that can look a little like pumpkins. Chayote is a plant that thrives when you grow it up a trellis or fence, and you can grow it in moderately cool to subtropical climates without a problem. If you do live in a cooler climate, you will need to put more care into it. Plant it in a larger pot and bring it inside during the fall months or offer it warm winter protection to keep it healthy.
Every cucumber variety is a climbing vegetable, so they will thrive when you have them in vertical gardens. Just make sure that your plants have adequate support as the heavier fruits develop. If you have limited space, you can grow dwarf varieties. Some of the best cucumber varieties to consider for this garden setup include:
- Long English Tasty Green – This is a vigorous vining burpless variety, and it produces very mild-tasting, sweet cucumbers.
- Marketmore 76: You’ll get uniform, dark green cucumbers that are up to nine inches long.
- Mexican Sour Gherkin: This is a small, prolific cucumber variety. It has a lemon flavoring to it, and it looks like a mini watermelon when it’s ripe. It makes an excellent pickling cucumber.
You grow gourds in warmer areas, and they’re white and bulky. They hang from vines that can get up to 40 feet long at full maturity. This climbing vegetable will require a little more attention from you, especially in the vine area. It’s recommended that you routinely trim or cut the vines when they get 10 inches long. This will encourage the plants to fan out correctly. Also, gourds require a lot of patience when you grow them, and they can take anywhere from six to eight months to ripen after you plant them.
Even though they’re technically not vegetables, grapes deserve a shout out. This is because grape vines that you care for correctly can last for decades. You will need to rig up a support system to keep your grapes happy as they don’t do well when they fall onto the ground. They’re a fantastic way to add structure to the space, and they can produce fresh grapes each year that you can eat raw or turn into wine.
Grapevines are a perennial plant, so even though it can take a few years for them to properly establish after you plant them, they’re a nice investment. Secondly, you’ll need more than a single trellis or an arch for support. You won’t be able to move them once they establish, so it’s best to grow them over a permanent structure like a pavilion or arbor for the vines to attach to. They require a lot of care and pruning, so learning how to take care of them properly is a must.
If you’re interested in learning how to make beer at home for all of your drinking glasses, this is the climbing vine to try. Hops does very well in containers or in the ground in a vertical garden. Since it can grow and spread quickly, it can overtake your garden if you’re not careful. You can use the hop flowers to make beer, or you can steep them to make a relaxing tea. Some people eat steamed young hop leaves, and they view them as vegetables.
Training your hops to grow on a support system like a trellis is an effective and easy way to keep this plant in check as much as you can, especially if you have limited space. Growing hops like this also helps to prevent issues with diseases and pests that tend to be prominent with this plant.
Not everyone will be able to successfully grow the kiwi plant, and this can be disappointing if you like eating them. Kiwis grow best in climates that have longer growing seasons with shorter winters without any cold weather or frost. You may not know this, but this plant is actually a perennial vine that will take up a decent amount of space. Some of the vines can get up to 20 feet long, and you’ll need an entire support system for your plant. However, they aren’t a heavy plant, so you don’t need to worry about putting up hammocks or slings for the fruits as they grow.
8. Lablab Beans
This is a lesser-known climbing vegetable that comes from South East Asia where it’s a very popular food item. It’s a very short-lived perennial that thrives when you plant it in containers, and lablab beans are very fond of warmer growing environments. It’s also referred to as the Hyacinth bean, Australian bean, and Seim bean, and it’s noteworthy for the flavor. The leaves are edible, as are the rich purple and pink flowers.
9. Loofah (Luffa)
This may be an unusual choice for your climbing vegetable garden since loofah is better known as being a natural sponge. However, the loofah gourds do give you versatile, edible vegetables that you can eat raw like you would a cucumber or cooked like you would a squash. They grow best when you live in a warmer climate, and it’s a nice addition to bigger containers. Just make sure your loofah plant is in a well-draining soil with adequate support.
10. Malabar Spinach
Classified as being a tropical perennial, this type of spinach plant does wonderfully in milder climates. Red Stemmed Malabar is a very productive climbing vegetable to have. It’s easy to grow, and it’s a cut-and-come-again vine that grows very rapidly to get up to four feet tall. It produces red stems with dark, large, glossy green leaves.
11. Melons and Watermelons
Like squash, watermelons or melons aren’t generally what comes to mind when you think of climbing vegetables. However, there are a lot of vining varieties of melon. Also, most of the cultivars will grow upwards very happily as long as you give them a very sturdy support system.
- Blenheim Orange Muskmelon – This is an early-maturing cultivar with orange, fragrant fruit that weighs roughly two pounds each.
- Cantaloupe Early Champ – This is a sweeter orange variety that has heavy netting.
- Moon and Stars Watermelon – A very distinctive watermelon cultivar that produces fruit that is dark pink and can weigh in at 30 pounds. Needless to say, it’s critical that you have a very sturdy support system.
- Red-Seeded Citron – A vining, lush cultivar that is a very attractive addition to virtually any garden. It has a similar growth habit as watermelon, and you can eat it pickled or fresh.
Nasturtiums aren’t just a pretty plant to look at, but they’re also edible and very tasty. Along with the peppery petals, you can also eat the young leaves on this plant. This is a quick-growing climbing vegetable that can flower within weeks of planting. The climbing cultivar is a vining one that can get up to six feet. Very similar to other cultivars, it produces edible, brightly colored flowers that are great salad decorations, or you can put them in deserts and soups. Train them up poles or trellises, or you can allow them to spill over your balcony railings.
13. Passion Fruit
Unfortunately, you may not live in the correct planting zone to grow passion fruit. Ideally, only those that are in zone 9b to 11 can grow these climbing vegetables. It’s a South American native fruit, and they’re very intolerant to cold conditions. However, if you have the correct temperature range, they can grow very rapidly and bloom to produce large fruit yields.
Just like kiwi and grapes, the passion fruit plant has perennial vines. They can also get large, so you have to be sure that you give them plenty of space. Since they’re a perennial plant, it’s a good idea to give them a permanent structure to allow them to grow up instead of something less permanent that won’t last for years at a time.
Peas are perennial favorite climbing vegetables, and it’s a heavy-cropping plant that is easy to grow. These are climbing, prolific vegetables that will happily grow along wires, trellising, and other support structures. All types of climbing pea cultivars thrive in your vertical garden, but some of the most popular are:
- California Black-Eyed Peas – This is a vigorous vine that doesn’t require a huge amount of care. The crop only takes around 75 days to mature, and you can pick the pods young and eat them like snap beans if you’re impatient.
- English Blue Pod Capuciners – This is a very deep purple heirloom pea that gives you flowers with a sweet smell. This variety can get up to six feet high, and the pods can get pickled when they’re young as snow peas or allowed to develop.
- Sugar Snap – An early, sweet variety that can top out at five feet long.
15. Pole Beans
These productive, reliable climbing vegetables are very easy to grow. So, this is why pole beans are very common in vertical gardens. They’re also called runner beans, and they thrive in mild climates. Just make sure that you give them lots of light, a sturdy support system, and a lot of water. Water is extremely important in vertical gardens since the small-scale planting makes them dry out quickly. Some of the best pole bean cultivars to try include:
- Black-Seeded Blue Lake – Topping out at eight feet high, this vigorous, stringless cultivar is grown for the strong flavor.
- Scarlet Runner – This reliable cultivar will get up to 12 feet long. It produces crimson flowers that are edible if you can’t wait for it to produce beans.
Large pumpkins won’t thrive on a support system, as you imagine, the weight will snap the vines. However, pie pumpkins are smaller, and they can grow happily as a climbing vegetable on a trellis as long as you put up a hammock or sling to support the weight of the fruit. Pumpkin vines can get huge, and they can easily reach up to 20 feet long. However, you can prune them to keep them more manageable in your space.
17. Rocoto Pepper
Rocoto peppers are native to South America, and it’s a toss up between a shrub and a climbing vegetable. It can also live for upwards of a decade and produce fruits very productively. It looks a lot like a bell pepper, but it has a very hot, rich flavor. It grows best in warmer weather, but it’s more cold-hardy than other peppers. You can put it in a large container and move it to a protected area in cold climates or during the winter. If you live in a frost-free area, you can skip this step.
18. Runner Beans
One of the most productive climbing vegetables you can get are runner beans, and many people use them for ornamental blooms. They also produce dried beans, green pods, and edible leaves. They rely on getting plenty of sun, water, and fertile soil to survive. They’re great for growing in mild regions without any extreme heat or snow. They can tolerate wet climates and light shade, and you should pick your beans when they’re tender and small.
Squash may be one of the last things on your mind when you’re considering climbing vegetables to play. However, if you give it enough sturdy support, they’ll produce more fruit that you know what to do with. They do need a decent amount of support, and this is why a lot of people put the trellis system in concrete. Along with being prolific vegetables, they can be a very attractive addition to your garden. Pick the blooms early, stuff them with cheese, and fry them for a treat.
As the vines on your squash plants grow, you’ll need to support each fruit it produces using a stretch sling that attaches to the trellis. In the summer, one of the best cultivars is the summer squash or courgette. You harvest them when they’re smaller so they’re very tender and sweet. Growing zucchini vertically makes it easier to spot the fruit among the foliage, and it allows you to figure out when they’re the perfect harvest size.
Strawberries aren’t technically a climbing vegetable, but they’re a creeping fruit. This doesn’t mean that they won’t grow vertically if you give them a structure to creep up on. Strawberry plants also have a tendency to not stay where you plant them, so it makes a great choice for a vertical garden. You won’t need anything huge to support these plants as they don’t weigh a lot, but they’ll grow every spring on your trellis.
The final climbing vegetable on the list is tomatoes, and it’s hard to beat the home-grown taste they bring. These are some of the most popular climbing vegetables to grow, and you can grow both bush or vining cultivars in a small area. You can train both varieties to grow up a trellis or wall, but they will need enough support as they grow. If you’re really short on space, pick out grape or cherry tomatoes instead of full-sized plants. A few of the best options include:
- Big Boy – A heavy-cropping, aromatic bush variety, it’ll grow nicely in a trellis or cage.
- Early Girl Bush – Another heavy-cropping cultivar that works well in areas with shorter growing seasons. The tomatoes can mature in as little as 62 days.
- Honey Grape – This is a high-yielding cherry tomato plant. It produces large clusters of red, sweet tomatoes.
- Tomato Burgess Climbing – This vine tomato cultivar can get up to 20 feet long. It produces deep-red, large tomatoes.
Why Grow Climbing Vegetables
So, why would you want to feature climbing vegetables in your garden? A few key benefits make this a very popular way to grow your plants. Remember, even if you have the space to put in a big garden, you can easily set up vertical gardening aspects to add height and different perspectives to the space. A few reasons why you’d choose this gardening setup include:
A few crops, like edible gourds, will curve as they grow. However, if you keep them up off of the ground, they tend to have a straighter growth habit.
Grow More Food in Less Space
One of the biggest benefits of climbing vegetables in a vertical garden is because you can have a large harvest. Your plants may give you two or three times more the fruit in the same amount of space when you grow them like this.
Growing Vertically Reduces Disease and Pest Issues
Using a trellis for specific vegetables can reduce the spread of diseases and insect damage. Trellising vegetables and fruits will increase the air circulation around the plant, and this reduces fungal infections. When you keep the foliage up off of the ground, it also reduces soil-borne diseases that can spread throughout your garden.
Harvesting is an Easier Process
When you have over 100 green bean plants, trying to bend over and harvest them when the time comes can be hard on your body. The same thing goes for tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables. When you have vertical crops, you won’t need to bend over to pick them. Most of the fruit will be at eye level or higher.
Types of Climbing Vegetables to Trellis
Generally speaking, there are three main types of climbing vegetables to consider adding to your vertical garden:
Knowing how each of these vegetables grows can help you pick out the correct support structure. Squash, cucumbers, pole beans, peas, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are all very popular vining vegetables. You may assume that every trellis structure is created equal, but you’ll notice fairly quickly if your vegetables don’t like the support system you set up. The following will break down how to create the best support system for your specific type of vegetables.
How to Trellis Scramblers like Sweet Potatoes and Tomatoes
Sweet potatoes and tomatoes are from different families, but they both produce scrambling vines. If you leave them be, they’ll happily scramble along the ground and root as they go using nodes along the vines. This is why it’s very common to support tomatoes with ladders, cages, or a trellis. Because tomatoes don’t have the tendrils to attach themselves, you might have to tie the plants to the support structure to keep them upright as they grow.
Should the plant fall over for whatever reason, it can root itself sideways and keep growing since the natural tendency is to run along the ground. Encouraging your plant to grow straight up means that it puts more energy into making fruit than rooting.
Sweet potatoes are some of the most low maintenance climbing vegetables you can have in the garden. You can grow them vertically to save space, but you’ll have to train them to grow in this way since they’re naturally a scrambler. Twine and wooden stake structures allow you to weave the vines in and out of the twine grid as they grow. A teepee or an A-frame trellis will give this heavier vine great support.
How to Trellis Tendrils like Cucumbers, Peas, and Squash
Peas, cucumbers, and a lot of squash varieties have tendrils that will reach out from the stem of the plant looking for something to grab onto and climb. The tendrils can go sideways and upwards, and they prefer to grab onto something non-metallic and organic, like wood lattice or a twine trellis. Consider setting up something very sturdy, like a wood obelisk. You can wrap twine around a metal trellis to make it suitable for this type of climbing vegetable and create a twine grid in any open spaces.
To support the weight of heavier vegetables like pumpkins or winter squash, consider building an A-frame or teepee trellis made out of bamboo stakes and garden twine. You can create four-inch grids between the poles. Since there are many varieties of squash, note that if you’re growing your cultivar as a climber or vine, it follows this rule.
How to Trellis Twiners like Pole Beans
Pole beans are a twining plant, and this means that as the vining stem starts to grow upward, it’ll wrap around whatever it touches. Twiners usually aren’t too picky about what they wrap around, so you can grow them on any type of support structure, trellis, or fence you want. Just make sure it’s tall as many of them can grow indefinitely.
When the beans reach the top grid on your support structure, you can pinch off the ends to prevent them from growing over it. One interesting thing to note is that this type of climbing vegetable has a counterclockwise habit. If you’re training it to climb a specific structure, take this growth pattern into consideration and twine the plant in the direction it would naturally go.
We’ve outlined 21 great climbing vegetables for you to consider adding to your vertical garden, and you can use support structures to increase your yield and get a huge harvest at the end of the growing season.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.