Growing plants vertically is one of the absolute best ways to maximize production from a small space. And most food gardeners know it. Despite this, the humble yard fence is often left forlorn and bare or obfuscated with ornamental bushes. At Nextdoor Homestead, we’re all about lowering that food bill and leveraging an existing structure like a fence is a great way to harvest more food without spending any money.

So why do so many gardeners skip this valuable vertical real estate? Well, for one, because growing vines on a beautiful fence can look messy or even damage the fence material - particularly wood. Luckily, there are two simple steps you can take to both take advantage of the space and leave your fence pristine.

Hang a Vinyl Trellis Net

Step one to growing food up your fence is to not actually grow the plant directly on the fence itself (unless you’re working with a sturdy metal fence that can take the abuse!). Instead, pick up a couple incredibly cheap polyester trellis nets - they’re literally a few bucks for a 15’ ft. * 5’ ft. length of trellis - and attach them to the uppermost crossbeam of your fence. This way you can take advantage of the structural stability of the existing permanent fence without damaging it.

I like to plant about 6” in. - 1’ ft. away from the bottom of the fence and secure the trellis to the ground with a few gardening stakes near the stems of my plants. I then use twine to train the plants up the trellis by loosely tying the stems to the trellis net (only as necessary).

The Best Plants to Grow on Your Fence

Step two to a successful harvest on your fence is selecting the right plants. As a general rule, very large fruiting plants are going to spell trouble for a cheap polyester trellis net. So full size pumpkins like Jack O’ Lanterns and large melons like watermelons are probably best grown on something like a cattle panel or a more expensive, more robust net.

On the other hand, vining plants that produce smaller fruits like pickling cucumbers, beans, miniature pumpkins, and peas work great on a cheap polyester trellis. As do vining leafy greens like Malabar Spinach!

Some of our favorite varieties to grow on our fence + trellis net combination are:

Our final tip is to slightly overlap the following season’s crop with this season’s. For example, once our cucumbers run their course, we’ll be using the same space to plant Mammoth Melting Peas (which are more cold hardy). But instead of waiting for the cucumbers to die down completely, we’ll start the peas directly in front of the cucumbers while they’re still producing so that we’re absolutely maximizing the space and our harvest.