We planted a vertical pumpkin patch in our tiny urban backyard

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Matt Shroeder
8/28/13
All photos by Matt Shroeder.
I feel before I say anything else, it would be best to mention the person who inspires me most in everything I do with our home, that is my wonderful wife. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening would be somewhere in the top five. If you are an urban gardener and you haven't read his book there isn't another book you need to read more at this point. You are missing out. Jules (my wife) introduced me to him many years ago but his practices didn't really become a reality for me until we moved to our downtown home.

With urban living comes many advantages. Jules and I both walk or ride our bikes to work, we are a few minutes walk from a zoo, there countless numbers of cafes, restaurants, bars, playgrounds, etc. within walking distance. But there are also some disadvantages. Real-estate is a valuable commodity where we live and there aren't many lots that would accommodate the size garden we wish we could have so we have to get creative.

Every year we grow a variety of vegetables and fruits in our garden. We try to plant what we love so we always look forward to eating it. My wife is partial to our blueberry bushes while I always look forward to early July when I get to harvest our garlic crop (my personal favorite). We also plant several types of tomatoes, beans, peas, squash, kale, basil, peppers, mint and rosemary. That usually just about pushes out garden to capacity.

Just in the last year or so our son Sam has shown a lot of interest in "helping out" in the garden. Along with that he is at the age (three) where Halloween and other holidays are starting to be things he looks forward to. We thought what would be more fun than growing pumpkins that they could watch grow, harvest in the fall and carve into jack-o-lanterns. The only problem was we didn't have five hundred square feet of garden available for a pumpkin patch. So I thought, let's go vertical…

Untitled

7/18/13

I took a pile of dirt that we use to let potted soils rest for a couple of years to give any bad stuff time to move on and piled some rocks around it. From there I just scavenged around the garden shed and garage for anything I could find that would make a heavy duty trellis. What I came up with was several sections of 1" wooden rod. It was conveniently located just a few feet from our rain barrel system, so it was easy to irrigate consistently.

pumpkin_b_8/5/13

From there we all went to a local nursery and bought some pumpkin seeds. We were a little late in the game when we decided to do this so the common large carving type pumpkin seeds were all gone. We settled on a pack of Rouge Vif d'Etampes. This type has deep lobes and is very rich in color, almost red but doesn't get as large as most.

From there we watched them grow. We harvested five lovely pumpkins on September 23, 2013:

On the vine

pumpkin_b_8/23/13

Matt has documented the vertical pumpkin patch in excruciating detail on his Flickr stream. You can see more photos and read several notes if interested in starting your own garden!

  1. Ooh, so much inspiration for next year! We just moved into an urban house (from an even more urban apartment), and we have limited garden space. Unfortunately, much of our yard space is also heavily shaded, so that puts further restrictions on what we can grow, but I'm excited to see what works!

  2. This is awesome – well done! As a fellow urban gardener who is *always* biting off more than I can chew in my own little row-house's back yard, I have two questions:

    -How exactly did your trellis work. If I had a dollar for every trellis that I build that was too weak and ended up dilapidated under the weight of the full harvest… And it looks like yours stood up pretty well, even under the weight of all those pumpkins! How did you anchor it into the ground??

    -How many pumpkin vines gave you those 5 pumpkins? In the past when I've planted pumpkins/winter squash (when I had a bigger backyard living overseas, and could let them overtake part of it), I was lucky to get two good fruits per vine. I'm so impressed that you guys got 5 in this tiny space!

    Would love to hear answers to these, as I scheme how to find space for winter squashes on my little lot next year. [Update: I just looked at your Flickr photos before posting and have a better idea of what the answers might be – though I'd still be happy to hear any tips related to that trellis!!]

    • We also grow vertically, and we use metal conduit from the hardware store, with elbows, to make a U shaped frame. Then we attach it, open-end down, to the wooden frames of our raised beds. Then we put netting up to train the vines on. Thus far we have learned: 1> putting the frame at a slight incline works better than straight 2> old pantyhose/tights/leggings work well to support heavier gourds. I'm very happy with the different things we've grown on frames like this. Cantaloupes, pumpkins, a few different kinds of squash, and cucumbers. Though I found an easier way to "trellis" cukes – tomato cages, upside down, with the tines bent inwards. I've found that each cage can handle about 5 cuke plants, without getting overcrowded. Hope that gives some ideas!

    • We make a trellis out of 16-foot cattle panels. Pound four 6-foot t-posts into the ground, then attach the cattle panel in an upside down U-shape using the provided clips. It's worked well for grapes, cucumbers (although they stayed pretty low), and winter squash. We also have them suspended 2-3 foot about the ground in rows for our tomatoes (not square foot garden friendly, I'm guessing).

      Admittedly, we live in the country, so tying 16-foot panels on top of our car to drive home from the store was less eventful that it might be it we lived in an urban area. If nothing else, t-posts are excellent supports to hold up just about anything in the garden and are much easier to transport, even by mass transit.

      • Do you have any problem with wind blowing over the trellis? Last year I grew pumpkins on the sidewalk strip of land in front of my house. The vines were everywhere, but everyone passing by seemed to enjoy seeing the pumpkins. I am thinking of using a trellis this year, but I am afraid that the wind will blow the whole thing over. I would appreciate learning from your experience with this.

    • Hi,

      I originally did this on a whim so I used materials I had laying around. It ended up being constructed mainly from some 1" hand railing that was leftover from another project. I used bailing twine to secure the joints and also tied crisscrosses to keep tension on the trellis. Then I had two horizontal stabilizers secured to the fence halfway up the trellis.

      I believe I had 3 healthy vines at harvest time. I started with 5 but 2 perished.

      Here is a photo of the trellis. let me know if you have any more questions. Good luck!

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/12756877@N04/9044289408/in/set-72157634122729195

  3. I love the shape of these pumpkins, as a Halloween birthday girl this will be on my list of things to grow for next year. We also have a very tiny yard and I am gradually converting it to as much garden as possible so it is nice to see that you managed to grow pumpkins in such a small space.

  4. When my daughter was in kindergarten, we planted a square foot garden. We planted pumpkins by the fence and they quickly ran up the fence. We had a pumpkin form at the top. We made a sling out of a pair of old pantyhose. That was a fun year.

    We grew gourds on a square trellis made of bamboo that was name the oil derrick. I did not know how long a gourd vine could get. The gourds got into the trees. Very easy to grow. I had about 8-9 and still have 6-7 birdhouse gourds drying for bird houses.
    Reta

  5. Just found this post; perfect timing! I am planning on starting a container garden on my little back deck soon with my kids and daycare children that I have during the week. I reeeeally wanted pumpkins, even though my husband thinks I'm nuts. I just got a package of small sugar pumpkin seeds and am starting everything (also have cucumber, red pepper, purple carrots, strawberries, lettuce, and a few herb seeds) inside this weekend. I am planning on heading to the dollar store to find some cheap materials for a trellis, how high should I be thinking of making it for one of those big Rubbermaid tubs?

    • Hi Erin,

      Sugar pumpkins are just as easy as any other kind to grow. They are usually plentiful on the vine (i.e. if all growing variables are good you should get plenty of pumpkins).
      As for hight, sky is the limit. Especially with sugar pumpkins so I'd recommend placing your tub somewhere that the trellis can be supported by some other structure (e.g. near a fence, side of the house etc). These vines can and will reach 20' or more. You can prune back your vines but only after the vine has grown long enough to produce an adequate number of flowers. To maximize space you can train your vines up and down or zig zag them. They don't by any means need to be straight. My trellis is aprox 12' tall so I would just train the vines up to the top and then back down again. From there I just let them run loose around the base.
      Other things to consider is growing time. Not sure what zone you are in but check the harvest date on the back and gauge when you need to plant to coincide with when you want your pumpkins. Sugars will grow just like small squash so if you are in a warm climate and plant soon you will have pumpkins in late June/July.
      Another nice thing about these is that they are a little more resilient against the squash beetle then most others but still be sure to use good soil from a reputable source.
      And lastly if you are planning on doing any large fruit on a trellis have a plan on how to support them when they get heavy. There is argument both ways on this – some people say that they "by nature" can support themselves which may be true for the local stem and vine section of one pumpkin but when you have 7-10 pumpkin on one length of vertical vine that can and will strain and do damage to the vine. I used several methods from pantyhose slings, potato sack slings. Which I don't recommend because the pumpkin grows into the mesh of the bag and makes them look funny. If you are just planning on eating these they work great if your kids are going to carve them I'd go a different route. And finally I made hard seats out of boards and rope (they looked just like swing set seats) that could be easily adjusted by loosing the rope from above.

      I think that's about it.
      Good luck,
      -Matt

    • I don't know where you live but I live in Texas and our dollar stores don't carry trellis materials for GARDENING. We had to go to Lowe's to get ours. PUMPKINS do have some weight to them that requires a strong support system for growing.

  6. People lacking space for garden for them I believe vertical gardening is the best practice. It actually allows one to grow variety of crops in small space. I am having a friend working at gardener north shore he grew some what similar sized cucumber, which we use to call monster cucumber. lol !

  7. hi,

    this is such an amazing idea. I've been dying to grow watermelons, do you think this same idea would work? Also how did you tame the plants to keep going vertically?

    • Hi Reena,

      I have no reason to believe that you couldn't try this with watermelons – I've haven't done it myself but I say go for it. As for taming the plants – it just requires a little maintenance upfront. Basically as the vines get longer you gently direct them up the trellis. I generally let them grow to 2-3' in length then guide them around the trellis. The "off shoots" or "Tendrils" are what anchor the pumpkin vines, I believe watermelon also have these. I try to gently wind these around the rope or wooden upright (whatever is proximate to that particular vine) so they will grab hold and draw the vine in that direction. After doing this a few times the pumpkin (and hopefully melons) will start going vertical on its own. The only thing to watch for is the secondary roots (roots that grow off of the vine at leaf junctions). Since secondary roots are very important in supporting the vine fruit I try to let the plant establish some per vine on the ground then send it up the trellis.

      Hope this helps.
      -Matt

      • Yes watermelons can be grown vertically. But you must remember that they are quite heavy , so make sure your trellis is VERY strong and we built moveable wooden supports for the melons to sit on as they grew. We used 2×12 x 12 wooden squares. We went to the dollar store and purchased panty hose for extra support. My husband calls them melon bras. Lol. We attached each end of the hose to the trellis and on top of the wooden supports. Lowe's will cut the wooden squares for you when you buy the wood from them. The thing that's so great about this is you can use it to grow other fruits ended veggies that are heavy. We made a 10 inch deep soil bed for our plants. Good luck with your urban garden dreams. As the old saying goes , if there's a will , there's a way.

  8. I was so happy to stumble across this post! My three year-old son is absolutely obsessed with pumpkins, so my in-laws gave us some pumpkin seeds for Christmas. Unfortunately, we have a pretty small yard and most of the sun hits the front yard. We have two raised beds and some raspberry bushes out there, but I thought a sprawling pumpkin patch might be a bit much. I saw lots of pumpkin trellis ideas in my travels around the web, but none seemed actually sturdy enough to support the bigger varieties. I can't wait to try this! Your flickr photos are really helpful for getting a sense of the scope of the project. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hi Kelli,

      Yes the trellis works pretty good. I'm not sure if I have photos from this past year up or not but instead of lashing the horizontal bars to the vertical I drilled 1.5" holes in 2×4's (of three varying lengths) and used those for the horizontal braces. They where much more sturdy and worked well as platforms for the pumpkins to rest on. If you have any questions feel free to email me. 213center@gmail.com

      Best,
      Matt

    • Hi Kelli,

      Yes the trellis works pretty good. I'm not sure if I have photos from this past year up or not but instead of lashing the horizontal bars to the vertical I drilled 1.5" holes in 2×4's (of three varying lengths) and used those for the horizontal braces. They where much more sturdy and worked well as platforms for the pumpkins to rest on. If you have any questions feel free to email me. 213center@gmail.com

      Best,
      Matt

      Here's a photo of the improved trellis.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/12756877@N04/14337508925/in/set-72157644825597375

      • Matt, this is wonderful! The improved trellis looks very sturdy. Did you do anything to secure the 2×4's to the vertical poles? Also, I noticed in your flickr album for 2014 that you have wire or string running vertically between the levels of the trellis. Did you use anything special for this or is it just regular old string? (I couldn't tell from the photo). It's really kind of you to share all of this information — if we ever get out from under the multiple feet of snow we have at the moment, I'll be working on getting everything set up for this summer's growing season. I'm practically brand-new to gardening, but even one season taught me a lot. I can't wait to try some new things this year!

        • Hi Kelli,

          Yes, if you zoom in on the trellis front view photo (I'll paste the link below) you can hopefully see the screws where the vertical rods pass through the horizontal 2×4's.

          This is what I did to construct it:

          1) Lay the vertical rods down on the ground with the desired spread at the bottom and the top (i.e. predetermined angle they would be at once installed (e.g. 6' at the bottom & 3' at the top).

          2) Take the 2x4s and lay them across the rods approximately where you want them. Be sure to leave enough of the vertical rods showing at the bottom to sink them into the ground. From there estimate the length needed + desired overhang and cut the 2×4's down.

          3) With vertical rods at exact opposing angles and horizontal 2×4's level – roughly draw the correct hole angle for the rod to pass through the 2×4's at each junction. If memory serves I ended up sliding the 2×4's on end under the rods then simply traced the path that the rod passed across the 2×4's. As you can see from the photo the rods aren't going straight up – you don't have to be exact but the holes in the 2×4's should be angled slightly to maintain the desired trellis shape. This step will differ depending on personal design. I just found it easier to support from the top when it comes together. No reason you couldn't go straight up with the vertical rods, they would just require more support.

          4) With a slightly oversized hole saw drill out the 2×4's at the predetermined angle in the center of flat side of the 2×4.

          5) Predrill screw holes for the rods on both sides of each angled hole. So everywhere you drew an angle for the hole saw on the 2×4's you should now drill a hole for a screw.

          6) Slide the 2×4's onto the rods. With differing lengths and angled holes once the second one is on they will maintain the desired position and the trellis should start to take shape.

          7) Stand the trellis up and push the vertical rods into the ground as far as possible (once the plants mature and pumpkins develop there will be a fair amount of weight involved – my first trellis sank almost a foot)

          8) Temporarily secure the trellis. I had a fence to run my braces to. If you don’t have that I would try a 3rd leg running down the back at a similar angle.

          9) Level each horizontal 2×4 and screw them to the rods at the predrilled holes.

          10) Once the 2×4’s are level, center the trellis vertically and install your permanent bracing.

          That’s pretty much it LOL… From here I installed eyelets on the top of the bottom board, on the bottom of the top board and I started stringing paracord (didn’t use string – you need something strong). I started at the bottom, ran the cord to the first eyelet at the top then using that line I drilled a hole through the center of the middle 2×4. Took the cord off of the top eyelet, passed it through the hole I just drilled and repeat.

          Don’t skimp on soil!! Find some good organic soil (bagged if you have to). Vine bores are a pumpkin plants worst nightmare.

          If you can I’d recommend installing a soaker hose at this point. Once the plants mature it’s hard to water from above. It gets pretty busy/condensed at the bottom of the trellis (ground watering is much better than overhead for any plant).

          If I can think of anything else I’ll let you know.

          Good luck,
          -Matt

          https://www.flickr.com/photos/12756877@N04/14167893818/in/set-72157644825597375

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