Whether you’re growing grapes to eat fresh or to make into jams and wine, harvesting homegrown grapes is an incredibly satisfying affair. Less satisfying, however, is an untrained grape vine than can quickly take over a garden, scale a tree or consume an entire fence in a matter of years.
Let’s face it: grapes are an unruly bunch that grow quickly and competitively. That’s why it’s so important to build a proper grape trellis, also known as a grape arbor, from the outset. Luckily, for the modern gardener, there are a lot of easy, premade trellising options on the market. Many backyard fences can double as sturdy arbors and most box stores offer arbor kits that are quick and easy to put together.
But us gardeners rarely like to take the easy way out. Aren’t we known for getting our hands dirty? So why choose a prefabricated kit when you can whip up a whimsical grape arbor from a few simple materials or upcycled pieces? Below, are a few of my favorite DIY grape trellises, which I hope will inspire you to get creative with your own arbor.
Before getting started, however, it’s important to remember that grape vines can get quite heavy and, when properly maintained, can live 50 to 100 years or more! For these reasons, I won’t be including any trellising options that won’t hold up well for years to come.
8 Easy DIY Grape Arbors
1. Make a green gateway with cattle panels
When you start thinking about trellising, you won’t get far before you stumble upon the humble cattle panel, and there is a good reason why. Cattle panels are wildly popular among home gardeners because they are inexpensive and extremely sturdy while remaining relatively lightweight and shapeable.
Made of a galvanized steel mesh, cattle panels are actually intended as livestock fencing (if the name didn’t give that away already!) and are readily available at many farm and garden shops. These panels are generally 16 feet long by about 4 feet wide and can be easily shaped into an arch. Four T-posts, also available at livestock supply stores, serve as the supports for the arch and can be secured to the cattle panel with zip ties or sturdy wire.
What cattle panels lack in beauty, they more than make up for in strength. Because they are intended to be used outdoors, they are virtually maintenance-free and can last for decades, making them ideal for long-lived grape vines. As your grapes mature, these panels will have no trouble supporting several large vines. And though they may look a bit industrial at first, as your vines grow, they will quickly cover the cattle panel shaping it into a gorgeous green archway, which makes a perfect entrance to any garden.
2. Form a larger arch with rebar
If you like the idea of a cattle panel arch, but are looking for something a bit bigger, consider building an entire tunnel arbor with rebar. Rebar is a sturdy steel bar, most frequently seen in construction projects. Relatively inexpensive and easy to come by, you most likely have seen rebar in shorter lengths; however it can be purchased in 50’ lengths and even longer and can make a great arbor frame.
To begin, you will need to bend your rebar. You can purchase a tube bending tool for this purpose or you can bend your rebar by hand using metal pipes. If you want to go this route, there are several excellent tutorial videos available online to get you started. After bending your rebar, drive both ends of your bent rebar into the soil, making sure they are at least 2’ deep – the larger your tunnel, the deeper your rebar should go. If you want to be really secure, you can pour concrete into your holes before placing your rebar to make sure nothing budges.
Continue building your arbor by placing a rebar arch every 4’ to 5’ until you framed out the length of tunnel you want. Next you need to provide a framework for your vines, so attach a length of cattle panel or some hardware cloth to the base of your rebar arches and running the length of your tunnel. Vines will climb up the meshwork and, eventually, the sides of your rebar arches forming a large, shaded arbor, perfect for dining under in the summer months.
3. Craft a freeform trellis with wire
If you want to get really creative with your arbor, use wire. With this method, you can shape a trellis anyway you like – you can make it circular, form a set of interlocking shapes like diamonds, design a spiral… you name it! Wire trellises can be attached to the wall of your home or shed or stretched along the length of a fence for a really striking look.
All you need to create a freeform wire trellis is heavy, galvanized steel wire and eye screws. Fasten the eye screws to the support structure, be it a wall or a fence, and run the wire between your screws to form your shape. Think of a game of connect-the-dots and you’ve got the idea! As your vines grow, they will follow the wire and add lots of visual interest.
4. Build a PVC teepee
Trellis teepees are nothing new in gardens and have been used for centuries to support climbing plants like pole beans, cucumbers and, yes, grapes. However, when crafting one for your grape vines, you’ll want to steer clear of the most commonly used items, like branches and bamboo. Though these materials look charming in a garden, they will degrade far too quickly for grape vines and become unsteady. Instead, look for longer lasting materials like PVC, metal tubing or rebar.
Using at least four supports, craft your teepee by burying the bottom of the supports in the soil while inclining the tops of the supports together to form an A-frame or teepee shape. Secure the top of the teepee with heavy gauge wire or zip ties until the structure is sturdy. Next, wrap wire around the legs of your teepee in order to give your vines more area to climb up. For a really striking look, consider constructing multiple teepees and spacing them throughout your garden. Teepees can be made much larger by using longer supports and using lots of them.
5. Create a garden sculpture with cattle panels
As cattle panels are so versatile, they couldn’t just have one spot on this list! If you’re not keen on the idea of a cattle panel archway for your grapes, you can instead construct free-standing structural arbors with one. Because they are so long, cattle panels can be cut in half or even quarters for multiple trellises.
After the panels are cut, construct a framework to fit around the exterior of your panel from cedar or another quality wood capable of withstanding the elements and attach it to your panel with fence staples or wire. These framed arbors can be installed throughout your garden or placed together in a line to form a wall of trellises for your grapes to climb. These structures can be supported by t-posts, lengths of rebar or wood posts driven into the soil.
6. Do as the vintners do. Make a wire trellis
If you’ve ever driven past a vineyard, you’ve most likely seen these classic grape trellises in action. Favored among winemakers the world over, this type of grape arbor is both fast and inexpensive to construct and super easy to maintain.
To build a traditional grape arbor, you will need wooden posts, sturdy galvanized wire and either eye hooks or fence staples. Purchase the highest quality items you can in order to ensure your arbor is built to last – a properly constructed arbor of the this sort can last 30+ years! Wooden posts should be about 8’ feet long and ideally should be either cedar or another quality wood that can handle being outdoors. Dig holes and place your wooden posts; two posts set 12’ apart will support two to three vines, but feel free to expand on this design to fit your space.
You don’t need to use concrete to secure your posts as it can hold moisture and cause your wood to rot prematurely. Next, run two lengths of wire between your posts, attaching them with fence staples, eye hooks or similar hardware. The lower length of wire should be about 2’ above the ground, while the upper length should be about 4’ to 5’ above the ground. Make sure your wire is taut and then get planting!
7. Go rustic with wood
One of the simplest arbors your can construct is also one of the most visually appealing. Depending on your handiness with a hammer and nails, you can construct countless different wooden arbor shapes with wood and nails. If you are very skilled at DIY, you can give the premade arbors available at big box stores a run for their money and construct an elaborate wooden arbor.
For the rest of us, who are less versed in construction, a simple arbor can be made by placing two wooden posts vertically in the ground and affixing another length of wood across their top for stability. This straightforward design may not sound like much, but once your grape vines start climbing and trailing along its length, it is a real showstopper.
8. For a bit of whimsy, upcycle!
The quickest way to add whimsy to a garden is to upcycle. Happily for us, there are many ways to craft an upcycled grape arbor. If you decide to go this route, let your imagination run wild. Think about old items you may have that you no longer need but will hold up well outdoors when exposed to the elements. Or take a trip to your local flea market or antique store and get picking.
Maybe you have an old metal headboard that would look great in your garden, or maybe you have a rusty old spring mattress? Those nooks and crannies make great supports for growing grape tendrils! An old metal ladder or wagon wheels are also great options. If you want to get a bit crafty, consider mounting old metal bike wheels to a wooden post. Your grapes will be happy to climb between the spokes.
If you decide to use an upcycled item, be sure it is safe to use around food. Be on the lookout for old lead paint or other contaminants and steer clear of anything you’re unsure of.
Tips to Make Your Grape Trellis a Success
When beginning to grow grapes, there are few tricks you will want to remember to make sure you avoid the most common pitfalls.
- Remember, grapes don’t do well with transplanting so you should build your trellis before planting your grapes to avoid damaging your new vines.
- Give your trellis lots of space. Grapes grow quickly, so be sure to plan for their growth and prune them as needed.
- New starts may need a bit of help to begin climbing. When your grapes are just starting out, you may need to help them find your trellising system by gently interweaving tendrils with your trellis and tying wayward vines to your structure with garden twine.
- Grapes do not form during the first year after planting. Many vines won’t even produce fruit until the third or fourth year after planting so patience is key.
Benefits of Trellising your Grapes
Beyond adding visual interest to your garden, grape arbors help ensure the healthiest grape harvest in few key ways:
- Trellises support heavy vines, helping to ensure vines don’t crack under their own weight.
- Grapes grow fast and can quickly overwhelm neighboring plants, fences and even trees. By using a trellis, vines will grow in a defined path making pruning and maintenance much easier.
- Because your vines are elevated, air circulation is improved, thereby lessening the chance your vines will be plagued by mildew and other diseases.
- Harvesting your grapes is simple with a trellis. Not only that, but pests are less likely to target trellised grapes and protective measures, like floating row covers and fruit protection bags, are easier to install.
- Elle. 15 Sturdy Grape Vine Trellis Design Ideas for Your Backyard Arbor. Outdoor Happens. 17 November 2021.
- Fischer, Fern. How to Make a Grape Trellis. Garden Guides. 17 November 2021. 21 September 2017
- Trellis, Terra. Garden Tipi or Teepee? It’s Uplifting Either Way. Terra Trellis. 2 February 2016