Building a Trellis for Peas in the garden

trellis profile

Sugar snap peas love to climb to great heights. Get them off the ground and they’ll have more air circulation, better pollination and more sunlight. The pea pods won’t suffer blight or mold. Building a frame is pretty easy, too, as long as you have a few power tools on hand. Here’s how to build your very own trellises, very cheaply. 

I like working from the end result backward. I wanted a trellis that was 6′ high and 8′ across, give or take. I wanted it to be cheap and easy to assemble. I wanted three piers to hold up the crossbars. Peas are not especially heavy, so I didn’t need something thick. And I wanted something I could take down in the winter time. That left me with the following parts list:

  • one 1″x 6″ board
  • three 3″ carriage bolts, 1/4″ thick (you don’t need to be exact on either of these measurements)
  • Jute twine

You’ll also want a power drill and a table saw. I’m sure this can be done on a circular saw or even with a hand saw if you have all the time in the world. You doubtless have a friend or relative who already owns these things and he or she is desperate for a chance to play with them.

I wanted something that could be disassembled for storage.

Nails and glue are permanent. The glory of using carriage bolts to pin this thing together is that as soon as pea season is over, I can pull this all out of the ground and flat-store it in the garage in a corner. Like a cold frame, these are only useful for a few months. I want to be able to move it around as needed and stash away if I want to change a bed to something else.

Building the frame

Get on your ear protection and eye protection. It would be so stupid to get hurt while woodworking.

First, set the fence on your table saw so you can rip an inch of board off of the edge of your 1×6. You’ll end up with a piece about 8 feet long and an inch wide. This will be the top bar. cut it down to two 50″ lengths and toss the rest in the scrap wood bin.

You will next cut the 1×6 down to a 72″ length. That makes six feet. Save the spare board. Most boards are 8′ or 10′, so you’ll have extra wood for staking pegs later.

Next, saw the board lengthwise into three roughly equal stakes. I set the fence on my table saw at 1.5″, so with a 1/8″ wide blade, I had three good stakes. These are the vertical stakes.

Cut the bottom 3″ of your stakes into a point by cutting it on the diagonal with a saw. You can use a miter box, a circular saw, a table saw, anything. You just need something kind of sharp to go into the ground.

Almost done!

Finally, get out your drill bits and find one that’s slightly wider than your carriage bolts. I used a 5/16″ bit. You want to drill holes on the top of each vertical stake. Bore the holes as deeply as you can, hopefully straight. You can be precise but I kind of wing it with this kind of woodworking. Also, drill a hole an inch from the edge on those top bars. It should look like this:

trellis holes

Now, you can assemble this whole thing. I banged in my stakes with a mallet in the yard. Put the first one in and prepare to pin it in place with the bolt:

trellis unbolted

Put the top bar in place and slide the bolt in. It should go in freely.

trellis boltNow you have a steady joint that will hold all season.

trellis joinery

Now take that scrap wood and cut it into stakes. I cut mine to a 1×4″ size, cut a notch in them and cut a sharp point on the bottom. It all goes quickly with a power saw. Then string the jute from stake to top bar and back down to the next.

trellis stake


Your plants will find the twine, but you can help them reach it by gently training them around the string.

I suggest using jute over nylon. Jute can be composted, so all you need to do at the end of the season is cut out the pea vines, string and all, and toss it on the pile. It’s just about the only thing Bangladesh exports, so I don’t mind supporting that little enterprise, too.

This project should take you about an hour and a half and you don’t have to be good with power tools, just safe with them. If you want to build a stout trellis for tomatoes, upgrade your finished pieces so they are 2×2″ thickness. The cool thing about ripping the boards to size is that you can buy straight lumber cheaply. 2x2s in particular are warped to all heck if you buy them pre-cut. This way, you can get a 2×4 or a 2×6, cut it down and have straight trellis poles. Now, go forth and construct!