Tuesday, May 31, 2011


            May was a madhouse, not that that’s unusual. As of today, only three clients left to change out containers for. After a delightful extended spring (for southeastern NC), summer arrived all at once on the 23rd. She’s unmistakable, with her unrelenting humidity and nighttime temperatures creeping through the 70s into the 80s. The three-day Memorial Day weekend came just in time to forestall the onset of leaden-limbed zombietonia for the staff of Fitzgeralds Gardening. Tim and I start four-day work-weeks as of June 1. We may be old and stubborn, but we’re not stupid.

Houseplant Class of '11 Reunion

            So that’s it for the wrap-up, except for this photo of the happy survivors of overwintering in the Fitzgerald House of Plant Peril. You’ll notice the poinsettia is not only still alive, it has new leaves. Miracles surround those of us with eyes to see.
Check out the poinsettia!

Inherently stable triangular supports
for tomatoes and peppers

           Keeping with the verticality theme introduced last time, today we’re about helping plants grow up. Literally.

            In May 3rd’s “Moving Right Along” post, I described contriving a triangular tomato support out of concrete reinforcing wire panels. Since then, Tim knocked off three more of them to prop up three bell peppers and six more tomatoes in my newest raised beds (see “Raising Cain [and Beds],” April 9). Here’s a picture of the completed trio: remember you can click on the photo to make it bigger.

 A construction detail featuring bendy wire;

and another utilizing the pointy ends of the reinforcing wire itself.

Detail of concrete reinforcing wire arbor

           Further plumbing of the depths of the many and varied purposes to which wire panels can be adapted followed. How about an arbor to shade the flagstone path through the New Bed? Because the panels took on a distinct sway-backed appearance when left on their own, Tim attached lengths of rebar to them to rigidify them.

 My clever husband also devised a top-panel stiffener, pictured here:

Another garden use for
concrete reinforcing wire

And here is the finished result, airy, rustic, shabby chic—exactly what I had in mind.   

A concrete reinforcing wire
wall trellis

How about something for morning glories and moonflowers to climb? Using our handy wire cutters, I removed the bottom two horizontal rows from a full four-by-seven-foot sheet and pushed the remaining verticals into the ground on the back wall of our outdoor shower; then I tied the top to the wall with gardeners twine. Voilà! A sturdy frame to attract viney tendrils, with the extra advantage of being better-looking than the deer netting I tacked up last season.

I can just picture ripe, juicy melons,
undefiled by pickleworms,
hanging down from this slanted support

 For my melons, I “borrowed” a design for a slanted support from Gardeners Supply catalog, using my by-now well-loved concrete reinforcing wire and rebar. This should prevent whatever cantaloupes the pickleworms leave from ground-contact, and provide some shade for the supposedly heat-tolerant lettuces I plan to plant underneath. Here it is:

 Trellises for the bush beans came from Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening (see Good Reads over on the right). These involve one-inch electrical conduit, elbow fittings for same, and trellis netting.

One-inch-wide electrical conduit
and elbow fitting

Trellis netting (duh)


Bean trellis frame
made of electrical conduit

Cut three lengths of conduit to whatever dimensions you require: I needed two 36” legs and a 24” crosspiece. Use the elbows to attach the crosspiece to the legs. Tim pounded two-foot sections of rebar 12” into the ground, and slid the conduit legs over the 12” left sticking out. (Plan on lengths of rebar that leave about a third of the height of your trellis above-ground. For example: when we build a six-foot-high frame for pole beans, we’ll have 48” pieces of rebar as anchors, 24” in the earth and 24” out to secure the conduit-legs. Capisce?)

Tie netting to frame
and you're good to go

Once the frame is set, all that’s left is to tie the netting onto the crosspiece and secure it to the legs at a few points. I recommend you read Mel Bartholomew’s description of the intricacies of this activity. He’s much more succinct—and probably clearer—than I would be.

Finally, here are instructions for building your very own free-standing vine post(s), taken verbatim from the sidebar to an article I wrote years ago that never found any paying takers.

                   Materials:  1 4x4”x8’ post
                                    6’ of 24” chicken wire
                                    4x4” Post cap or finial
                                    Chicken wire staples
                                    1 40-lb. bag Quik-Crete
                                    Pea gravel
                         Tools:  Posthole digger
                                    Measuring tape
                                    Spirit level
                                    Wheelbarrow or tub
                                    A source of water for mixing concrete
                                    Paint or stain (optional)
                                    A helper would be a bonus, especially in the leveling and wire attachment phases

1.      Select a spot in your garden that could use some vertical enhancement and that gets at least five or six hours of sunlight a day. Dig a hole 27” deep with the posthole digger. Fill the bottom three inches of the hole with pea gravel to give the base of the post some drainage. Set the 4x4” post on the gravel and check for level on all sides.

2.      Mix the Quik-Crete with just enough water so that all the material is wetted and the mixture attains a heavy consistency (not thin or watery). Pour the mixed Quik-Crete into the hole, continually checking that the post remains level. Float (or smooth) the concrete at ground level with your hand to form a shallow cone. This helps water drain away from the post. (See drawing.) If the concrete doesn’t come to the top of your hole, backfill with some of the excavated soil and tamp down securely.

A picture's worth a thousand words,

3.      Let the leveled post sit for several hours or overnight to allow the concrete to set thoroughly.

4.       Attach the post cap or finial to the top of the post.

5.      Paint or stain your post if you plan to, and let it dry completely.

6.      Wrap the chicken wire lengthwise around the post. Slightly overlap and staple the long sides to the back side of the post. Shape the wire into a tube shape, folding in or cutting close any poky fragments of wire at the top and bottom. (See drawings.)

7.      Plant your vines either inside the tube or just outside it and watch them grow up!

      So there we have it, the May Prop-Up. Thanks for "propping" by.