What Is a Garden Trellis?

morning glory growing on trellish

Linda Burgess / Getty Images

A trellis is a simple framework of vertical supports and horizontal crosspieces that is flat and can train plants—like shrubs, small or young trees, or vines—to grow up and against an object. It can be used as an accent piece in a garden or, when it fills in, as a privacy screen. Typically, a trellis is made of open framework, like lattice, so that plants can be supported or woven through.

Do-it-yourselfers will find trellises easy to make with lightweight wood that may be already lying around in a supply shed, garage, or side yard. Whether bought or made, a trellis needs to be strong enough to support the weight of plants as they grow and mature and durable enough to withstand wind, rain, and snow.

Recommended materials for a sturdy trellis include:

  • Wood
  • Wrought iron
  • Strong synthetics or plastics
  • Monofilament (fishing wire)
  • Wire

Monofilament or wire trellises are often formed into simple but elegant criss-cross patterns against plain walls upon which to train fast-growing vines like creeping fig or honeysuckle. The result is a living wall and can be quite stunning if pruned precisely and often. More substantial trellises should be built with cedar, redwood, or treated lumber, which can be painted. Make sure that cedar or other wood you choose is free of knots, which indicates they can break more easily. 


Espaliered trees and shrubs are also a form of a trellis. Like vines on a trellis, small trees are trained to grow flat against a wall, spreading and anchored to wire, string, or another anchor in a decorative fashion. This also disguises an otherwise unsightly wall or fence. Espalier is for someone who likes to work in the garden and is good with garden pruners and snips. It also helps to be patient and not become easily frustrated.

Trellises for Grapevines

Historically, trellises have always been used as some form of support for the masses of grapevines grown as both table grapes and for wine. Left alone, grapevines will climb tree tops, looking for sunlight. For just a few grapevines, an arbor is the best option. For several grapevines, it is easiest and most space-efficient to build trellis systems. Training them on the right kind of trellis helps vines grow and develop to their best advantage. Various types include:

  • Lyre trellises
  • Vertical trellises
  • Geneva double curtain trellises
  • Four-arm Kniffin trellises (good for beginners)
  • Single-curtain cordon trellises

A Brief History of the Trellis

In the past, trellises—or trelliage—were considered art for the garden. They were designed to be beautiful to look at, even during times of the year when no vines or plants were growing on them for support. Working for King Louis XIV in France, landscape architect Andre Le Notre designed the elaborate garden at Versailles—considered among the finest and certainly the grandest formal French gardens in the world. Trellises and other outdoor structures gave a sense of architecture to the landscape, along with formality and an impressive scale.

Le Notre's emphasis on the importance of trelliage at Versailles can be seen throughout the world, as landscape architects and garden designers use interpretations of it on facades and in gardens.

william morris trellis
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Trellis Trivia

The first wallpaper design that William Morris ever attempted was in 1862, inspired by a lovely view in his English garden, of a trellis with a vine and birds. He went on to become one of the finest wallpaper designers in history, known for creating beautiful patterns inspired by nature. Morris & Co. is still in business.