How to Build a Grape Vine Trellis

grape vine trellis construction
grape vine trellis construction

Here are the instructions for the construction of a basic 2.0m x 2.4m (6′ x 8′) grape vine trellis as shown below.

Construction materials required are as follows:

  • 2.4m (8ft) steel star pickets (x3)
  • Plastic coated or galvanised wire, 2.0mm or 12 gauge (x30ft/10m)
  • Turnbuckles (x3) – or some other means of tensioning the wire
  • Bolts 6mm x 50mm with matching nuts and washers (x2)
  • Plastic safety cap for star picket (x1)

Tools required are as follows:

  • Club hammer – or something else to hammer star pickets into the ground with
  • Drill with 8mm drill bit
  • Pliers/Wire cutters

I have highlighted the various parts on the picture below to assist in explaining the construction. (Click on picture to enlarge)

  • Yellow lines indicate the position of the wire supports
  • Red rectangles show position of turnbuckes
  • Purple circles show position of fastening bolts
  • Blue square shows position of plastic safety cap
grape vine trellis construction

Trellis Construction

Step 1 – Determine location for trellis

Orientation should run lengthwise north to south if you want to maximise sun coverage and not shade out any adjacent garden areas.

If you choose to use it for shade, position it to run lengthwise across the direction you wish to block the sun from.

For example, to block the north midday sun in the Southern Hemisphere, place in a northernmost position running west to east.


Step 2 – Drill the star pickets to allow them to be bolted together

  1. Lay steel star-pickets posts on the ground, with the sides that have the holes facing inwards. This is important, as the wire will be strung through these holes when the trellis is assembled as an upside-down “U” shape.
  2. Hold flat edges against each other as closely as possible to work out where to drill the holes to bolt the posts together.
  3. Drill one hole at the top of each upright post, and drill two holes on the horizontal post – one hole near the top, and the other a short distance from the bottom (pointed end).
  4. Do not assemble at this point.
grape vine trellis contruction
Drilling the holes in the posts to construct the trellis

Step 3 – Drive star pickets into ground, the correct distance apart

The posts need to be hammered into the ground, the correct distance apart so they can be bolted together.

In firm soils, hammer the posts into the soil with a club hammer (small sledge hammer) if the soil is firm.

In loose soils that can’t adequately support the posts, dig holes of the correct depth and width (see below), then secure the posts in the holes using one of the following methods:

  • Using gravel, set the posts into the holes, hold the posts straight, fill with gravel and pack it down around them.

  • Using concrete, for an even more secure fixing, the posts must be held in place securely and straight until the concrete sets. To do this, use some kind of support, such as a teepee structure made of three timber stakes tied together at the top, then fill the hole with concrete.

How Deep to Dig Post Holes?

The general rule when setting fence posts or any other posts into the ground, is to have 1/3 of the total length above the ground, and 2/3 above the ground. Divide the height of the post by one-third, this is the depth of the hole required for it.

The simple way to do this is to divide the length of the post into three, the bottom third should be below the ground. So with a 180cm (6′) post, 60cm (2′) is in the ground, and 120cm (4′) is above the ground. If the posts need to be higher above the ground, longer pots are used.

How Wide to Dig Post Holes?

The general rule digging holes in the ground for posts is to make the post hole be 3 times the diameter or width of the post.

If the post is 10cm (4″) wide, the hole should be three times wider, which would be 30cm (12″).

  • After the posts are in place, attach the horizontal post across the top by using the 6mm x 50mm with matching nuts and washers. Use the washers under the nuts to make it easier to tighten, and to prevent the bolts loosening.

In case the posts are too high, they can be driven deeper into the ground until the trellis sits at the desired height.

I drove the 2.4m (8′) posts 75cm (2.5′ ) into the ground, creating a 1.65m (5.5′) high trellis. Depending on the firmness of the soil, this will hold very securely.

As a further note, if this trellis is located at the edge of a raised garden bed, the vertical supports can be fastened or attached to the side of the raised bed for additional support.

grape vine trellis construction
Anchoring posts into the ground then assembling the trellis

Step 4. Attach 2mm wire through the holes of the inner edges of the vertical supports at the desired height

  1. Using plastic coated or galvanised wire, 2.0mm or 12 gauge in thickness, string the wires across the vertical pots of the trellis frame.

    Note: If using turnbuckles, only attach the wire to one side only. If the turnbuckles will be placed on the left, only attach wires to the post on the right.

  2. Before using turnbuckles, wind them out to lengthen them, so they can be wound back in later to shorten them and tension the wire!
  3. Attach each wire to a turnbuckle, starting with the bottom one, working upwards,  then turn the turnbuckes to tension the wires nice and taught.

    Note: This step is optional but recommended, as small galvanised turnbuckles are quite cheap, and allow for very precise adjustment of tension on each wire.

What spacing should be used between wires?

  • Wire spacing is really a personal preference, but a spacing of 30cm (12″) to 45cm (18″) between wires is a recommended distance for grape vines.
  • Use three to four wires, with the lowest wire sitting approximately 60cm (2′) above the ground.

On the trellis I’ve built that is pictured in this article, the wires are spaced 45cm (18″ or 1.5′) apart from the bottom, leaving a shorter distance to the top. Looking back, spacing the lowest wire 60cm (2′) above the ground would have been much better.

grape vine trellis construction

Step 5 – Plant the grape vine and tie it to the wires of the trellis

Now that the trellis support is completed, the grapevine can be planted and the canes ties to the support wires.

grape vine trellis construction

For instructions on how to train and prune the grapevine in the following years, see article – How to Prune Grape Vines – Cane and Spur Pruning Explained

Additional Information

If you’re unfamiliar with turnbuckles, they’re devices for adjusting the tension on wire strung between two points.

Turnbuckles have either two threaded eyelets on each end, two hooks on either end, or a hook on one end and an eyelet on the other.

They are screwed into each end of the long metal body. One eyelet has a left-hand thread and the other has a right-hand thread. By rotating the metal body while the ends are fastened, the tension can be adjusted by causing both ends to be screwed in or out simultaneously.

Here are pictures of the three types of turnbuckles mentioned:

turnbuckles
Turnbuckles are used for tensioning wire, and may have hooks or eyelets on the ends

Note: When using the turnbuckles, wind them out first to lengthen them! Once they are wired in placed, then they can be turned to shorten them, and tension the wire.

  • When using turnbuckles with two eyelets, fasten one end to the post with a short piece of wire, then fasten the long wire from the other post to the other eyelet.
  • When using turnbuckles with a hook and an eyelet, the hook can be attached straight into the hole in the post if it will fit.

How to Tie Wires to Posts with a Haywire Twist and Barrel Roll

To fasten wire to the eyelets of the turnbuckles, or directly to the holes in the post, a secure way to do this is to use a method called a Haywire Twist and Barrel Roll, as detailed below:

diagram haywire twist barrel roll for attaching wire
How to make a haywire twist and barrel roll in wire for attaching to posts or turnbuckles
  1. Thread wire through eyelet, then rotate the loop so that a twist forms.
  2. Complete 3 to 4 twists.
  3. Bend back the end so it makes a  right angle bend to the main wire.
  4. Wrap the end of the wire into a series of 3 to 4 tight rolls around the main strand or standing part to form the barrel–rolls.

When tying wire directly to the post, use 3 to 4 barrel-rolls, I’ve found that to be sufficient.

38 Comments

  1. dylan Steinfelt says:

    I really like this grape vine trellis. But i can’t seem to fine the star pickets in the U.S. I am also not sure i want to purchase them because they have pvc on them and i think another chemical. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Blackthorn says:

      Hi Dylan,

      In Australia we use star pickets to string up temporary wire fences, barriers, tree supports and so on. The ones I use are just painted black, they’re not PVC coated, I wouldn’t use them if they were, as you mentioned, we don’t need another source of chemicals leaching into the soil. I did a bit of research, and it looks like you can also get star pickets that are bitumen dipped, or galvanised (both of which I have seen), and lo and behold, PVC coated ones too, though I can honestly say I’ve never seen the latter on sale over here ever. The wire I use for the plant supports is PVC coated, simply because I wanted it to be green in colour, but plain galvanised wire will work just as well.

      In the US you guys have such a wider choice of materials to work with when building anything! You could make the trellis out of any structurally sound material, such as galvanised pipe, metal fence posts, anything that you can bolt together. Galvanised water pipe would be my choice, it doesn’t rust, is very strong, looks nicesr than star pickets. You can get various pipe fittings to fasten the various pipes together. I’ve seen whole grapevine arbors and pergolas built out of the stuff. This might actually be my next project!

      Hope this helps,

      Regard

      1. Kathy Isaacs says:

        PVC coated wire is also better for the plants – the galvanised can potentially be abrasive, as it isn’t smooth and becomes slightly more rough with exposure to elements.

  2. John says:

    Great article and and tips. Looking forward to building this.
    Thanks again
    John
    USA

  3. Kim says:

    I picked up some galvanized wire from the hardware store. It came with a warning of being carcinogenic, and recommended washing hands after touching. I am concerned about growing my grapes on it–do you have any information about this?

    1. Blackthorn says:

      Hi Kim,

      Thanks for bringing this up, it’s amazing how many toxic chemicals are thrust upon an unsuspecting public in the name of money! This reminds me of the issue with plastic food and drink containers that leached the toxic endocrine disruptor and carcinogen, BPA (bisphenol-A) which have thankfully now been discontinued.

      Galvanized (zinc coated) steel is often coated with an additional passivation agent, a chemical which prevents the ‘white rust’ that you sometimes see on heavily weathered galvanised steel items.
      One type of these passivation chemical used to treat galvanised steel is Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium-6) which is a known carcinogen if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin,
      A safer substitute used to passivate zinc coatings is Trivalent Chromium (Chromium-3), which is not absorbed by the body’s cells.

      I’m not sure what country you’re in, as I’ve never seen warning labels on galvanised steel products in Australia, but if there’s a warning on the galvanised wire to wash your hands after handling it, chances are it has been passivated with Hexavalent Chromium, which is really bad!

      I can only conclude that Australia is either using the safer passivating agents on zinc coatings, or that we’re simply being left in ignorance to a real hazard. Europe is far ahead in terms of world health standards and leads the world in notifying its general public of such hazards. The US unfortunately will usually be the last to act in such circumstances, and where the risks are known for any kind of hazardous substances or harmful radiation, the US will usually set the ‘safe’ exposure levels to two or more times higher than Europe will. Then again, Australia usually follows the US lead…

      Seriously, get any other kind of steel wire other than one coated in a carcinogen! Wherever possible, avoid introducing such toxic chemicals into your food growing space. A good rich organic soil can bind up a lot of toxic metals through biosequestration – microorganisms and organic matter can absorb or bind these harmful substances to some extent, but there’s no point in poisoning the soil if you can avoid it.

      Regards

  4. Kenneth Huck says:

    In my experience the plastic used to coat wire cables is often Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) PVC is problematic for a number of reasons. See Greenpeace and Center for Environmental Health and Justice.

    1. Blackthorn says:

      If you can’t find wire with a safe plastic coating, you can use galvanised wire, which will probably have a much longer life anyway.

  5. Vic Homann Port Elizabeth South Africa says:

    An excellent and very detailed instruction. Well done, most people do not bother to be so precise and that leaves the novice like me full of un-answered questions.

  6. Suzanne McEwen says:

    Hi, I want to grow espaliered fruit trees in frot of a colourbond fence. I don’t feel star pickets even with a brace across the top will be strong enough, am I correct. If I were to use galvanised pipe how do I drill the holes for the support wires?
    How close together can I plant the trees? I live at Lake Macquarie, NSW. Also can you recommend a good book for a beginner to learn from.

    1. Blackthorn says:

      Hi Suzanne, an espaliered tree does not really need that much support, it more or less holds up its own branches, the wires are there to guide the growth of the branches so the tree can be trained to shape. It’s slightly different to a grape vine or kiwi fruit where the trellis has to support a very heavy woody climbing vine. Galvanised pipe does make for a more tidy looking trellis, and you can definitely use one for a very sturdy espalier frame. The way you would attach the wires is to drill holes straight through the pipe in the same plane as the horizontal support bar, and either pass the wire through the holes, or for a more professional finish, use eye-bolts, with the eye facing into the frame, and the tightening bolt to the outside.

      The trees can be planted 15cm – 20cm (6-8″) from the wall – see my article Espalier Support/Trellis for further details – http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/espalier-supporttrellis/

      Espalier: Beautiful, Productive Garden Walls and Fences” by Allen Gilbert is a good beginners book on espalier.

      Incidentally, I had one of my traditional timber fences replaced with a colorbond fence recently and I realised you can’t attach anything to these fences, so I put in posts and strung wires to run some bramblberries and climbers over.

  7. Thrivalista says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! The grapevine in the first photo looks very sculptural, especially set off-center. I’m curious why it doesn’t have any leaves, when the rest of the garden looks quite lush…?

    1. Blackthorn says:

      Thanks for the nice comments, the grape vine has no leaves because the photographs were taken in very late winter/beginning of spring – I can tell because all the currants in the picture and the pomegranate have no leaves either, and the blackthorn (sloe) is beginning to flower. That’s how a food forest of perennials looks like through winter – quite lush, and it’s way more lush in the spring Summer growing season. Also, the garden in these pictures only only one year old at that stage!

  8. Hi, I love the design you have given to us and would love to follow it. My problem is that I live in an area that is surrounded by woods which brings in the creatures of the night. I believe I will use your design but put a wire protection around the new grape vine, then use the wire going up and down instead of crossways. This may help my animals of the night leave me some grapes. 🙂 Thanks for the much detailed design.

  9. Amy says:

    Hi, I just installed a grape trellis after reading your blog. I did something totally different in the end, but I wouldn’t have done anything if I hadn’t seen this great website. Thanks for the great blog!

    Amy in California

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Glad you were inspired to build a grape trellis, you’re welcome!

  10. greencracker says:

    This looks like a good match for the kiwi plants that just came in. Thanks!

  11. How deep do these pickets have to go in the ground, is it the same as wooden posts, which we put in about 1/third of their length? Ours would be close to a fence and I’d like to grow a climber as a privacy screen.

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Yes, same depth as wooden posts, typically about 2′ (60cm) is the usual depth people sink the poles into the ground when building grape trellises.

  12. David says:

    Hi there. I’m going to plant 3x table grape vines in my Sydney Aust home. You suggest the trellis run north south. would that not mean they are subject to very hot westerly sun; leading to leaf burn. I would have thought east west would be preferable as it would mean sun most of the day and avoid westlerly sun?????

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Grapes grow in hot, dry Mediterranean climates, they are used to cover arbours and pergolas that receive a lot of sun, in fact they are ideal for protecting other plants from the hot west sun!

  13. mohammed ghizani says:

    Mohammed . Libya
    Dec.2.2014
    Hi there you suggest to run trellis north south where the grape fruits would subject to heat due to sun ray in which it would be damaged.
    what do you think if the rows run est west.
    thank you

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      In most hot climates grapes can handle the heat if they have sufficient water, which is why we use them to face the afternoon sun.
      I only use an east-west orientation when I’m growing against a north facing wall to make use of the heat that the wall retains as the weather cools down to extend the growing season..

    2. M.GHIZANI says:

      Thank you for your reply, this year I have planted grapevine, now they grow about 15 cm long, I want to know, do they need a preventive medicine against disease and do they need fertilization in this stage. I need your advice , thank you

      1. Angelo (admin) says:

        You will need to feed your grapevines with fertilizer at the beginning of the spring autumn seasons. If grapevines get fungal diseases in your climate, you will need to spray them with a copper-based fungicide or lime-sulphur fungicide.

  14. SheilacecMNUSA says:

    Are there certain species of herbs, flowers, vegetables etc. that you would OR WOULD NOT plant right next to grapes?

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Companion plants for grapes listed in the companion planting table here – http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/companion-planting/companion-planting-table/
      The parent article that introduces the concept of companion will explain how companion plants work – http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/companion-planting/

  15. SheilacecMNUSA says:

    Also, what do you fertilize your grape vine with, that’s a large first year!!!! I don’t think in the northern climates here in Minnesota (not far from Canada) we ever see that much growth the first year. 😉

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      In the first year the grape vine is busy establishing its roots and gaining some height, your aim is to establish the trunk and laterals. After that it will grow vigorously. Fertilise as you would the rest of the fruit trees in your garden in spring and autumn.

  16. Shaun says:

    Hi Angelo

    Great post.

    I was wondering if you knew of any potential toxic effects from using the bitumen coated star pickets in a growing bed. See I’m thinking from setting up a similar trellis system for my veggie patch to grow rotating crops of tomatoes, cucumber, climbing beans and peas. A permanent setup with a 2m trellis would be ideal. I was debating whether to use bitumen or galvanized pickets. I was erring towards the galvanized ones fearing some sort of toxicity from bitumen with polyaromatic hydrocarbons. However its hard to verify this concern as there is limited information. Plus bitumen pickets are much easier to source.

    I would value your thoughts.

    Thanks in advance

    Shaun

  17. msyers says:

    The vine has a lovely, organic shape. It basically looks like the kniffin system, but a bit untraditional with the canes arcing one way and then back around…. I assume because of your space limitation? What method do you use to prune it? Spur, cane, or something else? In this picture is it pruned and ready for spring growth? And does it produce lots of fruit with this method? It’s beautiful and would love to do mine the same.

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Yes, well spotted, there was a real space limitation, the trellis was large enough to produce about 9kg of grapes, but I wanted to extend it so I let the grapevine grow as much as possible, to also extend it over an arch, and then alongside of the house under the eaves to shelter it from rain, which eliminates most fungal problems. It now runs from the trellis over the arch and along the west wall of the house for a length of about 10m, as a unilateral high cordon – single curtain system, which is cane pruned because I’m using a sultana grape. On the trellis I’ll graft a spur pruned variety of grape as they are tidier easier to prune up on a small trellis in my opinion.

  18. Tina says:

    Could I use two star pickets that are 10′ apart? What about 15′?

  19. GoJeanGo says:

    Your site is incredibly helpful. Thanks for sharing with us. I’ve heard about many of these techniques, but seeing it has helped me tremendously.

  20. gert says:

    Hello,
    What a ray of sunshine i have found in your site, thank you. I have a very small yard in a large city. I am thinking of planting two espalier apple trees along side my small side yard for beauty, food and privacy. It faces south its a very small space, from the house to the neighbors driveway approximately 6 feet. I think the birds and the bees would enjoy it too. Your thoughts if you have time.
    Gert

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      An espalier against a wall or fence that is south facing is ideal if you’re in the northern hemisphere. make sure the tree gets a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight a day when it’s in leaf, otherwise it wont fruit too well, and will probably get diseased. I discuss this phenomenon with apple trees here – https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/2018/07/30/apple-tree-diseases-and-planting-location//#root-cause-of-many-apple-pest-and-disease-tree-problems

  21. Namara says:

    Hey there,

    Love your designs. I was looking at doing one that is 9m across for dwarf apple trees. It will be freestanding. Is it possible just to do this but 9m across? Or will I have to cement star pickets at the end?

    Thanks

    1. Angelo (admin) says:

      Star pickets won’t support a 9m span of tensioned wire, no matter how they’re anchored. Rural fence star picket spacing is about one every four meters, as anything more than five meters will make the fence weak and difficult to tension. That spacing is for fences using strainer posts and stays, which are diagonal braces with one end in the ground supporting the posts.

      My design uses a picket across the top, so the longest span possible is the length of the longest picket available. With wide-spanning commercial espalier supports the setup is much like wire balustrade, with post set up at reasonable distances apart and wires strung through them, anchored at one end and tensioned at the other.

      Your posts ideally should be set up to the width of each espaliered tree, and an extremely wide espalier would be 3m wide, so in a 9m length you would plant three trees between four posts.

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