Dennis Zerwas, Jr., Anoka County Master Gardener Intern
If your vegetable garden was a party, the vining crops would definitely be the extroverts in the crowd. They are vigorous and energetic. Some of the more popular vining crops are peas, pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and melons. Like most fruits and vegetables, they too require full sun (6-8+ hours), adequate watering, and proper fertilizing based on your most recent soil test, in order to thrive and produce fruit to their full potential.
Once planted, this crop will quickly grow to cover as much ground as possible. The more ground it covers, the more leaves it can grow. The more leaves a plant can grow, the more energy it can produce while also shading out competing plants. Some vining plants like pumpkins, squash and melons really like to sprawl out. A single hill with 2-3 vining pumpkin plants can take up 50-100 square feet of space.
Worried that you don’t have enough space to grow crops that get that big? Don’t give up, grow up! All of the vining crops listed previously can be grown vertically on some form of support. This could be as simple as using an existing chain link fence, all the way up to something more elaborate like a decorative pergola over a walkway. The possibilities are endless and the sky is the limit, literally. If you give these plants plenty of room to climb, they’ll usually reach the top and then some.
While pole beans and cucumbers do a great job heading northward on their own, other vining crops may need a little support and direction at the start. Lightly securing vines with twine or plastic clips will help get them growing in the right direction. As they mature, you can gently weave the growing vine through the trellis openings. One of the additional benefits of growing vertically includes increased air flow and sunlight around vegetables, which helps reduce pests and diseases. It’s much easier to monitor plant health and harvest fruits without having to get down to ground level.
Many people are surprised to learn that tomatoes are actually a vining crop. Most indeterminate tomato varieties will grow 6 to 12 feet, with some varieties reaching up to 20 feet. If grown with care throughout the season, indeterminate tomatoes will continue to flower and produce fruit until fall frost.
If you’re looking to grow a vine crop that’s a little more out of the ordinary, I would recommend trying Malabar spinach. While it’s not in the spinach family, Malabar spinach is a vining plant that can be used as a spinach substitute. Native to tropical areas of Asia, this green leafy vegetable can tolerate our summer heat much better than traditional spinach.
No space? No problem. Conveniently there are determinate or “bush” varieties of most of these vining crops available on the market today. This makes it much easier to grow and enjoy these vining vegetable favorites on a small deck or patio.