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Three years ago Sam built me a set of two cattle panel trellises in a very barren corner of our yard. They were part of my design to increase our growing space for fruits and vegetables. To this day, our cattle panel trellis DIY continues to be one most popular garden projects over on Instagram, so I am thrilled to be able to finally share our trellis building instructions here!
Recently, we built another cattle panel trellis to support our passion fruit vines. I chose to go with a cattle panel trellis because of how sturdy it is, but we also used a different type of post to secure the panel due to the more tall and narrow shape of the arch. You can see the passion fruit trellis in action in my video on growing passion fruit.
You might also want to read→ A Vertical Gardening Guide
Finding cattle panel for a trellis
This was the first road block we hit. As you know, we live in an urban area where cattle panel and other farm supplies are not as readily available. We were finally able to source ours from a Tractor Supply Co about an hour away. You can view their inventory online (this was our cattle panel), but you must pick it up yourself—I called ahead to make sure it was available before making the trek.
You will need a vehicle that can handle transporting it and some tie downs to secure it.
Cattle panel is large and more sturdy than the other types of wire mesh you will find at most hardware stores. If you try and use the wrong kind of wire panel, you’ll get trellises that won’t withstand the weight of a squash vine and probably won’t last as long. Cattle panel is 4 or 5 gauge wire, and our cattle panel trellis still looks as new as the day we installed it. Worth it!
This DIY creates an arched panel that is staked into the ground using U-Posts. The design does not require you to attach the cattle panel to a raised bed or structure—so it is somewhat freestanding. The benefit of this design is the ability to choose where you place your raised beds (inside or outside the tunnel) or even have an arch with in-ground beds instead. It’s very versatile!
We have two sets of cattle panels as trellises. One side has raised beds, but there are many options for design and layout.
Supplies for your cattle panel trellis:
16′ cattle panel *don’t forget, I have two cattle panel trellises in my garden, but these instructions are for building one cattle panel trellis.
Four U-posts– these are the stakes we drive into the ground to secure the trellis. Tractor Supply Co. also has them here. You can use taller u-posts (4 or 5 foot) if you want to increase rigidity depending on your specific situation. For our tall passion fruit arch we used 6 foot T-Posts for maximum support due to it being a tall, narrow arch.
Hammer(one with a larger surface for driving the u-posts).
Another view of our cattle panel trellis area. Even when not in use, the arches add interest to the garden.
Location & Spacing for your Cattle Panel Trellis
Picking a location for your new cattle panel trellis can be harder than building it sometimes. Things you should consider when deciding the location of your trellis are:
♦Where & What are you planting? Will you have raised beds on both sides? You can choose to beds on either the inside or the outside of the tunnel, but be aware of walking space.
♦Height. You want your cattle panel trellis to be tall enough that you can walk through without bumping your head. The height of the trellis will be determined by how far apart you place the stakes—more on that calculation below.
♦Wind. Do you live in a windy climate? You might want to position your trellis against a wall or structure where your plants won’t be demolished by rough winds.
Our cattle panel trellises are bent from North to South. We chose this configuration so as the sun travels from East to West during the day, both sides of our trellis gets full sun. I purposely placed our raised bed inside the tunnel to create a shady area for plants that can’t handle our Summer sun, but you can easily put beds on the outside of the tunnel if full-sun is desired.
Squash and melons are my favorite crops to grow over my cattle panel trellis in the Summer. Pictured here: tromboncino squash vine growing over arch
Spacing For The U-Posts – how to calculate the height of your arch
The spacing and planning of the beds is the hardest part. Remember, our panel is only 16′ long, so we can’t make an arch that reaches over a 16′ area, because it would just be laying on the ground. We need to think about how high the peak of our arch should be, and that will determine where we place our posts in the ground for each side of the cattle panel trellis. We will use our setup as an example, but also give you the information to plan your own space and dimensions. Every garden is different and that is one of the best parts of gardening.
Let’s plan the layout!
You will need:
Graph paper. We think this is the most effective way to plan your cattle panel trellis, so you don’t have to keep moving around a big sheet of cattle panel. We use these graph paper notebooks for all our garden planning, you can print your own graph paper HERE.
A piece of wire or string, 16 squares long
On your graph paper, each square will equal 1 foot. Your piece of wire/string will represent your 16′ cattle panel—that is why we made it 16 squares long. We decided that about 6′ 6″ at the peak of the arch would be enough space to walk through the arch without much trouble. Using the the graph paper and piece of wire, we can bend it in a loop (making sure the peak is 6.5 squares high, AKA 6′ 6″) and figure out where the other side of our panel will hit the ground. Count the squares along the “ground” and you’ll see how many feet apart to place your stakes.We found that if we put our posts 6′ apart we will get an arch that is 6′ 6″ at the peak. If your trellis is going to be very tall at the peak, you might want to purchase the taller u-posts to increase the support and help with rigidity, but we have personally had no issues with ours.
Don’t forget, the construction of the cattle panel trellis is the same, regardless of whether you want to put garden beds on the outside of the tunnel, or one on the inside like mine! The posts don’t need to go into garden beds.
Here’s how we calculated the height of the arch for our cattle panel trellis. This technique allows you to customize to the height you need!
How to install the cattle panel trellis
Let’s get the trellis installed. Mark the spot where your trellis will start on one side. Instead of driving the U-post in that exact spot, go about 4″ down the length of the tunnel and drive your first post into the ground. This will be your post 1, like the diagram above. By placing the posts offset from the exact corner, this will strengthen the structure. NOTE: drive the posts so that approximately 1 foot is below ground. You also want the open channel side facing outside the tunnel so you can tuck in your tie-wire later. If this sounds confusing, see the video below that show the posts.
Next, measure from post 1 straight down the length of the tunnel another 40″ and drive post 2.
Now, it’s time to install the posts on the other side of the arch. Measure 6 feet over from Post 1 (as we calculated on our graph paper) and drive Posts 3 and 4 using the same measurements and procedure above.
This next step is easier with a friend/helper. You need to set your cattle panel on the inside of your posts on one side, and then bend it carefully to set on the inside of the other posts. At this point, the pressure will hold the cattle panel in place while you attach it to the posts, but I think it is safer to have a partner there to ensure it doesn’t pop out of place.
Take your wire and tie the cattle panel to the posts like in the video below↓. We only wire it in one spot per post because we feel the tension of the panel holds it in place. Also, you can see we tuck the end of the cut wire in the channel of the U-post. This makes it so that we (or anyone else) won’t get scraped on the sharp end. I think Sam did a great job showing how this was done in the video, but if you have questions ask them in the comment section below, and I will make sure to get you an answer.
Now all you have to do is plant something to grow on that sweet new cattle panel trellis of yours. In years past I’ve done sugar pumpkins and tromboncino squash, but this year I’m growing a selection of indeterminate cherry tomatoes on my trellis (see Tomato FAQs). You can also check out our Vertical Gardening Guidefor more inspiration for what you can grow vertically!
Other articles you might find interesting:
Summer Cut Flower Series
A Vertical Gardening Ideas Guide
A Guide to Growing Edible Peas – grow them on your new trellis!
How to Build a Wood raised Bed
Raspberry Primocanes and Floricanes
Planting a Strawberry Patch from Scratch (Bare Roots)
Planting Asparagus Bare Roots in a Raised Bed
A Love Affair with Growing Turnips
How to Prune Boysenberry Plants
Plant This Butternut Squash Next Summer
The Obsession with Growing Dried Heirloom Beans ~ Varieties, Growing, and Harvest
Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>
Rodrigo Banuelos Gonzalez on April 15, 2020 at 9:07 am
Hola team FreckledCalifornian!
What a treat to read this post my friends 🙂 Love the simplicity in the specific way you detailed this DIY project and also how much it reflects the amazing team you make! I myself am a long ways from building a trellis like this but if I ever do, this for sure cleared up some things I wouldn’t of thought of.
As always, thanks a bunch for sharing all that you do… 🙂
FreckledCalifornian on April 15, 2020 at 9:56 am
Thanks Rod! If you ever do build one, you know we are here for alllll your questions! 😉
Liz McElroy on May 19, 2020 at 5:46 pm
Thank you! We built one today, and it looks great.
FreckledCalifornian on May 19, 2020 at 6:13 pm
Woohoo! That is fantastic. Perfect timing for summer veggies too 🙂
Jenna on June 6, 2020 at 3:16 pm
How do you drive the posts in the ground?
FreckledCalifornian on June 6, 2020 at 8:49 pm
Hi Jenna! You can use a hammer to drive them into the ground. I listed one similar to what we use in the supply list. They go in pretty easily (depending on your ground texture) so I’ve never had a problem! Have fun!
Melissa on September 13, 2020 at 2:24 pm
Randi! I’m hoping to build one of these soon. Since I’m in the same zone as you can you share what crops you grow beneath the trellis in both summer/winter? I’m trying to decide what to plant under them. Thanks!
FreckledCalifornian on September 15, 2020 at 10:38 am
Hi Melissa! That’s great that you are thinking of building a cattle panel trellis! During Summer we grow bush beans, peppers (in our hot climate they actually do okay with some shade), basil, and various flowers under the trellis. As long as it grows short and bushy, it works with any climbing plants. In Winter I grow calendula, nasturtiums, salad greens, kale, bok choy, parsley, or some root veggies depending on how much sun your location gets. I hope that helps! Don’t forget you can access my zone 10 seed schedule in the Garden Resources Library for subscribers 🙂
Brigid on April 3, 2021 at 6:12 am
Do you have any concerns about lead content in galvanized steel leeching into vegetables? I’ve been thinking about doing the same tunnel trellis but unsure if it’s safe and struggling to find much info out there
FreckledCalifornian on April 4, 2021 at 7:38 am
Hi! I typically avoid metal in garden beds, but if I ever want to put something in the soil I always research and decide what I’m comfortable with personally. These cattle panel trellises are actually made to stand alone (secured with the posts in the ground) and don’t require raised beds. Ours are installed with the posts in our DG (decomposed granite) path. If you see the video at the end of the article (with Sam attaching the panels to the post) you’ll see a garden bed that I added after the trellises were installed. I just placed the bed next to the trellis. Hope that helps!
Anja on May 21, 2021 at 8:30 pm
Randi thanks for a great, beautiful and informative post. Question. I was planning on building 3 connecting trellis’s. They would bump up to garden boxes on each side. If I do this though, I will have easy access to pick the veggies from inside the arch, however if I need to pick from the outside I will need to stand in the boxes. Do I need to leave some space then between each trellis or will picking from the inside be sufficient? Thanks!
FreckledCalifornian on May 23, 2021 at 6:37 am
Hi Anja, how exciting! So, one of our cattle panels we can’t access from the outside because it sits against a garden shed. We have never had any problems harvesting only from the inside! All the hanging crops tend to hang inside the arches (or if you see one developing outside you can always train it in). This has been our experience so far….hope that answers your question! Have fun!
Megan Day on March 8, 2022 at 9:51 am
I’ve been wanting to try this out for the last couple years. The Tractor Supply about 20 miles from us has cattle panels but we can’t figure out how the heck to get them home. We don’t have a truck but do have access to a large SUV (Toyota Sequoia). I’m trying to think through if we would tie it to the roof or bend it to try and fit it in the back. How did you manage this?
FreckledCalifornian on March 8, 2022 at 11:27 am
Hi Megan! Well, we have a truck so transporting it wasn’t an issue for us. I would start by looking online for some tips or even videos specifically about transporting and see what you find, because I know other gardeners have tackled the same problem. Also, call Tractor Supply and see if they have a delivery option. It’s been a few years since we have done this, so I don’t know what might have changed. Have fun!
FreckledCalifornian on March 14, 2022 at 6:36 am
Hi again! I don’t know if you saw the comment from John, but it was great to see another suggestion and feedback that might help others.
John on March 13, 2022 at 8:29 am
A few people have asked how to transport the cattle panels without a truck. This video shows a very creative way to transport them on the roof of an SUV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNx3h9nuumc.
I used this method yesterday to transport 6 panels using my minivan. Just like in the video, I attached two 2x4x12s to the roof rack with zip ties. I then laid the panels on top of the 2x4s with zip ties and a couple of bungee cords. The 16′ panels hang 2 feet off the front and the back of the 2x4s. I tied red plastic to the panels at the back for safety flags.
I had to travel about 40 miles from TSC for the panels using mainly back roads. Most of the time I traveled between 40-50pmh and the panels didn’t move, other than slight occasional bending.
Good luck with your cattle panel transport.
FreckledCalifornian on March 14, 2022 at 6:36 am
Thank you for sharing this and your feedback! Glad it worked out for you.
Bruce on April 26, 2023 at 12:48 pm
I want the walking height of the tunnel to be like you showed with the 16 ft cattle panel. 6.5 ft
But I had to cut mine into to carry it Home. Can I still use your instruction on building it.
Please reply back. Thank you
FreckledCalifornian on April 26, 2023 at 8:50 pm
Unfortunately, I have never had to work with a cut panel. Maybe there are other resources online? but I don’t think I have any other info that can help. I wish you luck!
Pete Kunzman on May 5, 2023 at 6:43 am
Bruce, why did you cut 16 footers, and not just buy the 8 foot long pannels. I have used the 8 footers like a v shape and not rounded. Stand up on end and zip tie the tops and it will be like a Tpee, then secure the bottoms with the stakes as you would the rounded 16 footers.
Nancy E Skewes-Cox on October 17, 2023 at 3:49 pm
Thank you so much for this! I already scouted out Tractor supply for my cattle pan Al, and now I now exactly how to install it. Now I need two, one more for my passion fruit vine!
FreckledCalifornian on October 18, 2023 at 8:49 am
Hi! I’m so glad to hear this. Cattle panel trellises are so versatile. Good luck on your project!
Vicki Sargent on January 26, 2024 at 9:13 am
I appreciate you sharing your expertise so much and plan to put in two of these in this spring. I’m wondering if it matters which way the panel bends. I mean do the horizontal wires go on the inside of the trellis or the outside or would either way make no difference?
Again, thanks for the inspiration!
FreckledCalifornian on February 3, 2024 at 1:52 pm
Hi Vicki, sorry for the slow response! I asked Sam what he thought, and we don’t think there’s a difference structurally, but we put the horizontal wires on the outside of the arch. That way you are less likely to encounter any ends or ridges on the side you walk through. I hope that makes sense. Good luck with the project!
Vicki Sargent on February 4, 2024 at 7:26 am
It makes perfect sense! Thank you for your time.
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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert in organic gardening, I would like to share my knowledge and expertise on the topic. Over the years, I have gained first-hand experience in building and maintaining cattle panel trellises, which have proven to be a popular choice for gardeners looking to increase their growing space for fruits and vegetables.
One of the reasons why cattle panel trellises are so sturdy and durable is because they are made of 4 or 5 gauge wire, which is thicker and stronger than other types of wire mesh commonly found in hardware stores. This ensures that the trellises can withstand the weight of climbing plants, such as squash vines, without bending or breaking. In fact, the cattle panel trellis that I built three years ago still looks as good as new.
When it comes to sourcing cattle panels, it can be a bit challenging, especially if you live in an urban area where farm supplies are not readily available. I recommend checking out stores like Tractor Supply Co., which often carry cattle panels in their inventory. However, keep in mind that you will need to pick up the panels yourself, so make sure you have a vehicle that can handle their size and some tie downs to secure them during transportation.
In terms of design, cattle panel trellises offer great versatility. They can be built as freestanding structures, meaning they don't need to be attached to a raised bed or structure. This allows you to choose the location of your trellis and the placement of your raised beds. For example, you can have raised beds on both sides of the tunnel, or you can have an arch with in-ground beds. The choice is yours.
To build a cattle panel trellis, you will need a few supplies, including a 16-foot cattle panel, four U-posts for staking the trellis into the ground, tie wire for securing the panel to the posts, wire cutters, a hammer, a tape measure, graph paper for planning, and a larger surface hammer for driving the U-posts.
When it comes to installation, it's important to consider factors such as sunlight, the plants you will be growing, the height of the trellis, and wind conditions. These factors will help you determine the location and spacing of your cattle panel trellis. For example, if you live in a windy climate, you may want to position your trellis against a wall or structure to protect your plants from rough winds.
To calculate the height of your arch and the spacing for the U-posts, you can use graph paper and a piece of wire or string. Each square on the graph paper represents one foot, and the wire or string should be 16 squares long to represent the length of the cattle panel. By bending the wire or string to create a loop with a peak height of 6.5 squares (or 6 feet 6 inches), you can determine where the other side of the panel will hit the ground. Counting the squares along the ground will give you the spacing for the U-posts.
Once you have determined the layout and spacing, you can start installing the trellis by driving the U-posts into the ground at the designated spots. Make sure to leave about 1 foot of the U-posts below ground for stability. Then, place the cattle panel on the inside of the posts on one side and carefully bend it to set on the inside of the other posts. The pressure of the panel should hold it in place while you secure it to the posts using tie wire.
Once the trellis is installed, you can start planting your favorite climbing plants, such as squash, melons, or passion fruit vines, to grow on the trellis. The trellis not only provides support for the plants but also adds visual interest to your garden.
In conclusion, building a cattle panel trellis is a great way to increase your growing space for fruits and vegetables in an organic garden. It offers durability, versatility, and the opportunity to grow a variety of climbing plants. With the right supplies and a well-planned layout, you can create a beautiful and productive garden using this trellis design. Happy gardening!