Convert a broken, old ladder into a trellis to support climbing vines.

How to Use Ladders for a Trellis

by Amelia Allonsy

Climbing vine plants need a trellis structure to support the vines as they grow, but there's no need to build or purchase an expensive trellis when you likely already have a workable trellis in your shed or garage. A simple ladder has horizontal rungs and vertical sides that allow plants to grab on and climb to the top. If you have an old ladder that is no longer safe to support the weight of a person, this is a clever way to recycle. The ladder might need slight modifications to better support twining vines, which wrap around thin supports.

Install eye screw hooks to the insides of the vertical sides of the ladder, placing one hook directly across from another to form pairs. Space sets of hooks about 6 inches apart along the height of the ladder, beginning just above the bottom rung. Tie clear fishing line to each corresponding pair of eye screws to provide additional, invisible horizontal supports. Use this step for vines that attach with tendrils or for twining vines when the ladder rungs are greater than 3 inches wide. Skip this step if the ladder has narrow rungs or when using vines with different attachment styles.

Prop the ladder against an exterior wall of your house or garden shed, or against a privacy fence. Set the legs at least 2 feet out from the wall, depending on the ladder height, so it doesn't fall backwards. Dig out the ground and bury the ladder feet about 1-foot deep to further anchor it.

Insert sturdy eye screws into the wall or fence directly behind the vertical supports at the top of the ladder. Install additional eye screws behind every other rung of the ladder. Tie high-test fishing line or strong twine around the ladder and to the eye screws to anchor the ladder to the wall or fence -- tie tightly so the ladder doesn't shift. These keep the ladder from falling as the vines grow and become heavy, which is especially important when using a tall, heavy ladder.

Plant a climbing plant at the base of the ladder and push its ends around the ladder rungs as it grows until it trains itself to the ladder. When using a relatively short ladder, try a vine such as sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) an annual flowering vine that climbs to about 8 feet and can also be grown as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 8 to 11. Tall ladders are better suited for larger vines, such as queen's wreath (Antigonon leptopus), which fills out the ladder quickly with a maximum growth of 30 to 40 feet. Queen's wreath also grows in U.S.D.A. plant hardiness zones 8 through 11.

Items you will need

  • Screw eye hooks
  • Pliers
  • Fishing line
  • Shovel


  • Fishing line works well for adding additional climbing supports for vines because it is invisible and doesn't detract from the ladder. A rustic wooden trellis, such as from an old orchard trellis, might be enhanced with baling twine, which is visible but sticks to the rustic theme.

About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images