A step-by-step guide for making
this attractive and practical feature
for your fence or wall.
- This simple bamboo trellis can be put up in an hour
- Suitable for fences and walls from 4 to 8ft high and 4 to 16ft wide
- Perfect for training small soft-fruit (red/white currants & gooseberries)
- Looks great in winter when used with deciduous shrubs or climbers
I have constructed these simple bamboo fans many times in my garden to train various wall shrubs. In the picture above you can see a young white currant I am in the process of training. This kind of fan can be used to support any climber or wall shrub but is particularly effective when used with deciduous plants, as the pattern of bamboo canes look striking in winter when the wall or fence might otherwise be bare.
When used to train wall shrubs, the bamboo canes provide convenient tying-in points, and can even act as a guide along which the main branches are trained so that the shrub takes on the fan shape itself. Another advantage is that the canes can be repositioned easily at a later date, sometimes even with the branches attached to them.
The result in just a few short years can be dramatic and make a real feature of a vertical space.
Any medium sized shrub that forms long stems from the base might be a potential candidate. Soft fruit such as red and white currants (but not black currants), as well as gooseberries, are especially well suited, creating long-lived fans that fruit prolifically like the redcurrant in the picture above.
Some ornamental shrubs are worth trying too: Forsythia, Camellia, Flowering currants (Ribes), x Fatshedera, Sarcococca and even some roses might be amenable. Scrambling, deciduous climbers can also look good in front of such a fan, even if they do not follow the formal lines of the canes. This would work well for any sparse climber as the canes will provide some structure. A good example might be some of the herbaceous (type 3) Clematis which die back to the ground every year. Again, the canes provide structure while the clematis is getting going in the spring. Likewise, open lax wall shrubs such as Abutilon may benefit from having a more geometric structure behind them.
Note: Despite being suitable for fan-training, this small-bamboo trellis is not suitable for large fruit trees such as apples, plums, pears, peaches, figs and cherries. They need a much larger space and a different approach when fan trained. You can read about training of these larger fruit trees here: Trained Forms Index
Apart from red / white currants and gooseberries, it might be worth trying ornamentals such as those below.
- Ornamental currants (Ribes)
- Crab apple (Malus)
- Japanese quince
- Dwarf flowering cherries
- Lonicera fragrantissima
- x Fatshedera
- Herbaceous Clematis (group 3)
- Small roses
- Sweet peas
What you need
Ideally, you will already have horizontal support wires along your fence. It is always a good idea to get wire supports sorted out early on any fence or wall where you plan to grow climbers (roses, clematis, wall shrubs, trained fruit) as it can be much more difficult later when plants are in the way. The traditional method uses tensioned galvanised wire and vine eyes, but I prefer the more reliable Gripple system which uses tensioned nylon cord, as it is easier to install and adjust, and does not deform and lose tension if you accidentally lean against a wire. You can read more about it here
To make a trellis fan you will need the following equipment:
- Bamboo canes of a suitable length and thickness for your project.
- Plastic covered wire and garden string.
- Sharp bypass secateurs suitable for cutting the bamboo canes.
In the example below I created the bamboo fan behind an existing young currant I planted the year before. I tied the shoots to the canes as I went, but you might prefer to construct the fan first, then tie in the shoots afterwards.
Step by step
The idea is to get the symmetry right by first putting in just a few canes on either side (as shown below). Once you are happy with these, it is easy to add additional canes in-between, effectively doubling the number.
- Begin with a central, upright cane. Tie it in place everywhere it crosses a horizontal support.
Use oversized canes and cut them to length in-situ at the end to get a neat finish.
- Next add a pair of canes symmetrically either side of the central cane. These should be quite widely spaced as you are going to come back and add canes in between later on.
- Tie them at two points, where they cross the horizontal supports, somewhere near the top and bottom of the cane. These ties hold the cane to the fence (via the horizontal support wires). Plastic-covered garden wire is often better for this job than string as the canes are going to be in place for a number of years and string will rot in a couple of years. (The benefit of only fixing each cane at two points is that the canes are easier to adjust. You can add additional ties once you are happy with the overall arrangement)
- To ensure they are symmetric, measure from the central cane along one of the support wires to the left and right. Adjust as necessary.
- Now add two more canes at a lower angle and tie them in as before.
- Stand back and look at the fan. Is it even? If not, adjust the canes until they are equally spaced. (In the photo above, I realised the two lower canes were too high, so I needed to lower them, as shown in the following photo, 6)
- Now start to add canes in between, working in opposite pairs (7 above).
- Continue to fill in the spaces until your fan is complete.
- If necessary, cut off the ends of each cane to create the desired look.
- At the end, when you have all the canes in the right place, you should add additional ties to each cane so that it is fixed to every horizontal wire it crosses. This will ensure it stays in place over the years to come. You are now ready to start training your shrub or climber.
While plastic-coated wire is great for attaching the canes to your fence or wall wires, it is not ideal for tying the shoots of your plant in place. Over time, wire will cut into the branches of you shrub as it grows, damaging it badly. Garden string (cotton or jute) is kinder to plants, and if tied in a bow more easily adjusted. Furthermore, it will tend to rot before it can do much damage.
- Ideally, you should check the ties holding your shrub in place at least once per year to ensure they are not cutting into the wood. Loosen or retie them.
- As the ends of the main branches grow, they will need tying in. Try to do this in the summer while they are still pliable.
- Look for new, unwanted long shoots, emerging from the sides of branches or from the base. Cut these back at any time.
- If one of your main branches dies, cut it out and look for a side shoot from an adjacent cane, or a new shoot from the base, that you can train in to take its place.
After a few years, you may find your trellis needs to be bigger, or that some of the canes have decayed. In my experience it is quite easy to loosen the ties and replace a cane, or even renovate the entire structure, using longer, stouter canes if required. This is generally easier in winter when there are no leaves on your plant.
Have fun and let me know how you get on in the comments section below.