Building a grape arbor has been on our to do list for years! Back almost 10 years ago we discovered this cool little public garden that is sponsored by one of our local water companies. The gardens are all based on water conservation and as the gardens have matured over the years it has become one of our favorite places to visit. One area of the garden features a tunnel about 10 feet long that is covered in grape vines and in August the vines are loaded with grapes. Valerie fell in love with the idea of having a grape tunnel in our yard. As soon as we moved into our new place 2 years ago, she picked out the spot for this arbor and even ordered and planted the grapes, BEFORE we had the arbor in place. No pressure for me now, right!!
Well the grapes plants are starting to take off and I couldn’t put it off any longer, so a couple of weeks ago I worked up some plans and bought the supplies. Building this arbor was actually quite simple and I had a blast doing it. Because of the materials we used it ended up being a little more expensive that we had expected but as you can see the finished product is well worth the $200 we spent on it.
Here’s a quick tutorial on building a grape arbor.
First lets start off with the dimensions. The arbor is 6 1/2 feet tall, 43 inches wide and 6 feet long. Those dimensions are from the outsides of the the 4 corner posts, so the path way between the arbor is 36 inches wide.
We chose to build this out of Redwood, which is a big part of the reason it was a littler pricier than we first thought it would be. The cheapest wood to uses would be pine or Douglas fir, but both of those would not last nearly as long. Other woods you could use would be cedar, or a pressure treated lumber. We like the look of Redwood over cedar and because there will be food growing on the arbor we thought it wasn’t the best idea to use lumber treated with chemicals. You will also notice that we didn’t stain the wood for the same reason. Eventually the Redwood will weather to a nice gray color.
Here’s the shopping list:
6 – 4 x 4 – 8 foot posts
8 – 2 x 4 – 8 foot boards
8 joist hangers
8 L brackets
4 – tie plates
4 – 80 pound bags of cement
1 box 3 1/2 inch deck screws
1 box 1 1/4 inch deck screws
The building steps are pretty simple.
1. Dig 4 18 inch deep holes (don’t forget to call and have your utility companies come out and mark any lines). The center of the holes needs to be right where the center of your posts will be.
2. Put 4 posts in the holes. Level all the posts, assure they are at the same height (on top) by marking each post with an line and running a level string between each post. (This could also be accomplished with a laser level)
3. Also be sure the posts are square with each other and in the correct spots. We did this by building a quick temporary frame using clamps and some of the 2 x 4’s. Make sure the frame is square and that the inside edge of the frame measures the same as the outside dimensions of your arbor.
4. Once you are sure that the posts are in the right spots, square and level, you can fill the post holes with cement. We chose to use the bagged cement that you mix with water yourself. The cost of each of these bags is only $2.65 and you need 4. You just premix each bag with about 3/4 gallon of water in a wheel barrow and then quickly shovel the cement into the hole. There are post cements available that you can put in the hole dry and then add water. These are much easier to use but are about 4 times as expenses (you need 2 bags for each hole and each bag is about twice as much). So you can chose based on your budget.
5. Once the posts holes are full (be sure to only fill to about 3 inches from the top of the hole so there is a little space to put some decorative gravel or mulch on top of the cement to cover it up or in our case dirt so the grass will grow back.) check the posts once again to be sure they are still level and square.
6. Give the posts 24 hours for the cement to set before you do anything else.
7. Now you just need to put things together.
8. I secured the top 4 x 4 posts to the cemented posts using these tie brackets. You simply nail them to the vertical posts first and then use some of the 3 1/2 inch deck screws to attach the plate to the top post. I let each post hang over the ends by 12 inches.
9. Next cut 4 roughly 36 inch boards from some of the 2 x 4’s. These will be the ladder rungs that stretch across the top of the center of the structure. These boards are held in place using joist hangers like I show in this pictures. If your structure isn’t quite square then each board may be a slightly different length, so measure each spot before cutting your board. Go a head and put these 4 boards up. Put the joist hangers up using some 3 1/2 inch screws. Then secure the boards to the hangers using some of the 1 1/4 inch screws.
10. Next jump on your table saw and rip 4 of the 2 x 4’s exactly in 1/2. This will leave you with 8 1 3/4 inch square boards. 3 of these will go on the top as decorative boards (the will also help support the grape vines as they grow over the top). Secure these boards to the 2 x 4’x using the 3 1/2 inch deck screws.
11. 4 of the remaining 1 3/4 inch boards will be come the top and bottom supports for the sides. They will need to be cut down to roughly 65 inches (be sure to measure each one before you cut as each may be a little different size if your side posts happen to be out of square). These posts are then attached using L brackets.
12. For added strength you can add a 3 1/2 inch deck screw to the top of each side board by “toe nailing” it in. Be sure to pre drill the holes.
13. Now you just need to add the lattices to the sides. I built these using my table saw again. I ripped 4, 3/4 inch strips out of the remaining 2 x 4’s and then ripped each of those strips in 1/2 again. This gives you 16 3/4 inch square strips of lumber. Also take the remaining 1 3/4 inch board and rip it into 4 3/4 inch strips. Cut all of these strips to 72 inches long.
14. Now install the lattice starting with the vertical boards using the 1 1/4 inch deck screws. You want to attach two boards at each end to complete the frame. These end boards should be attached to the horizontal side boards and also you should attach them to the vertical posts as well. Then space out 4 more boards at what ever distance between you think looks good (I chose to space them 13 inches apart). Any time you are working with these 3/4 inch strips it is a good idea to pre-drill your holes using a 1/8 inch counter sink bit. Pre drilling assures that when you put the screws in that the wood won’t split.
15. The horizontal boards are also spaced 13 inches too so you have nice even squares. There are 4 horizontal boards and they are attached at each junction using 1 1/4 inch screws. You may need to trim each of these boards to length again depending on how square your side posts ended up.
16. Then plant a couple of grape plants (or in our case simply chose the vines you want and attach them to the arbor).
A couple of other things to keep in mind when building a grape arbor:
1. You can tweak the size to fit your needs, the dimensions I used fit our space, you can adjust to fit yours.
2. Don’t plant to many grapes. For an arbor this size you probably only need one plant for each side. Over the next 3 or 4 years you will train one or maybe two “trunks” from each grape plant and each year you will prune back to those trunks.
3. Growing grapes on an arbor like this is not the most ideal way to grow grapes. Although it is a beautiful addition to your edible landscape there are more productive ways to grow and prune grapes. I say that not to discourage you, but instead to make sure you are informed that an arbor like this will produce fewer and sometimes smaller grapes than you might get using other methods.
4. Growing grapes on an arbor like this is not a “maintenance free” proposition. You still need to plan on pruning your grapes early each spring to keep your arbor productive and to keep it from becoming a tangled out of control mess!
So as you can see this worked out beautifully and is just what Valerie had been looking for. You are welcome to take my plan and tweak it how ever you would like. You could easily add additional decorative features to the arbor, you can cut angles or designs in the top posts and boards. I’m planning on designing and making a nice welcome sign to add to the front of this, as this will be the main entry way for guests to enter our garden. Have fun with the design and make it your own.
It turns out that describing how I built this arbor was a little harder than I thought! So if there are any parts where you have questions feel free to ask them in the comment section and I will get back to you with an answer!!