Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DIY Rebar Grape Arbor

We planted my concord grapes along the side of the hay barn five years ago this spring. In lieu of a trellis, we gave each one a T-post with a single wire strung between, planning to add a wire higher up as they climbed.  It didn't take long for the wire to break when we hit it with the riding mower.  After that the grapes languished, neglected except for occasional watering during the summer.  Despite the neglect, they survived.  Two years ago we added two muscadines, a purple and a bronze scuppernong.  They quickly caught up to the two concords in growth although a late spring freeze did in last year's baby grapes.

One of the first things I ever pinned on Pinterest (almost two years ago) was this grape trellis made of rebar from  One based on this idea has been on Herb's Honey-Do list ever since, but things like a milking parlor, a stanchion, a shelter for a baby bull and new fencing kept pushing it down on the list.  Recently I thought of asking our great lawn care man, Randy of By The Yard, if he would make it.  Randy was willing to tackle the job with his cousin Steven, so we set Saturday, April 5 for the project.

On Friday Randy and I went shopping with his 16-foot trailer.  We stopped at Tractor Supply and then Lowe's to get everything we needed for a 50-foot long arbor.  We ended up tweaking our design as the job progressed and consequently ended up a bit short on rebar and pipe, but I'll give you the list as it should have been for a 50' arbor:
  • 12 welded wire cattle panels (First stop TSC where they went on the bottom of the trailer)
  • 11 x 10' lengths of half inch iron pipe, cut in half to make 22 x 5' pipes  (Lowe's cut these for free.  We realized later that we should have asked them to ream the pipe because the machine made the end that it cut smaller in diameter on the inside, but we simply put the cut end in the ground, leaving the open, threaded end on top.  We originally planned to get galvanized pipe, but it was more than twice the price.  Since our arbor is behind a barn, economy won out over aesthetics.)
  • 11 x 20' of half inch rebar  (Gloves were a help in handling this because it really stained hands with something that was coating it.)
  • 1 roll of fencing wire that bends easily with a pliers (With as many places as need to be wired together, you do not want to use wire that is a struggle to wrap.)
Between us we had all the tools we needed:
  • bolt cutter for cutting cattle panels as needed
  • wire cutter
  • pliers for twisting wire
  • T-post puller (see Kubota tractor, also)
  • heavy chain
  • fence post driver
  • shovel
  • ladder
  • Kubota tractor with hay spear or bucket (not essential, but very helpful!)
  • four electric fence posts or other stakes
  • hay twine or other string
  • two T-squares, optional
  • two large concrete blocks, optional
The first order of business was to remove the fence posts.  A couple came up with the fence post puller, but Randy showed us how to get the tough ones up.  (When Herb puts in a fence post, he puts it in!)

Under Randy's direction from the Kubota, Steven hooked the chain tightly to itself at the bottom of the post and spiraled it up and around toward the top.
Next Randy lowered the hay spear so Steven could wrap the chain several times around the short spears.

Then while Steven stepped back and held the loose end of the chain, Randy steadily raised the spear . . . and that stubborn fence post slipped out like a birthday candle out of icing!
Next we marked out a straight line for the side of the arbor near the barn.

Safety First! Note the electric and phone lines in the foreground.  The phone line is dead, but we were very careful not to hammer anything metal into the ground near the electric line.  Fortunately, the trench where it is buried is easy to see and it wasn't anywhere close to where we wanted our supports.
The grapes hadn't been planted on quite a straight line in relation to the barn.  When we measured, they were anywhere from 12' to just over 13' away, so we split the difference and chose 13 ' as our line.

Electric fence posts and hay twine were a handy way to mark our line.
The next step was to put in the supports.  Originally we decided to put one every 10' although we later decided to add more in between, ending up with a 5' interval.

Randy placed a 5' pipe over the selected spot, and Steven hammered it in with the fence post driver.  When Randy measured 42" of pipe above ground, they knew it was in 18" deep.  Once it was in they could tug it in any direction needed to straighten it.
The hardest part of getting the rebar into the pipe was how much it vibrated, making it tricky to aim into such a small hole.  Once one went in a bit, it was fairly easy to push it in with a bit of jiggling.  A few of them even slid in faster and farther than we wanted and had to be pulled back out a bit.
The second end of each rebar really needed two people to get it in and shove it down.
After they put the two end arches in, Randy and Steven measured off every 10' and marked where to put each 5' pipe.

We ended up eye-balling between the two sides to see if each pair of pipes was square.  Randy made me the final authority.  Looking at them later, I could see I must have been seeing cock-eyed!  ;)

It occurred to me belatedly that we could have used T-squares along the two side strings and pulled another string between them to make sure the pipes were placed square.  If perfect symmetry is important, you might want to add that step.  I figure once the vines grow all over the arbor, no one's ever going to notice!
When the first five arches were in (that took about an hour), the guys brought cattle panels and leaned them in place.  There was about an 18" gap (the arbor ended up a bit over 50'), so we planned for it to be toward the far end of the arbor where the patch would be less noticeable.

In retrospect, it would have been much easier to go with a 48' arbor since 3 x 16' cattle panels = 48'.  We wanted the arbor to be the same length as the barn, but a foot less either way wouldn't really have been noticeable.  We lived and learned, so you don't have to!
Remembering how difficult it had been to weed-whack around the grape vines, I suggested putting the cattle panels off the ground enough to get a push mower or weed-whacker under it.  Randy-the-yard-man thought that was a good idea!  A large concrete block turned on its side gave us 12" of clearance.
Two concrete blocks held the panel in place for wiring.

The guys had a mini-assembly line going:  Steven cut lengths of wire and Randy twisted them on by hand to secure the cattle panel to the pipe and rebar, then Steven used the pliers to bend in any protruding ends that could scratch someone.

The cattle panels held in place very well, but later on when Randy put all his weight on the bottom of one and stepped on it, it shifted downward slightly.  So he opted to go back and add another length of tightly-wound wire around the rebar just above each pipe.  That prevented any further downward shift.
An hour and 45 minutes in, the first side had the cattle panels wired on to the five arches.
Three hours after "we" started, the second side was wired in place.

After lunch Randy wanted to make sure the five arches were even in height before putting the cattle panels on top.  Steven used the ladder to tie a string to the two end arches, and then they raised or lowered the others as needed.  Randy actually unwired and rewired the cattle panels wherever an arch needed to be moved in his opinion.  You have to appreciate that kind of attention to detail!

When the guys started to put the first cattle panel on top was the moment we realized we needed to tweak our plan.  It was clear that the top panels were going to sag without more support.

So Randy and Steven went back and added a new arch in the middle of every 10' space.  We realized that 5' between the spans was going to provide much better stability to the whole structure.
They were very good sports about the extra work, but for their sakes I opted to skip redoing the string for the new arches, and I simply used my "eyeball level."  

Here is the completed base structure of the arbor.  It took about 20 minutes to add three more arches.  We were short one set of pipes and one piece of rebar to make the last arch, but the guys made sure it was at the end of the arbor so Herb and I could add it in later.

Now it was time to put the cattle panels on top.  The two guys lifted and pushed a panel as high up as they could . . .

. . . and then used the shovel to push it all the way on top.

 Then it was time to use the Kubota again.  I wanted to change the hay spear for the loader, but Randy and Steven were fine with it the way it was.  Steven cut a bunch of lengths of wire, stuck a pliers in his pocket and climbed aboard.
Randy lifted the hay spear until Steven was at a convenient level to start wiring the cattle panel on.  He used the bottom spears to brace his feet.

He was actually safer this way than teetering on a ladder on uneven ground, and Randy is an experienced hand at driving a tractor smoothly.

Things went pretty quickly with no climbing up and down to move a ladder, just easing the tractor along from one arch to the next.

Less than 20 minutes later, Steven was wiring the last cattle panel to the last arch.
It was pretty tight on one side, but Randy skillfully backed the tractor out without hitting the arbor.

A quick measurement, a couple of cuts with the bolt cutter, and the last patch closed the top of the arbor.  The goal is for the grape vines to cover the top of the arbor, providing a shady area underneath and a place for the grapes to hang down within hands' reach.  We could have chosen to cover the entire surface of the arbor, but I preferred to leave a space for air circulation.  It will be easy to run some wire for any tendrils that need help reaching the top.

While the guys were busy working, I was busy, too.  I dug up weeds and grass that had grown in around the vines and hand-trimmed the grass under the cattle panels.  Then I clipped apart branches that had been pulled together by tendrils.  I spread them out into fan shapes and loosely secured them to the arbor with garden wire.  Finally I mulched each vine.  Here's one of the Concord grapes.

And here's one of the muscadines.  I'm keeping a close eye on all the plants, eager to see them take off with all this room to grow.  I told Randy and Steven, the poor things probably think they died and went to heaven!

Here are Steven and Randy in front of our great new arbor!  They did an amazing job in less than six hours.  I hope the grapevines appreciate everything the guys did for them and give us a really grape crop this fall in exchange!


  1. Nicely done! Can't wait to see the grapes shading the arbor!

    1. Thanks! I have to go cover them tonight because it's going to be below freezing. I want to protect those tiny, tender leaves!

  2. Hi Susan, this is really great! I was only looking for wooden arbors until I came across your arbor, this is an awesome method for building a good-sized arbor for not much money! Loved it, so it's included in my "15 Sturdy Grape Vine Trellis Design Ideas For Your Backyard Arbor" article! (
    Thanks, Elle

    1. Hi Elle, Thank you for letting me know. You'll be glad to know that six years later the arbor is going strong! It's fared better than the grapes because the Concords didn't like it here in Georgia, but the Muscadines are doing "grape!" ;) Best of luck with your arbor!

  3. Pretty good work. I think I'm I will try mine squared off up top and only 10ft long.

    1. Glad you like it! It's still standing strong almost 7 years later! Good luck with yours!

  4. Do you have an updated picture with the grapes covering it?

    1. Sorry, I don't have a photo handy, but I will try to find and post one, so keep an eye out. The muscadines swarm on it, and it is still holding up after all these years.


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