What line (monofilament?) should I use for my outdoor air plant build?
May 13, 2019 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I live in a place where air plants are easily found and grown. I'm thinking of creating an airplant garden wall of sorts for the exposed (but still very much dappled sun) side of our carport. My idea is to create a grid of taut line stringers, much like graph paper, to support the plants. What's the best material I should use for the stringer considering factors like environmental impact, longevity, and strength.


Our carport is one of those open air with metal roof things. One side is flush against the house, the opposite side is the driveway (concrete) going a few tens of feet to the street, the third side is a picket fence and gate and paved walkway going to the house. The final side, the one we're discussing, faces the neighbor and is where I'm thinking of putting this monstrosity together.


The carport currently gets a lot of oak leaves that blow in from that side of the yard. I like the idea of *something* there to block a few, ideally a lot, of oak leaves and create a bit more of a sense of structure. A neighbor has accomplished this via the redneck-fabulous method of taking vintage shutters and arranging them like this along the edge of his carport and it's nice but a bit more of an undertaking than I'd like.


Metal wire rope is probably overkill, though I have the crimping tool for the ends, and jute twine is probably going to rot out sooner than I like. I'm open to all tips in between.

Eject plan:

I love the idea of a floor to ceiling airplant wall to delineate the space, plus it's relatively low impact and I can undo it in a heartbeat and it all just goes into the compost pile.

Sourcing the plants:

I could easily collect enough plants, mostly Tillandsia recurvata, from the ground/ditch within a 3 block radius in a week or two, less if a rain/wind blows through so I'm honestly ok with spacing them fairly close together. I doubt I'll get any fancier than this and I don't like the idea of spanish moss though I may change my mind on that. Redbugs could be an issue with the latter.


I don't expect to have any problems but I welcome input.
posted by RolandOfEld to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You say dappled, but if there's much sun the UV will not be good for most plastics. Hams commonly use UV-resistant Dacron cord (like this) in various weights to suspend aerial antenna wires or for guying vertical antennas. I use this 2mm line from Mastrant for guying and it's great. It's easy to work with, quite strong, largely invisible against a busy backround, and designed specifically for outdoor use.
posted by jquinby at 4:36 PM on May 13

Would trellis netting work for you?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:50 PM on May 13

Mule tape? I never heard of it before today in another AskMe and it sounds like tuff stuff. Or paracord.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:58 PM on May 13

All three of these are great ideas. I worry the Mastrant might be too expensive but I'll do those calculations later.

And yes, I agree that plastic/monofilament is problematic in long term sun exposure, hence the question in the first place.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:02 PM on May 13

I would use a large hole hardware mesh. It’s welded wire meant to be used outdoors, and you can use superglue or hot glue to attach the airplants at the intersections. You could also look at Fireline, which is typically used for making beaded jewelry that stands up to the elements. (Both superglue and hot glue are safe for airplants and relatively weather safe.)
posted by stoneweaver at 5:16 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

I also came to suggest hardware mesh. I think filament of any kind will be prone to breaking after a while, especially if there are curious birds around.

Also consider a game plan for ridding the bottom section of accumulated oak leaves, which might smother your plants, since they will provide a convenient place for them to pile up.
posted by ananci at 5:28 PM on May 13

Oh - monkeytoes is right on with trellis netting. I also just bought some bird netting that might also work. It's dirt cheap - found it in the garden section of Lowes.
posted by jquinby at 5:30 PM on May 13

Leaning hard toward trellis netting or bird netting if I can run with super glue to get the plants to stay put. I was only thinking of weaving stringers as a way to put the plants in place.

Not so much worried about oak leaves piling up around the bottom, my leaf blower/rake routine will solve that readily. What I'm saying is that it'll be easier than the current situation where leaves form into snowdrifts up against the house and blowing them out is a pain.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:30 PM on May 13

What do you think of using tarred marline? You can buy it online pretty easy, or if you happen to leave near a chandler's. (Or, like, a West Marine.) It's made to be exposed to sun and elements for years! You could just run it between nails to make a kind of grid, or get fancy and make your own net to tack up.
posted by kalimac at 6:32 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

(oh dang, I forgot to add -- environmental impact-wise, you wouldn't be chancing putting tiny pieces of plastic into the land around you as the material breaks down.)
posted by kalimac at 6:33 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

I'd worry that any plastic product would have a short lifetime due to IV degradation. OTOH, I've had a bird feeder hanging from the same length of metal fishing line for a decade.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:45 AM on May 14

There's cheap bird netting which is made out of a moulded plastic grid, and there's good netting which is made from black plastic twine knotted at each intersection. The black twine is sturdy, won't stretch significantly, and has UV inhibitors in it and will last for years. This is what I would go for in your situation. There are several grid sizes available, you probably want the largest one. You can even hire a professional to install it fairly inexpensively for you properly anchored and stretched, just look up "pigeon netting installer" or similar in your area.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:23 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

For various outdoor-plant related tasks, training tree limbs and so forth, I have had good success with uncoated aluminum wire. It is cheap and available at most hardware and home stores, sometimes in the picture-hanging section. (A purpose for which, in my view, it is exceptionally poorly suited! But good for many other things.) Make sure you get the solid stuff, not stranded, and that it's aluminum and not steel.

It is easy to work with, can be fixed easily without knots just by twisting around itself, looks good (IMO), doesn't rust, doesn't break down with UV, is recyclable, doesn't pose a risk to birds or fish if it breaks and gets loose (synthetic monofilament is terrible stuff in this regard), and it's pretty cheap. Admittedly not as cheap per foot as equivalent test-strength monofil, but in absolute terms it shouldn't break the bank.

If you want a lot (more than 50 feet or so, if I had to guess), go to Tractor Supply or Agway or another more rural farm-supply store, and look for "aluminum fence wire" in 14ga. It's sold in big spools; you can also buy them online. A mile of the stuff is only $180 and weighs 35 lbs., allegedly lasts 50 years outdoors. Breaking strength should be around 150-180 lbs. although that will depend a lot on how it's wrapped/tied.

You can also get thicker stuff that you can actually bend into shapes and will support itself, google or look for "aluminum craft wire" (but not 'aircraft wire' which is steel), it seems to be used for flower arranging I think, but can also be used for other stuff.

If you are putting it around branches to train them, you may need to put it inside some sort of tubing to spread the pressure out so it doesn't cut into bark. I have heard of people using everything from pieces of plastic straws to vinyl tubing, or open-ended wire rope thimbles (though these are usually steel and will rust). I use 1/4" or 1/8" ID vinyl tubing just because I had it lying around, but it doesn't do super well with UV and I can't entirely recommend it.

Only thing to remember with it, is that aluminum "work hardens"—if you bend and unbend the same spot over and over, it will start to get harder to move. This is a warning sign that it's about to break if you keep going. Not a problem unless you keep retwisting the same bit repeatedly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:29 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

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