Gardening is a relaxing, useful hobby. One thing that you need whether you are growing for food or growing for enjoyment is space. Overcrowding plants can stunt their growth. Some may die as they fight for the available water, nutrients, and space in the area. This means that all your hard work is in vain. An easy alternative is a more space-friendly way of gardening: vertical gardening. Vertical gardening lets your choice of plants climb an outdoor area of your home—you can use a fence, shed wall, or even the wall of your home.
Even though vertical gardening requires some planning, it is relatively easy to maintain. Additionally, as long as you are not growing trees or especially heavy plants, there is no risk of the foundation crumbling.
This article will introduce you to vertical gardening, including its benefits, the best crops for vertical gardening, and how to grow a vertical garden, including the type of equipment needed and expert tips.
Vertical Gardening Strategies: How to Grow a Vertical Garden
Step 1: Choosing the Space for Your Garden
When growing a garden vertically, you break free from the traditional space constraints that you deal with when gardening. Before you start buying equipment or choosing plants, you’ll need to decide where to vertically garden. Some people choose to vertically garden up the wall of their home since it is a stable surface that will not require a lot of work. Other options include archways or trellises, fences, window boxes, or shelves. People also build structures for their vertical gardens.
One major factor to consider where you are growing is sunlight exposure. Unless you choose plants for your garden that prefer low levels of sunlight, for example, you should not grow a vertical garden on a wall that blocks the sun. The plants will not get what they need to thrive.
Step 2: Building a Frame
For a good vertical garden, you’ll need to make a ‘sandwich’ constructed of layers of the frame, plastic sheeting, and fabric. PVC piping is an easy material to use for a frame. Then, layer the plastic over the backside. This will prevent the roots from growing into your walls and stop water damage. On the opposite side, you are going to stretch a piece of fabric around the frame. Here are some tips as you choose materials:
1. While there are different materials you can use for a vertical frame, you should avoid metal and wood. Metal is heavy and may rust with exposure to moisture over time, while wood is susceptible to water damage and wood rot if it is not pressure treated. Instead, consider something like PVC piping.
2. The fabric you choose should retain water well. However, it should also be resistant to rotting. For example, you could use felt carpet padding.
Once you have chosen your materials, use galvanized screws to hold them down. It is important the fabric is stretched taut, without wrinkles or buckling. You want at least two layers of fabric to provide enough material for your plants to grow.
Step 3: Creating an Irrigation System
You are not going to climb to the top of your vertical garden set-up every day, especially if you grow it on the side of your home or somewhere similar. You can make an irrigation system using basic irrigation drippers and a standard valve. As you consider your options, keep in mind that you need a propagation timer you can set for seconds. For most plants on a vertical gardening system, you’ll need a quick flow of water available 3-6 times each day. Of course, this is going to change based on how tall your system is (so the water can reach all layers) and how much water the plants you have chosen need. You may need to experiment before finding the right balance—you want the wall to stay wet, but you do not want to overwater the plants.
Step 4: Adding a Fertilizer Injector
The typical vertical gardening set up does not use soil to grow. Instead, the steady supply of water that keeps the fabric wet should be injected with fertilizer to provide the nutrition they need. This is an alternative to soil, as it would be impractical to try and stick soil to the side of your home or along a fence.
Fertilizer injectors are used with your irrigation system. They periodically release liquid fertilizer into the water, which is distributed to your plants. Once you have the fertilizer injector and irrigation system set up, all that is left to do with this is connect it to your water supply.
Step 5: Selecting and Adding Plants
We’ll take a look at which plants you should consider adding to your vertical garden next. Once you have decided, you’ll need a staple gun, stainless steel staples, and a knife to install the plants. Cut a slit big enough to fit the root in the topmost layer of fabric. Remove as much soil as you can from the root of the plant, as it can cause root rot or encourage the growth of mold or mildew. Then, place the plant root in between the two rows of fabric and use 3-5 staples to attach the cloth to the plastic backing. This creates an envelope where your plant can sit securely.
One of the most fun parts about choosing plants is the freedom to make unique designs with your plant. Something to keep in mind is that while plants that grow 2-3 feet might look nice coming from the top part of your garden wall, they create a layer of shade beneath them that will not allow some crops to grow. Consider how plants will cast shade as they are fully grown and plan accordingly.
Which Plants Are Good for Vertical Gardening?
As you choose which plants you want to grow in your vertical garden, it is important to consider each plant’s unique needs regarding water and sunlight exposure. Something else to consider is the overall weight of the plant. The average plant can be grown on your wall without the risk of it falling off or causing the entire structure to pull away. However, you will not want to grow trees or especially heavy plants like pumpkins. While you are only limited by your imagination, there are some plants that are more reliable than others for vertical gardening. Here are a few ideas.
Not every plant in your vertical garden is going to be a major feature. Filler plants are those that are ideal for filling up space and create a general sense of ‘greenness’ in your garden. There are many practical filler plants that are easy to grow, including:
- Lily Turf- Also called liriope muscari, this fine-leaf plant comes from Asia. It is grass-like with thick blades, lending to a solid, luscious appearance.
- Spide Plant- The strappy leaves of the chlorophytum comosum are light green and a creamy white color. This plant is native to Africa.
- Variegated Flax Lily- Also called Dianella variegated form, this is a tough plant. Its leaves are wide blades that have pale, creamy stripes. Its design provides nice contrast in a vertical garden.
- Mondo Grass- The opiopogon japonicus plant is made of finer grass-like leaves. It comes from Asia and is a dark green color.
It is fun to design a vertical garden that has a lot of contrast. These plants are hearty and designed to create texture in the areas between feature plants. Some of the best choices include:
- Xanadu- The philodendron plant is an evergreen shrub with large, attractive tropical leaves. This plant is native to Brazil.
- Cast iron plant- This is another evergreen plant, featuring wide, long, pointy leaves. Also called the aspidistra elatior, it is native to Taiwan and Japan.
- Swiss cheese plant- The monstera deliciosa is native to Mexico. It features oversized and attractive tropical leaves. It is also a climbing plant, which makes it a great choice for spreading across a large vertical area.
- Mistletoe cactus- Unlike the traditional cactus, this has long, thread-like stems. It is known for its weeping habits, making it perfect for hanging out on a vertical garden wall. The Rhipsalis species has several varieties and is native to areas like South and Central America.
These are the plants that are going to stand out significantly on your wall. Most have a pop of color, but a few others are just beautiful to look at.
- Blue feather- Blue sedum is an evergreen succulent commonly referred to as blue spruce because of its beautiful foliage. It is native to California.
- Rabbit’s foot fern- Also called Davila fejeensis, this plant is native to the tropical parts of Polynesia. Its name comes from its unique fuzzy ‘feet’ that are exposed. The creeping roots of this plant stick out from its base. You can even use these to grow new plants.
- Devil’s ivy- This plant has green and gold leaves. It is a trailing vine, which lets it expand and fill in any gaps. Also called epipremnum pinnatum Aureum or golden pothos, this plant is native to the Solomon Islands and other areas in the Pacific. It is especially good for increasing air quality, as it removes VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air.
- Lipstick plant- The aeschynanthus plant climbs upward and trails downward. It is named aptly for its bright red flowers but also features contrasting, dark green leaves. It is native to tropical climates.
- Waxflower- Also called hoya carnosa, this plant produces beautiful, incredibly fragrant blooms. It is also known for its VOC removal abilities and works well in areas with high sun exposure and humidity levels.
- Party time- The alternanthera plant also goes by cognac, mai tai, and crème de menthe. It comes in many vivid colors and grows in a bush formation. It is heat-resistant, but susceptible to cold so it will not grow in all areas year round.
- Purple waffle plant- The hemigraphis alternata plant is also called red ivy or red flame ivy. It has silver and purple foliage and works like many others to remove VOCs from the area. In the spring and summer, tiny white flowers grow on this evergreen plant. It is native to tropical climates.
- Geranium- The garden-variety geranium is a perennial commonly chosen for its fleshy leaves and bright flowers. It works well in hot, sunny areas and has a wide range of designs. This makes it perfect for providing a bright center point and adding variety to your vertical garden.
A Few Tips from the Experts on Vertical Gardening
You should already have enough information to start your own vertical garden. Here are a few tips from the experts that will make vertical gardening easier:
1. Build the frame before securing it to the wall. If you build the frame directly on the wall, it will be difficult to take down. Instead, build it completely and then secure it.
2. Choose long-lasting materials. If you use typical metal hardware to secure your vertical garden, you are leaving it susceptible to damage from water and outdoor elements. Instead, spend the little bit extra for stainless steel that will not rust and protect the investment of your time and money.
3. Make the most of your runoff. Even when you adjust the water levels appropriately, most vertical gardens have runoff. Instead of letting this nutritious water go to waste, plant a garden in the ground beneath your vertical garden.
4. Alternate sun-loving and shade-loving plants. If you are worried about your plants getting enough sunlight, alternate them. Grow one row of sun-loving plants and a row of shade-loving plants beneath them. Then, repeat until you have a beautiful design. The possibilities are really endless if you think it through.
5. Don’t limit yourself to the plants mentioned above. Some people choose a vertical setup for growing herbs or other useful plants. The best way to find plants is by to consider those grown hydroponically, which is the technical method used with the drip irrigation and fertilizer system for vertical gardening. You should also consider factors like visible light and the size of the plant once it is full-grown.
6. Look up design ideas online. In addition to vertical garden walls that were mentioned in this article, there are many other styles of vertical garden. There is also an option of fixing pots of soil together in a way that creates a vertical structure and lets you grow several plants.
7. Choose flexible piping and materials for rounded archways and other vertical structures. You can take the basic method of building a vertical garden mentioned above and adapt it with the right materials to make a vertical garden work virtually anywhere. If you aren’t sure where to get started, you might be able to find templates online.
Vertical gardening offers a host of benefits. It is a wonderful hobby and useful skill that promotes health, better air quality, and relaxation. The view once your vertical wall is finished will also be amazing to look at! Remember that you are only limited by your imagination—look around for inspiration before getting started.