Vertical gardens are increasing in popularity. They have become an eco-friendly way of growing fruits, veggies and herbs using less space and requiring less maintenance than a traditional garden. Whether you plan to grow using hydroponics or soil there is a vertical garden design that will fit your space and budget. As attractive and clever as vertical gardens appear, it can be intimidating to begin. Thankfully, we know how to get you started.
To start a vertical garden, you first must select a location with plenty of height. If you want to grow vegetables, you’ll require a spot that receives 6-8 hours of sunlight. Then you must build a frame, line it, and set up an irrigation system. Lastly, you can begin inserting the plants.
You can spend hours of your life looking at different styles of vertical gardens on Instagram and Pinterest. But despite the myriad of differences, they do share some common characteristics. They all require some sort of structural support and a watering system. These can be sophisticated or basic, but you need to plan to reach success.
Planning A Vertical Garden
The bulk of the work in a vertical garden is in the planning and setup stages. Once they are established, they are often easier to maintain than a traditional garden. Much of this has to do with comfort. Working at eye level is easier than bending or kneeling. But before you begin, you need to consider your priorities: is it about the space or what you want to grow?
Selecting Your Vertical Garden Location
To start a vertical garden, you first need to decide your primary objective: is it esthetics and enhancing the appearance of an area or about growing nutritious fruit and vegetables at home. You can put a vertical garden almost anywhere, But where the vertical garden is located will dictate your plant options.
Some people just want to cover an ugly wall. If that’s your objective, then you’ll just need to style your space and select plants that will grow in the conditions of that location. But if you want to grow vegetables, you need to find a wall or a space to build a frame in an area that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight.
If you are growing indoors a vertical garden design can get you the most efficient use of your space. This is especially important when using a grow tent for your hydroponic setup.
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Choosing a Vertical Garden Design
Once you have your space, you need to decide how best to use it. Growing with hydroponics is a popular option for vertical gardening. You can use it for vegetables or decorative plants. Hydroponics will make it much easier to ensure your garden will grow big yields because you can customize the best nutrient solution for your plants.
If you want to use soil, you’ll need to have a stronger structure to support the added weight. You’ll also need to rotate the soil or add fertilizer more often. Consider things like hanging wall bags or shelving for containers or pots. All these options can look incredibly attractive, but you will need to consider the weight and make sure your structures can bear the load.
Keep in mind soil in vertical gardens needs to be high in nutrients and have good drainage. It will also need to be watered often, especially during the summer heat. So you will still require an irrigation plan. Check out my article about How to Care for a Vertical Garden.
If you are watering by hand, ensure you’ll be able to reach all areas with a stool or extended watering hose. Or use an automatic watering system on a timer with drip emitters to slowly feed your plants throughout the day and reduce over watering or soil dehydration issues.
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Design Your Vertical Gardening Structure
Once you know what you want to plant and where it is going, you need to design a structure to fit that space and your plants’ needs. There are endless options, but we’ll cover three of the most common styles and one that kids will love.
Vertical Hydroponic Towers
Growing with a hydroponic tower is a simple and very effective way of growing lots of fruit and vegetables in a small footprint. I personally grow most of my own herbs, greens and strawberries using the Tower Garden vertical aeroponic system.
The Tower Garden uses an automatic timer to control the watering pump saving me time, wasting less water and using very little electricity. The entire system can be set up in less than an hour after arriving on your doorstep and only takes a few minutes a week to check the water level and top up the reservoir.
I have great success growing with my Tower Garden indoors and outdoors. It’s the best tower to table option for anyone who enjoys eating and cooking with fresh picked greens, herbs and veggies. You can check out my recent article What is a Tower Garden and How Does it Work for more information.
Vertical A-Frame Gardens
The vertical A-frame is a series of stacked up PVC pipes supported on a simple wooden frame. This style of vertical garden is simple to DIY and can be made with off the shelf parts found online or at your local hardware store
This setup is typically done using NFT hydroponics but can also be used with soil by exchanging the PVC for an open trough design and adding an automated drip system. The A-frame can be built to any custom size depending on the area you have to work with and the number of planters or pipes you want it to hold.
These types of vertical planters are great for greens, herbs, peppers and strawberries. Taller plants can be placed in the top row and trellised for support.
You can check out my NFT hydroponic growing article for more details on this type of gardening.
Vertical Pocket Gardening
Fabric pockets are an excellent way to hang plants growing in soil. This can be accomplished in many ways, including buying a pre-made plant hanger with pockets made explicitly for hanging plants.
If your space is better suited to a pocket planter that hangs horizontally, there are also many options with rows of planting pockets that will fit your needs.
Hanging pockets are wonderful for many ornamental plants, herbs, leafy greens, radishes, and miniature varieties of vegetables. However, they are not great for vines, heavy fruits such as melons, and you might struggle with deep-rooted vegetables, such as beetroot or carrots.
Look for miniature varieties of plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers and space them out so they don’t crowd and block the sun from hitting the smaller plants.
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Vertical Play Fort Gardening
If you have plenty of sunny yard space, there are some fun vertical gardening projects you can do with kids. For example, people are always staking vegetables such as runner beans, but you can easily turn that into a tent or a play fort if you widen it out.
Creating a runner bean fort is easy.
- You draw a wide circle and prepare the soil.
- Collect poles, such as bamboo, long enough to be tied up in the center.
- Stake your poles and secure them in the center at the top, creating a “tent.”
- Secure them with twine, running latterly, leaving a gap for the entrance.
- Plant your runner bean seedlings: 1 per slim pole or 2 per wide pole.
A fun modification is using sunflowers. Some people create mazes or more cave-like forts, training the sunflowers to follow the curvature of the frame. Then, to make the foliage thicker, plant runner beans, peas, or morning glory to climb up the sunflowers. The final result is a thick shady hideout for your kids to enjoy.
9 Vertical Gardening Tips
Starting a vertical garden can be the hardest part of the process but also the most fun. It’s when you get to feed all your creative energy into the process. But even when you have the perfect space, design, and plants picked out, there might be a few more things to consider.
Don’t Grow Your Vertical Garden From Seed
Vertical gardens have the most success when plants have been given a head start. Select some seedlings that are ready to be transplanted. If you use seeds, start them in trays or seedling cups and let them grow horizontally on shelves or in a nursery before transitioning them to your vertical garden.
Protect Walls And Floors From Your Vertical Garden
One of the biggest criticisms of vertical gardening is the moisture it can create in a space. This can damage walls and anything sitting below your vertical garden, such as decking and flooring.
Thus, you need to line the backs of anything you hang on a wall. For floors, make sure there is something to catch drips. Attractive “catchers” are flower boxes that could use the water, anyway. Lining the floor with plastic hidden by attractive rocks is another eye-catching method.
Don’t Let Your Vertical Garden Break The Piggy Bank
There is an abundance of vertical gardening kits, planters, and pouches on the internet. But you don’t have to break open the piggy bank to get started.
Broken bed frames, discarded laundry lines, old chest of drawers, busted ladders, empty soda bottles, used milk jugs, and abandoned wooden pallets can all be repurposed to make fantastic vertical gardens.
Access To Sunlight Changes As Plants Grow
Before you plant, consider what your seedlings will look like when they are bigger. Some plants might bush out or spill over as much as three feet. While this can look fantastic, it creates shade for the plants directly below. Planning will help you avoid a sun-hungry plant being left in the dark.
Mix In Perennials
Even if your vertical garden is primarily for seasonal vegetables, it’s nice to work in some perennials. This helps your vertical garden from looking bare and sad during the less productive seasons. Be sure to find varieties that suit your climate.
Keep It Local
When selecting ornamental plants, try to use as many local varieties as possible. This will help your vertical garden survive your climate conditions.
Use Wheels In Your Vertical Garden
Adding wheels to parts of your vertical garden is perfect for versatility, especially if you rent your property. Adding wheels to frames and repurposed furniture, such as dressers, will also allow you to reposition your vertical garden as the sunlight shifts with the seasons.
However, do be warned that wheels need to be locked into position when parked. Moving frames are not nice when the wind or gravity creates the motion without asking you first.
When parked on a slope, adding a brick to the downward side of the wheels will also help prevent unwanted travel.
Be Realistic About Your Time For A Vertical Garden
Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to commit to your vertical garden once it is set up. Hand watering a small vertical garden of kitchen herbs will require a few minutes of your life once a day at the most. But hand watering over a hundred pouches and hanging baskets at tip-toe height is a part-time job.
Planning out a proper irrigation systems can save time and money and are easy to set up. There are non-mechanical irrigation hacks, but they still have setup costs, require DIY skills, and you’ll need to remember to refill them.
If you are wondering how much it costs to set up a vertical garden, check out my article, How Much Does A Vertical Garden Cost?
There will also be maintenance issues that crop up from time to time. So be realistic at the planning stage of how much time you’ll have to maintain this garden. Being able to access the top row of plants is also something to consider during the planning stage.
You want your vertical garden to enhance your life, not own it. Thus, if you have never done much gardening before, start small and see how that goes before covering a ten-foot-long wall with plants.
Be Honest About Your Plant Personality
Following being realistic about your time, be honest about your plant personality. Yes, your neighbor’s vertical garden looks gorgeous with all its cascading blooms. But are you willing to constantly deadhead?
Some of us can create sculptures from hedges. Others of us let things go bushy and then delight when the wildlife moves in. There are succulents and air plants for those of us that love natural greenery but rarely remember to have our own hair cut, let alone prune a plant.
When it comes to food, maybe you are more of a hardy rosemary and radish type of gardener. Vertical gardening isn’t going to change your personality. So design your vertical garden to be compatible with the person you are today. There is a plant type perfect for you, even if it is a cactus.
Vertical gardens are an excellent way to use space while adding plants to your life. Starting one can feel daunting, but all it takes is a little planning and being honest about your expectations, who you are, and the time you have to make it a success. Vertical gardens can be anything you can dream up, build, and maintain.