When you run out of room to spread out, you have to go up. That’s true of urban areas and it’s true of gardens.
Vertical gardening isn’t just about saving space, though that’s a huge bonus.
Have you ever seen a dandelion growing at the top of a metal trellis? Nope. How many voles are digging holes in suspended buckets? Probably not many!
And many times, you increase air circulation when you grow your plants upright. More air circulation means less disease!
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As we age, gardening becomes more difficult as our backs start to ache and our knees refuse to bend like they used to. An upright garden is much easier to harvest from.
Vertical gardening in containers can also enable you to choose the type of soil you’re growing in. Plus, many vertical gardens are downright good-looking.
In addition to all that, the fruits and veggies produced tend to be cleaner. If you design your system well, it can also use less water.
So, yes – vertical gardening is, first and foremost, an excellent method of expanding your growing space. But there are many, many other benefits that are just icing on the cake.
We’ll cover all the basics to help you get started. Here’s a quick preview of everything you’ll discover up ahead:
Whether you’re looking for a way to squeeze some herbs into your ninth floor apartment or you want to expand your veggie garden without taking up more space, this guide has you covered.
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Vertical Garden?
First, let’s define our terms. A vertical garden is one that utilizes vertical rather than horizontal space to grow plants, often fruits and veggies.
This involves growing your plants on fences or trellises or using a tall structure to support containers.
What might this look like?
It could be a six-foot trellis at the center of a garden bed or a system of shelves with pots affixed to them. It could be hanging baskets suspended from a patio roof, hooks, or posts. It might be a living wall.
Even an espaliered tree could be considered a form of vertical gardening.
You’d be amazed at how creative people get in utilizing vertical space. I’ve seen gardeners reuse rain gutters to make stacked rows of planters, and repurpose soda bottles suspended from ropes to hold small plants.
We’ve all probably seen wooden pallets altered to grow gardens as well.
You can grow hundreds of pounds of food in a footprint a fraction of the size of a traditional garden using this method.
And if you don’t want to build your own system, you can find all kinds of interesting designs, from affordable, simple systems to more complex and pricey setups.
For instance, this seven-tier system on wheels, available at Amazon, lets you grow a ton of things and move the system around to chase the sun or escape the frost.
This three-level Rise Garden system takes all the guesswork out of growing, with trays, lights, a circular water system, and an associated app included to help make things easy.
Some plants lend themselves perfectly to vertical growing.
Of course, vines, ramblers, and crawling plants do well if you grow them on fences or trellises. But smaller plants can be grown in elevated pots or beds too.
If you want to try something a bit more unusual that will be just as happy in a vertical garden, consider asparagus beans, sweet potatoes, chayote, nasturtiums, grapes, hops, kiwis, Malabar spinach, passion fruit, cabbage, or amaranth.
Essentially, if you can grow it in a container, you can grow it vertically.
For vining plants, pretty much any cultivar or type will do. Sure, a huge pumpkin cultivar like ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ or ‘Mammoth’ will require a lot of extra support, but you can probably make it happen.
But I’d recommend making it easy on yourself by choosing a cultivar that stays a bit more petite.
Something like ‘ButterKin,’ available at Burpee in packs of 20 seeds, would be perfect.
I’ve never met a cucumber that didn’t work well for vertical growing, but I am particularly fond of the round kinds like lemon cucumbers.
The plants stay a manageable size and the fruits don’t grow so large that they drag the vine down.
High Mowing Organic Seeds has seeds in one-sixteenth, one-quarter, and one ounce options, as well as quarter-pound quantities for the dedicated grower.
For plants that don’t climb, crawl, or ramble, you want to pick cultivars that lend themselves to vertical growing in a smaller space, if available.
Indeterminate and vining tomatoes are better than determinate or bush types.
Dwarf eggplants such as ‘Listada de Gandia’ stay small and have smaller fruits, meaning they fit well in raised pots.
Want to give this one a try? Pick up a packet to grow your own from High Mowing Seeds.
Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are particularly good for vertical gardens because they have long runners. Cultivars such as ‘AC Wendy’ and ‘Deliz’ also have long runners, making them good options.
Grapevines and hops will need a large structure, and if you want to train fruit trees into a vertical plane, you’ll need a fairly big wall, depending on the size of the tree you choose.
You don’t have to grow edible plants, either. Ornamentals like annual flowers and vining plants are options too.
How to Grow Vertically
Most veggies and fruits need full sun, so make sure your setup is in a spot with the right sun exposure. That usually means your rig will need to face south and not be blocked by buildings or trees.
Keep in mind how exposed to wind your outdoor location is – blustery weather can flatten a trellis heavy with ripening pumpkins or cucumbers. If possible, pick a sheltered spot and be sure to secure your structures firmly.
If you’re planning to affix a trellis or other support to a wall or a fence, be sure to assess how much sun it receives during the hot summer months. A brick wall, for example, will be baking hot if it’s exposed to full sun throughout the growing season.
Also consider what you will grow in the space around your vertical garden. The shade cast by a trellis growing green beans can be the perfect location for herbs and low-growing veggies that require some protection from the sun.
Plants that are in containers will need careful watering. They tend to dry out more quickly than plants in the ground. A lot of people opt to use automatic watering systems, and that’s smart if you don’t want to run the risk of killing your plants because you forgot to water.
There are even self-watering planters with built-in trellises like the Lechuza Trio Cottage Wicker Planter from Eplanters.
It comes in multiple sizes and colors. How cool is that?
You also need to feed plants that are growing in containers more often than those in the ground. Container-grown plants can’t access nutrients in the soil by stretching their roots far and wide. They have to rely on you for all of their food.
Keep in mind that container plants should be treated as though you’re growing them in a region that’s one USDA Hardiness Zone colder than where you’re actually located, since exposure risks are also higher for roots in containers that aren’t insulated by the ground soil.
So if you plant strawberries that are hardy to Zone 6, act as though they’re only hardy to Zone 7.
A Few Ideas
Archways and arbors are usually covered in pretty vines like clematis and roses. But why not grow squash or melons in these places instead?
You can make your own out of cattle fencing or buy pretty premade options at places like Plow & Hearth.
Their bronze arbor made of lightweight steel has a tree of life design that will look just as pretty covered in climbers as it will bare in the winter.
You can also buy or make trellises to affix against a wall. Making a trellis is as easy as weaving flexible wood together and securing it to a wall or fence.
Or you can purchase premade willow trellises from Terrain, which would look fantastic supporting a passion fruit vine.
You can extend your vertical garden capabilities by hanging pots on a sturdy trellis too.
Teepees are super easy to make. These have been used for centuries to create a vertical growing space.
Grab some sort of flexible wood or sturdy wire and place it in the ground in a circular shape. The diameter is up to you, but most people opt for something around two feet. If you go this wide, you’ll want to pair it with something at least six feet tall.
Bend the material so the tops meet and secure them with rope.
Alternatively, angle thicker pieces of wood so they meet at the top and secure them.
Beans will climb up the teepee without any assistance, but other plants that can’t secure themselves will need some help from you.
In a pinch, you can simply hang some netting against a wall or from a pair of poles and you’ve got a structure to attach vines to.
Or you can just hang some planters from your patio. There are lots of clever designs out there.
Have you ever seen those hanging tomato planters that grow tomatoes upside down? They work really well.
You could have multiple tomato plants that are easily accessible if you hang a few just outside your back door. Grab a few at Amazon.
While many people opt to build vertical gardens as a way to dramatically increase their garden capacity, you can also do it on a small scale.
A few sconce planters on a wall outside the entrance to your home would be perfect for a few herbs and greens.
These sconces from Eplanters come in multiple colors to suit whatever decor you’re aiming to match.
And don’t forget indoor vertical gardening. You can hang planters in a window or build a row of shelves to hold containers on a wall across from a south-facing glass door.
Hydroponic gardening opens up lots of additional opportunities.
Fewer pests and diseases, less watering and space, easier harvesting? Vertical gardening is smart, and it offers all of these features and more.
Aren’t gardeners brilliant? We’ve been doing it at least since the hanging gardens of Babylon were built, after all.
What do you plan to grow vertically? How will you do it? Let us know in the comments.
And for more interesting garden design ideas, check these guides out next: