Vertical gardens are a fun and creative way to increase your harvest by growing more in less space. They add aesthetic appeal, visual interest, and are ideal for aching backs that can’t take much bending over. Because plants are up off the ground, they have more airflow that can ward off fungal diseases.
The potential designs for vertical growing are endless and only limited to a gardener’s creativity. There are plenty of kits and systems you can purchase, and the internet is flooded with DIY ideas. Vertical gardens can be planted indoors or out, and can be grown hydroponically, aeroponicaly, or in soil.
Commercial Vertical Farms
Although vertical farming is seen as a relatively new idea, it goes as far back in history as the hanging gardens of Babylon (c. 600 BC). Today, entrepreneurial gardeners and farmers are using this method to try and feed a growing global population with less available water and fertile land. Commercial vertical farming is a growing industry in urban centers. These farms can grow year round, use less water, and reduce carbon emissions by distributing locally. However, as with any indoor garden, the energy costs can be steep.
Ikea is experimenting with vertical farms in their restaurants. They would like to grow their own greens on-site so their customers can eat freshly picked salads. Their prototype is a shelving unit outfitted with light emitting diode (LED) lights. It is enclosed in a climate controlled glass room that is on display for their customers in the restaurant.
If you have ever passed through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, you may have seen their display of Tower Gardens. These vertical gardens use aeroponics to grow lettuce, chard, basil, dill, parsley, oregano, and flowers. Each tower takes up about 2.5x2.5 feet of space, can reach up to 8.1 feet tall, and can grow up to 44 plants each. That’s an epic harvest for such a small footprint.
Choosing the Best Vertical Garden Plants and Structures
While there are pros and cons to commercial production, hobby growers can maximize their space by vertical gardening at home, both indoors and out. Anyone can start a vertical garden, whether you live in an apartment, have a small yard, or want to expand your existing garden. You can easily grow 10 times more food in your space just by growing vertically instead of horizontally.
Vining, rambling, and sprawling plants generally work best for upward growth. These include tomatoes, grapes, hops, wild roses, morning glories, beans, peas, cucumbers, and nasturtiums. Herbs, lettuces, strawberries, and microgreens tend to work best in indoor operations and on towers.
Certain varieties fare better than others when growing up. Cherry tomatoes such as Sungolds, Gardener’s Delight, and Black Cherry work well; for cucumbers, try County Fair 83 and Saladin; for peas, try Garden Sweet, Sugar Snap, and Maestro; for melons, try Tigger, Yellow Doll, and White Wonder; for green beans, try Romano Italian and Gold of Bacau.
Keep your plants in mind when choosing a structure to grow on. You need to be sure your structure will support the size and weight of your plants at harvest. Heavier fruits will do better with pergolas or arches, whereas beans will do well on lighter structures like trellises. If you are planting in a container, make sure it will support the size of the mature plant. It is difficult to transplant a vertical growing plant attached to a structure, and you don’t want to stunt its growth.
Upward growing plants tend to dry out faster and may need water more often. If you are growing in soil, mulching can go a long way with conserving water.
Types of Vertical Gardens
There are many companies creating vertical gardening systems. Tower Gardens, like the ones displayed in O’Hare Airport, can supply your family with endless lettuce and herbs, and their small footprint makes them ideal for growing indoors.
A simple internet search for “vertical garden” will yield plenty of unique planters, such as metal room dividers that hold terra cotta pots, felt garden walls with pockets to plant in, and self-watering containers you can hang on your wall.
Although the upfront costs can be expensive, the discount on your grocery bill may pay off in the long run, but be sure consider the cost of lights and the electricity to run them. Of course, you can remedy this problem by growing with these systems outdoors or making DIY systems yourself.
DIY Vertical Garden Ideas
Using Pipes and Gutters
You can mimic designs using supplies such as gutters or PVC pipes. You can also grow vertically in soil. A simple trellis was the original vertical garden. Teepees made from bamboo or young birch trees help maximize your harvest of beans, peas, and cucumbers. Cattle panels and pergolas make excellent arches and tunnels for squashes, nasturtiums, grapes, and kiwis.
Tuteurs and Obelisks
Tuteurs and obelisks are an attractive way to train your plants upward. They are beautiful trellises common in English gardens. Tuteurs are pyramidal and obelisks are round or rectangular. They can be made from wood or metal, in a variety of designs. They work best with vining plants such as tomatoes, beans, peas, morning glories, and moon flowers.
Gazebos look stunning with grapes or hops growing on them and make for sweet sitting areas or outdoor kitchens.
DIY pallet gardens standing up next to a wall make good use of vertical space. Staple garden fabric to the back of the pallet, fill the pallet with dirt, plant your herbs and greens, and lean the pallet up against a wall once your plants establish their roots.
An easy DIY vertical planter can be made by stacking terra cotta pots. You can use a pole to slide them over, or stack descending sizes directly on top of one another after they have been filled with soil.
You can even use two-liter plastic bottles as pots and connect them, so they hang vertically. You can hang them outdoors or indoors in a window where the sun will help you avoid an expensive power bill. Add a drip system to make it a low-maintenance wall or window garden.
Hügelkultur, or hill gardens, use vertical space to maximize harvests in smaller spaces. Instead of planting in a flat raised bed, your crops are planted in the sides of a hill, increasing your yield in the process.
Vertical gardens can be true works of art. Walls covered in succulents or ferns, in a rainbow of colors, create an eye-catching display. Tunnels covered in vines, with decorative gourds hanging below, make for a whimsical walk through the garden.
If you want to maximize your space, add some beauty to your garden, and save your back, you should grow up this season and start your own vertical garden at home.