Why let your vegetables grow out when you can grow them up? Vertical gardens are becoming increasingly popular as attractive and efficient ways of growing food, especially for urban dwellers where horizontal space is limited. These unique and versatile gardens are also useful additions to just about any garden, even those with plenty of space to spare. With many techniques and plant combinations to choose from, growing vertically shows that gardening is limited only by our imaginations.
What are Vertical Gardens?
“Vertical gardening” is a loose term referring to any gardening technique that encourages plants to grow straight up, rather than horizontally across the ground. There are several different types of vertical gardens, and all are great techniques for growing nutritious and tasty food in places where space is tight. These techniques include growing on trellises or lattice, and even growing the plants from soil suspended on a vertical surface, rather than a pot parallel to the ground. Cheap and easy to make, these vertical gardens can create an attractive “living wall” of tasty plants such as thyme, nasturtiums, and cherry tomatoes.
Types of Vertical Gardens
Gardeners have several variations of the vertical garden to choose from, and all are very easy to care for. They can stand either on their own as a focal point or incorporated into established vegetable beds to increase production without the need to expand out.
Trellises are a type of vertical garden already used by many gardeners. Traditionally used for vines like peas and pole beans, trellises can also be used to support vertical growth for other veggies, including tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and melons. They can be made out of wood, rope, and wire at little cost, and can be used for plants planted both in the ground and in containers.
Pockets are simple containers made of sturdy burlap or landscape fabric that are hung vertically on a wall, rail or fence. Lightweight and portable, these vertical gardens can be bought online or made at home with a few metal hooks, fabric, and staples. They can be comprised of pockets numbering from just a couple to more than a dozen lined in rows. Pocket gardens are easy to care for, although they are prone to drying out, especially in direct sun. The pockets themselves come in a large range of sizes, limited only by the weight of soil and plants.
Pallets make great vertical gardens and cost little – if anything – to make with only a few simple materials. Like vertical pocket gardens, pallets are portable and attractive, and can grow delicious food with hardly taking up any room at all. These vertical gardens are also prone to drying out quickly. When well cared for though, pallets can last for multiple seasons and are real conversation-starters. When planted with showy plants or herbs, they can be stunning garden focal points.
- Easier pest and disease control. By staying up and away from the ground, vegetables and herbs growing in a vertical garden avoid many common pests and diseases that thrive under leaf cover in the soil. The pests that do occur can also be noticed and dealt with more easily, since there aren’t thick masses of growth to block the gardener’s view. In addition, plants grown in soil above ground receive better airflow, reducing the chance of problems like rot and mildew.
- Easier harvest. Not only can you actually see all the ripe fruit that would normally be hidden under thick growth, you can also harvest them without the need to strain your back or knees by bending over.
- Space-efficient. Vertical gardens can be set up just about anywhere and are ideal for small spaces. Balconies, patios, and narrow walkways are all great locations for a vertical garden.
- Portable. Many types of vertical gardens, such as the pallet garden, are completely portable. Moving to a new house? Just load up the pallet and take your garden with you!
- Attractive. Even on large, spacious properties, vertical gardens can be a great addition to the landscape. They can brighten dull, boring walls, hide unsightly pipes or wires, and act as a living screen for more privacy.
- Cost-efficient. Making your own vertical garden is a breeze, and hardly costs a thing!
How to Make Your Own Pallet Vertical Garden
Making a pallet garden of your very own is a fun and easy project. Below are the directions. You can also find more detailed instructions, complete with photos, on this container gardening blog.
What you’ll need:
- 1 pallet, in good condition
- Landscape fabric
- Potting soil
- Young vegetables, herbs, or flowers – enough to fill in all the spaces
Before planting, check over your pallet. Make sure all the boards are sturdy and secured tight and that there aren’t any loose nails. Sand down any sharp or rough edges.
Lay the pallet face-down on the floor and carefully staple two layers of landscape cloth to the back, sides, and bottom (you will need to use a lot of staples so that soil doesn’t leak out).
Flip the pallet back over for planting. Start by planting your herbs or vegetables at the top of the pallet, making sure there aren’t any empty spaces. Once the top plants are secure, begin filling the pallet with potting soil, pushing it down to keep everything level.
Once the pallet is filled with soil, begin planting the rest of the plants, starting at the very bottom, pushing soil tightly around the roots as you go – the idea is to stuff the plants tightly together, or else the soil may fall out once the pallet is set vertically.
Leave the pallet flat on the floor for a week or two, watering consistently, to give the plant roots a chance to grow and hold the soil in place. Once the herbs and veggies are established, carefully lift the pallet and place it in its permanent place.
Not all vegetables are ideal candidates for vertical gardening. Bush-type vegetables and large pumpkins are probably too unruly, and corn is probably out of the question (though it grows vertically just fine on its own). Many tasty herbs and veggies, however, thrive when grown vertically, either by winding up a trellis or planted in a pallet. The following are great performers in a vertical garden:
- Tomatoes (indeterminate or vine types)
- Small squash & melons (you’ll have to use slings for the large fruit)
Whether you live in a city where space is tight, need to cover an unsightly fence, or simply want to add a new dimension to your vegetable bed, growing vertically is a great solution with attractive and nutritious rewards. Get creative, and try more than one type of vertical garden, or experiment with different plant combinations. The possibilities are practically endless!