Vertical gardening isn’t necessarily a new concept. What is new, however, is the technology available to make it a worthwhile effort for growing plants in urban spaces, especially on balconies. With vertical gardening, even a small urban balcony or patio can grow some impressive plants.
To understand how it can best be used in an urban setting, here’s a beginner’s guide to vertical gardening.
What is Vertical Gardening?
Put simply, vertical gardening means growing plants on a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one. Rather than placing pots on the ground, you grow the plants up walls or in special shelving units. Whatever growing option you choose, the point is to make use of vertical space rather than floor space.
As you can see, the basics aren’t really novel. For example, growing a grape vine up a trellis could be considered vertical gardening, as could growing strawberries in hanging baskets.
However, when we discuss vertical gardening, we’re thinking more about custom solutions that make use of wall space to grow plants that would traditionally be kept in pots or beds. We could also call it “wall gardening”.
Perhaps a better way to explain the concept is to look at some of the best vegetables for vertical gardening. Some of the best-performing plants include:
- Squash and pumpkin
- Most herbs
Basically, any plant that vines, clumps or cascades will work well in a vertical gardening setup. Unsurprisingly, root veg (i.e. carrots) won’t be suitable because it needs more soil space, and the point of vertical gardening is to minimize that.
There are different ways to approach vertical gardening. You could either use no floor space at all (for example, hanging baskets or planters) or use very little floor space, such as with stackable pots.
Here are some general examples of the type of equipment you can use.
Stackable planters (such as this) are great if you don’t want anything too difficult to set up. They require the least DIY input, as you simply fill the pots and add your plants.
These planters are best for hanging plants like strawberries or for veggies with shallow root systems, such as lettuce or herbs. Each plant doesn’t get much soil space, but they’re ideal for packing in quite a few into a small space.
- Easy beginner’s option
- Not expensive to set up
- Ideal for small, high yield plants
- Still requires floor space
Hanging Grow Bags
Another option is hanging grow bags (like this). As the name suggests, this is a set of grow bags that you hang on a wall. Each plant goes in a pocket, meaning there are no issues with roots getting tangled.
For larger plants, you’ll obviously want larger pockets (like these). Both setups are best for shallow-rooted plants like lettuce, spinach, etc.
- Doesn’t require floor space
- Suitable for fitting lots of plants in a small area
- Makes use of wall space
- Not a particularly attractive setup
A freestanding planter (such as this) usually consists of a shelving unit with several medium-sized planters on it. As such, it’s better for slightly larger plants or those that need more soil space. In the one linked above, you could grow plenty of strawberries or a few chili plants.
Although it requires floor space, it’s a good balance against how much soil space you get. Plus, with a bit of research, you could probably find even taller setups that improve this ratio even more.
- Lots of soil space
- Suitable for larger plants
- Good for flowers and veg
- Floor area can be large
How you set up hanging planters depends on your needs and space. At the most basic level, railing planters (like this) or window boxes (like this) are a good start. You could fix some rails to the wall with brackets and then hang these pots off them.
The pros and cons of this option depend on how you set the pots up. It can be a more expensive option than the others, but this is balanced against the flexibility it provides.
- Adaptable to your space
- Fun FIY project
- Suitable for plants of all sizes
- Can be expensive
We couldn’t discuss vertical gardening and not mention trellis and lattices. A trellis like this is the epitome of vertical gardening because you’re training a plant to grow upwards rather than across the ground.
A trellis or lattice is the best option for vining plants like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc. It makes far better use of your space and can lead to a much higher yield.
- Suitable for vining plants
- Easy to set up
- Limited by the size of pot you can use
Setting up a vertical garden isn’t too difficult. The first step is to decide what you want to grow in your available space. For example, if you’ve got an awkward wall, hanging grow bags full of lettuce might be ideal. Alternatively, you could fix a lattice to it and grow peppers and tomatoes.
Some other things to consider include:
Don’t overwhelm yourself with your first vertical garden. It can take a bit of work to keep all the plants in check, so start off with something small and easy to manage.
Similarly, make sure you can actually harvest your crops when the time comes. There’s little point in growing a massive squash plant up a wall if you can’t actually reach it!
If you’re a renter, it might be worth considering how much you can do to your outdoor space. For example, you might not want to install rails for hanging planters because it involves too many structural changes. In this case, stick with freestanding containers.
Now that we’ve got a decent idea of what we mean by vertical gardening, let’s look at some ways it can be used in small spaces.
Use hanging grow bags for lettuces grown up a wall. They’re a decent option for small spaces because you can cut off leaves without killing the plants. As such, they’re one of the most efficient uses of minimal space.
Use an old wood pallet as the basis for your vertical garden. You can easily hang pots of all sizes off it, and a standard pallet could give you 5 or 6 shelves, leading to a decent yield. This idea would be great for herbs or small chili plants.
As mentioned, tomatoes take well to vertical gardening. Fix a lattice or trellis to a wall and put a tomato grow bag at the bottom. Each bag can hold 2 or 3 plants, giving you a very impressive yield from minimal floor space.
You can make great use of space with vertical gardening because it theoretically doesn’t matter how much floor space you have. Use the tips above as a starting point and spend some time planning your vertical garden. With the right plants and setup, you could end up with some really impressive yields.