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Vertical Gardening for Beginners

Vertical Gardening for Beginners

Don’t let the idea of vertical gardening intimidate you.  Vertical gardening can be as simple as hanging planters on your porch to more complex projects that make use of trellised growing systems.   The idea is to grow up, not out, and thus conserve space on the ground while adding focal points of interest in your gardening space.   Vertical gardening can be an ideal solution for small spaces like apartment porches or urban landscapes.  Not only does it make use of the limited space you have, it also gives punches of color and natural interest to a concrete wasteland.

If you’re not familiar with growing vertically, here are a few basics: site location, equipment, plant selection, and vertical garden maintenance.

Site Location:  The site will determine what types of plants you can grow in your vertical garden.  Fruits and vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight to produce; however, some areas can be used for herbs and greens that also grow well in vertical container gardening arrangements and do not require as much sunlight.  If you plan to grow indoors, your sunlight requirements will be limited and you may have to be satisfied with growing items that do best in an indoor climate, like spider plants and greens that do well in low light.  You may not get fruit, but you will certainly create a better indoor atmosphere with green plants rejuvenating the indoor air quality.

Equipment:  Take a look around and see if you have vertical structures already available that can be put into use.  Add a few eye-hooks to porches, a bit of string to eaves, or make use of a chain link fence to train climbing vines and grow vertically.  Even a freestanding post can be used to support a vine.  However, if you don’t have any vertical structures available, you may really want to buy equipment like trellises, vertical growing kits, grow bags, and hanging planters and stands of different shapes and sizes to get started.  The garden equipment is an investment that will deliver results every year once it has been purchased.  For those that are handier, you can build your own trellises with piping, wood, and wire; however, it might be more artistic to buy one that can also incorporate design elements into the vertical growing design.

Plant selection:  Buying a kit will help you get the perfect plants for growing vertically.  You may decide that you want to buy a strawberry jar and grow strawberries along the sides of the jar.  You can also use a grow bag to grow lettuce and strawberries and hang the bag somewhere where it gets enough sun.  Unless you are growing a hanging vine, smaller plants that are able to grow in cramped spaces usually do better in vertical growing systems.  You can combine both small flowers and vines for visual appeal.  Here are a few examples of plants that work well with vertical planting systems:

  •  Vegetables – Climbing beans and vining tomatoes like to grow up strings, along fences, and require little training.  Cherry tomatoes and hot peppers do well in small containers and are colorful, too.  Don’t forget that cucumbers are vines and do very well along fences.   Squash can hog too much space if grown at ground level, but supporting them on a large trellis can be ideal to keep the squash off the ground while providing more growing space for the lush vines.  Herbs grown in a shoe rack or in pots on a fence provide beauty and culinary opportunities
  • Fruits – Grapes and espaliered fruit trees require special layering techniques. They’re not difficult to master but may make a better project for an intermediate gardener.   A beginning gardener might be more satisfied with fruit that isn’t going to be difficult to grow vertically, i.e., strawberries and kiwi vines.
  • Flowers – If you’re looking for eye-popping colorful plants, creeping phlox or morning glories are two flowering vines that shower vertical planters with a profusion of colorful flowers. However, even bushes like lantana can be trained to drip off hanging planters. Nasturtiums come in creeping varieties that are excellent for placing in vertical pockets here and there, even in between other plants. Nasturtiums are also edible, so you get beauty and food at the same time. Succulents can make an attractive display when placed on a variety of vertical gardening structures.

Vertical Garden Maintenance:  Get Top Quality Soil

If you are using hanging planters or vertical wall designs from kits, you need to be certain that the soil is rich in nutrients and will drain well.  You may need to include a piece of landscape fabric or a coffee filter at the bottom of the container to keep drainage holes clear and coconut coir or peat moss to absorb moisture and release it during the day.  One of the biggest problems with vertical container planting is that the soil dries out too fast and must be watered much more frequently.  Nutrient depletion also occurs over time and the soil may need to be amended or replaced when reusing the system the following year.

Fertilize and Water Often

Since the soil is in separate pockets in some vertical growing systems, you will need to use an all-around soluble fertilizer when you water at least twice during the growing season.  This will deliver nutrients into the soil and along the foliage.  In this way, you keep nutrients in the soil as they have a tendency to get depleted over time as the water drains from the vertical beds.  As vertical gardens dry out faster than planted beds, the planters and containers need watering more often.  One way to keep vertical gardens watered enough is to install a watering system to deliver water to the roots of the plants, even as they grow vertically.  Drip irrigation can be used with vertical planters and containers to provide adequate moisture for thirsty container plantings.  Otherwise, group planters near the water source to make it easier to keep them thoroughly watered.

Create Architectural Interest in the Garden

Once you have the hang of growing vertically, you can start to create rooms within your garden using arched climbing structures, fencing, and trellises.  You can separate areas and define vertical boundaries of a garden room.  For instance, if you want to give your outdoor patio or deck some definition and privacy, you could install a vertical wall or trellis to grow a privacy screen or border.  This would separate the area visually and give you more privacy.   In addition, you can create paths along your garden with arbors that are strategically placed to separate one part of the garden from another.  Understanding how to grow vertically not only provides you more room to grow your favorite plants, but it also is a key component of designing secret gardens that create their own separate magical spaces within a larger enclosure.

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