Q: I have seen pictures of plants (herbs, flowers, vines, vegetables, etc.) growing on vertical surfaces. I might want to do something like this, but I don’t know where to buy the systems. Do I have to purchase a system, or can I use my skills and common objects to create a vertical planter?
A: Decorative vertical gardening is a trend that is currently sweeping the country. Done correctly by knowledgeable landscapers or gardeners, the effect is awesome. It is important to understand the systems, plant species choices, and cultural requirements to make it a successful venture.
Vertical gardens can be small, or they can cover entire walls. Sophisticated container systems designed and sold by companies are made to attach to vertical walls or fences. They can be quite expensive for large projects. For the Do-It-Yourself gardener, salvaged objects like gutters and pallets can be used to create vertical gardens. Other ideas for repurposed planters include burlap bags, shutters with slats wide enough to tuck succulents inside, shoe organizers, old soft drink wooden cases and numerous other clever plant-holding systems. If necessary, these finds should have holes drilled in them for proper drainage. All one needs to do for ideas is to type “vertical gardens” into a web browser and look at the pictures.
Vertical gardening has been reinvented to include fantastic living walls. When I hear the term “vertical gardening” I typically think of the practical notion of having plants that can grow up rather than on the ground. In my small raised bed gardens, I have grown vegetables in the vertical mode to save space and to make them easy to pick. There are numerous ways to support plants, such as cucumbers, beans, peas and even melons. Because gardeners with small suburban yards don’t have the space to grow as many vegetables, flowers or vines as they would like, they may increase the available gardening space by utilizing trellises, posts, walls, arbors, wire or specialized containers to add a vertical element.
Successful vertical gardens must have enough growing medium for the plants and adequate irrigation so that the soil does not dry out too quickly. Plant varieties must be matched to the location of the garden. Location, sun, shade and plant size are important. Not all plants are suitable for vertical gardens. Small, dense plants work best to provide wall coverage for decorative purposes.
Watering using irrigation systems improves the success of the garden. Many of the pot systems are stacked so that water drains down from one pot to the next one below it. Most vertical gardens need watering every day except in wet and cold weather. Watering systems such as drippers are ideal to keep the plants properly hydrated.
Pocket systems are composed of a breathable, recycled material like felt. These pouches can last many years. They can be attached to a wall and if the plants are within easy reach, they can be watered with a watering can or hose.
Tray systems are similar to nursery flats. They are rectangular plastic trays that are divided into planting cells — all slanted at a 30-degree angle, with bottom holes that promote drainage and aeration. For a wall art effect, they can be planted with succulents, which have shallow root systems.
Pot hangers clamp onto the backs of pots and practically disappear when screwed into a wall or fence. Anything you’d typically put in a pot is fine, including kitchen herbs and annuals.
Use common sense. The more soil a given item can hold, the bigger the plant — and root system — it’s able to sustain. And before planting edibles, make sure your cast-off container is nontoxic.