Many urban dwellers believe they can’t have a vegetable garden because they don’t have enough space. They long for homegrown vegetables, but only have an apartment balcony to work with. So what’s a space-starved gardener to do? Grow up—vertically. A vertical vegetable garden is one of the best ways to turn a small space into a foodie paradise.
What is vertical gardening?
In cities and suburbs, we tend to live too close together to have room for flourishing gardens. Many would-be gardeners are stuck growing only houseplants and a couple of potted tomatoes. Even rural gardeners are sometimes limited by lot size or encroaching woodland.
This is where a vertical vegetable garden becomes invaluable. Vertical gardening is simply using upwards space to grow your plants rather than splaying them out horizontally. Think of your wall space as your garden plot. Vertical gardening allows you to expand your gardens even if your yard can’t handle another raised bed.
Similar to container gardening, a vertical vegetable garden incorporates pots, slots, or boxes. Unlike container gardens, however, these vertical options maximize wall space and stack plants high. Walls, fences, and trellises are used to save space and create beautiful backdrops in your home and yard.
How Does Vertical Gardening Work?
It can be easy or as complicated as you want to make it. At its simplest, vertical gardening is a pot or two of scarlet runner beans trellised against the wall of your house. Beyond that, you can try a salad wall, train cucumbers along a pallet partition, or hang a pocket planter against a sunny wall.
Getting Started with Kits
There are many pre-made vertical gardening kits that you can buy. Whether you’re hoping to grow your veggies in fabric pouches suspended from the ceiling or in wooden boxes attached to your balcony wall, there’s a kit for you. Kits can be pricey, however, and not all are capable of fitting your space.
Some are less expensive than others. With a little research you can find a few fantastic options well under $100.
Delectable Garden’s 7 pocket fabric planter is one such option. Under $20 apiece, its pockets are wide and deep. Easily able to sustain healthy vegetable plants or lush salad greens, these indoor and outdoor hanging planters are ideal for renters. They’re lightweight, packable, and take up almost no space when empty.
This planter is designed to be used indoors, without dripping water on walls and floors. It allows you to bring your vertical gardening inside for garden-fresh salads all winter long.
The Stratco Verticle Wall Garden Planter Kit is another affordable option. This metal and plastic hanging kit provides a more structured option for gardener looking to grow a living wall. It’s durable and long lasting, and sturdy enough to handle heavier vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers.
Vertical Vegetable Garden DIY Options
While there are a lot of great kit options, vertical gardening can be a DIYer’s paradise. If you like homemade projects, the sky’s the limit here.
Vertical gardens can be made out of pallets, chicken wire, lattice, and shoe racks. Or anything else that sparks your imagination. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find an old dresser at a flea market or screw baskets into a slat wall. This type of gardening is full of exciting new opportunities to bring greenery to new places.
Pallets and Planters
Pallets are ideal backdrops for a vertical vegetable garden. They’re strong, solid, and its easy to attach planters or pots between the slats. Attach a couple of pallets for a taller wall, paint them white to increase light around your veggies, and hook in some large planters. You’re all set.
You can often find inexpensive (or even free) pallets by talking to your local feed or masonry supply store. These great options for heavy vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, or vining squashes. They can carry a lot of weight and give your big plants something solid to cling on as they grow.
I use lattice in my own garden every year to trellis pole beans and pickling cucumbers. Just keep in mind that lattices aren’t as strong as pallets, but are great for delicate plants. A few healthy tomatoes might collapse your lattice by midsummer, but pole beans will thrive on them.
Hang your lattice with upcycled tin cans full of herbs and greens, or allow a few potted cucumbers to weave their way upwards on them. These lattice gardens are ideal for patios, balconies, and living walls.
Maybe you have a few extra shoe racks lying around and you’re wondering if you can grow vegetables in leftovers like these. Yes you can! Many people are reclaiming unused storage solutions for the garden, and you can too. Fill the pockets with a high-quality, nutrient-rich potting soil and give it a try.
Repurposed shoe racks are great for interior plant walls too. Fill them with edible greens, radishes, and herbs for a living salad bar.
Choosing the Right Plants
Not all plants are able to be grown well in a vertical garden. Tomatoes, greens, lettuces, cucumbers, peas, and pole beans are obvious choices, but they aren’t the only ones. Carrots, radishes, potatoes, and squash can also be great options.
Choose vine cucumber, bean, and squash varieties instead of bush types. It’s essential to choose a trellis that’s strong enough to support your plant, and to prepare your soil well before planting.
Remember to sling your squashes and melons as they grow. Unsupported heavy fruits like melons can fall off the vine if they’re don’t have something to rest on. Many vertical gardeners sling their melons by tying a scarf to the pallet and looping it under the fruit.
Root crops like radishes and carrots do well in pocket planters. So do lettuces and loose greens, herbs, and edible flowers. Grow tomatoes, squashes, and cucumbers along a pallet for maximum support. Be sure to fertilize these heavy feeders regularly and prune away suckers for maximum yield.
Lattice trellises are ideal for beans and peas, as well as lighter, pickling cucumbers. They’re also great for hanging lightweight planters full of herbs or bunching onions.
Preparing the Soil
Some vertical gardeners grow their vegetables in containers, others don’t. Either can work wonderfully as long as you prepare your soil.
Vertical gardening in containers often incorporates smaller, lighter pots. Pocket planters and hanging pots can only get so large before they become too heavy to hang properly. This means that your plants will always have limited root space, so make the most of it.
A quality potting soil is absolutely essential. Loose, well drained, nutrient dense soil is a must. Potted plants don’t have the option of pulling nutrients from deep in the earth. As such, they depend on you to give them what they need.
Raising up the Garden
Vertical gardening doesn’t require containers: you can set up growing walls in the garden easily. This conserves yard space and helps all your plants get their fair share of sunlight.
If you’re setting up a vertical vegetable garden in your yard, make sure the soil is spectacular. Vertical gardening allows you to plant more per square foot than conventional gardening, which can deplete the soil. Bulk up your soil with manure, and fertilize occasionally during the growing season to keep your plants healthy.
This type of gardening sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Tall green walls rising up out of a tiny balcony, or a tiny backyard garden yielding acres of produce. But remember, gardening is an art—you won’t learn it all at once.
Keep an eye out for issues common to vertical gardening like dryness, overcrowding, and nutrient deficiencies. If you make the effort to conquer these problems before they start, your garden will repay you with an abundant harvest.
Container plants often struggle to get enough water. They can’t draw it out of the earth, so they rely on you to keep them hydrated. Check your plants every day and water accordingly. Give uppermost plants some extra attention, as they tend to dry out first.
One of the primary perks of vertical gardening is that it allows you to fit a lot of plants in a tiny space. Unfortunately we sometimes take it too far: overcrowded plants don’t produce well. Overcrowding deprives plants of water, sunlight, and nutrients. Pull up unhealthy plants to give others much-needed breathing room.
In a tight-knit vertical garden, a lot of roots are reaching for nourishment in a small soil bed. Keep their pantry well stocked by fertilizing consistently and well. Find a reliable small space or container plant fertilizer, and keep those hungry roots happy.
Vertical gardening, like all gardening, is a continual opportunity to learn and improve. It’s a great way to improve your yield, cut your food bill, and beautify your home as well.
Whether you start small with a few bean poles or convert your whole wall into a green food forest, enjoy each season as it grows up around you.