4 Plans for a Vertical Vegetable Garden

By Laura Bullard

Gone are the days when you had to have acres of land (or at least a large backyard) to grow your own produce. With a vertical vegetable garden, all you need is a little imagination.

What to consider before starting your vertical garden

To start, make sure you have a spot in your yard that gets plenty of sun. Ideally, your vertical garden will get six to eight hours of sunlight every day. With any vegetable garden, you need to think carefully about space, but vertical gardens take a bit of extra thought. You need to consider space and weight.

Most vertical gardens have a hanging element. Whether you’ve used screws to fasten your containers to a wall or you’ve built your own vertical structure, keep in mind that your vertical vegetable garden needs to sustain the weight of the containers, the soil (which will be heavier when wet), and your plants (which, if successful, will grow heavier over time).

The best plants for vertical vegetable gardens

When planning your vertical garden, pick vegetables, fruits, and herbs that don’t have sprawling root systems. Plants with shallow root systems also tend to be lighter, which will work in your favor.

Most basic gardening rules still apply when you’re planting a vertical vegetable garden—remember to keep your plants similar (enough) in terms of sunlight and temperature needed—don’t plant a fruit that needs 12 hours of light directly next to an herb that prefers six hours of light. If you plant something that needs water every day directly next to something that needs water only every two weeks, you’re going to be in trouble.

Check out these four vertical garden plans, get inspired, and start planting.

1. Rethink your container garden

Herbs thrive in container gardens, but potted plants take up a lot of space. Many vertical gardeners are taking traditional horizontal container gardens and turning them into stunning vertical works of art. The most straightforward vertical container gardens look exactly like horizontal container gardens, but instead of placing ceramic pots on the ground, gardeners are drilling holes in the sides of their containers and fastening them to walls, fences, and other study, weight-bearing structures.

Because weight is a serious factor, some gardeners are repurposing lightweight containers. Try using paint cans, wooden boxes, and even plastic soda bottles to create a horizontal vertical garden. In fact, many of these makeshift containers work better than ceramic pots because they’re lighter and it’s much simpler to drill drainage holes.

We recommend working with herbs because they have simple root systems, most prefer approximately six hours of sunlight a day (so they work well in bunches), and they will never get so heavy that they overwhelm their vertical containers.

2. Build a beautiful hanging basket display

If you’re considering planting something a bit heavier, hanging baskets are the way to go. Not only are they incredibly sturdy, baskets can also be quite lovely. Get creative and hang your baskets at different heights to create lush, colorful arrangements.

Hanging baskets can bear more weight than their repurposed-container counterparts. Because of their sturdiness, you can use these to plant berries, lettuces, and even tomatoes. Some vertical gardeners drill straight into a beam on a porch and others opt to purchase hanging basket stands.

You can also build your own hanging basket frame for a vertical vegetable garden or purchase some vintage (or new) cast iron wall hooks. It doesn’t matter how you hang your baskets, just make sure they have appropriate drainage holes and adequate exposure to light.

3. Try a grow bag

Grow bags are typically made of felt and are perfect for herbs and veggies because of their unique drainage system. Built to retain water incredibly well, drain bags release their moisture slowly and effectively. This creates an irrigation system that helps you to avoid water stagnation without having to worry about drilling your own holes.

Most grow bags look a lot like pots that sit on the ground. Fortunately, there are now vertical garden–specific grow bags that you can purchase online or at your local nursery. If you’re interested in making your own grow bag, you can purchase landscape fabric and some extra-sturdy nylon thread and sew it yourself. Simply hang them from a fence or fasten them to the side of your house. Anywhere with enough light will work.

When you’re deciding what to plant in your grow bags, keep two things in mind—weight and sunlight. The material will take care of the drainage, but you need to make sure your plants are getting at least six hours of sunlight per day and that they will not become too heavy for your grow bag. A mix of culinary herbs and flowering plants works best for a grow-bag garden.

4. Build a rising planter vertical vegetable garden

If you can build a simple set of stairs (and you definitely can), you can build a rising planter that‘s sturdy enough to grow any fruit, veggie, and herb.

To start, cut or purchase two stair stringers (stair-shaped pieces of wood that house the tread (the element of the stair that you step on) and the riser (the vertical element). Once you have your stringers, you can choose to either build boxes to plant your veggies or you can build a simple set of stairs (the stringers and tread only) and place containers on top.

It’s important to remember that, with rising stair planters especially, you’ll want to start with a very concrete plan. Whether you end up deciding to build a stair planter that leans against a wall or a fence or one that supports itself with backing beams, don’t start your construction without an endgame in mind.

Once you’ve finished, you can plant just about anything. You can even plant climbing vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans. Just remember to plant these at the bottom or on the side and they will grow right up your stairs.

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