You just can’t beat the flavor (and low cost!) of homegrown vegetables, greens, herbs and even some fruits. And what brings a smile to your face more than your own array of flowers that rivals a floral shop?
But what do you do if you only have a small outdoor space to work with? Are you limited to just one or two plants crowded into whatever sunny patch you have available?
Not at all! If your ground area is lacking, why not maximize your space and go vertical?
In this article, you’ll learn more about what vertical gardening is and why it can be a great choice. To give you some practical ideas, we’ll cover the details of one of our favorite vertical gardening systems, and some other creative solutions as well.
Let’s get started!
What is Vertical Gardening?
The concept behind vertical gardening is simple: Growing your crops in a vertical orientation rather than a horizontal one. In other words, vertical gardening uses a taller space rather than a wider one.
This method opens up tons of possibilities for capitalizing on areas that you may have previously overlooked:
- The exterior walls of your home
- A fence
- Small sunny patches in your yard
- A patio or deck
- In some cases, indoors by a sunny window
Vertical gardening systems allow you to convert these irregular spaces into thriving gardens.
Anyone at all can reap the benefits of vertical gardening. But it may be especially well-suited to people in certain situations.
Since they require so little ground space, vertical gardens can be a perfect solution for people who live in densely populated urban areas. According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, more than 80% of the United States population lives in an urban setting, and that number is only expected to grow in the next few decades.
And thanks to a vertical garden’s taller height, they’re also ideal for people who have disabilities that make kneeling or bending a challenge.
So all that sounds pretty nice, right? But what does vertical gardening look like in real life? Let’s find out!
Garden Tower: Top-Rated Vertical Gardening Systems
Pre-made vertical gardening systems can take the guesswork out of your new garden and yield incredible results. In our opinion, you simply can’t beat Garden Tower products when it comes to outstanding vertical gardening systems.
Garden Tower Project introduced the first generation of their vertical planters in 2012, so they have years of experience and positive customer reviews to back their products up.
Not only that, but Garden Tower Project has continued to improve their design with the Garden Tower 2, and they have truly thought of everything!
We’re doing a high-level review of the Garden Tower 2’s various features here. But if you want even more in-depth details, visit Garden Tower Project’s How It Works page.
Outstanding Growing Capacity
The Garden Tower can hold up to 50 plants and takes up about 4 square feet of real estate. Grow whatever combination you want of vegetables, greens, herbs or flowers.
The tower uses a central tube with multiple holes to provide aeration, water and nutrients directly to the plant roots. This design takes inspiration from hydroponic growing systems, promoting fast growth and high plant yields.
If the thought of 50 plants is a little too intimidating for you, don’t worry. You’ve got options!
The tower comes with 6 planting trays, and each one is a separate piece. You can use all the trays at once, or just some of them.
The central aeration tube is also broken up into 6 separate sections, so you can match the tube height to the number of trays.
Smart Watering System
Does it look like watering each of those plants would be a pain? Well, you’re right: It would be hard! Fortunately, the planter takes care of most of the work for you.
Add water to the uppermost tray, and it naturally makes its way downwards, watering all the lower plants along the way. Done!
Heavy-Duty Construction and Durable Material
If you use all the tray and tube pieces, the Garden Tower 2 weighs a solid 36 pounds when empty. According to Garden Tower Project’s estimates, a planter filled with soil and plants will weigh somewhere around 220 pounds.
To support that kind of weight, the Garden Tower 2 features sturdy plastic that won’t fade or grow brittle in the sunshine.
Garden Tower Project estimates that each planter should last for between 7 and 12 years, even if you live in an area with harsh weather conditions.
Rotating Central Mechanism
With the cylindrical shape, you may be wondering how each plant can get the sun it needs. After all, the planter is quite heavy once it’s filled, so how can you turn or otherwise move it?
Solution: The tower trays spin on a central pivot, so you only need a minimum of effort to make sure all of your plants get their fair share of sunshine.
Built-In Composting Tray
Plants need nutrition, and the Garden Tower also includes a compost bin in the sliding bottom tray.
Put kitchen leftovers, like fruit or vegetable peels, crushed eggshells, and coffee grounds into the sliding bottom tray, and you’ll have compost to feed your plants in a few weeks.
RELATED: To learn more about the benefits of compost, stop by our article on Compost Mulch!
For a little extra growing power, add worms to the compost bin to create your own vermicomposting system! This article from New Mexico State University can help you learn how to get started with vermicomposting.
Can Use Indoors or Outdoors
One of the most convenient aspects of the Garden Tower 2 is that its design is nearly mess-free. While that’s a nice feature for keeping your patio or deck clean, it’s especially helpful if you want to grow plants indoors.
Place your planter near a sunny window, and you can harvest salad greens and herbs without even having to go outside. An LED grow light is also a great option if you don’t have a sunshine-filled location.
What About the Cost?
With all the great features the Garden Tower 2 offers, it’s not too much of a surprise that it comes with a fairly high cost. But the good news is that Garden Tower Project does run promotional pricing at certain times, and the discount is significant.
You also have the option to purchase Garden Tower Bundles, which can help you save a little money on your start-up cost.
But when you think about the huge amount of produce you can grow and that the planter can last for over a decade, you’ll probably get your investment back many times over!
More Vertical Garden Systems
If you’re looking to capitalize on that odd vertical space but you have a lower budget to work with, you still have several options.
Even though these vertical gardens don’t offer the growing capacity of the Garden Tower, you should still be able to grow enough to supplement your diet with fresh veggies and herbs or create a colorful flower display.
Here are just a few ideas that creative gardeners have come up with:
Wooden pallets are everywhere, but their final destination doesn’t have to be the landfill!
Instead, let your creativity run wild to create a beautiful and eco-friendly vertical gardening system. You can paint the pallet or leave it natural, the choice is up to you!
Many gardeners choose to lean their gardens against a wall or fence, making for a simple planter that you can move if needed.
To make a wall- or fence-mounted pallet garden like the photo above, here’s a helpful video demonstration from Mitre 10 New Zealand:
Caution: Pallets that have carried loads of hazardous materials could leach harmful chemicals into plants. Also, some older pallets may have been treated with harsh chemicals to improve their durability or lifespan.
It pays to play it extra-safe when it comes to your food crops. Make sure to learn the pallet’s history or choose another vertical gardening method to grow edible plants.
If you want to upcycle a pallet but don’t know the background information, use it to house flowers instead! Here’s a little photo inspiration:
To assemble this type of vertical pallet garden, choose a container that you can easily attach to the wood base, like tin cans or plastic bottles.
Use a power drill with a 1/16 inch bit to make 2-3 drainage holes in the containers’ bottom, then use screws to attach them to the pallet. Finally, fill your containers with potting soil and flowers.
Felt Pocket Planter
These pre-made vertical planters use heavy-duty felt fabric to securely hold your plants in place while also allowing for healthy airflow to roots.
If you’re looking to create the striking look of a living wall, these planters are perfect! As your plants grow, they fill in the space between pockets, giving the appearance of a solid mass of beautiful greenery and blooms.
What’s more, you can use a fabric pocket planter either indoors or outdoors.
You can find fabric planters with anywhere between four and 36 plant slots, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one that fits your vision. This 12-slot planter from Florafelt may be a perfect place to start!
Hanging Plastic Bottles
Plastic bottles are in (over!) abundant supply, so why not transform them into an attractive and useful mini garden?
The bottles in this picture are 2-liter soda bottles, so they’re the perfect size for herbs and small decorative plants.
To create something with a similar look, try this:
- Lean or securely attach a large piece of wood against a vertical surface
- Wash your empty bottles well
- Punch 2-3 small drainage holes using a thin nail or 1/16 drill bit with a power drill.
- Attach your bottles to your piece of wood using screws
- Fill your bottles with soil and plants
- Wrap bottles in outdoor fabric if you want to dress them up a little more!
For more ideas on how to recycle your empty bottles into a small-scale garden, see our Grow Plants in Bottles: 2 Easy Garden Hacks post!
Lattice is easy to attach to the side of your house or a fence with appropriate screws, making a lightweight base for small pots of flowers or herbs.
If you’d rather keep your lattice garden portable, just set it on the ground and lean it against a vertical surface. However, you’ll need to provide some extra support to keep your lattice from collapsing.
A third lattice-garden option is to create a traditional trellis for climbing plants, like these:
- Pole beans
- Small squash varieties
- Morning glory
Use the ground or a pot of your choice to plant your seeds or seedlings. Then, mount your lattice or lean it against your vertical surface, and train your plants to grow up the lattice frame.
Most often seen with hydroponic gardens, PVC pipes can also work for soil-based vertical gardening systems.
To make a planter similar to the one in the photo above, buy PVC piping and junctions at a hardware store. Decide how many holes you want, and use a rotary cutting tool (like this highly-rated one!) to make your cuts. See this helpful guide from Instructables for more information on cutting holes in PVC.
Next, lay your pipes out on the ground in the shape you want, then fit them together with the junctions. With a helper assisting you, raise your PVC framework up and secure it to your vertical surface.
Fill small containers with potting mix and plants, and settle them into their new vertical home.
Metal frames provide excellent stability for your vertical gardening system without being too heavy.
To convert a metal frame into a usable garden like the one in the picture, collect small plastic containers, like these 6-inch pots from Kinglake.
Next, punch small holes near the top lip. The picture shows each container attached with just one hole, but you could also make two holes 1-2 inches apart. Use either a power drill with a 1/16 inch bit or a hammer and a thin nail to make your holes.
After that, fill your containers with potting mix and small plants, and attach them to your frame using zip-ties. This popular brand locks tightly into place and is also UV-resistant.
As these examples of vertical gardening systems show, you don’t need a vast amount of space to produce a satisfying harvest each year.
Whether you prefer a Garden Tower 2 or using wood, plastic or metal for a DIY project, there’s a vertical garden solution for just about anyone. So take a second look at those odd spaces you may have thought were unusable, and get to growing!
We want to know…Have you ever tried any kind of vertical gardening? What kind of spaces do you think you could transform?
Let us know in the comments!