Important Factors to Consider with Vertical Gardens
To help you decide what kind of structure to use for your vertical garden, consider these practical design tips:
1. Don’t overlook your garden entrance: A gateway is usually the point of entry and the place where you make first impressions! With a little imagination this space can be another creative vertical garden. An attractive gate or arbor adds character, welcomes visitors and can share a little of your personality too.
2. Permanency of a vertical structure: Are you renting? Does your garden get only limited sun? Do you have mobility or access challenges? Then you may need to consider how permanent your vertical structures really need to be. Choose lightweight materials that are easily removed when they have done their job or can be moved around and easily repositioned to catch the sun during the day. Pots on castors with a tripod for climbing edibles are a clever way to grow ‘meals on wheels’ or check out another solution below:
3. Check the shade factor: Depending on where you position your plants, as they grow upwards they may block sunlight from reaching plants behind or below them. Place vertical structures such as tepees and arbors where you need to shade understorey plants otherwise if they don’t get enough sun, they may suffer. Some plants love shade or can tolerate semi-shade so take advantage of these spaces by planting vegetables like spinach or lettuce especially in the warmer months.
4. Choose your plant wisely: If you are growing a vine or creeper up a trellis to create more shade or privacy, consider what kind of plant you grow and whether you will need access for pruning as it matures. If so, how easy is it to reach the top of the trellis or structure if you need to give your living wall a haircut? Read the plant label so you choose a species that will grow to a suitable height and provide you with the screen you need without creating future work for you.
5. Make best use of vertical structures: Avoid wasting walls and fences that provide you with blank canvases for growing or displaying garden art. If you can’t drill into the front of a fence or gate, try hanging hooks with planters over the top. Likewise, artwork and signs can be attached with a little creative inspiration.
6. Height and strength of the structure: Don’t knock yourself out! Position hanging baskets or upside down planters where you won’t knock your head as you walk past and check there is adequate support for their weight. Avoid hanging them too high or they will be difficult to water and maintain. If you don’t have any other option, invest in a pulley system so you can lower and raise your planter.
7. Window boxes and hanging planters: As these are often positioned overhead, for safety reasons make sure they are securely attached! Avoid heavyweight materials and use light plastic or wire instead, or install around the perimeter of the structure where the building has been engineered to have the greatest strength. Window boxes are usually long and narrow and as with hanging baskets, tend to only hold a small amount of soil so are best used for seasonal displays or refreshed regularly.
8. Mature plant height: Consider the maximum height the plant is likely to grow when it is mature. This will have an impact on what kind of structure you choose and affect accessibility for watering, fertilising, pruning and maintenance. Consider how high you can comfortably reach!
9. Heavyweights: The mature weight of plants will also have an impact on the structure you select. The strength of the structure will need to support what you grow. No point growing heavy crops on an old rickety fence – you will only hasten its demise. Heavy vegetable crops like melons and pumpkins may need extra support by tying a mini cloth hammock underneath them until they are ready for harvesting.
10. Take care with invasive plants: Be careful growing plants with adhesive pad-type tendrils as they can quickly become invasive and will stick to just about any surface. Planted too close to building walls, they can damage paintwork, timber, mortar and other exterior materials.
11. Extra thirsty: Depending on the location of your vertical garden, plants that are not planted in the ground and are exposed to more sun and wind can need a drink more often. They may be vulnerable to wider fluctuations in temperature too. Add extra mulch to compensate, water wisely and choose your plant species carefully.
12. Structure before planting: Make sure you erect or install your vertical support structure before planting to avoid root damage once plants have started to grow.
13. Plant supports and ties: Some plants that grow out but not up on their own like indeterminate tomatoes and raspberry canes, need an extra helping hand to grow vertically. If trained to grow upwards with appropriate structures like cages, stakes and trellises with regularly spaced ties or clips, they can be extremely productive and be contained in a compact space.
14. Deck and railing planters: Make sure you select the correct size to fit the railing width, especially if you are buying online. Ensure railings are secure and stable enough to support the weight of a railing planter. Planters will add height to the railing, so consider the total height of both the planter and plants if you don’t want to exclude your view!
15. Windy weather: In high-wind areas or exposed high rise apartment and balcony gardens, consider anchoring lightweight vertical garden structures down. A-Frames and tepees can be secured by nailing stakes at the corners or drilling holes into the stakes and running string or wire to connect them to a stronger structure or heavy container.
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Want to save space with more vertical garden options?
Check out more vertical garden solutions to grow plants in Add Space with Creative Vertical Gardens: Part 1 and Part 2 and 12 Reasons Why You Should Garden Vertically. You’ll also find even more Clever Design Ideas in the Container Gardening category.
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