Flexible, urban and climate friendly, vertical gardens are something of a phenomenon. Albeit a remarkably simple one!
Their ability to maximise yield per metre, bring an oasis of calm to other unusable areas and mitigate pollution – both air and noise – is a real weapon against issues associated with urban sprawl. If they were tech-based or celebrity billionaire endorsed, they’d be more popular.
Fortunately building a vertical garden can be cheap, simple and fast. From trellises to pallet-style gardens, here’s a 7 step guide on how to build a vertical garden.
Table of Contents
1. Choose a Wall or Vertical Space
If you’re looking to build a green wall and have an ugly one you’d like to cover up to hand this step should be easy. The great thing about walls is that they’re less restricted by weight than a handmade trellis style structure. Unless the wall in question is on a manky old shed. So plant away.
Walls are essential support for bigger plants. But if you aren’t looking for plant large trees or vegetation, don’t worry about this step.
The plants, vegetables or herbs you choose should be dictated by the position of your structure. How much sunlight and water will it get? How much weight can it hold? How easy is it to maintain?
2. Build or Buy a Frame
Then you need a frame. Standalone structures like trellises or teepees are easy to buy (or build). If you want a frame to hang on a wall – much easier to take down and move around – then build it beforehand.
A DIY frame is typically comprised of PVC pipes (they don’t rot or add excess weight), elbow joints and fastenings.
The entire structure is typically comprised of a frame, a waterproofing layer and a plant layer. I.e. a layer the plants can take sustenance from and ‘cling’ to in some circumstances.
3. Add or Install a Waterproofing Layer
If you’re not attaching your vertical garden to a wall, or are happy watering them by hand, ignore this step. If you are, then you’ll need a plastic sheet to prevent water damage on the wall. PVC sheets work well here. Just be sure to add ventilation to wooden wall to prevent rotting.
4. Add the Plant Growing Layer to the Frame
Then you need to add a layer of plant-friendly fabric to the frame (if attached to a wall) that retains moisture. Almost any non-rotting, water-retaining fabric will do. Secure it safely to the wall and voila.
5. Setup an Irrigation System
Again this isn’t an essential step. If you have a structure setup in an area with high rainfall, or plan on planting plants that are drought resistant, you can just water by hand.
If you do want a self-fulfilling vertical garden, then you should consider an irrigation system. You can buy some very good pre-made ones and given the complexities of water flow and timings I really wouldn’t recommend trying to make one yourself. Particularly if you’re anything like me at DIY.
Some vertical gardens that have high nutrient requirements have fertiliser injectors added in that work in much the same way.
6. Choose your Plants, Vegetables and / or Herbs
Some plants, herbs and vegetables grow brilliantly on vertical gardens. Depending on the amount of sunlight, wind, temperature, humidity and structural integrity, some plants will be much better suited than others. So analyse the conditions carefully.
If you want to leave the plants out in all conditions, the hardier the better. If you want year round flowering, choose complimentary perennials as part of the package.
7. Design your Plant Setup
Some plants will require more water and sunlight than others. Putting those near the top of the frame makes much more sense. As it does with plants that thrive in well drained soil. So consider all aspects of individual plant growth when designing your structure.
If these plants will grow out from the wall and create shade underneath, choose varieties of pants that thrive in shade to grow beneath them.
8. Get Planting
If you’re planting directly into soil and planters, easy. If you;re plugging the plants directly into the fabric layer, then make slits in the fabric, brush any excess soil off the roots and plug them in!
Typically a DIY vertical garden frame is made using PVC pipes, elbow joints and fastenings. Then you’d add a waterproof layer, a plant growing layer and – potentially – an irrigation system.
If you’re just using a pre built structure like a trellis or teepee, you would just need a growing medium, plants and – potentially – some wall fastenings and a waterproof layer.
You need to find an applicable space, decide upon a structure (teepees, trellises, pallet gardens etc), purchase the materials and piece together a structure that will allow the plants and / or the vegetables you choose to grow. Take climate and availability of sunlight into account here.
Some larger plants like pumpkins or squash can still be grown on DIY freestanding vertical gardens, they just need some hammock like support.
- Choose a wall or vertical space
- Build a frame
- Add a waterproofing layer (if required)
- And a plant growing layer (if required – something for the plants to grow from that provides stability)
- Choose your plants and design the setup
- Get planting
You can build an all-natural vertical garden with some pallets or wood to build a vertical structure, vines or twigs to provide support and a growing medium.
If you are building something slightly more sophisticated you may want to consider some PVC piping and a waterproof layer.
- Measure the PVC piping
- Cut them to size (and shape)
- Cut and smooth out holes for plants to grow from
- Add drainage holes
- And a weed block
- Put irrigation holes in place
- Add a growing medium
- And finally plants
You also may want to consider adding a self-irrigating system as a final step.