Growing Vertically

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If you’re looking for new ways to garden, you may need to grow up! Vertical gardening is not just one of the latest trends, it’s also a smart technique that maximizes space, lessens the impact of some garden pests, and provides great visual interest.

Vertical gardening refers to any method that emphasizes growing plants up (or down) rather than spreading out horizontally. Some techniques for growing vertically have been around for centuries, and there are now more options than ever before. Growing vertically is particularly relevant in today’s smaller gardens where every square foot of ground is precious.

Vertical gardening can make a small garden seem bigger because it directs the eye upward, drawing the focus away from horizontal boundaries, and adds another layer of interest and complexity to your garden design. Plants grown vertically are also less susceptible to garden pests that attack from below because less of the plant is in direct contact with the soil.

Here are a few ideas for using vertical growing techniques on annuals and perennials—both edible and ornamental—in your garden:

  • Hang it up. Almost any plant that can grow in a container can be grown in a hanging basket or grow bag. For dramatic pops of color, try pots of impatiens, pansies, or petunias. But don’t forget about vegetables and fruits too. Tomatoes can be grown upside-down in hanging containers and strawberries will happily grow out the sides of coconut coir liners in wire hangers. Or pick up a plant hanger at your local nursery!
  • Trellises make a blank wall interesting. Climbing roses, clematis, jasmine, and wisteria make quite an impact when grown on a trellis or arbor. Lush, colorful vines can even make a drab cyclone fence look great. But don’t stop at flowers. You can also grow cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins against a trellis.
  • Teepees stand above the rest. A simple teepee of three or more bamboo poles tied with wire or jute rises up to grab the sunlight and show off its vines. Plant it with sweet peas for color or go the edible route—pole beans and peas do great on a teepee.
  • Stack up levels. Stacking pots is perhaps the simplest method of all, but the results can be amazing. For a vertical herb garden, try planting the perimeter of a large oak barrel planter with mint or basil, then add a smaller pot in the center, and another pot in the center of that, each with a different herb that will fill out and spill over the side—try thyme, parsley, or oregano. For a fun, quirky look, anchor a tall metal rod in the ground and stack terracotta pots by running the rod through the drainage holes, tipping each pot in a different direction. Plant strawberries, calibrachoa, or lobelia in the pots so they can spill out the sides.
  • Espalier a tree. Lots of trees, including fruit trees, can be trained to grow flat against a fence or wall. Plant young trees and prune them to the formal or informal shape you want, or look for trees in the nursery that have already been pruned to an espalier form.
  • Grow a living wall. Look for containers that can be anchored directly to a wall, filling the space with living, growing plants. Succulents are a good choice for these kinds of containers, but you can also grow herbs, lettuces, and strawberries this way.

For any kind of vertical gardening, make sure that support structures and containers are securely attached to walls or appropriately weighted so they won’t tip or fall. Take care that water can drain out of containers in a way that won’t damage walls or leave stains. And take care to not let plants grow onto the siding of a structure or in places that could tangle water or electrical lines.

Vertical gardening techniques are a great way to not only make the most of your limited space but also to creatively fill in blank spots and draw the viewer’s eye up to discover new and surprising delights.