Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Own Vertical Garden

These trendy gardens may look dramatic, but almost anyone can bring a vertical garden home.

Vertical garden ideas - DIY indoor wall garden
Photo: Getty Images

Outdoor plants are great, but there's something to be said for bringing a little greenery indoors. There's even more to be said for growing plants indoors or out in a space-saving vertical garden. Container gardens work well if a traditional garden bed isn't available, but some call for a lot of space. A vertical garden hangs on the wall (or sits against one) and stacks plants so you can fit several into one space. This maximizes greenery and even makes watering plants a little easier.

They're not just convenient: Vertical gardens are also one of the top plant and gardening trends—interest in vertical gardens went up 287 percent in 2018, according to Pinterest. Plus, vertical garden ideas are actually doable at home. They don't require overly fancy garden tools or specialty plants—you can buy plants online to fill your garden. They don't even cost a fortune, though that depends on what kind of vertical garden frame you choose. (You can always pick the DIY vertical garden option, too.)

Even so, creating a vertical garden can be a little daunting; there's a lot to consider. With these simple steps and ideas, you can set up a plant wall—large or small—that will bring your space to life in a big way without too much stress on your part. After all, planters and windowsill plants are wonderful, but a vertical garden (especially if you pick a large frame that can hold several plants) is on a whole other level. Here's how to add one to your home.

01 of 08

Choose Planter Composition

Vertical hanging garden
“When you have a small outdoor space, consider going vertical with your plants,” says Chris Lambton, professional landscaper and host of DIY Network’s Yard Crashers. “There are a number of DIY projects and products available to help you achieve a vertical garden. Fill the space with colorful flowers, vines, and herbs.” If you don’t have much of a green thumb, interior designer Kyle Schuneman has a solution: “I love hanging planters because it gives you greenery without taking up precious floor space.”If you do have enough square footage to add a floor plant or two, or you have some surface area to display potted plants, experiment with scale and dimension. “Adding planters of varying height to a small patio or balcony gives the sense of a larger space by directing the eye in different directions and creating interest on different levels,” says interior designer Amanda Reynal of Amanda Reynal Interiors. Will Heap (c) Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

There are many different varieties of vertical gardens to choose from. One easy option is a container-style garden, which means potted plants are attached to a wall or displayed in rows, or planters are stacked. Another is a pocket garden, featuring plants tucked into pockets made from felt or canvas. Vertical gardens can also be grown in a large plastic or wooden wall planter with slots or panels, or in recycled wooden shipping pallets. For these systems, the soil is less contained, so wire mesh is occasionally used to prevent the contents from spilling. When using wooden pallets (which you can purchase at home renovation stores) for a DIY vertical garden, landscaping fabric is stapled to the back, bottom, and sides of the pallet. The inside of the pallet is completely filled with soil, and plants are grown in the slat openings.

02 of 08

Determine Placement Based on Light Exposure Needs

A vertical garden can go just about anywhere—indoors or outdoors. Let the type of sun exposure the plants need determine where you place the garden. For example, if you're planning on including succulent plants (like cacti), Brian Sullivan, vice president for Gardens, Landscape, and Outdoor Collections at The New York Botanical Garden, suggests choosing a space that has "half-exposure," as opposed to full shade or full sun. "Some of the containers available are modular, so you can hang them outside for the summer and bring them indoors for the winter," Sullivan says.

03 of 08

Choose Plants That Trail or Have Flexibility

In addition to succulents, you can try growing herbs, vegetables, trailing varieties like philodendron, native perennials (plants or flowers that naturally grow in certain regions), and ferns, suggests Janice Goodman, president of Cityscapes in Boston. Be aware of the "flexibility" of these plants since you're growing them vertically.

"I would be inclined to try herbaceous plants more so than woody ones because the herbaceous kind are a little more flexible in the way they fall," Sullivan explains. Woody varietals—such as trees, shrubs, or vines—have rigid, wooden stems, so they'll grow parallel to the floor and stick out instead of flowing down. On the other hand, herbaceous plants (like flowers and ferns) have soft, green stems, so they'll droop down for that pretty trailing effect.

04 of 08

Combine Plants With the Same Growing Requirements

"In general...choose all-sun or all-shade plants," Sullivan says. "You also want to use ones that have the same rate of growth. Let's say you put one that has slow growth next to one with faster growth; the more aggressive kind is going to take over and shade out the other."

05 of 08

Consider Soil and Water Requirements When Planting

"Use potting soil—that is key," says Chris Lambton, a professional landscaper and host of DIY Network's Yard Crashers. "Vertical gardens dry out quickly just like pots will. Potting soil helps retain the water and hold in the moisture." Another important factor is gravity, which pulls the water down. "Plants that don't need as much water are recommended for the top part of the garden since that part dries quickly," Goodman says. Place the ones more suited for wetter conditions at the bottom of the system.

06 of 08

Pre-Grow Your Plants

If you're using a wooden pallet or container with panels, you'll want to grow the plants horizontally for a few weeks to let the roots establish themselves and help hold the soil in place. "If you try to plant it vertically first, the roots have to grow still so you're dealing with gravity pulling your soil," Sullivan says. "Sometimes people use wire and glue to hold things together, but I find that when you grow it flat at first and then stand it up, the plant does the work." You can also slowly elevate the container to a vertical position over a few weeks to secure the garden.

07 of 08

Consider a Drip Irrigation System

At first, your vertical garden might need more maintenance than a regular in-the-ground garden or container plant. These living walls are more compact and therefore have less soil, so they may need to be watered more often. "Watering can be tricky, and the bigger the living wall, the more I would recommend incorporating drip irrigation," says Becky Bourdeau, landscape designer at Potted in Los Angeles. These drip systems range from the sophisticated, with hoses and timers, to more basic options in which holes in the bottom of planters or pockets allow for water to drip down. You can also use a watering can as you would with standard container gardens, but you'll want to be sure that water is evenly distributed.

08 of 08

Keep Some Extra Plants on Hand

Inevitably, some greens will die out. "You might lose a couple of plants, so you'll get holes and it will start to look ugly," Sullivan says. "Keep a few extras on the side as a backup or insurance, so you can just plug in the new one." This is especially easy if you have a container-style garden, where there's more separation between the plants.

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