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

By Real Simple Editors
September 06, 2019
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Outdoor plants are great and all, but there’s something to be said for bringing a little greenery indoors, and even more to be said for growing those greens indoors or out in a space-saving vertical garden. Container garden ideas are great 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, maximizing greenery and even making watering plants a little bit easier.

They’re not just convenient: Vertical gardens are also one of the top plant and gardening trends right now—interest in vertical gardens was up 287 percent in 2018, according to Pinterest’s top 100 trend report for 2019—and 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 of course that depends on what kind of vertical garden frame you choose. (You can always pick the DIY vertical garden option, too.)

That said, starting to create 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 angst on your part. Planters and windowsill plants are great, 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 bring one home.

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1
Decide on the Type of Garden

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. With wooden pallets (which you can purchase at Walmart or other 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.

2
Think About Placement

A vertical garden can go just about anywhere—indoors or outdoors. Let the type of sun exposure the plants will 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. 

3
Choose Your Plants

In addition to succulents, you can try growing herbs, vegetables, trailing varieties like philodendron, native perennials (plants or flowers that are naturally grown in certain regions), and ferns, suggests Janice Goodman, President of Cityscapes in Boston. You’ll want to 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 says. 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.

4
Mix Plants with the Same Habit

“In general, you’ll want to 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.”

5
Start With Planting Basics

“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. 

6
Prep Beforehand

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 the course of a few weeks to secure the garden.

7
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 being evenly distributed.

8
Keep Some Extras on Hand

Of course, 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 of a separation between the plants.

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