Vertical Gardening Techniques for the Home Gardener

Vertical gardening isn’t something new in the garden arsenal. One example is the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon of King Nebuchandnezzar II built for his wife around 600 BC.

It was said to have been a series of vaulted terraces on cube-like pillars that were filled with earth and planted with trees and plants. Archeologists estimate the height at about 80 feet high and was very impressive for its time. There are accounts of ancient Greek and Roman gardens that aligned vertically as well.

vertical gardening techniques

Today vertical gardening allows for every inch of garden to be used using trellises, cages, sticks and other materials to elevate plants off the ground and up into the air. This allows for more harvest and lessens the chance for disease because fruits are not laying on the ground to be attacked by pests or rot.

Many plants, including vegetables and flowers, have tendrils that grow and twist around anything they can and will grow both horizontally and vertically with a little help from a support system.

The Trellis

Trellis systems are varied in shape, size and even in texture. Victorian formal gardens utilized trellis systems to grow climbing roses, wisteria vines and vining vegetables. Some were horizontal, some rectangular, some in a fan shape and some with arches. We use those same trellis systems today in modern gardens.

Trellises must be very sturdy and anchored into the ground deeply in order to keep from falling over and collapsing. Most of them are semi-permanent because they have posts or stakes driven into the ground several inches to over a foot down.

garden trellis

The open-work part is usually stored for the winter and then put out again in the spring to be used over again. Most trellis systems have a rectangular framework with open areas made from wire or string on which the plants climb. Large trellis systems are about 8 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet tall, but they can be smaller and narrower to suit the garden.

Today, we keep the system up about 4 inches from the soil and plant seed or plants at the base. This allows the area around the trellis to be weeded more efficiently.

Woven trellis systems are easy to make and well suited for climbing vegetables like peas, pole beans, cucumbers and even zucchini. Two to four posts are driven into the ground and twine is woven around them to make a grid for the tendrils to grab.

Posts or stakes should be as tall as the plant is expected to grow, from 2 to 6 feet and the heavier the crop, the more posts or stakes are needed. Some gardeners like to grow two different varieties of plants on tall trellis systems.

A low growing pea is often combined with one that grows taller so the whole trellis is used to its fullest. Cucumbers like grid trellises and the vines need to be pushed through and secured for the cucumbers to climb. Secure them with plastic coated wire twisties from the garden store or use strips of cotton material.

A favorite is to purchase knee-high nylon stockings that are very inexpensive and tie them up with those. These materials have some give to them so the vine can grow and swell and won’t get cut off from a harsh and unforgiving tie.

vertical vegetable garden

Another way to make a trellis system is to attach steel mesh to a wall or fence. Wire mesh comes in many different sizes and shapes. Attach to a wood wall or fence with wood staples, screws, hooks or nails and make sure the mesh will not fall with the weight of the plants and crops.

Another technique is to bend the top 4 inches of the mesh over a fence and hook it to the other side. Planting at the base of the fence and letting vining plants crawl up the mesh will anchor it to the fence and hold it in place.

Tipis For Vertical Gardening

Tipis are another technique in vertical gardening and are extremely simple to create. Tipis require 4 to 6 straight stick-like objects. Use branches, bamboo or untreated wooden 1-inch wide stakes. Never make the tipi higher than you can reach or you will have trouble harvesting from the top.

To make a tipi just tie 1 to 2-inch diameter, 5 to 6-foot-tall sticks together at the top with twine and fan them out at the bottom. It is suggested that the bottoms be inserted into the ground at least 1 or 2 inches to stabilize the tipi. Continue wrapping the twine around the tipi in between the sticks and tie it securely at the bottom.

This allows the tendrils of the plants planted at the base to grab on to something and grow upwards. Keep the bark on branches because plants can grab onto it and climb. Another interesting way to make a tipi is to take grape vines pruned from the vineyard and wrap them around the sticks. The leaves will fall off, if they haven’t already, and make a very sturdy structure for plants to grow on.

The good thing about tipis is they can be moved from year to year so rotation of crops is achieved. Other types of trellis systems don’t allow for that.

Tomato Cages (Stakes)

tomato cage vertical gardeningUsing tomato cages is a form of vertical gardening and you can use regular tomato cages purchased at a discount store, but there is a better way to make one yourself. Purchase concrete reinforcement wire that has 6-inch square openings making it easy to reach in and harvest fruit.

Cut an 8-foot section and bend it into a big cylinder with overlapping edges. Connect those edges with twists of wire. Stake the cylinder into the ground with wooden stakes. This tomato cage will take the weight of any tomato and will last for many years. Tomatoes aren’t the only thing you can grow in these cages either. Try cucumbers and zucchini or even peas or beans. Plant the seed or plant first and place the cage around the area.

Of course, there is the old method of driving 6-foot stakes of untreated lumber into the ground and securing tomatoes to them with nylon stockings. Always place the stake first, then plant so that the roots of the plant are not impaled by the stake.

Unique Techniques

Gardeners have come up with unique ways of vertical gardening. Install a painted palate on a wall and hang pots from it with flowers, small vegetables or herbs. Lettuce and spinach works well as many flowering plants. Or, put a back on the pallet with plywood and fill in between the spaces with potting soil and plant seed.

Nail or gutters to a fence or wall in several courses. Make sure there are holes for drainage in the gutters and fill with soil. Plant shallow rooted plants in them like leaf lettuce, spinach, strawberries, herbs and peppers.

Use old dresser drawers lined with plastic, with drain holes in them and place them on metal or plastic shelves or ladders. Plant inside to make a vertical garden.

Canvass shoe holders, the kind with pockets that hang on the back of the door, make a great vertical garden. Fill the pockets with soil and plant small flowers, vines and herbs in them and hang from a wall or fence.

Vertical garden techniques abound, and they are easy to make. Grow flowers, vining plants, lettuce, cucumbers, peas, beans, zucchini and other squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other plants vertically and you will save space and achieve a larger harvest. It is possible to grow melons vertically too, but you will have to construct little slings or hammocks for the melons to support their weight. Anything is possible with vertical gardening and it can be as unique as you want it to be.