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For The Garden

Vertical Gardening

Author: Cathy Babcock
Issue: February, 2017, Page 124
Photo by Plant Solutions Inc.

Depending on the amount of sun or shade an area receives, vertical gardens can include succulents, ferns, flowering plants, herbs and vegetables.
Thriving beyond the traditional trellis, garden walls are alive and growing

Although by no means a new concept for gardeners—especially those with limited space—vertical gardening has recently come into vogue, thanks in large part to the work of French botanist Patrick Blanc, whose modernized green walls add lush life to urban settings around the world.

Vertical gardening is just what it sounds like—a garden that grows on an upward structure rather than horizontally on the ground in a traditional garden bed. Although this method was typically confined to vines on a trellis, it now refers to an engineered system attached to an exterior or interior wall. This system can be as complex as a self-sufficient arrangement in which plants receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support rather than from the ground, or as simple as a wall-hanging box that requires hand watering and fertilizing. Complex vertical gardening systems are also called green walls or living walls.

Before creating your own vertical garden, properly analyze the prospective area in which you want it to hang. Plant selection should be based on the amount of sun or shade the structure will receive. The type of plants that you select will also determine how much water needs to be applied. Choose plants with the same habits, needs and rates of growth. An aggressive grower will take over and eventually shade out a slower one. Plants that are more drought-tolerant should be placed at the top of the structure, because this area will dry out first as water drains down. Be sure to always have extra plants on hand; there is a strong likelihood that some will die out.

An abundance of vertical gardening designs and materials are available. Trellises, staggered pots on a rack, stacked boxes or crates, retired ladders, felt pouch systems, trays and even old shoe storage pouches can be used. When planting, be sure to vary the foliage, texture and colors of the plants. Consider herbs, vegetables, trailing plants and ferns. Nonsucculent herbaceous plants will drape better than stiff-branched woody plants, which are likely to protrude horizontally. Compact succulents are excellent as well, especially when used in smaller trays.

A simple shadow box of plants is a great way to add interest to a space while simultaneously creating a living work of art. You can design your own or start with a kit. Begin by building or buying a shadow-box-style planter. Staple 0.05-inch hardware wire mesh to the frame and then fill the box with moist potting soil. If you are planting succulents, be sure to use a well-drained cactus mix. Insert the plants through the holes in the wire and into the soil. Leave the planter flat for about 10 weeks so the plants become well-rooted. Once established, hang the planter on a wall. When the soil begins to dry out, remove the box from the wall and lay flat to water. Let it drain before rehanging.

For a more complex (though less mobile) wall structure, build a lightweight frame and attach plastic sheeting as backing for the fabric layer and to keep water off the wall. Add two layers of fabric, such as felt carpet padding, and attach tightly to the frame. After removing the soil from the roots, insert plants into slits cut into the first fabric layer. Stabilize the plants by stapling around the root ball to the second fabric layer. Run a tube with emitters across the top of the panel and connect them to your water source. For complete self-sufficiency, set the water on a timer, run a drainage tube along the bottom of the structure to divert runoff from drainage, fertilize with a fertilizer injector and install a recirculation tank. This system is essentially hydroponic with plants rooting into the fabric used.

Consider incorporating small-statured aloes, haworthias, gasterias, young agaves and echeverias. Many species of cacti will also work well before they reach maturity. For a softer and less prickly look, select seedling yucca, dasylirion and nolina. Some of the more commonly used plants, such as echeveria, will not tolerate our summer temperatures and may have to be replaced with something a little more heat-resistant.

Begin by choosing a modular vertical garden kit. Combine multiple units to fill your desired space.
Photo By:Plant Solutions Inc.

Ask your local nursery for suggestions on heat-tolerant plants and succulents suited to vertical growing.
Maintain plants by watering when dry, pruning when necessary and replacing as needed.

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