Vertical gardens allow you grow veggies at several levels, so you can get more out of less space, a definite advantage if your growing area is limited. That is not to say that vertical gardening is just for those with space constraints.
Concentrating your food generation to a limited area frees up space for other uses while the veggies get more attention and care. You don’t have to walk around too much to care for your plants, a great plus in foul weather. Vertical gardening changes the old notion that gardening is back-breaking work. Even the mobility-challenged can enjoy growing food and ornamentals at a convenient height.
Plants grown vertically are more accessible, and gardening chores like planting, weeding, feeding and harvesting are much easier. Diseases and pests get noticed earlier on plants growing at eye level, so remedial actions can be taken right away.. No more escape for pests hiding under leaves.
Almost any vegetable that can adapt to containers can be accommodated in a vertical garden, but some veggies seem to do better than others. Grow more of them to get the best out of your efforts.
Vines that have a climbing habit are nature’s own attempt at vertical gardening. These sun lovers climb towards the light on any available support, be it another plant, a trellis, fence or wall. They will happily thrive in a vertical garden whether you grow them in containers or bury their roots in the ground, with the aerial parts scaling the vertical frame or trellis. Here are some tasty ones to grow.
- Pole beans – Sow the seeds in small mounds in the ground close to the vertical garden stand, or in large bags kept on the lowest rung. Start them only when the temperature is around 60F or more. Rich soil, plenty of sun and regular watering results in vigorous growth and good crop. Train them on strings to help them reach the top of the stand as quickly as possible.
- Peas – Sow shelling peas and snap peas in separate containers and allow them to climb separate trellises to make harvesting easier. Snip off the growing tips (use them in stir fries) to promote branching.
- Asparagus beans – Sow seeds in rich, moist soil in large bags and train the vines up and away from the shelves in the vertical garden. Prop trellises at the sides prevent its vigorous growth smothering other plants and to make harvesting the pods easier. Keep picking the pods when they are tender to promote continuous flowering.
- Cucumbers – Sow the seeds in rich, well-draining soil in a large pot when the temperature is above 70F. Stake the plants early and give them a trellis to grow on. Pick the tender cucumbers frequently to get a continuous crop.
- Malabar spinach – Sow the seeds of this quick-growing climbing green in spring to get a tasty spinach substitute all through summer. Use the leaves as greens and the fleshy stem in a vegetable stir-fry.
There are some vines that grow along the ground, but most of them can be adapted to growing on trellises that are strong enough to support their weight. Some of them have heavy fruit that requires additional support, but keeping them off the ground has definite advantages. It prevents them rotting at the point where they touch the soil. It also makes it easier to track their growth and to harvest them when they are ready.
- Watermelon – Plant smaller varieties in the ground but train the vine on a strong trellis or other sturdy support. Make small hammocks of nylon netting tied to an overhead structure to support the heavy fruit.
- Pumpkins – Smaller-sized pumpkins can be grown in 10-20 gallon pots and grow bags. Train them onto a trellis early, and provide extra support for the fruit with plastic netting.
- Butternut squash – Use large pots for this vigorous vines, or grow them in the ground, directing them to a study trellis when the plants start spreading. Regular feeding is essential for a good crop.
- Sweet potato – Many gardeners avoid growing sweet potatoes in the garden because of the sprawling habit of the vine. You can grow them in large bags or in the ground and allow the vine to climb on the sides of the shelves or on a trellis to keep it off the ground.
Brassica family vegetables
These cruciferous vegetables are highly susceptible to pests, especially the caterpillars of the cabbage butterflies that do tremendous damage to all members of this family. The pupae of these worms often overwinter in the soil debris, making the areas unsuitable for subsequent crops.
Pest control is much more effective when these vegetables are grown vertically because infestations are easily noticed, starting with the eggs that are hidden under the leaves and the young caterpillars that emerge. You can even use nets to cover the vertical arrangement, preventing the cabbage butterflies from laying eggs.
Slug attacks are rarely a problem when these vegetables are grown vertically and high above the soil line. They are easily controlled with traps rather than spraying of chemicals.
- Cabbage – Get cabbage transplants from the garden center and plant just one in each medium-sized pot. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Feed with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer or top-dress with well-rotted manure when the heads start to form.
- Broccoli – It is better to start early in spring from transplants. Plant in rich soil, one to a pot and keep the soil evenly moist. Use early-maturing varieties in warmer areas because broccoli bolts early if the temperature climbs above 75F.
- Cauliflower – Grow cauliflower from transplants unless you can start the seeds indoors 12 weeks before spring. When the flowerheads are 2-3 inches across, cover them with the leaves to keep the heads white.
- Kale – Plain-leaved kale can be grown several plants to a pot, but the curly-leaved ones look best and grow most vigorously in individual pots. Temperatures above 80F make the leaves bitter, so plant them early enough in spring or go for fall planting.
Nightshade family vegetables
Nightshades are edible vegetables belonging to Family Solanaceae, which also includes the deadly nightshade and many other highly poisonous plants. Interestingly, some of our most commonly used vegetables such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), potato (S. tuberosum), eggplant (S. melongena) and peppers (Capsicum annum) have inedible parts that contain high amounts of the poisonous substance solanine. However, these popular plants are well-adapted to vertical growing.
- Tomatoes – These high-light plants thrive in full sun and plenty of warmth. Indeterminate type of tomatoes require trellises to grow on while the determinate types can do with some staking. In a vertical garden, you have the choice to grow the plants at a lower level, allowing them to grow upwards. Or you can plant tomatoes at a high level or in a hanging basket and let the plants hang down.
- Tomatillos – Grow tomatillos in large pots and use a wire cage to stem in the sprawling branches and provide some support. Although they are drought tolerant, regular watering keeps them healthy.
- Peppers – A variety of peppers from sweet bell peppers to fiery jalapeno peppers can be grown in a vertical fashion. Give rich soil and plenty of light.
- Potatoes – Potato tubers growing close to the soil surface develop solanine, so gardeners have to mound soil at the base of the plants to prevent this. In vertical gardens, this can be easily done by growing them in opaque containers and adding a thick layer of mulch on top.
Note: Eggplant is another popular night-shade family vegetable, but it seems to be happier growing in the ground than in a vertical garden arrangement.
Root and bulb vegetables
Root and bulb veggies have compact top growth and medium light requirement, so they adapt very well to vertical gardening as long as you provide sufficient amount of growing medium for their root growth. You can grow them in individual pots or grow bags, or in long rows if you can find rain gutters deep enough.
- Radish – You can grow several batches of this fast-growing vegetable in containers that are just 6 inches deep. Sow seeds every two weeks and thin out the seedlings.
- Carrots – Use pots that are at least 10 -12 inches tall and use a loose, well-draining medium to get evenly shaped carrots.
- Beets – Grow beets in wide pots that are 6-8 inches deep. Avoid using nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
- Turnip – Sow turnip seeds in 12’ wide pots and thin them to 2-3 per pot. You can harvest the leaves, but it may result in smaller tubers.
- Garlic – Plant garlic cloves in fall. Use light soil and provide just enough moisture to keep them growing. Use the flower stalks of hardneck garlic in stir fries and dig up the pods when the leaves have died down.
- Shallots – Use pots wide pots to grow shallots. Spring-planted shallots give a all crop and fall-planted ones give a late summer crop.
- Onions – Grow onions from seeds or sets, but they need containers that are at least 10-12 inches deep.
- Leeks – Start leeks in early spring from 6” transplants. Use medium-sized deep pots, planting just 3 per pot, and then harvesting two of them when they are still young.
Greens are the perfect plants for growing in a vertical garden, especially those with a low growing habit. They appreciate their raised position which allows more air circulation and prevents the lower leaves from touching the ground and decaying. You will find them having fewer diseases and attacks from pests since soil is the main reservoir of many of the fungal spores and insect larvae.
Vertical gardening prevents greens like spinach from getting smothered by weeds. Harvesting is much easier too. Instead of pulling up the entire plant, you can pick mature leaves for the kitchen as and when required, allowing the plants to continue growing for a longer period.
- Lettuce – Loose-leaf lettuce varieties are best for vertical gardening. They do very well in shallow pots and can be grown closer together than in the ground. Sow seeds every two weeks to ensure a steady supply.
- Spinach – This green seems to be specially made for vertical gardens. Sow a liberal amount of seeds and thin out the seedlings as they grow bigger. Start planting from early spring and continue until it becomes too warm. Resume in fall and continue until just 6 weeks before first expected frost date.
- Swiss chard – This rainbow-colored vegetable will brighten up your vertical garden. Use large pots to grow chard, sowing seeds liberally and then thinning out the seedlings until just one remains in each pot.
- Red amaranth – This warm season greens needs rich, moist soil. Sow seeds in mid-spring and thin out the seedlings as and when you can use them for cooking. Pinch the growing tips to prevent the plants from flowering too early.
Microgreens and baby greens
These are different stages of edible seedlings. They are nutritionally superior to their mature counterparts, but unlike sprouts, they are leafy plants requiring good light. Perhaps they would give you the maximum nutritional output from the minimum possible space, whether you grow them vertically or not. That’s because they get ready in a matter of days or weeks, and you can have subsequent batches back to back all through the season, or even all year in sheltered areas.
Vertical garden shelves are ideal for a growing microgreens and baby greens because they require frequent sowing and harvesting. Only the top growth is harvested, and that is usually done by snipping off with scissors as and when required, so you can see how advantageous it is to have them growing at a convenient height.
You can sow almost any type of edible seed to grow microgreens, but some favorites are:
- Red amaranth
- Daikon radish
Buy different seeds of your choice or get pre-packaged selections like rainbow mix, spice mix, Asian greens mix, fiery mix etc.
Herbs are typically used in very small quantities, so allowing them a lot of real estate in a garden does not make sense. By growing them in a vertical arrangement of 3-4 levels, your herb garden can be limited to a single stand. Besides, you will have them all in one place, and as close to the kitchen as you want.
- Chives – Sow the seeds in well-draining soil in small pots, or plant divisions. Chives multiply fast, so you need only a few. Snip off the leaves close to their bases.
- Basil – Grow several types for a wider variety of flavors. Grow in rich soil in medium-sized pots.
- Oregano – Grow either Mexican or Mediterranean oregano, or both, in light soil and keep them on the drier side. A few small pots may provide enough fresh herb, but have more if you intend to dry them.
- Sage – Grow this perennial herb from cuttings taken in spring. Prune it occasionally to promote new growth.
- Mint – You can grow a large selection of mints in small pots if you’d be using only a few leaves at a time. Pinch off the growing tips to keep the plants bushy.
- Parsley – Grow parsley as an annual by starting them every spring. Sow several seeds in rich, moist soil in medium-sized pots and thin out as necessary, leaving only a few large plants to ensure a regular supply.
- Cilantro – Sow several coriander seeds in medium sized pots and keep the soil moist to prevent premature bolting.
Vertical garden orientation
Most vegetables need full sun, or at least 5-6 hours of bright light to do their best. Unless they have sufficient light for photosynthesis, they cannot manage to make food themselves and for us. The orientation of your vertical garden determines the amount of light each plant receives.
An A-frame vertical garden set up in full sun out in the garden helps you grow maximum food in minimum space since you can grow plants all around the frame. It should look like two wide ladders propped against each other, the steps of the ladder supporting different levels of planting.
If you are arranging the garden against a wall, choose south or southwestern exposure to grow high-light plants. The abundant morning light received in eastern exposure may be good enough for root vegetables, herbs, and greens.
If your vertical garden does not get sufficient natural light, supplement with artificial lighting. When using overhead lighting, arrange high-light veggies on the top shelves and the others at lower levels according to their light requirements.
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