Vertical Gardening: Grow More Vegetables in Less Space | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Growing Up! How to Grow Vertically in Your Garden

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vertical gardening ideas

Vertical gardening ideas

Grow More Vegetables in Less Space

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How is your garden growing? Do you wish you had more space for plants? Try vertical gardening to grow up. Here are four DIY gardening projects to try at home: a garden arch, a pallet garden, a bean teepee, and a living wall.

The Benefits of Vertical Gardening

Gardening in all three dimensions using a fence, trellis, or other structure increases the growing area available to gardeners. Here are just a few of the benefits of vertical gardening:

  • First and foremost: increased yields. Making maximum use of space means a heartier harvest. Maintaining and harvesting from a vertical planting is also physically easier—plants reach a higher level, so the need to bend and kneel is minimal.
  • How about fewer plant problems? Because foliage and fruit are up off the ground, they are less susceptible to disease. Upward growth provides better air circulation, which means that plants dry faster after watering, thereby reducing the risk of moisture-loving fungi like powdery mildew and rusts taking hold. Symptoms of disease and evidence of pests are more visible and can, therefore, be addressed sooner rather than later.
  • When plants aren’t sprawling on the ground, more leaf surface is exposed to the sun, which can result in healthier growth.
  • Finally, it’s easier on your back, too! You can stand up while caring for your plants and harvesting.

While there are many benefits, do note that vertical gardens might need more frequent watering. Wall-mounted planters, especially, are likely to require regular watering because of the rain shadow cast by the wall. Micro or drip irrigation systems deliver water efficiently and can be coupled with a timer to automate the delivery of water.

Which Plants Are Best for Vertical Gardening?

Choosing the right crops and cultivars is key. Vining, rambling, and sprawling plants are readily trained to grow up and off the ground, unlike bush-type species. While bush-type crops are smaller, they actually take up more horizontal space on the ground. Growing a vining variety lets you grow it up on a trellis, using less horizontal space.

Remember: However they’re grown, vegetables generally need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. In most climates, you will want to make the most of sunshine by picking a surface that faces the midday sun or west to catch the afternoon sun. Any heat absorbed during the day will then be reflected back onto your plants at night, speeding growth and harvest time.

Our favorite vegetables for vertical growing are pole beans, climbing peas, sweet potatoes, vining tomatoes, and sprawling types of zucchini, cucumber, melon, and squash that can be trained up supports.

  • Cherry tomato: ‘Sungold,’ ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Gardener’s Delight,’ ‘Blondkopfchen.’
  • Cucumber: ‘Burpee Hybrid II,’ ‘County Fair 83,’ ‘Dasher 11,’ ‘Saladin.’
  • Green bean: ‘Romano Italian’, ‘Meraviglia Venezia’, ‘Gold of Bacau.’
  • Lima bean: ‘Doctor Martin,’ ‘King of the Garden.’
  • Melon: ‘Delicious 51’, ‘Tigger,’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (musk melon); ‘White Wonder,’ ‘Yellow Doll’ (watermelon)
  • Pea: ‘Dual,’ ‘Garden Sweet,’ ‘Maestro,’ ‘Sugar Snap,’ ‘Super Sugar Snap.’
  • Squash: acorn, delicata, yellow summer, zucchini


Types of Vertical Gardening Structures 

In addition to trellises, tripods, arches, and pergolas, there are gazebos, wire cages, netting, bamboo poles, and more. Try to match the structure with the plant’s characteristics. 

  • For example, leafy plants with tendrils, such as pole beans and sweet peas, do well climbing up trellises – either bought or homemade from woody pruning.
  • More substantial plants, such as grapevines, benefit from sturdier structures—perhaps an arch or pergola. Keep in mind that a structure must be able to accommodate a mature plant’s weight, and it should be well anchored to keep it from toppling over.
  • Fruit trees such as apples, pears, and cherries can be trained into a vertical plane either against a wall or fence or along free-standing wire supports. These trees may be trained to produce single-stemmed cordons, fan shapes, parallel-branched espaliers, or any manner of other fence-hugging forms. Use sturdy, horizontal wires strained between fence posts to create the necessary supports for wall-trained fruit. Learn more about how to espalier fruit trees
Training fruit trees against wire supports or a wall is perfect for small space.

DIY Vertical Gardening Ideas

1. Make a Living Wall

One easy way to make an attractive vertical garden is to secure a trellis panel onto the wall to support a variety of pots planted with herbs, vegetables, and flowers. 

Choose an appropriate-sized panel, and then give it a coat of wood stain or paint to protect it and help it stand out. Drill holes into the wall with a masonry drill bit, line them with wall anchors or rawl plugs, then screw in a suitable strong L-shaped hook. Our panel below uses three. Check that the hooks are level and evenly spaced, and then hang up your panel.

Plant up or sow your pots with low-growing crops like lettuce, pea shoots, bush beans, radishes, herbs, or, for a pop of color, a few flowers like violets and marigolds. Space out the pots evenly and secure them to the trellis with sturdy garden twine, wrapped two to three times around the pot to spread its weight. 

Remember to water plants so they don’t dry out. Harvest regularly and resow, replant, or reconfigure your display as needed.


2. Make a Vegetable Arch

Using galvanized metal uprights and cattle panels, you can make a productive walk-through vegetable arch. Clad with climbing crops like beans, cucumbers, and squash, the archway makes for easy picking—and it’s a simply stunning way to turn utilitarian veggies into something really beautiful!

Growing climbing vegetables like beans over an arch makes them super easy to pick.

Locate your vegetable archway somewhere sunny and sheltered. Start by digging out planting trenches on either side of the arch. Next, drive home the uprights. Space the uprights to correspond with the width of the cattle panels. The trenches can then be backfilled, starting with a thick layer of nutrient-rich organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure, followed by the excavated soil.

Cut the cattle panels to size with wire cutters. Measure out enough of the panels to give an arch that’s high enough to walk beneath without having to stoop. Use zip ties to secure the panels to the posts at regular intervals, then trim off the excess to give a neat finish. If you’re using more than one section of the cattle panel, slightly overlap the edge of the second section with the first, then secure it in the same way.

Plant your archway trenches with your climbing vegetables. Once the plants are established, add a mulch of organic matter to lock in soil moisture and gently feed them. Most plants should find their own way up, but weave them into place if needed to help them along. All that’s left to do is pick and cut your produce as it’s ready—a delicious display of abundance all around you!

See more on how to build a trellis or support for climbing vegetables.

3. Build a Bean Teepee

Another classic way to grow more vertically is to build a bean teepee. Simple but timeless in its appeal! You can grow any climbing bean up the teepee, and its naturally sturdy shape should reduce any wind damage.

Sturdy bean teepees make a stunning feature in the garden.

You can use bamboo canes, hazel poles or any other long, straight prunings. Push the canes into the ground, using a large trash can lid as a guide. Six to eight canes are best, but you could use four or even seven, as shown at the top of the page – the eighth cane is missing to leave an entranceway into a living hideout for kids to play in.

Now, pull the canes together at the top and tie them securely together using garden twine or string. Plant one bean seed or plant per cane. If necessary, gently tie the beans to their canes to help them find their way. Add a further leg up by tying string in two or more horizontal bands, which will also make the whole structure more rigid.

Water your beans regularly and – most crucially – pick them often to keep more pods coming. The more you pick, the more you’ll get!

See more information on how to make a teepee for your climbing beans.

4. Make a Pallet Planter

Old wooden pallets are widely available, and turning them into vertical planters is a great way to reuse them. Check they are safe for reuse by looking for the pallet stamp. Stamps should display the IPPC logo and/or the letters EPAL, plus HT or DB, which means the wood hasn’t been chemically treated. Be sure to sandpaper down the rough edges, patches, and sharp corners on the pallet. 

If the packet doesn’t have a backing, nail the MDF (medium-density fiberboard) to the back of the pallet using 12-inch nails. Then, lay the pallet flat and fill it with potting soil. Then, while the pallet is still flat, start planting. Leave space between each plant. Water in. Leave the pallet flat for two weeks before standing it vertically. See our full article on how to make an herb pallet planter (pictured below).

A Pallet Planter is perfect for herbs!

Wall-Mounted Pots, Hanging Pots, and More!

Be creative with wall-mounted pots, planting pockets, tower planters, and hanging baskets. Fill them with herbs, salads, and strawberries, then watch a blank space take on a whole new life! A couple of tips:

  1. Use containers that will accommodate adult-size plants—growth will be stunted if pots are too small.
  2. Any walls or fences must be strong enough to hold the considerable weight of the plant as well as damp potting soil if you’re hanging plants off the structure.

You can make your own wall-mounted planters from recycled food tins or bottles that have been lined with plastic, sturdy bags, or parallel rows of window boxes or tubs.

Recycled plastic bottles used as planters. Credit: LuckyV/Shutterstock

Here are some more ideas:

  • Bag it up: Give tired sacks a new lease on life. Plant directly into them or drop them in plastic produce pots. 
  • Tin can alley: Use old tin cans for herbs and trailing flowers such as nasturtium. Drill drainage holes in their bottoms.
  • Off the hook: Hang sleek, stylish planters from S-shape hooks on a trellis or horizontal battens. 
  • Spare pallets on hand? Grow a never-ending supply of herbs.
  • Got a weak wall? Grow climbing vegetables such as beans, which simply cover the wall rather than lean heavily on it.
  • Homespun hanging gardens: Think outside the box and repurpose old items into handy hanging homes for your wall-dwelling plants. 

Purchase a Vertical Garden

If you’re not interested in creating your own vertical planting system, many ready-to-use vertical planters are available. These pre-made solutions come in various forms, such as woolly planting pockets, rigid plastic panels that fit together, and columnar planters with built-in watering systems. Most of them also include the necessary fasteners and wall anchors for installation. Another option is to choose stackable planters that begin at ground level and can be built up as desired. You can also learn how to make a vertical lettuce garden!

tubular belles vertical gardening system
Tubular Belles: Cool, Calm, and Columnar
Photo credit: Michelle Arconti/Dreamstime

Indoor Vertical Gardening

Indoor vertical herb gardens are also a great way to grow fresh ingredients in the kitchen without crowding the counters.

  • Use hose clamps to fasten small pots or mason jars to an old cutting board, and then hang the board on a sturdy hook in a well-lit area.
  • Add about an inch of pebbles to the bottom of each container and then fill with potting soil and herbs such as basil, chives, mint, oregano, and sage.

Alternatively, you can attach a few gutters to the wall or suspend hanging planters from the ceiling.

Did any of these DIY ideas for a vertical garden spark your interest? Are you ready to try your hand at growing up? Then you may enjoy this video in which our colleague Ben demonstrates how it’s done!

If you’re a DIY sort of guy or gal, find out how to make a simple raised bed with step-by-step instructions.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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