When you have limited space, a vertical garden is a fun and practical way to add some green to your balcony, porch, or patio. Vertical gardens also breathe life into dull walls and concrete-heavy urban spaces, as well as attract insects and bees, creating little micro-environments.
The best plants for a vertical garden are those that are happy in small containers and can flourish in a limited space. A wide variety of plants can be grown in a vertical garden, ranging from ferns, herbs, and succulents to small perennial shrubs, trailing vines, and grasses.
Vertical gardens can range from simple black canvas pockets to elaborate living art frames and troughs equipped with water reservoirs. Let’s take a deeper look at vertical gardens, how they are constructed, what plants are best for growing in them, and how to maintain a healthy, happy vertical garden.
What is a Vertical Garden?
A vertical garden is quite literally a garden that grows in a vertical position instead of a horizontal one. Vertical gardening is a technique used to grow plants on a vertically suspended panel when space is limited or to brighten up an office space.
Also known as green walls, vertical gardens can be attached to a wall or tiered surface like fences, trellises, and posts, or they can be freestanding. Most vertical gardens use a vertically applied growth medium like a hydroculture felt, soil substrate, or regular soil. More elaborate vertical gardens have integrated hydration and fertigation delivery systems.
How To Create a Vertical Garden
Vertical gardens are not only practical and space-saving alternatives to traditional gardens, but they are fairly easy to create and maintain. There is a wide variety of styles of vertical gardens from bamboo trellises, pallet gardens, and hanging wall planters to creative styles like ladder shelving and tin can fence gardens.
The type of vertical garden will depend on the amount of space available and personal preference. Here are some creative ideas for vertical gardens:
- Hanging planter garden
- Fabric herb garden
- Pallet garden
- Tin can fence garden
- Trellis garden
- Ladder shelving garden
- Clay pot vertical garden
- Succulent wall garden
- Stacked crate garden
- Recycled soda bottle hanging or wall garden
Factors to Consider When Creating a Vertical Garden
When it comes to choosing what plants are best for your vertical garden, there are several factors to consider.
It is important to take into account the position of the vertical garden and whether it will receive direct or indirect sunlight or mostly be in the shade as this will determine what plants you should get. North-facing areas will require different plants to a vertical garden that is south-facing. Work out the correct orientation for your plants, for example, sun-loving plants should be grown in a north-south direction, so one side of the plant gets sun from the East and the other from the West.
Bear in mind that depending on the style of your vertical garden, once the plants start growing upwards, the top plants may block the sunlight from the plants on lower levels. Either space the plants so that they all have access to sunlight or choose shade-loving plants like chives, lettuce, and spinach for the bottom of your vertical garden.
It is also important to have good drainage for any style of vertical garden, as well as protection from weather damage such as in storms. The right nutrition is also essential to ensure a healthy vertical garden that flourishes.
Vertical gardens require some form of symmetry, and while the taste is personal, it’s a good idea to have some sort of plan as to how you would like your garden to look once the plants are growing. This will help you choose the right plants.
When building a vertical garden, consider how permanent that needs to be. If you are renting a property or have a space with limited sun, make a vertical garden that is easy to move or reposition if needs be. A lightweight frame with hanging hooks makes a great vertical garden that can easily be moved around.
Also, choose a plant that will grow to a height that you can reach to prune. Trailing vines tend to grow quickly and will attach themselves to any form of trellis or structure, so be sure to select a plant or plants that work add extra work for you in the future.
Vertical gardens are a wonderful way of promoting biodiversity within an urban environment so be sure to choose plants like wildflowers that attract and create a habitat for bees, butterflies, and other insects.
What are the Best Plants for Growing in a Vertical Garden?
There are so many varieties of plant species that you can add to your vertical garden to make it not only look beautiful but produce alluring aromas and fragrances, too. The type of plants for your vertical garden or green wall will depend on what you would like the garden to do. Do you want a pretty garden with plenty of color and fragrance? Do you want an edible vertical garden with herbs and spices that you can use in cooking? Do you want a water-wise garden of succulents and cacti? Or do you want a “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” look with trailing vines and lush ferns?
Here is a range of plants that you can grow in various vertical gardens to suits your individual needs.
Best Plants for an Edible Vertical Garden
If you love cooking and using fresh herbs and spices, you can plant them in your vertical garden and create a wonderful “edible” garden full of exotic flavors. You can also plant certain fruits and vegetables on a sunny wall that will thrive in this type of environment.
The best edible plants to grow in a vertical garden include:
Nightshade plants: Tomatoes and peppers
Root Vegetables: Carrots, radishes, and garlic
Climbing Vegetables: Pole beans, peas, cucumber, and squash
Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, and kale
Leafy Greens: Lettuce, spinach, and microgreens
Fruit: Melons, strawberries, and kiwi
Herbs: Basil, oregano, cilantro (coriander), chives, parsley, mint, and rosemary
Nightshade Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers
Tomatoes and peppers are part of the nightshade family (potatoes and eggplant are the other two vegetables in the family) and they grow very well in a vertical garden. They are excellent sources of antioxidants and vitamins.
Tomatoes can be grown in two forms – in bushes (determinate) and on vines (indeterminate). Both bush and vine tomatoes prefer full sun and rich, well-drained soil and both forms can be grown in a vertical garden.
A bush tomato plant will need a stake or a tomato cage to keep the plant upright as it becomes quite heavy when bearing fruit and can fall over. Vining tomatoes will need some sort of trellis to attach to and support the vines as they bear fruit. Trellis vertical gardens are also easy to maintain and keep the vines looking neat and tidy.
Tomatoes can also be grown hydroponically, which is a system where the plant does not require soil and gets nutrition through its hydration system. Using a hydroponic system in a vertical garden that is in a greenhouse or indoors will allow you to harvest tomatoes all winter long.
Peppers are a wonderful vegetable to add to your vertical garden and they come in a rainbow of colors, shapes, and tastes. Peppers come in red, orange, yellow, and green colors, and have varying degrees of heat from sweet and mild (banana peppers) to eye-wateringly hot (Carolina Reaper hot pepper).
Peppers also prefer full sun and rich, well-drained soil, so they make the perfect vertical garden planting partners for tomatoes.
Root Vegetables: Carrots, Radishes, and Garlic
Root vegetables are ideal for a vertical garden as you don’t need to get down on your hands and knees to harvest them! They are rich in vitamins and minerals and are a healthy addition to your edible vertical garden.
Carrots come in all shapes and sizes from the standard orange to red, yellow, and purple. They prefer cool weather and should be planted in the early spring and fall. They are best grown in full sun and loose, sandy soil, as heavier soil can cause the root to become deformed and stunted.
Carrots grow slowly, taking up to four months, depending on the variety so patience is required for a crop of carrots.
Radishes are simple to grow and are a delicious, spicy little root that adds flavor to any dish. There are two types of radishes: spring and winter varieties. Spring radishes prefer cool weather and are best planted in the spring, while winter radishes should be planted in the early fall. They do take slightly longer to grow, however, can be kept and stored for longer than spring radishes.
Radishes should be planted in warm soil that is enriched with wood ashes, which wards off root maggots. Radishes grow quickly and are a great little plant to add to your vertical garden if you want fast results.
Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow in a vertical garden as they require very little space. Garlic should be planted in mid-autumn in fertile, well-drained soil. The soil should be kept moist but not too wet as this can cause the garlic to rot.
Vining Vegetables: Pole Beans, Peas, Cucumber, and Squash
Climbing, trailing, or vining vegetables are the best plants for vertical gardens as they grow easily up a trellis or downwards in hanging containers (with support for the fruit once the plant begins to bear fruit)
Peas are super easy to grow and fantastic for vertical gardens. They are a cool-weather crop and prefer temperatures below 70 degrees, so the seeds should be sown in rich soil four to six weeks before the last spring frost.
Peas have a short growing season but are a good crop to plant as they help to fix nitrogen content in the soil. After harvesting, the soil can then be used for heavy feeding crops like squashes.
Aptly named pole beans literally grow up a pole or a trellis and are sweet and delicious. The pod-producing vines produce all season long and enjoy full sun and well-watered soil.
Cucumbers are another kitchen staple that is great for vertical gardens as they grow quickly and produce a lot of fruit. Cucumbers like sunny, warm climes and rich, fertile soil, so be sure to plant seeds a few weeks after the first frost.
There are many varieties of squash that grow in both summer and winter, and they are ideal for growing on a trellis in a vertical garden. All types of squash, including butternut, gem squash, zucchini, and yellow straight-neck squash love full sun and need rich, fertilized soil to thrive.
Be sure to train your vines to keep them neat and tidy and have a sling or some form of support for the fruit as they tend to be quite heavy.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Kale
Cruciferous vegetables are superfoods from the family Brassicaceae and include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and garden cress, among other green-leaf vegetables. These vegetables are very high in antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber and are a must for any edible vertical garden.
Cruciferous vegetables are prone to pests like cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, and root maggots, so use an organic pest repellant to keep them at bay.
Broccoli is a cool-weather crop and best grown in the spring and fall, however, if you want a longer growing season, there are some heat-tolerant varieties of the vegetable. To grow broccoli in a vertical garden, use slightly acidic and fertile soil, place the plants in full sun, and water regularly.
Cauliflower and broccoli have similar growing conditions and prefer full sun and rich, fertile, and slightly acidic soil.
Kale is another fantastic plant to have in your vertical garden and offers super health benefits. Plant kale in the early spring and fall as it is a cool-weather crop and in acidic soil to prevent clubroot disease. They love full sun and need lots of space as they can become quite large and leafy.
Leafy Greens: Lettuce, Spinach, and Microgreens
Salad, salad, and more salad, leafy greens are a must if you are a salad-lover. They not only provide delicious varieties of green leaves to eat but also look beautiful in a vertical garden.
There are many varieties of lettuce, however, it is best to plant leaf lettuce instead of head lettuce in a vertical garden. Plant lettuce in loose well-drained, richly fertilized soil using organic matter for the best results. Lettuce prefers cooler weather so plant seeds early in the spring and water regularly.
Spinach is another easy cool clime vegetable to grow in a vertical garden that provides an array of health benefits. Plant seeds in nitrogen-rich potting soil in the early spring at least six weeks before the last frost.
Microgreens are super easy to grow in a vertical garden as they take up very little space and develop quickly in sunny climes.
Fruit: Melons, Strawberries, and Kiwi
The best kinds of fruit for a vertical garden are trailing or vining fruits like strawberries, melons, and kiwi. Vining and trailing fruits should be planted at the top of your structure or garden so they can trail downwards in a lovely cascading manner.
Melons like cantaloupes, honeydew, watermelons may seem like they are too big for a vertical garden, but they can be grown on a sturdy trellis with extra support for the fruits as they grow. All kinds of melons love full sun, warm soil, and plenty of water and will thrive in the right conditions.
Strawberries love vertical gardens as they are the ideal environment in which they can grow. You can either plant seasonal or perennial strawberries, but both varieties should be planted in slightly acidic soil and have at least eight hours of full sun every day.
Kiwi fruit is a warm-weather fruit that needs a lot of space to grow, so plant them against a large trellis so they can grow to full height. Plant them in full sun and water regularly and be sure to plant a male and female plan together so they can fruit. Hardy kiwi is a tougher fruit that can tolerate colder climes.
Herbs: Basil, Oregano, Cilantro (Coriander), Chives, Parsley, Mint, and Rosemary
Many different herbs can be planted in a vertical garden that not only look beautiful when fully grown but provide aromatic fragrances and delicious plants to eat. Herbs grow very well in all container sizes so are a great choice for apartment kitchens, bathroom windows sills, or small balconies.
Most herbs like rich warm soil, partial or full sun, and plenty of water. Mint tends to grow very quickly and can be invasive in larger pots, so planting mint in smaller containers is better for keeping it under control.
Best Plants for a Flowering Vertical Garden
Vertical gardens can look magical with an array of flowering plants that provide splashes of bright color. The right flowers can also attract bees, butterflies, and insects and create a micro-habitat in the heart of a built-up urban environment.
Here are some flowering plants that are ideal for vertical gardens that will attract a host of little creatures.
|Sun-Loving Plants||Shade-Loving Flowering Plants|
Bacopa is a perennial, creeping herb with succulent leaves and small white flowers. Also known as Indian Pennywort, the non-aromatic herb is used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine to treat various ailments.
Campanula, or bellflower plants, are bright and cheerful perennial flowers that are a wonderful addition to a vertical garden. They like moderate temperatures and cool nights and bloom from June through October.
These beautiful, delicate flowers with their elegant drooping heads come in a plethora of colors and varieties and can be bushy, trailing, vining. Named after the 16th-century German botanist, Leonard Fuchs, these pretty blooms prefer cool and moist climes.
Impatiens are another colorful addition to your flowering vertical garden and grow prolifically in partial to deep shade and moist, well-draining soil.
Lobelia is a pretty annual herb with a wealth of colors and varieties that are easy to grow in cooler climes. Lobelia blooms in the summertime and produces flowers for the whole season. The delicate little flowers are a wonderful addition to a vertical garden.
Nasturtiums are wonderfully versatile flowering plants that are not only pretty but lure aphids away from other plants and are fully edible for humans. They can be bushy, cascading or climbing, and are very easy to grow in unfertilized soil and minimal water.
There are four species of petunia with delicate flowers that come in a wide range of colors. Petunias love plenty of sunlight and regular watering and will grow best in moist, rich soil with well-composted organic matter.
Pelargoniums are pretty perennials that are hardy, versatile, and interesting garden plants and ideal for a vertical garden. There are many varieties of this plant, including scented-leafed varieties which add lovely aromas to the garden. Pelargoniums bloom from spring through to autumn.
Part of the mint family, salvia’s densely-packed bright purple flowers with tubular blossoms are a favorite of bees, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. This lovely ornamental species is a must for a bee-friendly, vertical garden and they thrive in full sun and well-drained soil.
Also known as “the pincushion flower,” scabious is a summer-flowering annual or perennial plant with nectar-rich flowers that attract all sorts of insects, birds, and bees. The meadow flower comes in a wide range of bright colors, from white to blue and dark burgundy, and makes lovely cut flowers, too.
Shade-Loving Flowering Plants
Ajuga, commonly known as bugleweed, is a fast-growing herbaceous perennial plant that produces beautiful blue, violet, or purple flower spikes and shiny, dark green leaves. The plant has several cultivars that produce variegated foliage colors and patterns.
Heucheras are shade-loving plants that are best known for their large red, purple, vivid green, and silver leaves, but also bear lovely flowers in the summer months. Heucheras grow well in containers and pots and thrive in dappled shade.
Vincas are ideal for a hot African summer garden as they flourish in warm temperatures. This bright and bold annual are very versatile and grow particularly well in containers and baskets due to their drought tolerance.
Violas, also called pansies or violets, are pretty small-flowered annuals or short-lived perennials that self-seed and give years of visual pleasure. These little flowers are also edible and add a special touch to salads and garnishes. Violas grow best in cool climes but can bloom throughout the winter in warmer zones.
Tiarella, also known as the foam flower, is a charming, shade-loving foliage plant with deep green foliage and sprays of small, attractive flowers. These wonderful woodland perennials grow well in shade garden containers with well-watered and well-drained potting mixes.
The bright little “faces” of pansies are garden favorites around the world and are ideal for both spring and fall vertical gardens. The cool-weather plants have heart-shaped, overlapping petals that come in a wealth of bright, pretty colors and patterns. Pansies are ideal for small containers and vertical gardens as they don’t need much space to flourish.
Best Plants for a Water-Wise Vertical Garden
Succulent plants and cacti grow naturally in dry, desert environments, tucked in crevices in rocks, or on the edges of cliffs where there is very little soil, so growing them in a vertical garden is ideal. Cacti and succulents can be grown from cuttings by simply placing them in soil and watering them sparingly.
Cacti and succulents use less fertilizer and water than most other plants, so they are fairly easy to maintain in a vertical garden and can be arranged to create a beautiful focal point in your living space.
Good choices of succulents and cacti for a water-wise vertical garden include:
The classic “desert rose” succulent look spectacular in a vertical garden and can be arranged in patterns for a unique look. Pretty flowers appear in summer to add a splash of color.
(Pictured above) – As their name suggests – ‘always living’ – these are a hardy succulent. Sempervivum is a hardy, an alpine succulent that will happily grow in a vertical planter and they are good planting partners with Echeveria.
Crassula is a South African native succulent that grows well both indoors and outside. These succulents need pruning though as they grow quickly and can look untidy if not managed.
Sedum (Latin for “sit”) is an excellent choice for a vertical garden as it fills any unsightly gaps.
A vertical garden is a wonderful way of adding the color, fragrance, and beauty of a traditional garden to a small space. Vertical gardens can be created with an array of flowering plants, herbs, cacti, and succulents and set up on vertical frames, trellises, or hanging containers and pots.