Vertical gardening and hydroponics are two gardening systems that can be used to grow plants in high density in a relatively small amount of space. Since there are similarities between these two growing systems, how do they compare?
Vertical gardens and hydroponics can both be used to maximize space utilization and increase crop production. Vertical gardens use a growing substrate containing the plant nutrients, while hydroponics delivers nutrients in liquid form to the plants’ roots. Vertical gardens can be hydroponic.
If you have limited outdoor space to grow your herbs, vegetables, and other plants, you may consider a vertical garden or a hydroponics system to solve the problem. Both systems have applications in this gardening scenario, and we will discuss the characteristics of both so you can decide which suits your needs the best!
Vertical Gardens And Hydroponics Compared
Vertical gardens and hydroponics have one main feature in common; your plants are not grown in the ground.
This implies that both have an infrastructure to support growing the plants in a different substrate, and you will need to provide the entire growing requirements for the plants.
As we examine the two systems, you will see many similarities and even some crossover between these growing systems.
What Is Vertical Gardening?
The main concept of vertical gardening is to use vertical space to grow plants in high density with a relatively small horizontal footprint.
Vertical gardens can be simple, but the principle can be expanded to produce a complex vertical growing system, including custom watering systems.
The definition of a vertical garden does not stipulate the growing medium for the plants or the nutrient delivery system, which is where there is some crossover between vertical gardening and hydroponics.
A vertical garden is defined by growing your plants in a stacked vertical system that uses vertical spaces either indoors or outdoors. The system increases the number of plants that can be grown in a limited space.
The crossover between hydroponics and vertical gardens is that a hydroponics installation can be a vertical garden. The only difference is that plants are not grown in a soil-based growing medium.
Advantages Of Vertical Gardening
Vertical gardening offers many advantages over horizontal gardening, which is why it is becoming a popular gardening choice even for gardeners with ample space.
The following are some of the sought-after advantages that lead people to choose vertical gardening.
- More efficient use of space. Using vertical space is using areas that otherwise can be considered wasted space. This enables people to grow plants in small spaces such as patios or balconies, or even indoors if they do not have outdoor space.
- High-density growth. More plants can be grown in a smaller space, allowing people to grow their own food in a limited space.
- Better sun exposure. The outdoor vertical garden can be planted to maximize the sun exposure for each plant in the system. Larger plants won’t shade out smaller plants.
- Improved airflow. Vertical gardens improve the airflow between the plants, which can help with pollination and disease control.
- Easier maintenance. Since all the plants are in a small space, monitoring plant health and growth is easier. The system will have no weeds if you use a quality potting mix. Pruning and harvesting are made easier by easier accessibility to the plants.
- Less disease. Many of the diseases infecting plants are attributed to soil-borne pathogens. Since the plants do not directly contact the soil, disease and fruit rotting on the ground can be restricted.
- Pest control. Many garden pests find plants from the ground and crawl up the stem to invade the plant or eat the roots from below. This problem is reduced in a vertical garden, but you will still need to watch out for flying pests.
- Better crop production. Since the vertical gardening environment is more controlled, the plants are supplied with a better growing environment, promoting larger and more abundant harvests.
Disadvantages of Vertical Gardening
The advantages of a vertical garden may sound like it is all a bed of roses, but vertical gardens also have some potential issues.
The following are the main disadvantages of a vertical garden.
- Increased complexity. Some vertical garden implementations require specialized watering systems to deliver the right among of nutrients to the plants at the right time. Malfunction of these systems can result in plant losses and thus requires closer monitoring.
- Smaller plant sizes. The space for plants to spread out in a vertical garden is limited, making it challenging to grow large plants or ground creepers such as pumpkins and squash.
- Increased setup cost. While some vertical gardens can be cheap to set up, others can be fairly costly if you choose a commercially available option.
- Limited support for plants. Some plants that require trellising, such as tomatoes, are more challenging, but not impossible, to grow in a vertical garden. Root crops such as beetroot, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes also have limited success in the vertical garden environment.
The advantages of vertical gardening certainly outweigh the disadvantages, which is why it is growing in popularity.
What Is Hydroponics?
The definition of hydroponics is that it is a growing system that does not use soil as a growing medium. The nutrients the plants need are delivered in liquid form, and the nutrient solution is recycled through the closed system.
Hydroponics systems have a range of complexity, from basic static systems where the plants are grown directly in the nutrient solution to complex circulatory systems where the nutrients are pumped around the system.
You can implement hydroponics principles in a horizontal format, but they can also be constructed in a vertical arrangement, which is where they are classified as vertical hydroponics and can be considered vertical gardens.
Advantages Of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is a versatile growing system that can be scaled to suit a wide range of applications, from small home operations to large commercial high-density plant production.
The following advantages are typical of hydroponic systems.
- Versatility. Hydroponics can be implemented on a small scale, large scale, as a horizontal system, or as a vertical growing system.
- Water-efficient. Hydroponics are closed systems, reducing water loss and making them a better choice in locations with limited water supplies.
- Indoors or outdoors. Hydroponics can be implemented indoors or outdoors.
- Higher productivity. Since the plant nutrients are varied to their needs and their various growth cycles, the plants grow to their maximum efficiency and crop yield.
- Lower maintenance. Much of the hydroponics can be automated, with limited manual checking of the plants and nutrient levels.
- Plants can be grown out of season. If the right growing conditions are supplied, the plants can be grown outside of their normal season.
- Faster growth. Since plants in hydroponics are given calculated nutrient levels, they grow fast and produce crops sooner.
- Pest and disease reduction. The closed environment limits the plants’ exposure to pests and diseases.
Disadvantages Of Hydroponics
As with all types of gardening, hydroponics also has some limiting factors which may contribute to the system not being a good choice for some people.
- Greater learning curve. Hydroponics requires a greater understanding of nutrient mixes and plant requirements at different growth stages.
- Setup costs. Hydroponics can be expensive to set up. There are simple hydroponic systems that are cheap to set up but to grow high-density plants, you will need a more complex, more expensive system.
- Limited crop types. While a large variety of crops can be grown in hydroponic systems, root crops such as carrots, potatoes, and ground cover-type crops such as pumpkin and squash, are generally not suitable for most hydroponic systems.
- Requires electricity. Most large-scale hydroponics systems require pumps to circulate the nutrient solution. This requires electricity to be available near the system, and if the electricity fails, it puts the plants at risk.
- Setup costs. The cost of setting up a hydroponic system can be more expensive than that of a vertical garden. There will also be ongoing maintenance and costs for the equipment.
Is Vertical Gardening Or Hydroponics Better?
The answer to the question regarding whether vertical gardening or hydroponic gardening is better will be determined by your unique circumstances.
Hydroponics requires access to more technology and a supply of nutrients for the system. Making your own nutrient supply is possible, but the commercial versions are generally more effective.
In some situations, vertical gardening is best implemented by combining it with hydroponics and creating a vertical hydroponic system to get the best of both growing types.
Many gardeners don’t stick to one type of gardening but rather make use of a variety of growing systems to maximize their production. If you are looking into vertical gardening or hydroponics from a space-saving aspect, you can safely choose either option for this application.
Vertical gardens would be easier to implement with basic gardening knowledge, while hydroponics poses a better choice for low water environments and indoor applications.