Whether you are looking to breathe new life into your outdoor space now, or you’d like to make landscaping plans for next spring, here’s an idea to consider: Look up. Vertical gardening offers endless possibilities for a creative use of space and resources.
Boundless spoke with Justin Hancock of Monrovia to get some professional tips on how to build and maintain a vertical garden. Founded almost 100 years ago in California, Monrovia is a leader in the plant industry, growing more than 4,000 varieties and 22 million plants each year and distributing its container plants to retailers across the country.
“Planning is an important part of creating a vertical garden,” Hancock says. “Do a little bit of research up front to figure out what kind of system will work best for you, both in terms of structure and care. You’ll also want to make sure you’re picking the right plants for your spot. You don’t want to put shade-loving plants on a hot, south-facing wall.”
Hancock, who has a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture Science, combines his expertise in cultivating and managing gardens with a background in publishing to provide a unique professional viewpoint. He’s written and provided content for numerous national gardening publications and gardening companies, and previously launched his own garden center and landscaping business, where he designed a wide range of outdoor spaces.
There are many ways to approach vertical gardening, he tells us. If you’re a skilled DIYer, you may choose to build a garden wall or planter system from scratch, using your own design skills or online blueprints. Pre-made kits at garden stores give you a head start with minor assembly required. Or, you can utilize common items such as pallets, trellis stakes, hanging baskets or window boxes to assemble your own original garden.
Hancock says you should consider several factors when planning your vertical garden:
Sun or shade. Keep an eye on the amount of sun and shade that your proposed garden area receives throughout the day before purchasing plants. Check the plant tags in their pots at the nursery, find a good reference book, or go online for details on which plants will thrive.
Wind. Hancock points out that you need to choose hardy plants for a vertical garden, especially at a windy site, because they can’t root deeply in the ground and are more exposed to the elements.
Temperature. Hot, humid temperatures support different plants than a cool, dry part of the country. Hancock recommends that your research includes a review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map. When planting in containers, he says, find the zone where you live and then go down two zones.
Soil and fertilizer. A vertical garden is essentially grown in the same way as a container plant, so soil and fertilizer are important. Hancock recommends using a potting mix, as well as a time-release fertilizer that automatically releases nutrients over the course of a few months.
While it’s acceptable to use a hose or watering can to deliver H2O, pros like Hancock recommend a “drip irrigation” system. These systems efficiently deliver water directly to plant roots in a process that conserves water.
Hancock notes that there are many types of drip irrigation systems available on the market to fit your needs. Some deliver more moisture on bottom levels of a vertical garden; some equally distribute the water on every level; and some can be built in a specific shape you want to create.
“It sounds more complicated than it is,” Hancock reassures us. “The drip irrigation systems from home improvement stores are relatively inexpensive and they make it so easy, you just follow the instructions. Depending on the system, sometimes a timer is included, which I would recommend. Every system is a little bit different, so you want to check product packaging or do some research to be aware of how the water flow works.”
Hancock says matching plants to your environment helps ensure a successful vertical garden. In general, low-growing ground covers work well because they don’t spread out too much or overcome planters in your garden. And, because low growing succulents have lower water needs, they’re also a top choice. Geography and space are top considerations in plant selection, along with color and scent for sensory appeal.
Here’s a sampling of plants that typically succeed in vertical gardens.
From left to right: Angelina Sedum, Boulevard Olympia Clematis, Boulevard Yuan Clematis, Bronze Carpet Sedum, Siren’s Song Dark Night Heuchera, Veronica Crater Lake Blue, Woolly Thyme
Photography by Doreen Wynja for Monrovia