Complete Guide to Vertical Farming Systems [30 Plants Depth-Chart Included]

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Oftentimes, we don’t have conventional spaces to utilize for gardening. The typical rectangle shaped garden just doesn’t apply to all situations.

Just because you have a small or odd shaped space doesn’t mean you can’t garden with it. Lo and behold, the concept of the vertical garden has arrived! Learn how to vertical garden with my quick and easy guide!

A vertical garden turns impossible spaces into productive gardens with very little work involved. Its a great concept to apply to a permaculture garden and to use on balconies, patios, rooftops and even indoors.

Let’s check out the core concepts of vertical gardening!

How to Vertical Garden

What is a vertical garden?

Technically, any type of plant that uses a trellis, such as a climbing vine, is a vertical gardening system. Plants that are suspended and grow downwards are considered vertical gardens too. The concept of vertical gardening has reached far beyond that and has become a more inventive way of growing vegetables and herbs, counter to the sprawling traditional gardens we are used to seeing.

A vertical garden consists of a support platform that is mounted vertically and allows for plants to be installed in pockets, pots, or cubbies. The system commonly used for vegetable vertical gardening is soil, although hydroponic vertical gardening is also a popular choice.

Why vertical garden?

Other than looking cool, there are plenty of reasons to grow a vertical garden!

You can vertical garden where you can’t traditional garden. If you have poor soil, live in a small space, have lots of pests such as gophers, or don’t have a yard, you can place a vertical garden as an alternative.

Save your back and knees. When you don’t have to keep bending over to do simple gardening tasks, your back will begin to thank you! Think of all the bending and crouching you have to do in a traditional horizontal garden; pruning, weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting all requires being hunched over. When you garden vertically you eliminate all that pressure on your body.

You can be creative with space. A vertical garden repurposes space that would normally sit vacant and unproductive. The side of the house that gets great light, next to a shed, or built up a fence are all great ways to use the space in a creative way.

Vertical gardens are visually appealing. You can use a vertical garden to dress up an area that is not so pretty in your gardening space. Place it to where you can look out your window for some plant eye candy!

You save lots of space for your traditional garden. You can place a vertical garden in small narrow spots and keep your traditional garden for the vegetables that do better in the ground.

You can be creative with plants. A vertical garden is like a living painting. Grow plants with pops of color, leafy plants, and plants that bloom.

Improves the health of your crop. Increased air circulation helps improve the health of plants and keeps them more free of disease and pests.

Environmental benefits. Plants naturally filter pollutants from the air, improving the air quality. Placing an indoor vertical garden can provide more oxygen in stuffy areas and filter out particulates like dust and dander.

Types of vertical gardening systems

There are different types of systems to consider when building your vertical wall. Some have advantages over others depending on what your goals and expectations are.

Container system

This system uses typical soil pots that are placed in a vertical structure. The pots allows for easy swapping of plants and the ability to remove the plant without disturbance to itself or neighbors. However, pots can tend to get quite hot and are a rigid structure allowing for less flexibility in the design process. If plants are grown in a container on shelves, make sure there is enough headroom for the plant to grow.

Pocket system

Wooly Pockets are a popular vertical garden system

Choosing a pocket vertical garden system allows for temperature regulation, unlike standard pots. The roots of the plants are healthier in pockets as they become air pruned when reaching the edge of the fabric bags. Once the plant is growing, it is difficult to remove them and will disturb other plants when doing so.

Hydroponic system

A hydroponic vertical garden allows plants to grow lush and big without taking up much space. You can be thrifty and craft your own DIY vertical hydroponic system or purchase a prefabricated one. Hydroponics does take some special planning. Although running a hydroponic garden has more upfront and operational costs, the space saving and bumper crops might be worth it to you.

Trellis system

Vine crops can be grown vertically to save a lot of space and can make for a healthier crop. Poles, stepladders, and fencing can be repurposed for trellis.

DIY system

You can build your own vertical garden out of common materials, such as pallets, mesh, and wiring. You can make a shelving unit and place pots on the shelves. You can sew your own pocket wall. This brings out so many creative ideas and has an eclectic, shabby chic feel. Some people do not have the time to fuss around with building their own system nor the materials or space to build them.

Prefabricated system

Although these systems can be spendy, a prefabricated vertical garden is designed for maximum efficiency and has a sleek and sophisticated look. These can be easier to take care of as the engineering of prefab systems is ideal for plant growth and health and will also look amazing in your yard.

How to Vertical Garden Correctly

Placement –

when growing vegetables, lighting is the most important consideration. Fruiting vegetables require more light, whereas leafy and root veggies can grow in partial shade. Place your vertical garden for easy access and good air flow. You will also want to have easy access to watering your garden. Making conditions as easy and accessible as possible will take less energy from you to nurture your garden. This is a philosophy that can be learned from permaculture gardening, which you can read about in my Beginner’s Guide to Permaculture.

Choosing the system –

Choosing the right system depends a lot on the variables of your space. Do you need a standalone system? Then a shelving unit with containers or a prefabricated system would be a good choice. Do you only have a narrow space on a fence? Then a pocket system that can be hung is ideal. Do you have some spare dirt space in the yard? Then growing a vine crop on a trellis can maximize that space. Be thoughtful about choosing your system as it may be difficult to move once the plants have started growing.

Choosing the plants –

It is important to pair plants together that have the same growing criteria. A plant that does well in full sun should not be planted with plants that do well with partial shade.

You will also need to consider minimum soil depths when choosing plants to keep growth healthy.

Best Vegetables for Vertical Gardening:

Vegetable Lighting Growth Depth Pairs with
Leaf lettuce Partial shade 4-5″ Herbs, lettuce
Carrot Partial shade 8-9″ Beans, squash, tomato
Onion Full light 6-7″ Spinach, onion, lettuce
Radish Partial shade 4-5″ beans
Chives Full light 4-5″ Broccoli, eggplant
Garlic Partial shade 6-7″ onion
Kohlrabi Partial shade 6-7″ chives
Peas Partial shade 6-7″ Beans, peppers, radish
Pole beans Full light 8-9″ Eggplant
Eggplant Full light 8-9″ Beans, peppers
Cucumber Full light 8-9″ Beans, corn, peas
Peppers Full light 8-9″ Eggplant, beans
Spinach Partial shade 8-9″ Shard, onions
Broccoli Partial shade 10-12″ Beans, lettuce, spinach
Bush tomatoes Full light 10-12” peppers
Summer Squash Full light to partial 10-12″ Beans, carrots
Chard Partial shade 8-9″ Spinach, onions
Okra Full light 10-12″ Peppers, eggplant
Sweet corn Full light 10-12″ Cucumber, peas, beans
Bush beans Full light to partial 6-7″ Eggplant

Vegetables that do not grow well together:

Beans – onion, garlic

Tomatoes – squash, potato

Onions – beans, peas

Note that spicy vegetables like pepper, onion, and garlic can pass on its flavor to more mild vegetables around it, but is not a problem if the veggies are in their own container.

Choosing your herbs –

Herbs do very well in a vertical garden as their root systems tend to be smaller and they grow nice little manageable bushels. Therefore, when growing herbs, choose what you like to eat! Herbs still need to be paired together correctly.

Best Herbs for Vertical Gardening

Herb Light Depth
Basil Partial Shade 4-5”
Cilantro Full Light 10-12”
Dill Full Light 10-12”
Lavender Full Light 10-12”
Mint Partial Shade 5-6”
Oregano Full Light 10-12”
rosemary Partial Shade 8-9”
Sage Full Light 10-12”
Thyme Full Light 5-6”
Lemon balm Partial Shade 8-9”
Marjoram Full Light 5-6”
Coriander Full Light 10-12”

Take note that some herbs, like Mint, can easily overrun a garden. Keep these sprawling herbs on their own or trim back as needed.

Planting your vertical garden –

Follow the guidelines on your seed packet for planting. Make sure to choose the proper container depth for your plants. You can use typical potting soil for your plants.

Care and maintenance –

Your vertical garden will require more watering as there is less soil than traditional gardens. The air will leach away water quickly, so make sure to check on your soil moisture daily. More aerated plants that require less water can be placed toward the top as they dry out quicker.

If container gardening, you may want to keep a few extra plants on hand to swap out with any that die out.

Other than those factors, garden as normal!

Troubleshooting Problems with Vertical Gardens

Most problems that vertical gardens have can be circumvented by proper planning. Heed these problems in advance and you will save yourself some trouble down the road.

Containers are too heavy. You may find that your containers are too heavy once they are watered and the plant starts to gain weight, especially once the plant begins to fruit.

If the supporting structure is too weak, such as your homemade pocket garden or shabby pallet, you could risk the plant breaking the structure, which would be a disaster.

Make sure that you do not overload your structure beyond its capabilities. If you are using a flimsier structure, use herbs or plants with a shallower root depth or do not bear fruit.

Soil dries out too quickly. The smaller the container and the more exposure to the sun equates to rapidly drying soil, especially in arid climates. You may find yourself watering way more than you expected.

The best thing to deter this problem is to setup a drip irrigation system. A little bit of work initially will save you tons of time and worry.

Adding a substrate like vermiculite to the soil will help retain moisture.

Vertical garden leaks. You may find that after watering your garden leaks all over the place, and depending upon the placement of your garden, may wreak havoc. Leakage can also cause moisture buildup that can cause mold.

If you cannot contain the leakage, add some waterproof backing to protect the surface that is getting wet.

You can affix a water collecting line, such as a gutter or PVC pipe split in half, to drain the water into a collection bucket. You can then reuse the water for your plants.

Move your growing operation away from the wall to allow for air circulation.

Cramped, shocked, or rotten roots. Roots that are in small containers are subjected to temperature and moisture extremes which can lead toward poor plant production.

Proper planning prevents poor performance! Make sure to choose plant root depth accordingly and place in appropriately sized containers. If you live in an area that has overly humid or dry conditions, choose plants that are suited to that environment. You might want to move your operation indoors, or to a more sheltered space if the elements are too much for your crop to handle.

Mildewing and mold. The last thing you want to see is mold growing on and around your vertical garden’s structure and containers. This can greatly hinder the quality of your plants and even cause air pollutants.

The first step is to figure out why your garden is molding in the first place. Overwatering may be creating an environment for mold to thrive. Find a balance where the soil is damp but not soggy. A leaky setup could cause dampness; try to eliminate the leakage or get your setup in a more aerated environment.

If you are having some mold outcrops treat with a vinegar solution. Place ¼ part vinegar to ¾ part water in a spray bottle and spray the moldy area. Let it sit for a few minutes and wipe away with clean cloth. You can also try a hydrogen peroxide solution, 1 tsp peroxide to 1 cup water, wet a cloth and wipe the mold.

If your mold is persistent, a UV grow light can help dissipate any stubborn mildews.

Making a Drip Irrigation System for your Vertical Garden

Flowers being watered with a drip irrigation system

The biggest problem to maintaining a vertical garden is remembering to water it enough. Vertical gardens dry out more rapidly than its traditional counterparts. The best solution to ensuring that your vertical garden gets enough water is to install a drip irrigation system!

A drip irrigation system is a little more work in the beginning but will alleviate the worry of your veggies and herbs not getting enough – or too much – water.

You can connect your drip hose directly to a hose faucet that is attached to a timer. The whole point of a drip irrigation system is worry free watering, so the timer is an essential component to the system. You can get a battery powered timer or an even more convenient and green solar powered timer. The timer installs directly onto the hose faucet.

Depending on your setup will depend on how simple or complex your irrigation system will need to be. The essentials you will need are:

  • Hose faucet timer
  • ¼ inch irrigation tubing with faucet adapter
  • Elbows and T fittings

Step 1. Install the hose faucet timer. Make sure your water PSI meets the manufacturer guidelines for the minimum requirements of the timer. Do not place the timer on the end of the hose; place it directly on the water spicket.

Step 2. Install ¼ inch irrigation tubing onto the timer. ¼ inch is ideal for vertical gardens as the hose is small and flexible.

Step 3. Run the hose along your plants, making sure the drip hole goes into the container.  Install elbows and T fittings around corners and crannies as needed.

Automatic drip irrigation watering kits takes a lot of the guesswork out of drip irrigation systems. Everything comes in one tidy box and all the fittings are compatible.

If you are interested in setting up a fully autonomous watering system, check out my How to Build a Solar Powered Drip Irrigation System article.

I hope you have enjoyed my guide on how to vertical garden. its a great way to get started in the gardening world without having an overwhelming garden to tend to. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Have a great day!

– Regina C.
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