DIY Projects

Vertical Gardening for Beginners

Don’t let the idea of vertical gardening intimidate you. Vertical gardening can be as simple as including hanging planters on your porch to more complex projects that make use of trellised growing systems. The idea is to grow up, not out, and thus conserve space on the ground while adding focal points of interest in your gardening space.

Vertical gardening can be an ideal solution for cramped spaces like apartment porches or urban landscapes. It not only makes the most use of the little space you have available, but it also gives punches of color and natural interest to a concrete wasteland.

Beginners who are not too familiar with growing vertically need to learn a few basics: site location, equipment, plant selection, and vertical garden maintenance.

For instance, during plant selection, gardeners will want to establish the best plants that can survive or thrive growing in a vertical growing system. Some plants will do better than others, like strawberries, flowering vines, or other well-adapted container plants.

A Three Sister’s garden (planting of corn, beans, and squash in one plot) is not only a great example of companion planting, but it also uses vertical growing techniques by using the tall corn plants to give the bean vines something to hang on to as they climb up the stalk. In that case, you don’t even need to put up any equipment or use a container to create a vertical garden, but you do need a large garden plot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

Thus, in this case, it is important to pay close attention to site location first. In addition, gardening vertically can take on many forms. Gardeners can use containers at different eye levels, from hanging pots on a porch to vertical kits installed indoors that are more modern-looking. They can be one focal area in the garden where you put up a pyramidal trellis to accentuate climbing morning glories or clematis. They can be fences that are utilized to grow vining vegetables, like cucumbers.

They can even take the form of raised beds that are tiered to form a vertical planter that starts on the ground and works their way up the landscape in one specific area. Any and all of these techniques can be combined to create a landscape that brings the eye up past the ground level and gives you more square footage to plant as well.

Pick Your Location Wisely

The site you choose will determine what types of plants you can grow in your vertical garden. Fruits and vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight to produce and so these cannot be planted with success in shadier areas. However, some areas can be used for herbs and greens that also grow well in vertical container gardening arrangements and do not require as much sunlight.

If you plan to grow indoors, your sunlight requirements will be limited and you may have to be satisfied with growing items that do best in an indoor climate, like spider plants and greens that do well in low light. You may not get fruit, but you will certainly create a better indoor atmosphere with green plants rejuvenating the indoor air quality.

Equipment Needed

Most beginners will also need to buy some gardening equipment to get started growing vertically. At the very least, take a look around and see if you have vertical structures already available that can be put into use. Add a few eye-hooks to porches, a bit of string to eaves, or make use of a chained link fence to train climbing vines and grow vertically. Even a freestanding post can be used to wind a vine around it.

However, if you don’t have any vertical structures available, you may really want to buy equipment like trellises, vertical growing kits, grow bags and hanging planters and stands of different shapes and sizes to get started. The garden equipment is an investment that will deliver results every year once it has been purchased.

For those that are handier, they can build their own trellises with piping, wood and wire, however, it might be more artistic to buy one that can also incorporates design elements into the vertical growing design.

Plants Required

Buying a kit will help you get the perfect plants for growing vertically. You may decide that you want to buy a strawberry jar and grow strawberries along the sides of the jar. You can also use a grow bag to grow lettuce and strawberries and hang the bag somewhere where it gets enough sun. Unless you are growing a hanging vine, usually smaller plants that are able to grow in cramped spaces do better in vertical growing systems.

You can combine both small flowers and vines for visual appeal. Here are a few examples of plants that work well with vertical planting systems:


Climbing beans and vining tomatoes like to grow up strings, along fences, and require little training. Cherry tomatoes and hot peppers do well in small containers and are colorful, too. Pole beans are thus named because of their habit of wrapping themselves up the nearest pole. However, don’t forget that cucumbers are vines and do very well along fences, too. Squash can hog too much space if grown at ground level, but supporting them on a large trellis can be ideal to keep the squash off the ground while providing more growing space for the lush vines.


Grapes require special layering techniques, as well as espaliered fruit trees. They’re not difficult to master, but may make a better project for an intermediate gardener. That may require more knowledge than would be easy for a beginner to master, so stick with fruit that isn’t going to be too hard to grow vertically like strawberries and kiwi vines.


If you’re looking for eye-popping colorful plants, creeping phlox or morning glories are two flowering vines that shower vertical planters with a profusion of colorful flowers. However even bushes like lantana can be trained to drip off hanging planters. Nasturtiums come in creeping varieties that are excellent for placing in vertical pockets here and there, even in between other plants. Nasturtiums are also edible, so you get beauty and food at the same time.

Get Top Quality Soil

If you are using hanging planters or vertical wall designs from kits, you will need to make sure that the soil is rich in nutrients and able to drain well. That may mean that you will also include rocks at the bottom to keep drainage holes clear and coconut coir or peat moss to absorb moisture and release it during the day. One of the biggest problems with vertical container planting is that the soil dries out too fast and it needs to be watered much more frequently. Nutrient depletion also occurs over time and the soil may need to be amended or replaced when reusing the system the following year.

Fertilize and Water Often

Since the soil is in separate pockets in some vertical growing systems, you will need to use an all-around soluble fertilizer when you water at least twice during the growing season. This will deliver nutrients into the soil and along the foliage.

In this way, you keep nutrients in the soil as they have a tendency to get depleted over time as the water drains from the vertical beds. Keep watering vertical wall planters and containers more often than the plants that are planted directly into beds. This will keep everything lush and avoid the potential for losing plants. One way to keep vertical gardens watered enough is to install a watering system to deliver water to the root of the plants, even as they grow vertically.

Drip irrigation can be used with vertical planters and containers to provide adequate moisture for thirsty container plantings, too. Otherwise, group planters close to the water source to make it easier to keep them thoroughly watered.

Create Architectural Interest in the Garden

Once you have the hang of growing vertically, you can start to create rooms within your garden using arched climbing structures, fencing, and trellises. You can separate out areas and define vertical boundaries of a garden room. For instance, if you want to give your outdoor patio or deck some definition and privacy, you could install a vertical wall or trellis to grow a privacy screen or border. This would separate the area visually and give you more privacy. In addition, you can create paths along your garden with arbors that are strategically placed to separate one part of the garden from another.

Understanding how to grow vertically not only provides you more room to grow your favorite plants, but it also is a key component of designing secret gardens that create their own separate magical spaces within a wider enclosure.

Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at and read his blog at

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