The Benefits of a Vertical Garden

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Photo Courtesy Rodale
"Vertical Gardening" shows how the vertical garden system reduces work, increases yields and makes harvesting easier.

The following is an excerpt from Vertical Gardening by Derek Fell (Rodale, 2011). The excerpt is from Chapter 1: What is a Vertical Garden?

If you’ve gardened in long, horizontal beds for even a single growing season, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “There has to be a better way.” Well, you’re right–there is a better way. Vertical gardening offers many advantages over horizontal growing.

Smaller beds to prepare and maintain. When growing plants with a vertical habit, you’ll need a bed only as large as the root systems of those plants–one that’s much smaller than a traditional bed. When you plant horizontally, you tend to have narrow rows of plants and wide swaths of soil between them. It’s those wide swaths that drink up much of the water, send up innumerable weeds, and consume the nutrients needed by your plants. With vertical gardening, you prepare only small spots or strips of fertile soil–just enough to give plants a nutritious base from which to climb up supports. These vertical garden beds require less compost, fertilizer, and water, and only a few bucketfuls of mulch or a little black plastic to control weeds. Compost goes further when you cut back on bed space, so you won’t need to buy, generate, or use as much compost in order to amend your soil each season. And whether you plan to water with a watering can or use a drip irrigation system, you’ll find that watering your small plots of soil is a cinch, and your drip hose can be short.

Vertical pots and containers for very small spaces. If you don’t have any (or much) garden space–say, just a concrete patio or a balcony–or if you can’t easily amend your soil or build a raised bed, then consider using tower pots or other containers that help you grow upward in a column. Tower pots are commercial containers that stack one on top of the other and enable you to grow vertically a variety of plants that don’t vine (such as lettuce, peppers, and strawberries). Plus, you can easily add trellises and supports within containers or “planted” just behind containers to create a vertical garden in a limited space. And if you need to be really creative with garden space, try mounting containers at various heights on a fence or wall to create a visual vertical garden.

Fewer pests, diseases, and problems to handle. When you begin to garden vertically, you’ll notice a big difference in the health of your plants. Lift flowering and fruiting vines and crops off the ground, and pests and diseases are not as destructive. Ripening fruit and vegetables remain clean, show fewer deformities, are less susceptible to rot, and don’t require tedious washing to remove garden soil. With plants up off the ground, you’ll easily spot any potential insect infestations before they have a chance to reach plague proportions. Simply blasting the bugs off the vines with a strong jet of water and rubbing stems with a cloth to destroy dormant insect eggs are often all that’s needed to avoid problems.

Increased yields in a small space. By concentrating on growing upward in columns rather than outward in rows, you’re reducing the soil footprint needed to grow plants while encouraging denser growth. Most trellises and supports can accommodate plants growing on both sides. When growing edibles against a support system mounted on a wall, you need to project the trellis or garden netting away from the wall by only about 6 inches, to allow plants to produce yields in back as well as in front of the support. This also improves air circulation and discourages mildew and other fungal diseases.

A single pole snap bean variety (such as climbing ‘Blue Lake’) can surge to 6 feet high or higher from a mere square foot of growing space; compare that to a 2-foot-wide, 6-foot-long row of bush snap beans (totaling 12 square feet), and you’ll find that the climbing pole bean produces a larger yield than the bush one. That’s because ‘Blue Lake’ pole bean can produce a vigorous tower of beans that doesn’t exhaust itself after 2 to 3 weeks like a dwarf bush bean does; the pole bean continues to bear all season long.

Less bending, fewer backbreaking chores, and easier plant care. With smaller footprint beds, there’s less digging, less bending to tend soil and plants, and much easier plant care in general. And rather than feeding the soil with fertilizer, consider how much faster and more efficient foliar feeding can be: You can apply a liquid fertilizer directly to the plants’ leaves. Many organic fertilizers today are formulated to be diluted with water and sprayed onto leaf surfaces. Leaf pores can take in nutrients and send them straight to feeding the flowers and fruit. Foliar feeding has proven particularly beneficial for fruiting plants like blackberries growing on trellises and strawberries growing in tower pots. And, maybe most importantly of all in making gardening easy, vertical gardening is eminently suitable for gardeners who may have physical limitations and need to find a new and different way to engage in their favorite hobby. Think about how much easier it is to care for a single bean plant growing high up off the ground than for a long, low row of puny plants!

Easier to harvest. Harvesting is certainly much easier when flowers and fruit are within easy reach at waist and eye level, instead of low to the ground. There’ll be no more kneeling and lifting vines in a horizontal bed when it’s time to harvest!

Reprinted from Vertical Gardening by Derek Fell. Copyright (c) 2011 by Derek Fell.  By permission of Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.

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