Vertical gardening offers a way to grow around limited space

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Do you think you don’t have enough space to grow a lot of plants? If not, you could always try “growing up.” Vertical gardening, as the technique is called, is a great option for those who have limited space.

There are many advantages to this type of gardening.

  • Vertical gardening can provide privacy and a disguise from unattractive views.
  • This type of gardening adds an architectural interest as the garden ceases to be just ordinary and becomes aesthetic.
  • Vertical gardening provides excellent air circulation for plants.
  • Fruit does not lie on the soil surface, which reduces some rotting problems and damage from some pests that live in mulch and soil surfaces.
  • Certain pests are not vertical crawlers, and you may be able to prevent some of them from being a problem.
  • Many plants can be trained to climb.
  • You can grow more plants with little space.
  • Plants can be within reach for someone with limitations who is unable to garden in a traditional way.
  • Plants are at eye level, making them easier to prune, check for pests, and harvest fruits and vegetables.

A disadvantage to vertical gardening is that the plants are exposed to more sun and wind, so they dry out faster and may need more frequent watering and fertilizing.

Types of material to use for vertical gardening would include trellises, which could be made out of wire mesh fencing or even heavy twine for a temporary trellis, tomato cages, chain link fences, window boxes, hanging baskets, and don’t forget the balcony railings outside your apartment building. Choose your support structure based on the type of plants you want to grow.

Following are a few of the plants that can be grown vertically:

  • Pole beans (not the bush varieties) will climb just about anything, even other plants. Native Americans used these in their “three sisters” planting style of beans, corn and pumpkins. Pole beans can be grown on bamboo teepees, trellises or on an arbor.
  • The weight of melon and squash can pull the vines off a trellis or cause the fruit to break off, but this can be remedied by a simple support. Cut old hosiery into sections 8 to 12 inches long and tie a knot into one end.
When fruits are about the size of a baseball, slip the fruit into a section of hosiery and attach to the trellis about 6 to 8 inches above the fruit.

Cucumbers, not the bush types, can also be grown up a trellis.

  • For peas, choose edible-pod or snow peas.
  • Tomatoes, the indeterminate varieties, perform much better grown upright than sprawling over the ground where the fruits can be destroyed by pests and diseases.

When choosing plants, be sure to keep in mind the exposure the plants will have — will the plant get too much sun? Not enough? Will it be exposed to a lot of wind? Consider, also, what the mature size of the plant will be and how much support it will need.

This type of gardening can go up or down. A gardener might grow some sweet potatoes in a large balcony container, letting the vines hang down over the ledge in a display of attractive foliage. Be sure the pot, though, is secured by a railing or tied to a post, or a strong wind could cause trouble.

Vertical gardening allows gardeners to get the most out of their gardening space. For more ideas on the subject, go to

Barbara Michael has been a master gardener since 1993, and she serves as the master garden liaison to the Community Garden Coalition as well as serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at

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