Maximizing gardening space with Vertical Gardening

Training plants to grow vertically is another way to accomplish this goal. When I say, vertical gardening, I am not talking about building/ stacking raised beds or containers vertically.  I am referring to training a plant to grow against a vertical structure; Like a wall, trellis, fence, or any other vertical plane.  Have you ever grown watermelon or cucumbers?  Remember how the vines started small, cute, and harmless?  Halfway into the season were those vines still small and manageable, or had they began to grow EVERYWHERE?  When they grow everywhere, they end up covering some of our garden space, and when you are trying to maximize your area, we cannot have that.  Training plants to grow vertically is a way to get the space-hogging plants up and off the ground ad growing space. 

Why Grow vertically?

First and foremost, it helps to maximize space.  Certain plants tend to sprawl out everywhere when growing.  If you have a lot of gardening space, then this is not an issue.  If you live in an urban environment or have a smaller garden or balcony, this practice is not an option. 

Second, it helps gardeners with limited space be able to grow the same varieties as people with spacious gardening areas.  You simply do not have the space to let these crops sprawl, but that does not mean you are not able to grow them still.  Vertical gardening makes it possible to grow certain plants that utilize a lot of space and allows us to grow them in areas where we may not have space horizontally, but it exists vertically.

Third, vertical gardening helps keeps the foliage and fruits off the ground.  Why is this important? Vegetation on the ground can harbor disease and pest that can devastate your entire garden.  Keeping these leaves off the ground helps reduce the chances of these actions occurring.  Keeping the leaves off of the ground helps increase airflow, which is vital for stopping powdery mildew.  Also, growing vertically makes it easier to spot and deal with pests.

Fourth, growing vertically brings everything up to eye level.  Having plants at this level is essential because it helps solve the dreaded "Awh man I didn't even see that there" problem.  With the plant eye level and higher, you will be able to see all of your harvests, which should result in less food waste.

Fifth and maybe most important of all, it just looks great. Growing pumpkins, watermelons, or cucumbers on a trellis adds an aesthetically pleasing focal point to the garden.  It can be quite the conversation piece when experiencing the garden with your friends or neighbors.  Who knows, they may see your vertical gardening example and be inspired to go home and start a garden of their own.

What to grow

Everything cannot be grown vertically. Certain things like broccoli and carrots there is nothing you can do. You're just out of luck.  But anything that has tendrils, now that is another story.  Tendrils are appendages that extend from the plant's stem and their own, and the only job is to find something to wrap around to help support the plant.  See, these plants already want to grow upwards. All we need to do is train them to grow in the direction we want.  Plants with tendrils include but are not limited to:

·       Peas

·       Pole Beans

·       Cucumbers

·       Melons

·       Winter Squash

Not every variety of these plants have tendrils.  Take peas; for example, Cowpeas and black-eyed peas grow bushier and do not have tendrils, While Butterfly peas and snow peas do.  You must pay attention to the characteristics of specific varieties planted.

Not all trainable plants have tendrils.  The following do not but can still be trained the same:

·       Indeterminate Tomatoes

·       Zucchini

·       Summer squash


When growing vertically, make sure you place the vertical trellis or structure in the proper place.  Improper placement of this can lead to shadows and decreased sun exposure in the garden.  Be sure to put the trellis on the north side of the garden.  This way, it will not cast a shadow on the garden south of it.

How to

Staking- look for a stake made of material strong enough to withstand the weight of the fruits or vegetables.  Try rot-resistant wood, bamboo, PVC, conduit, rebar, or repurposed from other materials, usually driven into the ground during the initial planting of the seed or transplant.  Try to get a stake that, when pushed into the ground, is around 7' tall.

Trellising- Uses stakes and some sort of lattice material.  You are driving the supports into the ground; the trellis is usually able to support the most weight. Try to keep the openings on the lattice material 4" or smaller. 

Cages-  I mostly use these for determinate tomatoes.  Careful when purchasing, make sure you are buying a sturdy cage.  Do not be tempted to purchase cages made of wire; you can easily bend with your hands.  Also, avoid the conical cages from the big box stores.  They tend to bend and collapse under the weight of the tomatoes.  I have used cages from Hoss Tools successfully, as well as ones from a company named Texas tomato cages.  When using cages, try driving some stakes right inside the edge of the cage, to add extra support.

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