Vertical gardening is one great way to maximize your gardening space. When I say vertical gardening, I am not talking about vertically building/stacking raised beds or containers. 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? Were those vines still small and manageable halfway into the season, or had they begun to grow EVERYWHERE? When they grow everywhere, they cover 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.
Reasons To Do Vertical Gardening
1. It helps maximize space.
Certain plants tend to sprawl out everywhere when growing. If you have a lot of gardening space, this is not an issue. This practice is not an option if you live in an urban environment or have a smaller garden or balcony.
2. It helps gardeners with limited space grow the same varieties as people with spacious gardening areas.
You do not have the space to let these crops sprawl, but that does not mean you can’t still grow them. 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.
3. Vertical gardening helps keep the foliage and fruits off the ground.
Why is this important? Vegetation on the ground can harbor disease and pests that devastate your entire garden. Keeping these leaves off the ground helps reduce the chances of these actions occurring. Keeping the leaves off the ground helps increase airflow, which is vital for stopping powdery mildew. Also, growing plants vertically makes it easier to spot and deal with pests.
4. Vertical gardening 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.
5. 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. You can do nothing for specific crops like broccoli and carrots, and 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, and we need to train them to grow in the direction we want. Plants with tendrils include but are not limited to:
- Pole Beans
- Winter Squash
Not every variety of these plants has 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
- 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.
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 lattice material. You are driving the supports into the ground; the trellis can support the most weight. Try to keep the openings on the lattice material 4″ or smaller.
Cages – I mostly use these for determinate tomatoes. Be careful when purchasing, and make sure you buy a sturdy cage. Do not be tempted to buy cages made of wire; you can easily bend these with your hands. Also, avoid the conical cages from the big box stores, and they tend to bend and collapse under the weight of the tomatoes. I have used cages from Hoss Tools successfully and 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.