Don't lie: you've been drooling over photos of vertical gardens for ages, haven't you?
I always get so excited when I see a picture of a vertical garden because I think, "Yes! A garden for a small space!" And then I remember that I live in a fourth floor apartment with no balcony or outdoor space and my vertical garden dreams are instantaneously shattered.
But as the popularity of vertical gardening grows, so does its potential. At some point or another, I am sure that you have come across a living wall, be it on the outside of a building or inside. So obviously vertical gardens indoors do work, but how do you install one in your own home?
Successful vertical gardening indoors has to do with a variety of factors.
Let's start with what you want your garden for. If you want a vertical garden just to have some greenery inside, than an excellent option is a vertical succulent garden. Or even a wall covered in air plants. If it's to create a healthier space, consider plants that are known for their air purifying qualities.
If your ultimate goal is to grow things you can eat, indoor vertical gardening can get a bit more difficult, and whether or not you can get an indoor vertical garden that will produce well is going to depend on your interior.
"The biggest barrier to growing anything indoors is light," says Laurel Nagel, Master Gardener and landscape and gardening instructor.
The light issue is one you might have come across before; it's why when people talk about having kitchen herb garden, you need to put those herbs somewhere where they can get direct sunlight, or choose plants that do better in a little bit of shade. Think soft leafy herbs like chives and parsley. It's also why if you were considering installing a vertical garden in your basement, you might need to think again.
For those with big windows and lots of light, a hanging system might be better than one attached to the wall, something similar to what WindowFarms in Brooklyn, or Nutritower out of Montreal, does. Both systems are built with an automated watering apparatus, but you can also build a self-watering vertical garden with the use of recycled plastic soda bottles.
If you don't have a lot of natural light, there is also the option of installing a grow light, which will allow you to regulate the light that the plants are getting. "Under a grow-light and temperatures constantly higher than 70F herbs like parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary could be grown and harvested a few times during the winter months," says Lallemand.
Besides light, temperature is also important.
"The second issue would be the relatively stable air temperatures inside," says Nagel. "Some plants need 50 degrees at night or 80+ during the day."
Since light and temperature are the main issues, "house plants that tolerate low levels of both will do fine [in an indoor vertical garden]," says Sonja Lallemand, horticulture instructor at the University of Illinois. "Most often those are foliage plants such as photos, spider plant, peperonia and others."
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But what if you want to grow plants you can eat?
One option is of course to regulate these conditions; like you do in a greenhouse. But if you can't do that, there are still a few options. "If the previous conditions are not adjusted, then lettuce might be one that could be grown and harvested," says Lallemand. "Most of the culinary herbs are from the tropical regions and require higher temperatures that are generally found in home."
Another important consideration for vertical gardens is the depth of plant roots; those with a deeper root system are going to need more room, and hence depth in your vertical system, to grow.
"When dealing with limited soil, small plants are best," recommends Nagel. Beyond that, remember that "root crops such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes would not do well because of the space required to produce the edible part of the plant," says Lallemand.
Some people may worry that it's the vertical placement of the plants that harms them, but as long as plants have the light, temperature, nutrients and water that they need to grow, they will thrive, so installing a successful vertical garden requires taking all of those elements into consideration.
With all this to deliberate over, Lallemand says that these are her three essential tips for beginning vertical gardeners:
- Measure the quality of the light in the space and supplement to get a full spectrum light
- Maintain appropriate temperatures necessary for the plants being grown
- Have adequate air circulation to minimize diseases
Once you have that all figured out, it's time to get planting. What should you make your vertical garden of? Pallets are a common one, but really vertical gardens can be made with anything as long as you are keeping the plant roots in mind. Nagel and her husband have a full run-down for a vertical garden system that they use outdoors but that could potentially be converted for indoor use.
For those not in the mood to construct their own system, Woolly Pocket makes products to assist in both indoor and outdoor vertical gardening, their main product being easy to hang modular planters that are deep enough for plants to thrive. They even have a Mini Wally, made from 100% recycled plastic, intended for those really small spaces, like European apartments and tiny houses.
Is a vertical garden right for you? Assess your space, identify what plants will do best, and then get creative with your own vertical garden or living wall. There's no better way to learn more about vertical gardening than trying.
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