The right mix of materials will depend on what you’re planting. But essentially all vertical gardens require a medium that is lightweight, offers water retention and sustained nutrition. Possible materials include coir, peat, compost, perlite, vermiculite, zeolite, manure and worm castings. Avoid soil where possible. An effective growing medium for vertical gardens comprises: 50 per cent support, 25 per cent air and 25 per cent water.
You have a water repelling growth medium when water drains straight through. Avoid this in the first place by using coir in your growth medium, for good water retention. To amend an already established vertical garden, apply a wetting agent, which comes in granular forms or a liquid concentrate, to the entire root area.
Where possible, place your wall garden in a less exposed area where climatic conditions are most stable, sheltered from wind for example. Individually placed pockets are more susceptible to extreme temperature fluctuations that stress plants. The smaller and more exposed the structure, the more vulnerable the plants. Outdoors, there’s a good chance your garden will be attached to a house wall and therefore may not receive natural rainfall as it falls under the roof eaves. See if you can shimmy up a bamboo pipe with holes in it that runs from your guttering.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are everywhere and can be dangerous to human health. They come from walls, furnishings, plastics, basically everything we live in. Remove VOCs using plants including peace lilly, philodendron, english ivy, spider plants, boston fern, and golden pothos.
Shop locally, not online, as those plants will have the cultural requirements suited to your environment. Plant species with similar climatic preferences together, so keep water loving plants together, drainage loving plants together, sun loving plants together or shade loving plants together. Also try to keep plants with similar growth rates together. Sun lovers will handle a minimum six hours of direct light per day, partial sun lovers three hours and shade lovers will thrive on bright light only.
Vertical gardens require more frequent watering than regular gardens, but actually require less water overall – in other words, less water, more often. This makes automatic irrigations systems an easy-care solution. Never water in the midday sun, as this will magnify the sun’s rays and burn vegetation. In humid climates, water early as evening watering may encourage mildew, in drier climates, water at night. How much depends on the plants and whether your growth medium retains water well or not.
Yes! It is very easy to overwater, which is as common a plant killer as under watering. Overwatering flushes nutrients out from the soil, and unlike a traditional garden, these nutrients are then lost to the soil ecosystem altogether.
Trying to counter this by over fertilizing will leave salt behind, it appears as a calcification of white crusting, which is all the evaporated nutritional salts. The area gets saltier and more acidic, which ultimately burns roots back. Learn how to avoid overwatering.
Indoors I recommend you water-proof walls first. And make sure you avoid felt pockets and use trays or panel planters instead – backed by flat plastic panels. Check watering holes at the top and makes sure they’re clear of obstructions to avoid water escaping down the back and sides. Water carefully and make sure there is a water collection trays at the base to drain away excess water.
Vertical gardens need more nourishment than regular gardens because roots have a small area from which to absorb nutrients, while run off water leaches nutrients from the growing medium. You need to avoid excessive root growth and encourage foliage instead. So getting the right balance between nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is essential.
As with watering, exactly how much nutrition and what kind of nutrition to add depends on the plants. Spraying worm tea or liquid seaweed fertilizers directly onto leaves is the best option. Vegetables for example, are far heavier feeders than grasses and succulents. Yellow edges around leaves are a good indication of nutrient deficiency. Go natural where you can, but using too much manure may lead to weeds, which will steal essential nutrients from the small growing area in a vertical garden.
Clip away dead or dying leaves. Pluck herb and vegetable leaves to eat. Either pinch growth with your fingers, or use scissors or a sharp knife – a clean cut enables the plant to quickly heal and reduces the chances of infection or disease setting in. Prune conservatively in early spring or late autumn, as new shoots may be susceptible to frosts or cold wind damage. Pruning stresses a plant; feed after pruning.
Save money by planning. I can’t emphasize this enough: measure twice, cut once. Before you start, look at your intended location at different times of day to make sure you know exactly how much light it will receive through the season. Consider rainfall and automatic irrigation. Waterproof walls to avoid moisture damage. Make the best growth medium yourself. Don’t buy succulents, use cuttings from a friend or neighbor.
Plants will need to be replaced on average annually, but to avoid this, you can trim back roots and replace with a new growing medium every year or so. Any major maintenance or improvements should be attempted in winter when plants are dormant before the growing season.
15. How to plant a vertical garden
Place tray structure horizontally for planting. Fill a quarter of the space cell or container with a growth medium, and then place the plant and its root ball inside before filling it up. The plant should lie about a half inch under the rim. Press firmly to anchor the roots and water. Leave for a few weeks for the plants to establish themselves before placing vertically.
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