Grow More with Vertical Gardening
More vegetables. Less work.
By Steven Biggs
Gardener, Garden Writer, Garden Coach, Horticulturist
Vertical gardening helps you get more vegetables from the same space. You get more from your garden by growing upwards instead of outwards. And that means you don’t need to spend time making and maintaining a bigger garden.
Here are some vertical gardening techniques that work well for me. There are countless others, but this will give you the idea.
Growing plants on the composter has a number of benefits:
- You use space that would otherwise go unplanted.
- The compost bin gives off heat, warming heat-loving plants from underneath.
- The rabbits can’t reach the crop!
The downside? Like container gardens, frequent watering is a must.
I grow melons, winter squash, and summer squash atop my composter.
In the fall, I fill my compost bin with leaves. These leaves pack down over the winter, so in the spring, I add even more leaves. I heap some soil on top—six inches to a foot—and voila, I have my composter garden.
Learn more about composting made easy.
Do you have a building you can use to support plants?
I have a garage to one side of my garden.
Using some old pieces of lattice I grow climbing peas and cucumbers up the garage wall.
I'm sure chicken wire would work equally well to support the plants.
There is a chain link fence along one side of my garden. It’s ugly.
But it sure is useful for growing scarlet runner beans. And the runner beans improve the look of the fence enormously. Lots of beans, and lots of scarlet-red flowers to pick.
Why not a hedge garden?
I have a cedar hedge at the back of my garden. It turns out that the winter squash vines are quite content to trail up and along the hedge instead of taking up valuable garden space.
Wondering what happens to the squash fruit when they get big and very heavy?
So far so good: the hedge supports them.
If you grow asparagus, you know that during the summer it grows into tall fern-like plants. It’s quite attractive—but seems like lost space to me.
The pole beans I’ve plant beside my asparagus patch help make me maximum use of this space: they trail over to the asparagus ferns and grow up and amongst them.
I put in the odd stick for support, but nothing more.
You could also categorize this as container gardening—but here’s why I’ve included it in vertical gardening: You tier your garden.
- The plants are raised up to get more light.
- They are not overtaken or overcrowded by their ground-dwelling neighbours.
Black pots work well for heat-loving plants too.
Because they’re dark, they absorb the heat of the sun. This makes for a nice, warm root zone for heat-loving plants like eggplants, peppers, and okra.
Sticks and Other Supports
Since we’re talking about vertical gardening, let’s talk about what we can use to support climbing plants.
The last time I looked at the garden centre, I saw lots of imported bamboo and teak stakes—and they’re not cheap. And wood rots—meaning you must replace them every few years.
COLLECT DEAD STICKS and branches that fall from trees in your neighbourhood. They’re free. They work well for vertical gardening. And they’re far more sensible than imported tropical wood.
Tomato plants are an exception, because they become heavy. I use iron rebar. It last for years, and is strong enough to support a laden tomato plant—without breaking or bending.
Be creative: I have a neighbour who makes good use of old hockey sticks. The tomato patch looks like a scene from the ice rink—except the players are tomato plants and the sticks are the broken cast-asides from her hockey-loving nephews.
Crops for Vertical Gardening
These are just a few of the many crops that you can use for vertical gardening:
Scarlet Runner Beans and Pole Beans
Grow them along fences. Or grow them on other plants such as asparagus ferns or corn. If you’re in an apartment, you can even grow them in a pot, allowing them to trail along the balcony railing.
I grow them along the fence and up the side of my garage. Cucs like full sun, but luckily they tolerate light shade, as my west-facing wall has no morning sun. I still get a good crop.
Grow winter squash or pumpkins on the composter, along the hedge, even along a fence. Just remember that the fruit can become quite heavy, so support—like the hedge—is necessary.
Look for climbing peas, which can vine upwards of six feet. Most common pea varieties are shorter than this.
I’ve never tried this, but my neighbour plans to. It sounds sensible to me. Grow tomatoes in a large hanging pot, allowing them to drape downwards. The key thing is to get an indeterminate—vining—tomato, not an indeterminate, bush-type plant.
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