How to plant vertical gardens

Garden Planning Tips Vertical Gardens-bp-fi

Any plant not planted in the ground is in fact vertically planted. Plants can be in window boxes, in troughs, hung in baskets or planted on green walls. The common factor is the roots are not planted in the ground. Which affects how the plants can and will grow. This article on planning any vertical gardens will help maximise the vertical potential your garden has, by dealing with the downside of growing above ground. Get that right and you too can have the beautiful verdant abundant display you want without fuss, faff or failure!

Vertical or ‘up the wall’ gardening is a great space-saving solution in small gardens. But simply popping plants in a wall basket will not create the desired effect, you need to plan a little better to make the most of your space.

Growing Above Ground

To grow any plant above ground well – you need to think about the roots

Plants have adapted to grow everywhere, they grow on rocks, underwater, in every type of soil available, in caves, in the desert and yes there are even some plants that grow in the air and don’t even need soil. So growing plants above ground should be easy, plants are very good at looking after themselves!

Well yes…. but that’s not the reality, plants do look after themselves. The trouble most of the plants we try to grow above the ground are NOT in their natural environments.

Graphic infogram indoor plant care

A simple ‘Rule of Thumb’ Plant Guide!

The vast majority of plants need soil to grow, roots delve deep down to access underground water sources AND to benefit from the more stable temperatures below ground. This is where much of the problem lies.

Leaves and flowers are used to temperature change – their root systems are not. So when growing anything above ground level you need to think of the impact on the plant’s roots IF you want a successful display.

Happy plants grow all by themselves – meaning you don’t need to look after them. This IS the definition of Low Maintenance Gardening – so if you want a better low-maintenance garden with vertical planting – start thinking about the plant roots.

Planting ideas to avoid - clematis in metal pots

What are the Tougher Conditions?

Metal planters cook roots in summer and freeze them in winter.

The two biggest killers of plants growing out of the ground are evaporation and temperature variations. Roots are extremely good at extracting nutrients and water from the soil – given enough time to do so.

So consider this; you are sunbathing, and there is no shade; you would expect to get thirsty. Now, what if the only water supply was a watering can above your head? Could you drink enough water to quench your thirst? But then the sun starts to set, and the temperature begins to fall, you are still in your beach clothes – but have no extra layers overnight – did you get too cold?

This is exactly what happens to any plant whose roots are not in the ground. Now over a number of days, the thinnest root filaments are going to shrivel up – reducing, even more, the plant’s ability to absorb water – but then the watering can appear and drenches it, salvation yes? Except no; because the plant is knackered, it can’t absorb the fast-flowing water draining over its roots, and then the sun shines and heats up the soil all over again.

And then we use plants that need lots of care and attention!!!

worst plant to use vertical gardening

Don’t make vertical gardening harder than it should be!

It is so easy to be seduced by hanging baskets that look like this – but these are created by professionals in perfect conditions – do you really expect the plants to perform this well when hung outside your front door?

What Plants should be used in vertical gardens then?

This is the part where you need to think about reformatting planting display ideas for green walls, hanging baskets, window boxes or wall-mounted pots – yes we would all love a lush floriferous display, like the one above – but do you have the desire, dedication and time it will take to achieve that.

I was recently on a radio talk show with a lady who produced an amazing hanging basket display, – now this was her passion but she said every hanging basket was watered twice a day, fed the right amount of fertiliser every week, she made and used her own compost, but deadheaded every day to keep the display looking amazing – she had 35 baskets!

What I am suggesting is an alternative approach; one that required less dedication, less expertise and much less effort, you won’t have a traditional hanging basket display, but you will have a good looking ground display of plants – that stays looking good without too much effort! Interested?

A Better Approach to Vertical Gardening:

The key point here is that we are considering the roots of the plant over the flowers the plant produces. The hanging display you have will either be in shade or in the sunshine.

In shady spots only use plants that thrive in tough dry shade conditions – so plants like Pachysandra, Ajuga and Vinca.

In sunny spots, the conditions are even tougher as you add heat and intense evaporation to the mix. The best plants to grow here are those that thrive in tiny amounts of soil, or gaps in the paving – if they grow well here, they will love a hanging basket!

Lastly, what about plants that thrive in poor soil, sharp drainage, freezing winter conditions and intense summer sunshine – in other words, plants that live up mountains… Alpine plants.

Remember the idea here is to help you create a vertical garden display that is not labour-intensive; if you want trailing lobelia and Petunias that is fine, but these need a lot of attention to keep looking good.

Finally, let’s think about positive change too- so why not have hanging baskets filled with native wildflowers these are super low maintenance and totally self sufficient plants, perfect for any vertical garden and great for our native insects too!

Alternatives to water retaining granules:

    • Well rotted manure
    • Moss or Wool
    • Ecofective water retaining granules (starch based)
Lovely and easy to grow

So there you have it; how to plant vertical gardens easily.

Get some more design ideas by looking at the gallery of gardens we have created.

And don’t you think ALL tower blocks should look as good as these do – this is a much better alternative to cladding! So hats off to all these Architects who have transformed high rise towers into Urban Jungles!


If you like the approach PlantPlots takes to help you make your garden better, there is a brilliant little book you can buy too…

I Want to Like my Garden by Rachel McCartain available at Amazon and other online bookstores in eBook and Paperback

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