Vertical Gardening on the Patio

The most common reason gardeners try out vertical gardening is to make the best use of a small or limited space. You can combine vertical trellising with container gardening on a patio to grow great plants in a tiny amount of space. Using upwards space rather than outward space is particularly important for vining plants or very fast-spreading plants in small areas, since they can otherwise quickly take over a small container or spread across your patio. Vertical gardening also provides convenience to many gardeners.

There’s less bending and weeding, and tasks like pruning, watering, harvesting, and checking for bugs are easier when the plant is growing vertically. Another benefit is that air circulation and sunlight reach the plant more evenly. Most of all, you get much larger yields of vegetable or fruits when these plants are grown vertically. Be aware, though, that these characteristics bring with them other possible issues unlike backyard gardening. Vertical gardens need more frequent watering and fertilizing to keep up with the air and sun.

Vertical Garden Setup

When you are planning your vertical patio garden, think about what plants should go where, You can maximize room on a small patio even further by adding hanging baskets or upside-down style planters hanging from eaves, railings, arbors or canopies. You also can have a few levels of vertical gardens, such as a tall row and a short row of plants.

However, if you place the tall plants in a location that will block the sunlight from reaching the other plants, you must choose a shade-tolerant plant to accompany it, or else adjust your patio garden layout accordingly. Observe the movement of the sun across your patio so you know how much sun your plants will get, and be sure you choose plants that prefer that amount of light.

Most vertical gardens, and certainly all patio gardens, will rely on structures and containers. You have the chance to design the look of your patio to your liking using vertical gardening: you can use arches, arbors, trellises, pyramid-style pole arrangements, planters, wire cages, and even fencing.

What to Grow in a Vertical Garden?

Very few plants can’t be grown in a vertical fashion. The most popular plants for vertical trellising are vine or creeping plants. Most every gardener who grows beans and peas uses some type of vertical support, whether it is a wire fence, beanpoles, or a trellis of some kind. Other vines include flowers, ornamentals, pumpkins and gourds, cucumbers, zucchini and melons. Vegetables and fruits that vine are particularly well suited to vertical growing because of the higher yields.

Other plants that are not exactly climbing plants but tend to need vertical support for their best growth include roses, tomatoes and raspberries, all of which would make excellent additions to a patio garden. Examine each variety of plant before choosing if for a vertical garden, however.

Tomatoes should be of an indeterminate variety, which are better for vertical gardens, since the stems continue to grow rather than stop when they are a few feet tall as determinate varieties do. For gourds, cucumbers, melons and their relatives, choose small-fruited varieties, as the jumbo or large fruits can be too heavy for vertical trellises to support well.

Medium-sized fruits and vegetables can be supported with the use of slings tied around the bottom of the fruits, cut from rags or old pantyhose and tied to the trellis or support. Of course, you also could use more decorative patterned fabric to accent your garden. You can even find columnar, or vertical, varieties of apples and evergreens if you want to add trees to your patio.

Purpose of Vertical Gardens

Besides maximize space, vertical gardens can have a list of other benefits and specific purposes for patio gardeners. On a hot, unshaded patio, a vertical trellis creates much-needed shade. The best plant to choose for this setup would be one that thrives on full sun and warm temperatures, since it will get lots of those things. Or, if your patio is one of many in a communal area, choose the placement of your vertical gardens to screen your door or patio from neighbors’ eyes and create some treasured privacy. Small trees or shrubs can help with these two purposes, and are their own little vertical gardens without much work on your part.

Other plants that serve as great shade or privacy screens include heavy-leafed, lush-growing vines, berry bushes or canes, or any flat-leafed vegetable like pumpkin, melon or squash. Several vining plants make great ornamental covers if you have an unattractive wall or fence you’d prefer to have hidden. Morning glories, silver lace vine, and other flowering or ornamental vines grow quickly, and with some training will cover any vertical surface, using it as a trellis and adding beauty where there was ugliness.

Trellis Options in a Vertical Garden

To a certain extent, the type of plant you want to grow may determine the type of trellis you use. Beans and peas do very well with bamboo canes or plastic beanpoles, either standing alone or arranged in a teepee-like configuration. They also will grow on wooden arbors and trellises of any kind.

The heavier fruiting vines like gourds and melons need sturdier trellising, such as wood or metal. As they grow, use soft rope or cloth ties to fix the vines to the trellis. For lighter or smaller fruits like cucumbers, try metal trellising arranged in a pyramid or A-frame shape, and again, use soft cloth or rope ties so you don’t cut into the plants.

For some serious vertical gardening, you could put up a section of wire mesh fencing along your patio. Add stronger supports like iron or wooden stakes or poles to keep it upright with the weight of plants on it. The effect would be that of a green, leafy wall once the plants grow enough to cover the fencing.

Want to learn more about vertical patio gardening?

Check out these sites for more information.

Washington State University’s Clark County Extension talks about vertical gardening.

Growing vertical gardens is explained in detail by the University of Vermont Extension.

The University of Illinois Extension offer videos and information on growing vines vertically and in containers.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

James Mann January 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Last year I started some pole beans and they were the best beans plus they looked great climbing the bamboo pole and along the string I had going to the other end of the row.

This year I plan to have a few more raised beds specifically for vertical gardening. So much fun and they look great.

We also have a trellis that runs the length of the garage, on the south side. Looking at your trellis is telling me I’m going to have fun using it for more than just clematis.

Francine Fabozzi March 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Love everything about this! Space saving, easy on my back and knees, and looks very cool!

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