Vertical gardens look beautiful on Pinterest, but which plants thrive IRL (in real life)? Whether you’re gardening on a vertical plant stand or trying to recreate the hanging gardens of Babylon, we’ll list a few plants that work well in any vertical garden setup.
Since vertical gardens are such a varied lot, we’ll focus on which types of plants work best for home container garden setups. We’ll focus most of our attention on vegetable plants. If you’re more interested in ornamentals, we’ll mention several of these plants that stand upright, trail, and climb, so you can choose one that suits your gardening style.
- What is a vertical garden?
- Best edible plants for vertical gardens
- Best ornamental plants for vertical gardens
- Planting tips for vertical gardens
- Which plant varieties work best in vertical gardens?
- How to grow a vertical garden
- FAQ about the best plants for vertical gardens
What is a vertical garden?
A vertical garden is a garden that grows up instead of horizontally along a row. Most vertical gardens are planted in some type of container; most traditional gardens are planted in-ground.
Vertical gardens range from basic home container gardens that rely on recycled materials to indoor warehouses that use hydroponics and artificial intelligence to grow and harvest food for commercial distribution.
Best edible plants for vertical gardens
Vertical gardens are a varied lot, but in general, any plant you can grow in a pot, you can grow in a vertical garden.
Here is a short list of edible plants that work well in vertical container gardens, organized by potting depth:
Shallow rooted plants
Radishes, lettuce, spinach, green onions, chives
These plants work best in pots that have at least a 6 to 9 inch depth.
- Radish: Select shorter varieties for shallow pots, and keep these evenly watered for the best texture and flavor. In most climates, you can plant as a spring and fall crop. Direct sow.
- Lettuce: Start seeds indoors or direct sow. Maintain even moisture and adequate fertility. In most climates, you can plant as a spring and fall crop.
- Spinach: Direct seed. To get more than one harvest from the plant, cut the leaves individually while they’re young; the leaves will regrow and provide multiple harvests. If you prefer a larger, less tender leaf, cut the plant off at the soil for a single harvest. Eat cooked or raw. You can plant as a spring and fall crop in some climates. Look for a bolt-resistant variety.
- Green onions: Also called bunching onions. Start from seed, sets, or transplants. Need good drainage and high organic matter.
- Chives: Perennial. Full sun. Good drainage and lots of organic matter in soil. Can be grown as a houseplant next to a window, but growth will slow or stop in winter.
Plants with moderate roots
Peppers, peas, kale, eggplant, chard, celery, cauliflower, carrots, beets, broccoli
These plants work best in pots that have at least a 12 to 18 inch depth.
- Peppers (sweet or hot): Start indoors eight weeks before planting outside. Too much nitrogen slows fruiting. Choose climate-adapted varieties, especially in cooler climates.
- Peas: Tolerate a wide range of soil types but must have good drainage. Choose from bush or vining varieties. Direct seed outdoors.
- Kale: Start seeds indoors or direct sow in spring; start seeds indoors for fall transplants. Eat young leaves raw or cook older leaves. Keep evenly watered.
- Eggplant: Start indoors eight weeks before planting outside. Use plant supports when you transplant into the garden. Keep evenly watered once per week. Don’t water lightly; one deep soak per week is best. Don’t wet the leaves.
- Swiss chard: Direct seed or transplant. Harvest young leaves for more than one harvest. Eat cooked or raw.
- Celery: Start from seed at least eight weeks before transplanting. (Some say as many as 10-12 weeks before transplanting.) Water 1-2 inches per week and apply nitrogen throughout the season.
- Cauliflower: Start from seed or direct sow. Spring and fall crops. Prefers fertile soil; water evenly. Cover with a row cover for a few weeks after transplant.
- Carrots: Direct sow. Thin once seedlings reach 3-4 inches. Leave 2-4 inches between plants. Water consistently. Choose a variety that is a good size for your container.
- Beets: Direct sow. Spring and fall plantings. Thin so plants are 2 inches apart.
- Broccoli: Start seeds indoors or direct sow. Spring and fall plantings. Keep evenly moist for the best flavor. Cover with a row cover for a few weeks after transplant.
- Herbs: Herb gardens are popular for small spaces, such as in window boxes. For higher yields, standard-sized varieties prefer more room and more light. Try one plant per 8-12 inch diameter pot. Or, use several varieties in a hanging basket as an arrangement, but don’t expect them to be as prolific.
Deeply rooted plants
Zucchini, winter squash, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans
These plants work best in pots that have at least an 18 to 24 inch depth.
- Zucchini/summer squash: Choose from bush or vining. One or two plantings per year, depending on location. Flowers and fruit are edible. May need to self-pollinate. Deep water once per week. Keep leaves dry. Consider row covers to keep insects at bay, but remove once plants flower.
- Winter squash: Choose smaller varieties for vertical container gardening. Make sure the support system will hold the weight. Direct seed or transplant. Consider row covers to keep insects at bay, but remove once plants flower.
- Tomatoes: Start seeds indoors. Install stakes or cages at planting time. Dwarf or determinate varieties are best for smaller spaces. Vining, indeterminate varieties grow until frost but require tall supports and larger pots. Water deeply.
- Potatoes: Plant disease-free tubers or seed potatoes; don’t plant grocery store potatoes. Apply plenty of fertilizer. Many varieties to choose from.
- Cucumbers: Start from seeds or transplant. Keep taproot intact if transplanting. Spring and fall plantings are possible in warmer climates. Bush or vining types. Look for disease-resistant varieties.
- Beans: Choose from bush (most compact), half-runner (in-between), or pole (tallest, vining) varieties. Select disease-resistant varieties.
Best ornamental plants for vertical gardens
Don’t forget about ornamentals as well:
- Succulents: Excellent for potted arrangements. Nearly unlimited sizes, shapes, and colors to choose from. Often used on living walls. Succulents work outdoors in climates with warm or cold winters; choose a climate-adapted variety for success.
- Bromeliads: Houseplants or container plants. Can stay outdoors year-round in areas that stay above freezing. Need well-drained potting mix.
- Pothos: Best kept as a container plant indoors or on a patio. Is considered invasive in some areas as a landscape plant.
- Orchids: Leave outdoors as long as temps are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose varieties that are well adapted to your climate.
- Morning glories: Climbing plant, so build a trellis or other support.
- Philodendron: Extremely wide variety of plants in terms of size, vining vs. self-heading, leaves, and color. Many prefer low light.
- Fern: Cascading growth habit is great for plant walls and containers. Choose a fern that is native to your area to avoid an invasive species.
Planting tips for vertical gardens
Here are a few tips to help your container garden thrive:
- Practice crop rotation each year.
- Select varieties that grow well in your local area.
- Have a watering plan in place for those week-long summer vacations.
Which plant varieties work best in vertical gardens?
When you grow in containers, do your research and find varieties that work well for container gardening (should say in the description). You can also look for bush varieties of some crops, which are usually non-vining, or dwarf varieties if you’re looking for a smaller-sized plant.
Vining beans and cucumbers, for example, are perfect for growing vertically, though, if you want to set up a trellis or put the pot next to an arbor, pergola, or even a fence. If your idea of vertical gardening is more setting pots along your back steps, the dwarf or bush varieties may be a better choice.
To make things a little easier, check out this handy list from the University of Wisconsin Extension service that includes container-friendly varieties of many commonly grown vegetables.
How to grow a vertical garden
- Track the sun: Know how many hours of sun or shade your garden area receives each day.
- Choose your plants: Once you know how much sunlight you have, choose plants accordingly.
- Choose your vertical elements: Vining plants will need stakes, a trellis, or other type of support.
- Choose a container: Choose containers based on the mature size of your plants. Other than that, get creative and repurpose what you already have to garden on the cheap.
- Grab a few bags of potting medium: Potting mix with good drainage and water-holding capacity is necessary. (For example, sand is not a good choice for most plants. It drains too well and doesn’t hold enough water.)
FAQ about the best plants for vertical gardens
Vertical gardening isn’t ideal for every gardener, but here are a few benefits to consider:
—Maximize limited outdoor space
—Grow where there is infertile soil
—Fun DIY project for weekend warriors or those who like to upcycle
—Convenient for edible and ornamental, flowering plants
—Transfer indoor plants outdoors to your vertical garden setup during the warm months
—On a fence line
—Indoors in your home or apartment
—Next to the pool
—Hanging from the ceiling
—On a wall
Location independence is one of the benefits of this technique. Whether you live in a concrete jungle or wide open countryside, vertical gardening is a fun and space-efficient way to grow more.
A living wall (also called a green wall or plant wall) is a piece of living sculpture that you’ll find most often indoors in commercial settings or outdoors along walls in subtropical climates. These living works of art feature a plethora of different species and colors that form privacy walls or act as a focal point in an office building lobby, for example.
Jealous? You can create these at home, too, indoors or out. Or, hire a company to install one for you. Look online to purchase the support system or go DIY and build the support on your own.
Depending on your setup, hydroponic vertical gardens usually grow greens such as lettuces, spinach, and herbs. Other crops, including tomatoes and cucumbers, are also possible. Almost any plant that is not a root crop can be grown hydroponically as long as you have the right set up.
If you’re busy paging through seed catalogs to find that perfect tabletop tomato variety, let our local lawn care pros keep the lawn tidy in the meantime.
Main Photo Credit: Paul Hanaoka | Unsplash