Have you ever grown beans or vines up trellises or garden stakes? Then you have practiced vertical gardening. Growing vertically is a great way to maximize space and provide visual interest in growing areas.
Vertical gardening can be used to define “architectural” spaces in open areas. Flowering vines are usually used to adorn structures like trellises and arbors, but any vine or climbing plant can be used for the following:
- Shelter. Protect a space from natural elements (wind, rain, sun) or from view.
- Doorways. Mark entrances to different garden “rooms,” or to your home, with vines on arbors.
- Hallways. Enclose a pathway from one area to another with a plant tunnel.
- Ceilings. A specific way to shelter, try creating a roof for areas such as patios.
- Screening. Block off undesirable sight lines (maybe of a tool shed or compost pile) or unused entrances with a plant wall.
Living walls can be as simple as growing vines over a brick wall, but this term also refers to a special kind of indoor gardening. “Green walls” are used in the sustainable building industry as a way to improve indoor air quality and regulate energy use. You can have one installed in your home, or improvise your own outside. Unlike letting vines climb up walls, be aware that true “living walls” will require maintenance beyond pruning.
All living walls use a support structure; a physical barrier to separate it from and protect the wall or building; a way to deliver water and nutrients; and a growing medium for the plants.
You can try creating your own informal “living wall” outside and get more growing space in a narrow or confined area. By providing a growing medium, your plant selection does not have to be limited to vines. You could try sedums or herbs, for example. Support and substrate could come from a growing mat with peat moss and chicken wire that you hang or from planters anchored onto a wall.
Types of Vines
Unless you are providing a growing medium, most plants you use to create your vertical gardens will be vines.
Clinging vines have two different methods for climbing and support:
- Root. Have tiny roots or adhesives. Use them on solid surfaces (trees, walls). Difficult to remove and can damage mortar and paint.
- Tendril. Climb with tendrils that wind in response to friction. Vines will often spread horizontally.
Twining vines climb by encircling upright supports. You can use these vines with poles or other vertical supports like lamp posts, arbors, or pergolas.
Clambering or Sprawling
These vines grow “out” or “sprawl.” They do not climb or wind and often need to be helped. (Think of bougainvillea or climbing roses.) You can attach them to the support you want them to grow on by weaving the shoots and branches into the support or tying the branches to the places you want the plant to be climbing.
Establishing and Growing
Growing can be as simple as putting the seed or transplant in the ground; however, sometimes you will want to add a plant where there might not be enough space or dirt for a garden bed. Containers can be a perfect solution for these areas.
Container grown plants can adorn your front stoop and grow along porch railings or rest under patio or walkway columns and twine around them. You will want to plant annual, small, or tropical vines in containers. Do not forget that containers can also mean hanging baskets. Letting vines drape from these baskets could be a way to provide a natural curtain.
Whether the plant is in the ground or in a container, you will need to get it established, provide support, and prune and train it. Make sure your site will have what the plant needs to grow successfully. Keep its sun and water needs in mind when choosing a site.
A support structure, such as a railing or gazebo, may already be in place before you plant or you may need to provide one. There are a wide range of supports that you can purchase or create on your own. Stakes, fences, arbors, poles, and trellises are just some ideas. Remember that big vines will need strong support.
While some plants may grow over the support on their own, sometimes they will need help and vigorous vines will need to be restrained. The support helps you decide how to limit the vine’s growth. Keeping the vine on the support will mean pruning outgrowths and training side shoots so that they grow along the part of the structure you want.
Securing wires onto the support is one way to train vines (and support clambering types) and provide a visual guide for pruning. You will want the main stem to follow the path you have laid out with the wire.
Beauty and Practicality
As mentioned, growing vertically creates an added dimension to your garden. It frees up space in garden beds, covers blank walls, and opens new creative outlets for gardeners.
But while flowering vines have been the main discussion, do not forget about garden edibles like grapes, squash, cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes. These plants can take up a lot of room in a garden bed, so getting them off the ground and onto supports frees up room for other garden additions.
For more suggestions on plantings or flowering vines that would do well in your area, visit your local Extension agent.