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Vertical gardening is a great way to make the most of limited ground space. Some non-vine plants, such as this espalier tree, can be trained to grow along a vertical surface. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

Vertical gardening makes most of limited ground

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Media Contact: Trisha Gedon | Communications Specialist | 405-744-3625 |

Things are looking up for gardening enthusiasts who want to think outside of the box — literally — and those with limited ground area for traditional gardens to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Growing plants vertically expands possibilities for garden spaces, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist. Although plants naturally reach vertically toward sunlight, vertical in this case refers to the surfaces they grow along.

“Vertical gardening is a great way to take advantage of empty vertical space such as walls or fences, or even free-standing structures. This is a unique way to add visual interest,” Hillock said. “In addition, vertical gardening has potential benefits for senior citizens or those who may live in apartments with only a balcony for outside space or in a home with a small yard.”

Vertical gardens are often referred to as green walls, but they differ from facades such as ivy walls. When considering support surfaces for vertical gardens, gardeners need to think about what they want to grow — flowers, vegetables or a combination of both — then let their imaginations go wild.

Hillock said obvious choices include fences, trellises, pergolas, posts, trees and cages.

“If you really want to create some visual interest, consider things such as old ladders, bicycles, old wagon wheels, wooden pallets or containers attached to an existing fence,” he said. “The possibilities are endless and are limited only by what look you’re going for in that space.”

Although there are many plants that can be trained to grow vertically, not every plant is a good choice for every surface. Plants that thrive by crawling up or hanging down — including pole beans, some peas, tomatoes and most cucumbers — can easily be grown vertically with the necessary support. The same is true of melons, gourds, squashes and pumpkins, but they need even sturdier surfaces. Other plants may need to be tied in place.

“Something else to consider is plants grown in a vertical garden are more exposed to the sun and air, so they’re going to dry out faster,” he said. “Frequent watering is essential. In some cases, drip and micro-irrigation alternatives can be combined very effectively to ensure adequate moisture.”

For those who enjoy traditional gardening along with their vertical projects, make sure to position structures so they don’t cast unwanted shade on sun-loving plants.

“We know how damaging the wind can be in Oklahoma, so it’s a good idea to have some sort of windbreak protection if possible,” Hillock said. “Also, as with traditional gardening, vertical gardening containers should drain well to encourage good root system development. Good drainage also deters root rot.”

Growing vegetables vertically has the potential to greatly expand a gardener’s food production by increasing yields per square foot. Although it may take a little extra time to get everything set up, vertical growing can decrease fruit problems and make watering, harvesting and spraying easier. Depending on placement of those structures, vertical gardens can act as a cooling barrier between the sunlight and the residence, which has the potential to cut electric bills.

Hillock said there are great benefits for seniors or others who have limited mobility.

“They can simply walk to their garden and harvest their vegetables and herbs much easier than is possible with a traditional vegetable or herb bed,” he said. “Gardening can be such a creative outlet for many people, and vertical gardening is just another way to be creative in the landscape and get the most out of your outdoor space.”

OSU Extension offers more gardening information on its website.

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