By T. Eric Nightingale, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
Being a plant lover can have its ups and downs. The joy of having a garden, whether in containers or in the ground, indoors or out, is like no other. The love of plants can have a dark side, however, turning to a unique strain of obsession and mania.
Many of us who have walked this shadowed path know the shame of having our significant other stage a private intervention over an excess of flora, explaining that the living space is also meant for human use. Is the solution to simply have fewer plants? Surely not. We must instead go vertical.
There are many ways to garden vertically, with new options invented every day. My current favorite products are plastic hanging wall pockets. When hung on a wall or fence they can be connected to form a row or grid. They are designed so that water from the upper pockets drains into lower ones, making watering much easier. Also available are larger fabric pouches that often come in rows of four or five. These are simple but functional and easy to hang.
Another way to create a vertical garden is to use an industrial shipping pallet. Line the sides of the pallet with weed-block material, stapled to the wood from the inside. If the boards of the pallet are spaced far apart, you may want to line the sides of the pallet with chicken wire to keep the weed block from sagging later on.
Mount the pallet to a fence or wall and fill it with soil. To add plants, simply cut small holes into the weed block and insert the roots of your plants into the openings. The roots will grow and grip the soil within the pallet, anchoring the plants as they mature.
Gutter gardens have always captured my imagination. This method involves using the type of rain gutters found at any hardware store. They can be easily bolted to a fence and filled with dirt, creating a “window box”-style garden row in almost any location.
Gutter gardens can be as simple or complex as you like. Hardware stores sell many parts and attachments for gutters that can be used to create a path for the water used by the plants. The gutters can be hung one above another, allowing water to flow downward through the vertical garden.
If you question whether plants can thrive in a gutter, I assure you they do. The gutter along the roof over my patio is home to several leafy weeds, a small Salvia coccinea and a Sequoia sempervirens seedling.
For a free-standing vertical garden, the easiest approach is to obtain a few five-gallon paint buckets, complete with lids, and drill small drainage holes in the tops and bottoms. Around the sides of the bucket cut more holes large enough to accommodate the roots of your plants. Fill the buckets with soil and stack them. Insert your plants into the holes and watch them grow. You can create a similar setup using upright wide-diameter PVC pipe.
Many plants do well in vertical gardens, but some are easier than others. Succulents are a popular choice as they are attractive and easy to care for. Succulents such as Echeveria and Dudleya grow along hills and cliffs in nature and so are good options for wall gardens. Be sure to provide excellent drainage. Salad greens are another good choice as the edible part grows above ground and is easy to harvest without disturbing the materials supporting the plant.
Remember that any container garden will need more water than an in-ground garden. Consider running drip-irrigation line to any uniquely shaped or tall garden structures that you build. Herbs and salad greens benefit from regular watering, resulting in increased yield.
Container-grown plants need fertilizing more frequently to replace nutrients that wash away. While this is less of an issue with succulents, salad greens will need regular feeding to grow lush and leafy.
Vertical gardening is your chance to exercise some creativity and create more room for the plants you love.
Next workshop: “Growing Hydrangeas” on Saturday, May 11, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. For more details and online registration, visit http://napamg.ucanr.edu or call 707-253-4221.
The UC Master Gardeners are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.