Growing Up: Five Vertical Gardening Tips
[From one of our AAS Edible/Vegetable judges who has discovered you need a LOT of room for all the entries in the AAS Trials!]
“Grow up!” While that phrase most often is used as an insult for those acting immaturely, it can also be great gardening advice – especially for gardeners with limited gardening space. Growing upward, or vertically, can help you make the most of your gardening space by tapping the potential of the vertical space above your garden plot or container gardens. Gardening in all three dimensions increases the growing area available to gardeners, increasing the yield potential for gardens of all sizes.
As a trial judge for AAS, it is important that I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve for growing all the entry and comparison plants in the space I have, especially when they are bigger vining crops.
Here are some of my tips for gardeners wanting to “grow up”:
- Choose vining cultivars/varieties instead of bush types if you’re growing vertically. While bush type crops such as cucumbers are more petite, they actually take up more horizontal space on the ground. Growing a vining variety lets you grow it up on a trellis, using less horizontal space. This is also true for tomatoes, even though the effect isn’t as dramatic. Growing indeterminate tomatoes vertically on trellises, wire, etc. can increase yield and use a little bit less garden space than bushy determinate types.
- Explore a variety of techniques to find what works for you. From cages to trellises to bamboo teepee structures, there are lots of different systems to grow just about any crop you could imagine in the garden or in containers. Check out resources for newer techniques that home gardeners can adapt for their own use, like the Florida weave system for keeping tomatoes, peppers, and other tall, heavy plants upright. The technique replaces traditional staking or caging of individual plants with twine woven around and between plants, supported by equally spaced stakes or poles. It reduces the number of stakes needed and can reduce setup and maintenance.
- Be creative when selecting materials and techniques for vertical growing. While gardeners may be accustomed to buying pre-made trellises, netting, or using bamboo poles, there are lots of creative ways to grow vertically. Using livestock fence panels, for example, can be a quick way to build a vertical structure for many crops in rows. These 8- or 16-foot long panels come in a variety of heights and can be installed by using a few metal posts. While a bit more labor-intensive, branches can be repurposed for a functional and pleasing trellis.
- Intercrop short plants underneath your trellised vertical crops to make good use of space…and shade. This is especially great for teepee or A-frame structures that have extra space underneath and lower-light crops that would appreciate growing in the cool shade, like lettuce, leafy greens, or radishes.
- Go totally vertical! Green walls, growing pockets, hanging containers, and vertical hydroponic systems can let you make use of extra wall space to grow vertically, as well. There are extra labor and watering involved, but using wall space is a great way to grow if you’ve got severely limited space.
John Porter is the Urban Ag. Program Coordinator for Nebraska Extension and Nebraska College of Technical Ag. in Omaha, NE. His position includes both outreach and teaching of a new 2-year Urban Agriculture degree program with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. His position as assistant professor also includes oversight of farm plots at the Omaha Home For Boys Cooper Memorial Farm. Previous to this position, he served nine years as the Ag and Natural Resources agent for West Virginia University in Charleston, WV, where he was the master gardener coordinator and developed innovative programming in the areas of urban agriculture and horticulture. He has a BS degree in Botany/Biology from Marshall University and a MS degree in Horticulture from West Virginia University. He is a judge for the Edible Trial.