Expert Tips for Vertical Vegetable Gardening

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Book titled Vertical Vegetable Gardening

Want to plant more healthy vegetables this summer, but only have a small space or urban garden?

Grow up, advises garden writer Chris McLaughlin of Placerville, California, who writes the blog A Suburban Farmer.

The author of “Vertical Vegetable Gardening,” and a number of other gardening books, recommends that gardeners experiment with growing a wide variety of vegetables vertically.

“Vertical gardening amounts to less water, less fertilizers, less work and less worry,” says McLaughlin. “These types of gardens can be the key to success for a beginning gardener, as well as those with small gardening spaces.”

Here’s what else she had to say about growing vegetables in vertical spaces:

Question: Why should gardeners grow vegetables vertically?

Answer:  There are fewer (if any) weeds, pests, and diseases. One of the best perks of vertical gardening is that you'll have fewer weeds sprouting up. Even if one or two weeds sneak in, they can be yanked out in minutes.

With horizontal beds you end up weeding all the bare soil areas, but with vertical gardening, you’re often starting with weed-free bagged soil.  And you're working with less soil surface so plants fill in and crowd out weeds.

Plants grown vertically have better air circulation around the foliage, which means less trouble with pests and disease. This makes for stronger plants and more unblemished fruit. By allowing plants to grow up instead of out, you also limit their physical contact with the soil and soil-borne diseases.


hanging herb garden


Question: What are some easy ways to grow vegetables vertically?

Answer: Purchased trellises are the first thing that comes to people's minds for vining plants. But for climbers (depending on the plant), you can use netting, fencing, gates, chicken wire, discarded bed frames, ladders, string on pole frames, etc.

Don’t forget you can also take advantage of the spacebelowa raised plant, as I’ve done in this container of climbing peas, herbs and lettuces (shown above).

Vertical gardens aren't just for vining plants, however. There are lots of ways to use the real estateabovethe garden. Hanging baskets, tins, recycled bags, fabric pockets, spice racks, hanging vegetables baskets, and stacked pots in graduated sizes can all accommodate vertically challenged plants such as herbs and strawberries.

Question: What are some of the best vegetables to grow up?

Answer: The naturally vining types include: peas, pole beans, cucumbers, small melons, tomatoes, summer and winter squashes, such as small pumpkins.

But don't underestimate what can be done with vertically challenged vegetables such as carrots, eggplants, lettuce, peppers, potatoes, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. These can all be grown vertically in containers.


spice rack planter


Question: Was your spice rack planter difficult to grow?

Answer: It wasn't difficult to plant at all. I like to think of this spice rack planter as an excellent example of reusing items that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

After living with the spice rack planter for a while, I realized that the lettuce couldn't perform the way that it should in such a small amount of soil. So I recommend you allow a slightly larger growing area for lettuces and salad greens. The strawberries, however, did great as long as I didn't let them dry out, and most of the herbs grew well too.

Just a reminder, you’ll probably need to water this type of container daily in hot summers.

Question: Why don’t more gardeners build vertical garden for vegetables?

Answer: I think that most people tend to think of a vegetable garden as long rows of sprawling plants. Our modern lifestyles have forced us to think outside the proverbial box more than ever before.

As more people turn to growing some of their own fresh foods, they are getting cleverer in the way they go about it. We're seeing a real positive trend towards growing up instead of out.