- Several 4-6 feet long sections of 4 inch diameter PVC: *unless you can find it scrapped, I recommend using the 4” pipe as the 6” can be rather costly)
- Potting soil and compost: You will want to be sure to use soil crystals or moisture control potting soil to help with your watering needs.
- Plant selection: The most important part of your vertical garden is the plants you choose. I recommend seedlings as these will provide a much quicker harvest and you will avoid the frustration of planting bad seeds. If you have a very limited amount of space, you can go to your local nursery and find plants that are considered to be a mini or dwarf variety. These will produce smaller fruits and vegetables but will also have smaller plants, and they taste just the same as the larger ones.
- Irrigation: I usually use a smaller pipe with holes drilled in it to disburse the water throughout the planter. However a heavy watering from the top will eventually drip down to your lower plants. If you choose to use the small pipe method, I have found it beneficial to fill the pipe with a sand and gravel mixture to help slow down the water and keep from forming a pool at the bottom of your planter.
-Hole saw or a jigsaw
-A planter bucket or 5 gallon bucket ( you can also bury the pipe directly into the ground if you have the room)
-Furniture dolly to make the planter portable
Step 1: Choosing your pipe
The first step in building your vertical garden is deciding just how vertical you want to grow. I recommend that your top plant be just about at eye level, as any higher would make watering and harvesting difficult.
The width of the pipes that you use depends on how much space you have, how much space you want between each plant and how much you want to invest in your vertical garden. If you can find scrap PVC pipe, then your garden will be almost free; just be sure it is scrap and not used PVC as there can be leftover chemical residue or waste on them. 4” PVC pipe is very economical; you can get a 10 foot length of it at the local home improvement store for around $10.00. This works well for me as I typically make my planters around 5 feet tall so that I can create two planters out of one pipe.
You can cut the pipe to any length you want, depending on your specific height restrictions. If you decide to plant the pipe, it must have at least ¼ of its height planted.
For example if you want the final height of your pipe to be four feet above ground, you will need to have a minimum of one foot below ground, which means that the total height of the pipe will need to be 5 feet. The same theory applies if you are planting in a 5 gallon bucket. However you can also build a stand or hang your garden
Step 2: Cutting out the holes
Safety first, always wear safety glasses and gloves! PVC can cause major eye irritation and if you breathe in the dust it can cause internal bleeding.
If you are planting the vertical garden in a bucket or directly into the ground, measure the height of the pipe and mark it with a line that shows the depth to which the pipe will be buried. For 4” pipe, I recommend only one hole per side, or staggering the holes to allow enough space for the roots to grow.
For 6” pipes, you can have up to 2 holes in each row depending on the root depth of the plants you choose. The size of the hole is dependent upon on plant type and size. I used 2” holes for this planter. For vegetables, you will need to mark a hole roughly every 12.” A quick tip to help make sure your holes are in a straight line, stretch out a piece of twine or tape from one side of the pipe to the other (make sure it is perpendicular to the top and bottom!), and make sure that you make each hole above the ground level line you made earlier.
I also like to drill a smaller hole 2 inches above the bottom of the planter to allow drainage, while still keeping a small reservoir of water available to your plants in the bottom portion of the garden (for this one I used a single ¾” hole, see the photo on the left). This is really only necessary if you are planning on hanging the vertical garden instead of planting it.
When cutting your holes there are several options, depending on what you have available:
- If you are using a hole saw, simply place the drill guide at the middle of your marking and drill through.
- If you are using a jigsaw, you will need to draw a guide for your hole (making a square or rectangular hole is the easiest method when using a jig saw). I usually print or trace the size I want on a sheet of paper and then draw the outline directly onto the pipe with a permanent marker.
- At each corner of the guide that you traced onto the pipe, drill a hole slightly larger than the size of the jigsaw blade you are using.
- Place the blade of the jigsaw into one of the pilot holes that you drilled and follow your guide lines.
- You will want to sand down any holes you made to make sure they are not jagged. Having jagged edges on your holes can damage your plants and irritate your skin.
Step 3: Stabilizing your vertical garden
If you are planting your garden in a bucket; simply place the pipe in the center of the bucket and fill around it with dirt, then pack it in quite well and water it to help form a nice pocket for your vertical pipe.
You can also place a few large pebbles in the bottom of the pipe to help increase the weight and lower the center of gravity. If you are planting the pipe into the ground, dig a hole that is slightly wider than your pipe and make sure it is the same depth as your ground level line that was marked earlier. Place the pipe in the ground and pack the space around the tightly with leftover soil.
If the ground is soft where you are planting the pipe, place pebbles and heavy rocks inside the pipe up to the ground level line to help weigh the planter down. You may want to place plenty of rocks around the outside of the pipe to keep it from toppling over.
Step 4: Watering system
There are 2 common ways to water a vertical garden.
- The first way is to simply water the garden from the top and allow it to trickle down naturally. This method is ineffective unless you have very sparse soil and I don’t recommend it unless you are planting a very short vertical garden.
- The second method is the one that I use. I take a smaller PVC pipe (the one pictured is ¾”) and a small drill bit to drill irrigation holes. I like to make these in a spiral motion down the length of the PVC pipe. I then place the pipe in the center of the larger pipe just when I am about to fill the larger one with soil.
I then like to fill the small pipe with sand to slow down the trickle effect of the water. Once this system is in place I can either take a water hose with a slow trickle or simply hold it over the irrigation piping for heavier watering, or I can take my watering can and pour it directly in it for a light watering.
Step 5: Filling the pipe and planting plants inside.
This is the messy part. Fill the larger pipe with the potting soil until you reach the bottom of the first hole. For best results you should fill the area with the hole with a mixture of compost and soil (be careful not to add too much compost as this can cause a chemical burn on your plants roots) and poke a hole with your finger in which to place your first plant. Next, cover that plant with the potting soil until you reach the next hole. Repeat these steps as needed until you reach the top. When you plant you need to keep in mind that each plant has a unique growing pattern; plants like cucumbers and strawberries tend to grow in a downward fashion, so you will want to plant them near the bottom or they will cover and choke the other plants in your vertical garden.
Step 6: Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
After a little time, some TLC, plenty of sun, water and nutrients, you will have a bountiful harvest of whatever delicious produce you desire. Below are a couple of vertical gardens that I have made (the one on the left is lettuce and the one on the right are some delicious strawberries).
- Make sure the planter gets sun from all four sides, or at least as much as possible. It is best for the planter to face south as this will make the most of your available sunlight.
- Strawberries work well in a vertical garden and are great for indoor planting.
- If you are worried about making a mess when filling the pipe with soil, I recommend using a large funnel to keep it from falling out around the sides. To keep the soil from falling out of the holes you can wrap plastic or any type of fabric around the holes and remove it when finished (I like to use old t shirts tied with a simple overhand knot). For a more permanent solution you can line the inside of the pipe with burlap and fill with soil. When you are ready to plant simply cut a small x in the burlap and place your seed or seedling into the soil. Burlap is biodegradable and will help hold moisture in the pipe.
Another amazingly simple vertical garden is made simply by using a 55 gallon drum or a trash can. It uses the same steps as the above plans except it utilizes much more space.
These will be quite heavy when filled so you may want to mount the drum or trash can onto a heavy duty dolly, this will allow you to move the planter around for easy watering and it can be moved as the season goes on to allow the maximum amount of sunlight possible.
The open top design also allows you to install a support system and an area to plant your tomatoes, green beans and any other plant that has a natural need to climb. Remember to install the support system before or at the time you plant the vegetable, doing so later may cause irreparable root damage. If you do decide to use a drum, make sure that you know what was kept in it. I only use drums that contained food grade materials and only after they have been cleaned and disinfected.
If you feel that creating your own vertical garden is too much of a challenge, that shouldn’t stop you from vertical gardening. There are plenty of commercially available vertical gardens. Keep in mind that they will be quite a bit more expensive than creating your own.