Vertical Garden 102: How to Build a Vertical Garden

In my recent Vertical Garden 101 post, I introduced the two kinds of vertical gardens that I used here at Small Scale Life: trellis systems and rain gutter systems.  Both systems are easy to construct, and in this article, I will focus on how to build a vertical garden.  Specifically, how I used rain gutters for my vertical garden.

Location, Location, Location

The biggest issue you will have it figuring out where to place your vertical garden.  Here is a pro tip for you: make it easy on yourself!  You do not need to build elaborate or extensive structures for this system.  “Keep it simple” and “use existing infrastructure” are much better philosophies.

In my own garden, I had two options for the gutter system: use the unused air space over a raised bed (with an existing trellis) or use a fence.  Both get strong sunlight for several hours a day, so I knew I was going to have to water the gutters often (they do dry out quicker that a full raised bed).  My options were below.

My choice was to use the trellis above the raised beds.  I could attached the gutters to 2″x4″ vertical supports and use 2″x2″x8′ as horizontal supports.  I could use zip ties to keep the gutters on the horizontal supports, just like Khaled’s gutter systems (see below).  Everything would be easily broken down and removed when we move to our permanent location in the future (since I am a renter)!

Materials

How to Build a Vertical Garden; Vertical Garden; Soil; Soil Mix; Compost; Vermiculite; Peat Moss; Organic; Raised Beds; Planters; Garden; Gutters; Gutter Options

Gutters come in two varieties at my local store; each will work for a vertical garden

Materials for the vertical garden with rain gutters are pretty straightforward:

  • Drill and 1/8″ drill bits
  • Two Adjustable Clamps
  • Level
  • Deck screws
  • 11″ zip ties
  • 2″x2″x8′ boards or existing fence
  • 10′ long rain gutters (vinyl or metal)

Keep in mind that at my local big box store (Menards), they had two types of vinyl gutters available (see above). Either gutter style will work, but I was attaching the gutters to a horizontal support and vertical supports.  I opted for the gutters on the left (hence two in the cart).  The cost for each gutter was less than $4 (US).

How to Build a Vertical Garden

I chose to mount the gutters on the unused trellis above the raised beds.  I don’t own the fence, and I would rather not damage it since I am a renter here.  The trellis has sturdy 2″x4″ vertical supports that I could use for the gutters and the horizontal supports.  The beauty of this build was: simplicity and no cutting!

Steps to Building a Vertical Garden

  1. Measure and mark where your horizontal supports are going to be placed. “The Plant Charmer” Khaled Majouji uses a 12″ spacing between the gutters on his chain link fence; I opted to use the same spacing.  I added the horizontal support under the gutter as well, but I do maintain a 12″ spacing.   I measured the distance out and marked them off.
  2. Using the clamps, I temporarily placed the horizontal support where I made the marks.  I put the level on the support and made sure the support was level.
  3. I screwed the horizontal support into the vertical supports to secure it.
  4. I placed the second horizontal support, and before screwing it into place, I placed the gutter on the lower horizontal support to make sure that I had enough clearance and spacing.
  5. I screwed the second horizontal support into place.
  6. Using the zip ties, I connected two together, wrapped it around the gutter and tightened the zip ties down.

When I was finished, it looked like this.

How to Build a Vertical Garden; Garden; Soil; Soil Mix; Compost; Vermiculite; Peat Moss; Organic; Raised Beds; Planters; Garden; Gutters; Zip Ties

Vertical supports in place, and I attached the gutters to the supports using zip ties

Additional Support and Drainage

I was worried about the overall stability of the gutters.  The gutters had too much “play” in them, and I was worried that soil, water and plants would cause the gutter to tip over, even with the horizontal support.  I took four deck screws and secured the gutter to the vertical support.  That provided the much-needed stability.  I would note that the gutter would be even more stable if I could have secured the gutter to a vertical support in the middle.

How to Build a Vertical Garden; Garden; Soil; Soil Mix; Compost; Vermiculite; Peat Moss; Organic; Raised Beds; Planters; Garden; Gutters; Zip Ties

I screwed the gutters to the vertical supports to provide additional stability

The final step is to drill drainage holes in the gutter.  Following Khaled‘s advice, I drilled one hole in the side facing me every 16″.  That is correct: I drilled one hole on one side every 16″.  Gutters in the sun will dry out quickly, and by reducing the number of drainage holes will retain moisture a bit longer.

One more note: I did not add end caps to the gutters.  Neither do Zack from “ZackOutside” or Khaled.  I simply do not have soil and plant within 4″ of the end, and I have not had any issues with soil loss during heavy rain storms (soil loss was not significant).  Here is how the system looked once complete (and planted).

Soil Mix

How to Build a Vertical Garden; Vertical Garden; Soil; Soil Mix; Compost; Vermiculite; Peat Moss; Organic; Raised Beds; Planters; Garden

I use a blend of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss in my raised beds and vertical gardens

Once you have constructed your system and installed the gutters, you will need to fill those gutters with soil.  What soil should you use?  That is a personal preference, of course.  I use my “square foot garden” blend consisting of the following elements in my system:

  • 1/3 compost
  • 1/3 peat moss
  • 1/3 vermiculite

“The Plant Charmer” Khaled Majouji and Zack from “ZackOutside” use different soil mixes.  As discussed in the Vertical Garden 101 post, they used the following soil mix combinations:

Just remember: the basic foundation for having healthy plants is the soil.  Poor soil = poor plant growth.  Take some time to build your soil.  After all, just because it looks like black dirt, it might not be good for plant growth.

How To Videos

Sometimes it is just easier to watch a video than wander through the text.  To help you along,  I have attached a few videos for you to use as a guide.

Small Scale Life YouTube Channel

I put together a video showing my gutter systems.  The main difference between my gutter systems and Khaled’s systems is that I actually put a screw into each vertical support rather than just rely on zip ties holding it on the support.  If I built this system from scratch, I would have a middle vertical support and sink a screw into it.

“The Plant Charmer” Khaled Majouji’s YouTube Channel

Khaled has some good videos on his YouTube Channel about building the gutter systems.  I watched both of these videos to make sure I was setting the system and drilling drainage holes.

Conclusion

That’s it!  This was a long blog post, but there is a lot here.  I am very pleased with the system so far.  Granted, I do need to water this system more often than the other raised beds, but I can do that with a watering can.  In addition, Khaled recommends fertilizing or using compost tea in these systems.  This actually makes sense since there is not much soil in this system.

I am going to do some more work with rain gutter systems in the near future.  After all, I am still going to get my Grow Your Greens Challenge going this season, and I want to try this system indoors!

%d bloggers like this: