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This Is Growing Up: Ideas for Vertical Gardening

If you think of your garden as a cube rather than a flat piece of ground, you can easily increase the amount of food you grow.


The most common vertically grown plants are tomatoes, peas, cucumbers (shown) and pole beans. These are all vining crops, with the cucumbers, beans and peas sending out tendrils to actually assist the process.

Tomatoes prefer to grow along the ground, so need some help in the form of staking. There are numerous options to choose from here, from a simple wooden stake to clever tomato cages.

Gaining in popularity is the technique often referred to as "garbage-can potatoes." This started as a literal method of using new garbage cans, drilled for drainage, as a container to save some of the space the spuds would otherwise need if planted in the ground. It also has the added benefit of keeping the critters away from your taters. We have been growing this way for years, now in raised beds rather than tubs, and it works great.
Hanging baskets are an easy way to increase the amount of room you have to grow. Veggies such as radishes and greens, as well as fruit like strawberries that have a shallow root system, do well in containers.

Many smaller varieties of tomatoes as well as eggplants and sweet peppers are well suited to growing in containers that can be either hung or staggered like stairs, with the space below used for growing shade loving plants such as spinach and many herbs. Most any hot pepper will do well in a container too.

New to the vertical gardening scene are melons and many winter squashes. Here you may need to use slings to help the plant, as the vines of these crops are not used to supporting the weight of the fruit. Choose a smaller variety and be sure the support can handle the weight.

Did you know there’s a vining summer squash? We just discovered 'Tatume' this past fall and will be growing it "up" this coming season.

A few things to remember:

  1. Make sure your container has good drainage. If you have a large garden, group your containers to make watering easier.
  2. Be sure the support you are going to use is in place before you plant, and that it can handle the weight it will incur.
  3. Choose what you will use and where based on your environment. Will the support get enough light or cast unwanted shade? Will it be subject to high winds?
  4. Have fun! Experimentation, whether successful or not, is part of the fun of gardening.

With increasing numbers of people looking to garden in urban settings, many clever ideas are surfacing to help them and everyone grow up. A simple web search for vertical gardening will turn a lot of those up.
Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more
Learn all about growing food in containers with The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible.

Learn to make the most of your vegetable-garden area with Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening.

Get advice on vertical gardening with Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, co-authored by Horticulture columnist Rebecca Sweet (with Susan Morrison).

Take organic gardening to the next level with The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem. You'll learn how to live in harmony with both nature and neighbors and share an abundant food supply with minimal effort.