The Sky’s the Limit: Vertical Gardening

article image

What’s a lazy farmer to do when she’s already weeding as much garden as she cares to tend?  Why go up, of course!  Much like urban housing, gardening has been reaching skywards for a while now.  There are as many ways to garden vertically as there are gardeners.  Let’s talk about a few approaches with specific vegetables. 


Standing Tall

One method of vertical gardening is to intercrop short and tall crops in the same garden bed.  You can extend the season by growing cooler season vegetables under taller summer crops to benefit from their shade.  Planting early season crops in hills with wider spacing allows for bunching later season crops in between the hills.  The early crop is harvested before the later crop needs more room in the bed.  You might also plant fall crops a month early by placing them between tall summer crops which provide the shade to keep the ground cooler.  Many flowers will grow taller than usual in search of sunshine if you plant them amongst tall crops like corn.  Some examples of this type of planting include:

  • Turnips planted in bunches followed by hills of sweet corn a month later
  • Pole beans grown on bamboo tee-pees with lettuce under them in summer for deep shade
  • Zinnias growing in the corn patch grow as tall as the corn
  • In rows of caged tomatoes, plant winter radishes or Napa cabbage seedlings anywhere you pull a past-production tomato plant. Make durable, sturdy cages from concrete reinforcement wire.
  • Okra creates a leafy canopy for Swiss chard or spinach


Double Duty

If your garden is fenced you’ve got a built in vertical garden.  When planting garden boundaries pay attention to the sun’s track during the growing season.  You can use the extra sun to boost crop production and sun-blockage to create cooler conditions down below.  Our garden fencing is full a great part of the year.  Seasonally it is used for:

  • Snap peas in the spring, positioned so as not to create shade until late afternoon
  • Italian zucchini positioned on one of the fences where no shade is created by the plants
  • Runner beans create a dappled shade across beds that need to be kept cool
  • Small melons grow in sections of fence that only give early morning shade to the beds
  • Cucumbers grow readily up fences while rampantly covering the bed as well


Garden Art?

Create visual interest in your garden by devising unusual trellises or creating tall towers of crops.  We’ve tried these ways of creating our own unique “garden art”.  Try different vegetables on each trellis you create to make your garden stand out.  Vegetables with pretty flowers look particularly nice waving upwards.

  • Tee-pees made from bamboo poles tied at the top host runner beans and pole beans
  • Old wagons or wheelbarrows filled with dirt create higher beds for winter squash to tumble from – make sure to punch some drainage holes in the bottom
  • Tall woven metal fences two-abreast provide a tight upright corridor for tomato plants
  • Sections of wooden lattice slanted onto stakes allow cucumbers to hang straight underneath
  • Old wooden ladders create a whimsical tall ramble for any climbing plant
  • Straw bale compost piles create lovely warm beds in which to grow early cantaloupe, the cascading vines creating a living green mound covering all that compost
  • Stacks of old tires filled with dirt make unique celery or potato beds
  • Cracked planters filled with herbs relive their past when placed in the garden

With a well-composted garden, consider using the space most effectively by growing up as well as out.  There are so many ways to grow vertically.  What will you try in your garden this year?

Online Store Logo
Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368
Mother Earth News Gardening
Mother Earth News Gardening
Free expert advice on all aspects of growing.