Are Vertical Gardens Hard to Maintain?

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When I began my vertical gardening journey I had no idea what to expect. Admittedly, it was daunting at first. I’d grow up around traditional gardens. I’d even pulled a few weeds and planted a few vegetables in the family plot. But I had never cared for a vertical garden, let alone built one from scratch. Now that I have, however, I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have been worried.

As a general rule, a vertical garden is easier to maintain than a conventional garden because it keeps plants off the ground, protecting them from pests and other common problems usually faced by ground-based plants.

However, vertical gardens are not maintenance free and you will still need to expend some effort in order to ensure their success, particularly when initially building the system. In this post, I explore everything you need to know about caring for your vertical garden.

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What do I need to do to maintain my vertical garden?

Vertical gardening, like any other type of gardening, requires upkeep. Fortunately, with a vertical garden system, the level of maintenance is generally minimal. Depending on the number and type of vertical garden systems used you’ll never need to spend more than a few hours a month maintaining your garden.

There are several key things I need to stay on top of in order to keep my vertical garden operating smoothly and efficiently. The main vertical garden maintenance activities are:

  1. Watering
  2. Fertilizing
  3. Disease control
  4. Pest Control
  5. Weeding
  6. Pruning
  7. Harvesting
  8. Cleaning

Do you have a vertical tower garden? Then you should read my guide on how to maintain it!

Maintenance Task 1: Watering a vertical garden

Keeping your vertical garden watered, like with most gardens, is an important task that is likely to take up most of the time spent caring for your plants.

This is especially true for vertical garden systems for two reasons: less soil is generally used which tends to dry out much faster than the ground and plants’ roots have less space and are unable to search around for additional water sources.

Watering, therefore, is something that any vertical gardener needs to stay on top of if they want their plants to thrive (the extent of which depends on how thirsty the plants are that you are trying to grow).

Generally speaking, and depending on the size and scale of your vertical garden, you can expect to spend between 1-2 hours a week watering a vertical garden by hand. Adding an automated irrigation system like a soaker hose or a drip-irrigation system can help to reduce this time.

Pairing your watering system with a digital or mechanical timer can help to reduce this time further to almost zero by automating the flow of water and nutrients to your plants.

How should you water a vertical garden?

I didn’t realise this at first but there is a right way and a wrong way to water your vertical garden. I started pouring water over each individual plant (which makes sense, right?). Well, that didn’t work so well. Not only did it encourage fungus and mildew growth but it also took more time. Here’s what I have learned since:

  • Water plants at the base, not from above Watering at the base of each plant (or placing your irrigation system at the base), helps to reduce the risk of fungus or mildew forming on wet leaves. It also reduces the chance of water reaching any weeds that may be lurking nearby. I’ve found too that it helps to keep your plants and vertical garden clean as there’s less splashing or water impact.
  • Water deeply, but less often – Deeper, less frequent waterings encourage roots to grow longer and fill the container they’re in. This means that they capture more water from each watering, improving their drought resistance and the need to be watered quite often.
  • Create adequate drainage and water top to bottom – Good drainage is key to preventing plants from becoming waterlogged (believe it or not, plants can drown). I always make sure to cut holes at the base of each container that allows water to flow from the top tier, through to the tier below. This is also a great way to save water and improve the sustainability of your vertical garden system.
  • Don’t forget to mulch – Mulching your vertical garden is just as important as in conventional gardening. Mulch helps to prevent water moisture from escaping during the warmer summer months reducing the risk of your plants drying out.

Maintenance Task 2: Fertilizing a vertical garden

Since plants only have access to a limited amount of soil in their containers (if any), another important step is fertilizing your vertical garden. Fertilizing helps to provide your plants with the balanced diet of nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

But, before you can start fertilizing your vertical garden, you need to select the right kind of fertilizer. Generally, without getting too technical, I use organic fertilizer over synthetic. By going organic, you help to create a more natural, nutrient-rich home for your plants over time. For me, I use two main types:

  • Organic liquid fertilizers (seaweed) – There are loads of different types of organic liquid seaweed fertilizers. It’s 100% natural and sustainable and I find it works great for all my plants regardless of type. Simply add concentrate to water (best with manual watering).
  • Slow-release granules – These granules can be scattered around the base of each plant and worked gently into the soil. They provide a slow-release fertilization method that is activated each time you water. Granules work best if you have an irrigation system set up.

How often should I fertilize my vertical garden?

Because vertical gardens are raised and keep plants out of the ground they tend to need fertilizing a little more often. Generally, I find fertilizing an outdoor vertical garden once every 2-3 weeks works well, especially if you’re growing vegetables. If you only grow herbs or other small plants once per month is about right.

If you have an indoor vertical garden system you can fertilize it even less often (every 2-3 months is fine).

How do I fertilize hydroponic or aeroponic tower systems?

Hydroponic or aeroponic tower systems use very little soil or even none at all. So how do you fertilize the plants without the use of soil? Thankfully, it’s simple. You can easily buy tower garden-specific mineral soluble nutrient solutions that are simply added to the water reservoir at the base of the tower. The one provided by Tower Garden is a great option.

Maintenance Task 3: Disease Control

Thankfully, most diseases begin at the soil level, so vertical gardens tend to have fewer problems than conventional ground-based gardens. However, that doesn’t mean that they are entirely immune to disease.

It’s still possible for a vertical garden to be blighted by disease

It’s worth keeping a constant eye out for signs of disease or fungus – chances are you’ll need to deal with it at some point and it’s far better to identify it and act swiftly if possible. Just like with a traditional garden, check for any problematic signals like leaf spots, discoloration, or unusual growths.

Common issues to be aware of are Alternaria, anthracnose, fusariosis vascular, phytophthora, powdery mildew, bacterial soft rot, leaf spot disease, Rhizoctonia, and grey mold.

Reducing the risk of disease in your vertical garden

Most problems stem from the soil. Because plants are raised off the ground in a vertical garden this already helps to dramatically reduce the risk of any problems arising. There are however additional steps you should take to further reduce this risk. These are:

  • Pruning – Regular pruning helps to improve airflow around plants and removes any unwanted signs of disease or fungus. Leaves that make contact with the soil in particular should be swiftly pruned.
  • Watering properly – As I mentioned above, it’s best to water the base of each plant rather than rain down on top of the plant, if you can. If this isn’t possible, watering in the early morning helps plants to dry out during the day and prevents damp, disease-friendly environments from forming.
  • Burning diseased plants – Any signs of disease or fungus should be pruned and ideally burned. Never place diseased vegetation into your compost or use it as mulch.
  • Use fresh potting soil – Always use fresh potting soil when replacing plants in your vertical garden, especially if the last plant was diseased or carrying other issues. This helps prevent the same problem from affecting the new plant.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch – Mulching the base of each plant reduces the risk of soil (in which most diseases originate) from splashing up onto the more vulnerable leaves. This will further help to protect your vertical garden from soil-borne diseases.

Maintenance Task 4: Pest Control

Although a vertical garden is generally better protected from pests, particularly those that originate on the ground, you will still need to control the few that do make it to your plants. Common pests I find regularly on my plants are:

Pest TypeControls
AphidSquash between fingers, forcefully spray with water or introduce predators.
CaterpillarsPhysically remove
Snails and slugsAdd barriers around the base of your vertical garden structure. Attract predators.
Scale NymphsWipe away with a cloth and try to attract predators.

Now, personally, I don’t like to use pesticides or other nasty chemicals on my plants. Ever. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to just physically remove all of these pests with your hands or by knocking them off with a strong hose or spray.

I’ve recently attempted to introduce beneficial predators to act as natural pesticides. Lady Bugs, for example, are great for removing Aphids. To do this, make sure you plant plenty of flowers and other smelly plants that attract the insects you want to help you in your fight against pests.

Aphids can damage plants and should be removed as soon as possible

Maintenance Task 5: Checking for weeds

Weeding is something I always find intensely dull. The good news is, provided you use good quality potting soil (that has been heat-treated), weeds are more or less non-existent in my vertical garden.

That’s not to say that a few don’t break through. When they do though, it’s just a simple case of plucking them out. And what’s more, I don’t have to spend hours on my hands and knees or bending over to do it. Mostly, I’m working at waist-to-eye level, which is a breeze by comparison.

To further reduce the number of weeds regularly mulching, as I mentioned above, can help. If you have a hydroponic or aeroponic tower system it’s very unlikely that you will ever find weeds at all. Generally, weeds are one less thing you need to worry about with a vertical garden but stay vigilant all the same.

Maintenance Task 6: Pruning regularly

There are two key reasons you should prune your vertical garden regularly:

  1. To help prevent disease and fungus
  2. To remove dead and dying foliage

Fortunately, however, neither need to take up too much time since the disease is rare and excess growth is limited due to the limited amount of soil within each container. Nonetheless, it’s worth keeping an eye on your plants and pruning them back as needed.

If you’re growing flowers, regular deadheading is advisable to encourage continued blooming. For herbs, trimming the tips of plants can help to keep things luscious and bushy too. Pruning regularly helps to improve airflow around plants which helps to keep them healthy.

If you have pruned away diseased foliage, be sure to sterilize your pruners before tackling another healthy plant.

Maintenance Task 7: Harvesting

Reaping the rewards from a vertical garden is without doubt the most satisfying task on this list. From tomatoes to flowers, leafy greens, and aromatic herbs, harvesting your crop is an essential and enjoyable process.

Regular harvesting helps to keep plants healthy. Image credit: Itswendiland

Harvesting takes place only once the plant has matured and grown fruit or vegetables, so it’s obviously not something you need to worry about until this point in the growing cycle has been reached. When it is though, here are a few harvesting tips:

  • Harvest regularly – When you harvest fruit or vegetables from plants it often can trigger them to produce even more. As soon as plants are mature and producing make sure to check regularly and harvest what you can on a regular basis to encourage even more fruits and vegetables to grow.
  • Harvest as soon as you can – it may seem like bigger fruits and vegetables are better, but this isn’t always the case. Leaving produce on the plant too long can have negative effects like reduction in taste or excessive seed growth. My advice: when it looks ready, harvest it – don’t wait!
  • Remove and discard damaged products – Aside from attracting pests like wasps and other nasties into your garden damaged fruits and vegetables can actually be a cause of disease and other unpleasantries. Make sure you harvest damaged produce immediately and either eat it or discard it appropriately.

Maintenance Task 8: Cleaning your vertical garden

Last on the list is something we all love – cleaning (not!). I like to keep my vertical garden system (containers, structure, etc.) as clean as possible. It looks nice, but more importantly, it helps to keep soil and other mess away from places where it shouldn’t be which can help reduce the risk of disease.

Take a damp cloth from time to time and give everything a good once over. Use the opportunity to check plants for other issues like fungus, pests, or dead foliage.

Cleaning your hydroponic tower garden

Cleaning a hydroponic tower is just as important, if not more so, as these systems are a lot more delicate and technical than simple containers. One of the most important things is to prevent and remove algae from your tower. This is relatively simple and achieved with warm water, baking soda, and some vinegar.

Top tip: If you have a vertical hydroponic tower, you can read my step-by-step guide to cleaning it here!

To sum up

Vertical gardens are simple to maintain and require comparatively little effort to more traditional approaches. If set up correctly, vertical gardens are a fantastic way to produce more fruits, veggies, and greens while spending much less time growing and caring for them.

Keeping a regular eye on things helps. Make sure to follow each of the vertical gardening maintenance tasks on this list and you will have success. Spend a few hours each month tending to your plants, checking for pests, watering, and fertilizing and you will reap the benefits of vertical gardening in no time.

For a complete guide, be sure to check out my comprehensive overview of vertical gardening.

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William, an experienced consultant and passionate advocate for technology and sustainability, is the founder of Smarter Home Gardens. William's journey into gardening began with the purchase of his first home, which came with a small backyard garden. Despite initial challenges brought about by limited space, soil, and sunlight, William's determination to create a vibrant garden led him to research and experiment with innovative gardening technologies and sustainable practices. Driven by his lifelong enthusiasm for technology and sustainability, William explored various gardening methods, including vertical gardening, hydroponics, companion gardening, and composting. Through these efforts, he realized that it was possible to combine his passions with his newfound love for gardening. Smarter Home Gardens was born out of William's desire to share his research and experiences with others, helping them create smarter gardens that leverage cutting-edge technology and contribute to a more nature-positive world. The blog offers in-depth articles on innovative gardening technologies and methods, helpful 'how-to' guides, reviews of the latest gardening technology, and research on cost-effective garden maintenance solutions. William's commitment to sustainable and technologically-driven gardening has made him a trusted voice in the field. His enthusiasm for creating gardens that work with the planet, rather than against it, is evident in every post he shares on Smarter Home Gardens. Through the blog, William hopes to engage with a wider audience, encouraging others to join him on this exciting journey towards smarter, more sustainable gardens.

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