Go Vertical to Make the Most of Your Veggie Garden Space

Pea Plants Need Structure to Grow

Pea Plants Need Structure to Grow

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

I've run out of yard. I’d like to blame the power of a mighty green thumb, but the fact is, my yard is of modest size and mature trees leave about half of it in full shade all summer long, so it didn’t take much. My deck has become home to numerous pots and planting boxes, but that only gets me so far. What is the intrepid vegetable gardener to do? Go vertical.

Not only will taking my garden skyward make the most out of limited space, but plants will have greater access to precious sunshine, the risk of disease is reduced and weeding and watering becomes a snap. If you’ve ever staked a tomato plant, you've already done a little vertical gardening. By choosing my crops carefully and using a variety of methods, I can still make the most of a challenging space.

Twining plants, such as pole beans or hops, climb by growing the primary stem in a corkscrew fashion around a slender support. Tightly coiling, they can choke the life out of other unsuspecting crops if not trained to an appropriate host. A single pole will do the job, but tether three poles together into a teepee structure and they can reach spectacular heights, increasing yield without giving up square footage. Trellises will also work, but they need a strong support. Twining plants can be bullies and will tear down an unstable structure.

Other climbers do so by using tendrils, finger-like stems that grow from the stalk and wrap around a host to pull the plant toward sunlight. Peas, cucumbers, some summer squash, gourds and melons are great climbers, and will scale anything slender enough for it to grab. Fences, netting, trellises, pergolas or even nylon string stretched between secure posts all make great anchors. And the greenery is much prettier than the chain link hiding below.

With a some attention and training, many plants can reap vertical benefits without the luxury of natural climbing ability. Left to their own devices, tomato plants will stay low, taking up valuable real estate and making its fruit easy prey resting on the ground. Caged or tethered to stakes, they will routinely grow to six to eight feet or beyond with minimal ground coverage. At Walt Disney's Epcot in Orlando, a single tomato plant was grown to a canopy of over 600 square feet, yielding tens of thousands of tomatoes in a single year.

All these climbers do a great job of scaling back the necessary garden space, but with some preparation and a trip to the hardware store we can go a little further. Hanging planters for “top down” growth can take us beyond the cramped plot entirely. Find a little sunshine and a stable post, arbor or balcony and home grown produce is within your reach. Commercial planters like the “Topsy-Turvy” are readily available, but a five gallon bucket with a hole cut in the bottom will do just fine. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers are all good inverted growers. Plant herbs in the top of the bucket for a space saving bonus.

I have a lot more options here than I realized. I may not harvest 30,000 tomatoes, but the vertical solution has me optimistic. I'll settle for half that.

Next Up

Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

Make room on your fire escape or pot up some tomato plants—you can grow delicious fruits and veggies even if you don't have much space.

Garden Design: Connect Your Indoor and Outdoor Spaces

Let your indoor space inspire your landscape design plans.

Define Your Outdoor Space With a Garden Fence

Discover the materials and design that will work best for your garden boundary, whether it is a fence, wall or hedge.

Edible Gardening in Small Spaces

Make the most of a small garden space by mixing flowers and vegetable plants in an ornamental edible garden.

Designing a Vegetable Wall Garden

Get creative by planting vegetable seeds in small containers and lining an outdoor wall.

How to Create a Living Wall

Check out these tips from vertical-garden experts to help you grow up in your space.

How to Plant Bare-Root Vegetables

Discover the best way to plant asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries in your garden.

Less Is More: Small Space Gardening

Even miniscule backyards, rooftops and balconies can be transformed into relaxing, inviting outdoor living rooms.

Vertical Herb Garden

Using the vertical space reduces the footprint, enabling a greater range to be grown with the added benefit of putting your most aromatic and flavorsome plants where they can be most readily appreciated.

How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

Native Americans devised the ingenious Three Sisters garden, a method whereby beans grow up corn stalks while squash plants serve as ground cover.