How to Begin an Indoor Vertical Garden
Jules Walters • First published: Oct 03, 2023
First things first
An indoor vertical garden is a wonderful thing to create and hugely rewarding. From eye-catching floral displays you can enjoy year round to home-grown food for the table.
Indoor vertical gardening in the home is still a new concept for many people. And many of the retailers meeting the demand for vertical gardens are still finding their feet themselves.
Products are not always as robust or reliable as they look in the photographs. So pay attention to customer reviews online; not just the ones the manufacturer has cherry-picked for their own website.
And before you splurge on the first vertical garden, here are some things to think about.
Purpose of an indoor vertical garden
Firstly: what do you want the indoor garden for? Do you like style over function, or function over style.
You can pay a shed load of money for a product that’s beautiful, while customer reviews reveal the working parts regularly break down or fall apart. And then customer service is a complete let down.
And is the purpose of what you grow in the garden just decorative, or do you want to grow your own food? If it’s the latter, what type of plants do you want to grow? Herbs, cucumbers, peppers and leafy greens for salads are among the best-suited edible plants for indoor vertical gardens.
Root vegetables, like beets and carrots, need soil and more depth. They will be better in a more traditional bed outdoors. So, you could instead join a community garden if you haven’t the right outdoor space or enough sunlight at home.
Ready-made or DIY?
If you’re fairly good at DIY, you could consider building your own vertical garden. There are plenty of helpful YouTube videos to point you in the right direction. And there’s a lot you can do with PVC pipes and planters and a basic home toolkit.
But if you’re not an experienced gardener, you may be better off going for an entry-level indoor garden. You could look at a self-contained watering system that can sit on a kitchen countertop, or on a window sill or shelf. You can get one of these for around hundred dollars or less.
Then, as you learn what it takes to get young plants to survive and grow, you can always upgrade. Or you can build your own.
Traditional or hydroponic?
If you’re new to hydroponic gardening, read the section below in which I compare the hydroponics approach with traditional gardening in soil
In short: Hydroponic systems remove the need for messy soil, that can also introduce pests. Instead, seedlings and young plants flourish and grow thanks to a nutrient-based watering solution.
There are several advantages to putting in a hydroponics system, particularly if you have limited space. But there are some disadvantages too.
How much space can you give to your vertical garden, in terms of both wall and floor space? Should it be one large arrangement on a single wall, for example, or two smaller ones? Consider the structure’s depth as well as its height and width. And would it be better to start inside or outside?
It’s worth drawing up a rough plan of your ideal arrangement. And then check how you can safely secure and supply it with water and light before you buy.
And remember the support crew, including water tank and grow lights. These can be ceiling mounted but they often need to be aside the planters, so they need a bit of space too.
Keep your eyes on the prize, but bear in mind that the cost of buying and installing it can add up.
A vertical hydroponic tower, for example, can cost several hundred dollars. Then there’s the routine running costs, mainly: the cost of seed and plant purchases, nutrient solution, and your additional water and electricity use.
If you have no experience of vertical farming – or you’re a gardening novice – then I recommend watching a few of the excellent YouTube videos on the subject. These will help you decide on the best system for you, and you’ll pick up some great plant care advice on the way.
Then, you should probably start with a small, self-watering system you can add to later. The most common thing new gardeners do wrong is either to water their plants too much or too little; or completely forget to fertilize them. Either way, they soon become ex-plants!
If you have children or pets, or both, you may have to go an extra mile to make your vertical system safe for them, particularly securing them so they don’t fall over.
Consider too what protection you’ll need for your walls and floors. The key risks are mold development and damage from water leaks or overflows.
If you are renting, you may be better off choosing a free-standing hydroponic system. In other words, one that’s small and stable enough to not need direct attachment to a wall. Avoid carpeted floors if you can, but even hard floors are likely to need a protective cover beneath your vertical planter.
Traditional or hydroponic vertical gardening. How do I decide?
The word hydroponic comes from the Greek words for water and work or labor. It’s the nutrient-rich water plus light that’s creates the magic. And these days, we can automate most of the labor.
But when you’re deciding whether to create a traditional, soil-based indoor vertical garden or a hydroponic one, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Assess the space available for your vertical garden. Traditional soil-based gardens need pots or containers with plenty of space for plants to grow.
On the other hand, hydroponic systems typically need less space as the plants grow in a nutrient-rich water solution.
Water and nutrients
Consider your access to water and nutrients.
Traditional gardens rely on that soil as a medium for nutrient absorption and water retention. On the other hand, hydroponic gardens provide nutrients directly to the plant roots via the nutrient-infused water. Hydroponics can also save water since it recirculates in the system; though you many need to monitor more nutrient levels more often.
Think about the amount of time and effort you are willing to devote to maintenance.
Soil-based gardens generally require more maintenance, including watering, fertilizing, and pest control. Hydroponic systems need a bit more monitoring of water pH and nutrient levels. But these systems often come with digital meters, an automatic watering system, and wi-fi enabled apps. Together, these will give you more precise control over plant health, and the freedom to lock and leave home for days or even weeks at a time.
Consider the types of plants you want to grow. While most plants can grow both traditionally and hydroponically, certain crops may thrive better in one system over the other. Research the needs and adaptability of your desired plants to each type of garden.
Think about the environmental impact of each system. Hydroponics generally use less water and require less use of pesticide, making them more sustainable. the risk of soil erosion. Soil-based gardens, on the other hand, support a natural ecosystem and contribute to biodiversity. That’s more relevant, though, if you intend creating your vertical garden outiside.
Traditional gardens often have lower initial setup costs as they only need pots, soil, and basic garden tools. Hydroponic systems usually have a higher upfront cost, given the need for special equipment – such as grow lights, pumps, and nutrient solutions. Ongoing maintenance costs should be closer to the soil-based approach, though. You can certainly save on water consumption.
Best plants for an indoor vertical garden
There are several plants that thrive in indoor vertical gardens. Here are some popular options:
- Herbs: Basil, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro (aka coriander) are commonly grown herbs in vertical gardens. They require minimal space and are easy to maintain.
- Leafy greens: Spinach, lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard are great choices for vertical gardens. They grow well in small spaces and can provide a continuous supply of fresh greens for salads.
- Succulents: Plants like aloe vera, jade plant, and snake plant are low-maintenance succulents that can add a touch of greenery to your vertical garden.
- Pothos: Pothos is a popular trailing plant that does well in vertical gardens. It has attractive, variegated leaves and is known for being low-light tolerant.
- Spider plants: Spider plants are hardy and versatile plants that can adapt well to indoor conditions. Their long, arching leaves make them great for vertical gardens.
- Ferns: Different varieties of ferns like Boston fern and maidenhair fern can grow in vertical gardens, adding a lush, tropical feel to the space.
- Fruiting plants: Dwarf varieties of fruiting plants like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and peppers can also grow in vertical gardens, provided they get enough light.
Frequently asked questions
What is hydroponic gardening?
Hydroponic gardening is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead of using soil to provide nutrients to the plants, hydroponics uses a water-based nutrient solution. The roots of the plants are either suspended in the nutrient solution or in an inert medium like perlite or coco coir, and they absorb the necessary nutrients directly from the solution.
In hydroponic systems, plants typically grow in a controlled environment, such as a greenhouse or indoors, where things like temperature, humidity, light, and nutrient levels are optimized for maximum plant growth. This method allows for precise control over the growth conditions, resulting in faster growth rates and higher crop yields compared to traditional soil-based gardening.
What are the best edible plants for indoor gardening?
Leafy greens and herbs – as above – do well in indoor situations, as most grow quickly and only have shallow roots.