Scott Mehaffey is a landscape architect and Executive Vice President of Sage Vertical Garden Systems in Chicago.
This year’s Chicago Flower & Garden Show theme is “Do Green, Do Good”—and by creating and caring for vertical gardens, gardeners can do just that! Whether you’re planting a vertical garden indoors or out, you’ll enjoy many lasting benefits, whether physical, psychological or environmental.
Like horizontal gardens, the best vertical gardens result when you carefully consider basics such as light, air temperatures and humidity, water and nutrient availability, plant maintenance requirements and access to disposal/composting areas. This helps determine the best location, size, system and plants for your vertical garden installation.
1. Sunlight and Supplemental Lighting
Light is food for your plans, so match plants to available sunlight.
- Most indoor locations require an increase in light levels using lights specifically formulated for plant growth. Remember, plants generally need 10 hours of rest each day, but total darkness is not required.
- A minimum of 150–200 foot-candles is needed for 12–14 hours a day. Invest in a light meter to measure existing foot-candle levels to determine how much more lighting you should invest in.
- Placement is key. Small vertical gardens placed near a window or under a lamp are much easier to light than a large one located deep within your space.
2. Air Temperature and Humidity
Proper air temperatures and indoor humidity levels are also critical for indoor vertical gardens.
- Average indoor air temperatures should be kept between 65–75° F (18–24° C) with a relative humidity level of about 50–70%.
- Avoid vents and registers that blow hot, drying air
- Consider adding small fans to keep indoor air moving as a deterrent for pests and disease. You can also place a humidifier nearby.
3. Water and Nutrients
Some garden systems require hand-watering every 7–10 days depending on which one you choose, others are fertigated automatically from a reservoir or plumbing connection.
- Fertigation (water mixed with liquid nutrients) is a great way to keep your vertical gardens nourished.
- Moisture meters are helpful to determine how often to water.
- Be careful not to over-water when using potting soil as a growing medium.
4. Ongoing Maintenance
Plants generate waste, such as foliage, flowers, potting mix and more.
- Place your vertical garden within easy reach or disposal and composting areas
- Make sure to consider drainage. A large custom vertical garden may require a sewer connection or ability to drain, clean and refill the water tank.
- Smaller growing walls have smaller reservoirs, which are easier to clean but require more frequent attention.
If you follow the above tips for setting up your vertical garden, you will benefit immensely from it. Recent studies have show that indoor plants, particularly vertical gardens, give people a greater sense of calm, focus and productivity.
They’re also great for environmental reasons: they lower air temperatures, reduce noise levels and produce oxygen.
Living in an urban, Midwestern environment, it’s important to find green where you can, and vertical gardens are a beautiful and rewarding way to do that.
Be sure to attend Scott’s presentation, “Vertical Gardens, Inside and Out” at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 16 at the 2014 Chicago Flower & Garden Show. All photos provided by Sage Vertical Garden Systems LLC.
P.S. Don’t forget to vote in Round Two of our Spring Things Showdown!