Five Ways to Grow Edibles Vertically

Rozie Apps
Friday, 21st March 2014

Growing salads, fruits and herbs vertically not only allows urban dwellers to grow food in small spaces, but follows the permaculture principles of stacking, using renewable resources and making the most of the edge.

For those who live in urban environments, growing space is often limited. Growing vertically is a great way to make the most of the space you do have. Here are five easy ways to help you grow your own fruits and vegetables in small spaces.

1. Create a salad tower

It is possible to buy vertical planters online or from nurseries and garden centres, but it is just as easy to make your own. You will need:

A large plant pot

A wide plastic tube, around 25cm wide

A narrower plastic tube, around 4cm wide



First you need to drill planting holes in the biggest tube. These have to fit plants through, so you need to cut out circles of around 5cm diameter. They need to be big enough for the plant to grow from but not so big they fall out. Once the roots take hold, they will become more stable.

Then drill small holes in the thin tube. This will act as the watering device, so the holes only need to be small.

Place the large tube in the pot, filling the bottom few centimetres with gravel for drainage and the rest of the pot with compost.

Place the small tube inside the large tube, and fill the layer between the two tubes with compost. Do no cover the top of the small tube.

You can now plant through the large holes into the compost.

To water, pour into the small tube. 

image by Bernhard Gruber 

2. Grow in a pallet

All you need is:

  • An old pallet (make sure it isn't a chemically treated one, find a heat-treated or untreated pallet)

  • A roll of landscape fabric

  • A staple gun and staples

  • About 2 bags of compost

  • Flowers, herbs, plants

First you have to cover the bottom, back and sides of the pallet with the fabric. This prevents soil and the plants from falling out. The only sides to stay uncovered are the top and the front, where the spaces between the slates are (this is where the plants go).

It can be good to double up the fabric, so it is thicker and stronger.

Staple the fabric around the edges, along the top, the sides and the bottom.

Make sure you hold the fabric taut before you staple, and check that the fabric is secure, so that no soil will be able to fall out.

When planting up the pallet, move it close to where it will finally stand and lay it flat so that you can fill it.

Place the plants where you want them along each row, planting tightly so they cannot fall out. Fill around them with compost, making sure they are held in tightly, but without damaging the roots. It can be easier to plant the top layer first as they grow upwards, and then continue with the lower rows where the plants grow outwards.

It is a good idea to leave the pallet flat for a few weeks, regularly watering until the roots have begun growing. This will ensure the plants stay in place when you lift up the pallet.

3. Plastic bottle tower

These can easily be made with recyled bottles and some scissors or a sharp knife.

All bottles need their caps, as these become part of the watering process.

Firstly drill a small hole in the centre of each bottle cap.

Then cut the bottoms off the bottles, around 2cm off. 

Take the first bottle, turn it upside down, cap downwards, and fill with compost. Be careful to not pack the compost in as it will need to be loose enough to plant into.

Secure the bottle to the wall or structure it will be next to. As shown below, a suitable wall or structure could be mesh or netting, as the bottles can easily be secured with cable ties. You could also tie them to a strong length of string or thin pole that is secure.

Place the next bottle, cap down into the first and fill this one with compost, then tie in the bottle. Repeat this process until you have the desired height.

Once filled, each bottle needs a hole cut for the plants. Here a knife can be more useful than scissors. The hole doesn't want to be too big, but take a look at the root system of the plants and gauge the size from them. You don't want to be squeezing the roots in and damaging them.

Once the holes have been made, your salads, herbs etc. can be planted.

When watering, water from the top, and it will soak through each layer, through the holes cut in the bottle caps.


4. Trellis

The trellis is a well known structure for growing plants vertically. They are great for many plants, especially climbers. You can grow beans, squashes, vines, cucumbers and more!

You can build them from wire, bamboo and all kinds of wood. They can be an arch like the photo below, using the edge of two beds and the vertical space above the walkway, or they can run up the side of a wall.

They are easy to make to the needs of what you are planting.


5. Hanging pots

Everyone's seen a hanging basket, but why not create baskets or pots from all kinds of recycled items, and hang them in different places. Instead of one or two hanging from a hook, cover a whole wall in recycled bottles, or attach flower pots, or jars. You could use anything!

There are so many other ways we can grow vertically, so get out there and be creative. Use whatever you can find in the space you have.

Rozie Apps is assistant editor at Permaculture magazine and Permanent Publications.

Further resources

Book: No Dig Organic Home and Garden

Book: Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Spaces

Urban oasis on a balcony

Watch: The micro smallholding