Gardening expert, radio host, speaker, author and columnist, Melinda Myers ( has more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Garden Book for Wisconsin and Month-by-Month Gardening in Wisconsin. To purchase these books, please visit

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Going Vertical Never Looked So Good
by Melinda Myers       #Containers   #Vines









Morning glory vines (Ipomoea purpurea) climb a pergola to provide a little shade and summer blooms.

Expand your planting space, grow a living screen, or add vertical interest to your garden beds by growing plants on a wall or training them onto an obelisk or trellis.

Pole beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), peas (Pisum sativum), Malabar spinach (Basella alba), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), melons (Cucumis melo), and squash (Cucurbita spp.) are all edible candidates for growing vertically. Training these vegetables up a support saves space in the garden. Plus, the increase in light and airflow through vertically trained plants reduces the risk of mildew and other diseases.

Growing vertically can also increase your yields and make harvesting much easier. Pole beans typically produce an extra picking, and it requires less bending to harvest. And if it is easy, you are more likely to pick regularly, increasing productivity and ensuring the best flavor. Try scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) or purple-podded pole beans for added color.

For summer fare in the garden and in a salad, plant Malabar spinach (Basella alba) and enjoy the red stems and white flower buds and violet flowers.

Train Malabar climbing spinach up an obelisk in a container or over a decorative trellis in the garden. Use the leaves the same way you use true spinach. The buttery nutty flavor is great fresh, added to a salad, used as a sandwich wrap, stir-fried, or steamed. The red stems, flowers, and seeds make an attractive display in the vegetable or ornamental garden.

Support the heavy fruits of melons and squash when growing vertically. Create a sling from cloth strips, an old tee shirt or macramé – yes its back! Tie the sling to the trellis to cradle the large fruit. The sling handles the weight to keep heavy fruit from falling off the support and damaging the plant. Elevating the fruit also reduces loss to soil-dwelling insects and disease.

Use decorative supports to add a bit of beauty or help blend edibles into ornamental plantings. Upcycle found items into creative supports. An old iron fence section, chair or farm implement can add a bit of functional whimsy to your garden.

Ornamental vines
Don’t forget about annual and perennial ornamental vines. These can add color to a plain fence or wall. Use a support and leave space between wooden fences and siding to reduce moisture buildup that could damage these structures. Plus it will be easier to manage future repairs and painting when the vines can easily be moved away from the structure.

Double up your plants to increase bloom power. Use annual vines to provide quick cover the first few years while establishing perennial vines on the support. Consider mixing two vines on one support if space allows. Select vines that bloom at the same time to create interesting combinations. Or plant two vines that bloom at different times to extend your bloom cycle.

Clematis and roses make the perfect combo for a fence, trellis, or other support for summer-long beauty.

Many containers now include built-in supports to make it easier to grow edible and ornamental vines in containers. Some are self-watering with built-in reservoirs. Keep the reservoir full of water to provide a constant supply of moisture and you’ll water your containers less often.

Always select structures strong enough to support the plants. Make sure the support provides the structure needed for the vines to climb. Vines with twining stems and petioles need something to take hold of. Those with root-like holdfasts or suction cups need a rough surface for attaching. Others may need you to tie the stems to the support.

Vines that are one to two zones hardier and growing in large containers may make it through the winter with no additional protection. Otherwise, you will need to provide additional winter protection to help these plants survive our cold winters. Move the potted perennial vines into an unheated garage and water whenever the soil is thawed and dry. Or move the pots to a sheltered location and cover the pots with woodchips or bags of mulch or soil to insulate the roots.

Green walls add planting space to walls and fences. They are just containers, some turned on end, mounted to a wall or fence. You can purchase green wall planters or make your own. Succulents, greens, strawberries, and herbs make attractive and in some cases, edible green walls.

Watering is critical
Woolly Pockets are colorful felt planting bags that can be mounted on just about any flat surface. There are some products, such as Water Wall Pocket Pond Planter, that allow you to grow a water garden in a fabric planter mounted to the wall or fence. Some gardeners make their own, converting cloth or plastic shoe caddies into planters. These make cute herb planters, but do because the pockets are small, they will likely require watering several times a day at the height of summer.

Affix a box and hardware cloth to the back of a frame, plant with succulents, tropicals, and other plants for a summer picture.

Unlimited possibilities
Or use some of the commercial systems that have plantable cells or spaces for individual pots. These grow into decorative patterns of green. Or upcycle an old picture frame into a planter. Just add a wooden box to the back of the frame. Fill with potting mix and plant. Start with the planter in the horizontal position for a week or two. This gives the plants time to root and helps hold the soil in place. Or, secure the soil with landscape fabric or mesh. Fill the container with potting mix, cover the surface with the fabric or mesh, cut holes for the plants, set plants in place, and water.

The key to success with commercially produced and DIY green walls is watering. Since many of the planters have very limited growing space for the potting mix you will need to water more often. Built-in irrigation systems make it easier to keep these watered with less effort on your part.

Growing succulents and other drought tolerant plants in green walls also increases your chance of success. These plants are more forgiving when things get a bit dry. You will need to move these plants indoors for winter or add them to the compost pile in fall and buy new plants next year.

As you can see the possibilities are endless. Start gathering decorative supports, looking for spaces in need of a bit of vertical interest and make a list of your favorite climbers.


A version of this article appeared in Wisconsin Gardening Volume 6 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Melinda Myers.


Posted: 08/01/17   RSS | Print


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