Photo: Courtesy of Wooly Pocket
BY KITT WALSH
It is always a long stretch for gardeners—that time between when we have to put away our summer garden and February when all of the garden catalogues arrive to set us dreaming of next year’s garden. Besides digging in the dirt, I personally the miss fresh greens and herbs I can so readily snip from my summer plot and containers. But this year, I won’t feel such pangs. I am creating a vertical indoor garden and so can you.
The basic idea is much the same as growing any container garden, but with today’s modular systems, you can create a lovely, living garden right on the wall and enjoy salads all year-round without taking up precious kitchen space.
So a vertical garden, sometimes called a living wall, is any organized system of plants that grow vertically up a surface. They not only look good and can provide food (and medicine if you are a herbalist) but have the added benefit of cleaning up the air around them.
I am using a modular system called Wooly Pocket made from breathable felt with a built- in moisture barrier. Both parts are made from recycled plastic bottles, but allow oxygen through without which the plants can’t survive. The pockets themselves come grouped in two, four or as many as you like and I picked them, not only for their save-the-earth bent, but because they discount their product and send it to schools all over to help kids learn where their food comes from and how to help save the environment.
Just like in the outside garden, an indoor vertical garden needs just the right mix of soil, sun, water and nutrients, so start out by choosing a sunny wall for your garden or using correctly placed plant lights. You also don’t want your location to be an outside facing wall that gets too cold nor right above those old wall heaters found in many NYC apartments that get (and stay) hot enough to fry an egg. Most modular systems come with all the hardware you need to properly hang your plants. Wooly Pockets’ box is even the perfect size to use as a template when you are planning your wall design.
Choose the highest quality indoor potting soil you can find. Ones that retain water, have nutrients and aren’t too dense are ideal. Don’t stuff the pockets with dirt. Leave things a little loose and stop filling a half an inch from the top of your pocket so water doesn’t just roll off. Modular pocket systems usually hold about 0.4 cubic feet of soil (read the specificaions on the product you buy), then figure out how much soil came with the plant you intend to put into the pocket, to determine how much extra soil you’ll need to add. You will end up with each pocket weighing about 20 lbs. Tip: After planting and watering, the soil may compact a little and you may have to top it off to cover all the roots.
Plan on one to five plants per pocket, depending on their size or rooting habits and match plants that have like needs when it comes to light and water. 8”, 6” or 1-gallon container plants are best as smaller plants won’t fill up the pockets soon enough to look good and bigger ones will become pot bound and will have to have their roots pruned (akin to getting a root canal for humans and almost as traumatic.)
Plants that do well according to urbanzealplanters.com include:
Pothos (Epipremnum sp), a vining plant that NASA says is most beneficial to improving air quality, taking formaldehyde from the air.
Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) which brightens up any space with its bright color.
Philodendron, your mother (and grandmother’s) old standby, that even I will have trouble killing.
Dracaena, which has lots of different colored leaves
Various ferns, with Sword Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata) mentioned often by growers. Herbs like chives, oregano, dill and basil.
Lettuce, spinach and even heavier vegetables if you can devise a way to help support their weight.
You can also sow microgreen seeds (like amaranth, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, coriander/cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, parsley, peas, radish and sorrel) and snip away at them with scissors to create healthy smoothies or power-packed salads.
If you, like me, have killed many a plant with over-or under-watering, consider investing in a built-in drip irrigation system which can be linked to an automatic timer for those of us sometimes absent minded enough to put our reading glasses in the freezer who might forget to water the plants often enough. For the height of plant care, a fertilizer line can also be installed with the drip line and you’ll have your own little Aqua Garden going. A Drip Kit for the Wooly Five Pocket system is $10.99 and a Digital Drip Timer is $63.99.
Hand watering is always more dangerous—you could water damage your walls. Wooly Pockets have a little tongue that you water instead of the plant and the water is wicked into the plant. Excess moisture then evaporates. Also, if you find that your local water supply lets minerals or salt build-up in your modular planter, you may have to use filtered water (containers outside avoid this problem by being flushed by the rain.)
If you don’t use the drip line to add fertilizer, consult your local nursery about how often and what to use to fertilize your plants, remembering that fertilizer put into a modular pocket system stays in the pocket, instead of being washed out as in a container, so easy does it.