Can You Have A Vertical Garden Without Soil?

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When you are planning your vertical garden and trying to decide what kind of plants you want and how much time you have to take care of them, at some point you might begin to wonder if can you have a vertical garden without soil. In my research I found a lot of information on this very topic, and am happy to share this with you!

 You can have a vertical garden without soil easily by using the techniques of aeroponics or hydroponics in a vertical garden system.

Hydroponics is simply growing plants in sand, soil or liquid with added nutrients, but without soil. This is possible so long as we provide the nutrients that the plans need that they would otherwise have gotten from the soil.  

Some plants can also be grown aeroponically, where their roots are exposed to the air, but they are sprayed periodically with a solution of water and nutrients.

Using either of these two methods requires knowledge of the systems as well as the types of plants that can live under these conditions. I have outlined all the information that you need to get started below.

Growing lettuce on a vertical garden, Can You Have a Vertical Garden Without Soil?

What Do Plants Need?

In order to thrive, plants need support, nutrients, protection from adverse temperatures, moisture, and oxygen around the roots.

Aeroponics

Plants that are grown aeroponically are grown with no medium at all other than the air. They can be found suspended in trees, in rock crevices, or hanging from a ceiling. The roots of plants that are hanging in the air need to be sprayed with a mixture of water and hydroponics solution. Those plants that grow aeroponically in nature, such as orchids and ferns, get their nutrients from the water that washes over then from their hosts when it rains.

Hydroponics

Plants can be grow without soil by using water, sand, gravel, perlite, vermiculite or coconut chips to support the plant and also anchor the roots. These types of mediums allows the plant’s roots access to oxygen as well as the nutrient solution regardless of the delivery system.

A hydroponics system where plants consume water and nutrients through a PVC pipe by nutrient film technique (NFT). | Photo by Oregon State University

 Hydroponics is considered superior to traditional soil growing because the grower has full control to provide the plants with the exact amounts of nutrients, water and oxygen that it needs. It enables faster, better growth and greater yields.

Plants That Can Grow Well Without Soil

There are a lot of plants that can grow well without soil. Various types of herbs, houseplants, and vegetables thrive in this type of growing environment.

Herbs

Herbs that are grown hydroponically are known to have as much as 20-40% aromatic oils than traditionally grown herbs. This makes a tremendous difference in the quality of the herbs when used for cooking, teas, or herbal medicines. There are quite a few herbs that can be grown this way.

Commonly grown herbs are:

  • Rosemary- A great smelling herb that complements poultry dishes.
  • Basil- Use to make your own pesto or sauces.
  • Parsley- Large and leafy green, add this to salads or pasta dishes
  • Dill- This herb is very aromatic and delicious with seafood.
  • Cilantro- A must have for Mexican inspired dishes.
  • Thyme- There are several types, each with their own signature flavor. Plant one of each!
  • Lemon Balm-A member of the mint family this herb is lemony and is used in cooking for herbal teas.
  • Sage- The leaves of the sage plant are very flavorful. Place in a sunny location with good airflow to prevent mildew.
  • Oregano- This versatile herb is used in Italian and Greek recipes.
  • Mint- This plant needs will grow anywhere and take over quickly, so is best grown in its own planter.

Flowers and Houseplants

There are a lot of flowers and houseplants that can be grown hydroponically.

  • Petunias- Bright and cheerful, these flowers can be grown as either the traditional mounding types or the wave types, which are perfect for vertical gardens.
  • English Ivy- Green and Leafy English Ivy does not need to be rooted in soil to spread all over your vertical garden. It can be invasive, so you will want to keep watch that it stays where you want it!
  • Marigolds- These sunny golden flowers will grow almost anywhere, with minimal support. They just need sunlight, water and nutrients to grow large and beautiful.
  • Peace Lily- These plants can grow very large and have very pretty white blooms. They require a lot of sunlight.
  • Philodendron- Six to eight inch cutting can be placed in a jar of water and will grow happily in a sunny location.
  • Pothos- This plant is very commonly grown in water.
  • Spider Plants, or Cholorophytum- Cuttings of this plant will flourish in nothing more than water as long as the vines are supported enough that the roots remain in the water or other medium.
  • Dracena, commonly referred to as Chinese lucky bamboo- Needs to have a supportive medium since they are top heavy while the canes form roots.

Vegetables

There are several terrestrial vegetables that can be grown without soil. They do very well as they get plenty of water and nutrients without having to compete with other plants in the garden.

  • Tomatoes- Commonly grown hydroponically,tomatoes produce consistently higher yields. Indeterminate vining plants will need additional support like a stake or trellis.  
  • Leafy greens- Lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens do exceptionally when grown in water.
  • Peppers- Sweet or hot types will grow equally well and have similar requirements as tomatoes so they can be grown together easily.
  • Cucumbers- You can grow the bush or vining types of cucumbers, just be prepared to trellis the vining types as they will need the support as the weight of the plants spread down your vertical garden.
  • Celery- Growing celery requires support for the growing stalks, but as celery needs a lot of water it is a perfect candidate for a hydroponic system.

Benefits to a Hydroponic Vertical Garden

Choosing to use a hydroponic system with your vertical garden has many benefits.

  • It is cleaner that traditional gardening, as there is no dirt.
  • Fewer pests and plant diseases
  • Saves on water usage
  • Space saving
  • Weed-Free
  • Gardener controlled system
  • Higher yields

 Types of Hydroponic Systems

There are different types of hydroponic systems that are compatible with a vertical garden. You can create a do-it-yourself system, or there are a variety of great commercially available options:

  1. Wick System
  2. Flood and Drain
  3. Falling Water
  4. Water Only

1. Wick System

Plants are grown in a medium that absorbs the nutrient-rich water. The plants are then able to absorb these nutrients as needed, much like being planted in soil.

2. Flood and Drain

Plants are anchored in inert medium for support, and are watered by flooding the bed with the nutrient solution, then drained which allows oxygen flow freely around the roots.

3. Falling Water

A water circulating system is built into the vertical garden. The nutrient solution is ‘rained down on the plants, then collected once it drains through and recirculated to ‘rain’ on the plants again.

4. Water Only

Plant cuttings are placed in plain, non-chlorinated water or spring water in a tinted glass or plastic bottle or jar. They will root in the water and take nutrients from the water.

Hydroponics Kits

During my research I found a few examples of hydroponic kits that could help you get started easily.

The DreamJoy Hydroponic Grow Kit is made of PVC pipe and can grow 90 plants. It is already set up as a great vertical gardening option.

The Fineether Hydroponic Growing System has built-in LED grow lights and two pots. It has an alarm that lets you know when it is time to add water.

The Big Smart Hydroponic Planter is for larger climbing plants such as tomatoes or cucumbers. It has a built-in water pump and timer to help maintain the perfect watering/feeding schedule.

Reap the Benefits of Your Labor

Creating a soil-free vertical garden takes a little bit of planning, but if you use the information provided above to build yours, you will be enjoying the delicious rewards from your beautiful new garden before you know it.

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