Do Vertical Gardens Damage Walls? (And How to Avoid That)

Do the vertical gardens pose any potential damage to walls behind them? Will water seep through and damage the walls, or maybe the plants we plant climb into every nook and cranny of the living room? If you’re scared of damaging the wall behind your vertical garden, let me walk you through the ways and methods that will protect the wall – while your vertical garden flourishes.

Wall damage will depend on the protective methods you use in the initial construction of your vertical garden. If you take care to isolate the wall from water and from the plants themselves, you should have no problem. Proper maintenance of the plants is a good way to ensure controlled growth – with no damage. So, yes, it is completely possible to make vertical gardens last for years without hurting any walls at all.

A damaged wall in the home is a nightmare owing to the expense of repairing it. Read on as we explain how to make sure you get a beautiful vertical garden – with no damage to your walls.

Vertical green wall in an office room, Do Vertical Gardens Damage Walls? (And How to Avoid That)

How to prevent wall damage from a vertical garden

The two major things you need to do in order to protect your walls from any damage are –

  • Anchoring your vertical garden at the right spot
  • Protecting the wall from water damage

The first will make sure your wall will be able to hold the weight of your vertical garden. The second will prevent rot from setting into your wall. Both are equally important. Let’s break them down into easy-to-implement chunks.

1. Find the right spot to anchor to

Planning is everything. Very much the single most important aspect of the construction of the vertical gardens in our homes involves the successful locating of the framework studs. These form the support of everything overhead.

Typically, a modern home building composed of wood use upright 2×4’s at approximately 16-inch spacing. On two-story homes, these studs would still be 2 inches wide, but they would be 6 inches thick – even stronger.

This means from the center of one upright 2×4 to the center of the next one should be from 16 inches too, possibly 18 inches. The entirety of the new vertical garden structure will depend on rooting the edifice into these boards. They are certainly strong enough to hold up even heavier items if the attachments are secure. Once located, we use these upright lines to determine where we attach our new structure.

How To Find The Studs Behind A Wall?

The simplest method of locating studs is to try and locate just one, to begin with. Experienced carpenters can detect studs by tapping on walls and listening for the hollow-turning-to-solid sounds.

Naturally, corners are obvious locations for upright studs, so it is possible to measure 16 inches from a corner and assume one is close. Holding a flashlight at a sharp angle to this spot should reveal indentations where nails secured the wall material (sheetrock, etc)  to the studs. In any case, it is not a disaster to sink a small nail long enough to penetrate the wall and become embedded to locate the first stud.

Stud Finders – The Easy Route

There are also electronic “stud finders” readily available which locate the studs in a wall by detecting metal or even mass density behind the wallboard. These are pretty unerring and give completely reliable results.

Once secure about the first stud placement, measure 16 inches, and re-verify. These are the foundations of our vertical garden walls. Everything is built out from there.

2. Protecting the wall from water damage

The walls in the house will need substantial protection from water and the accidents of watering.

No system is perfect. Especially if we use timed automatic systems, we lose an element of control and gain a potential for disaster. And it can happen more than once.

Also, we need to consider the amount of water the plants require. This water sits at the base of planters, so we need a barrier of some kind.

A barrier will protect from condensation seeping backward through to the wall. The most important recommended barriers are just pretty much common sense, in the end. First, a barrier of a material which will protect seepage or condensation through our construction and leak onto the wall. Secondly, an air gap to allow the drying flow of air between the construction and the wall.

What Do You Attach To The Wall?

To protect the wall from water damage and from prying roots, you need to cover it. Essentially, creating a barrier between your vertical garden and the wall itself.

What material do we attach to the wall in order to support the containers holding our plants which we attach to it? Let’s take a quick look at the available options.

1. Plywood

Plywood is the most commonly used material in vertical garden construction because of its size, shape, and strength.

Cutting down or adding to 4 by 8 feet sheets of plywood offers the customized size and shape we look for. Plywood is great for protecting the wall behind it. It’s thick and water-resistant, at least where condensation is the problem. It can be a great separator between plants and wall.

Plywood also takes paint well, giving us beautiful color options to play with. The paint itself can also beef up a waterproof base. And we have options here –  when painted with Marine Enamel or designated waterproof paints, plywood becomes almost waterproof.

2. Manufactured Fabric Pouch Systems

You can buy self-contained vertical gardening systems made out of fabric. Pouch systems inside durable fabric material are a great option.

Using these systems requires a basic constructed wood framework which attaches to the wall. The frame supplies a waterproofing overlay between planters and wall. It protects the walls by maintaining an air-gapped distance between the fabric and the wall itself.

3. Alternative Wall Boards: Greenboards and Cement Boards

There are a couple of options for you in the construction department that can offer great support and waterproofing for your vertical garden. The upside of both materials is similar to that of plywood. It can also be painted to offer enhanced color to a room behind the works.

Greenboards:

Greenboards are essentially gypsum-centered wall boards with water-resistant finishes. They are, however, best used as a cover for the plywood.

These products are used in home construction in bathrooms and utility rooms where washers run copious amounts of water. They can also be used in kitchens. Structurally, they do not offer much in terms of support but they’re great as an additional layer which isolates the “real wall” from your vertical garden.

Cement boards:

Cement boards are basically waterproof surfaces. They are often used on the back side of tiles in applications in bathrooms and kitchens.

The downside, for our purposes, is in their weight. They tend to add a substantial amount of weight to the vertical garden game. Also, like greenboards, is not a structural asset on its own.

Cement boards can replace the wall boards themselves or be attached on top of them. It’s a good solution if you’re looking to add climbing plants that stick to walls to climb and flower.

Watch out though. Those climbing plants can be amazingly invasive unless restricted to the appropriate backing. I would recommend coating the cement board with appropriately-colored marine enamel or using good waterproofing paint before planting. Tiling over the cement boards could offer a striking alternative wall.

4. Pre-Built Metal Constructions

Recent interest in vertical gardening has generated a variety of commercially-available metal structures for both indoor and outdoor gardens. Various hanging baskets arranged in sets on such a metal construction can provide an absolutely gorgeous vertical wall of plants.

Some custom made items not only allow plant pockets but also look extraordinary on their own. These feature all the artistic and practical skills applied to metalwork with decorating flair.

Outdoors, vertical gardens are wired or welded in series with galvanized metal and/or artistic wrought iron. They are more expensive but they are impressive on their own in patio applications as well as the practical interests of food growing.

The Air Between The Wall and The Garden

A vertical garden attached directly into a wall should include some sort of gap between the wall and the construction. This vital separation allows potentially trapped water molecules to disperse and gives them a way to accomplish that.

Trapped moisture can cause molds and deteriorate sheetrock walls. It doesn’t even require a substantial gap.

When we use plywood,  spacers attached to the back of the plywood used to secure the wall are all that we need. They can be of any substance or length. They should match in size, of course, but it is entirely possible to produce a slant if desired.

How to Waterproof a Fabric Pouch Vertical Garden 

Interestingly, these Fabric Pouch systems tend to be more waterproof than any others. But even so, you should create a waterproof barrier behind the system.

In the case of these manufactured wall systems, bear in mind there is no sheet of plywood involved. Rather, we construct a frame onto the wall itself and then deal with protection.

Many systems recommend attaching a greenboard at this stage, but others recommend attaching a waterproof barrier and then the green board. Others do not require greenboards and simply place a waterproof sheet behind the construction.

In these cases, the structural frame determines the finish, using two different frames, one over the other. This is to secure the waterproofing material to the structure and then build out to attach the next payers of fabric material.

Which should you choose?

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions but also use your common sense. If in doubt, waterproofing is always better than neglecting to do so.

Are There Exceptions To These Rules?

Yes, there are exceptions. Not every vertical garden requires this amount of wall protection efforts.

Smaller constructions can involve much less fuss. This post deals with whole living green walls –  not necessarily smaller vertical gardens. By “smaller”, I would typify this as anything one or two people could lift on and off a wall by hand. Akin to painting and photographic art hangings, small vertical gardens used as accents require far less planning and installation issues.

Naturally, the same caveats apply – plastic or some sort of waterproof barriers are always required for positioning on walls. Watering is always relevant and necessary for growing things. Protecting walls is always recommended. And these structures also most certainly require hanging on or between the same wall studs.

It’s just going to be on a smaller scale and involve less construction work.

In Summary

There is a wide range of possibilities available for creating lasting and gorgeous vertical gardens for both indoors and outdoors. Whether you build yours alongside your living room wall, or possibly an outdoor fence, you can and should protect the supporting wall.

Follow the suggestions I made in this post for a beautiful vertical garden – and a dry, strong wall behind it!

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