Sometimes, the only direction available to an urban gardener is up.
Tower gardening is a great solution for small spaces, lack of soil, or unfavorable conditions. Even if there is plenty of garden space, tower gardening can make better use of space and add nice color and structural accents to a garden.
An extension of container gardening, towers can be used indoors or out. If climbing plants are used, tower gardens can supplement a window sill garden by providing more soil without using up a lot of space.
Which plants can be grown in towers?
It is astounding how many different types of plants can be grown in tower gardens. Whether you are foodscaping or simply adding color, tower gardens are very versatile. Strawberries, potatoes, herbs, lettuce, spinach, radishes, squash, succulents, and other ornamentals are just a few. As plant selections are being made, keep in mind how much sunlight is available, your local microclimate, and what plants will actually be eaten or enjoyed. (There’s no sense growing a bountiful crop of Brussels Sprouts if no one is going to eat them!)
How to make a tower garden
After deciding what to grow, it is time to build a garden tower. Garden towers can be placed on the ground or on top of a large planting container. In its simplest form, a tower garden is nothing more than a cylinder of wire filled with potting soil. There are high-tech versions that incorporate irrigation, hydroponics, and much more than we will go into here. (I’m a big fan of keeping life simple.)
For our garden tower, hardware cloth or chicken wire are the best materials for the cylinder. Landscaping cloth can be used with stakes, all by itself, but those tend to fall over.
Begin by deciding the tower diameter. Multiply that figure by 3.5 for the length of hardware cloth needed. Most hardware cloth comes in 36” or 48” heights. Either is fine. Cut the hardware cloth to the desired length and roll it into a cylinder. Join the edges with wire, paper clips, or whatever is on hand, with a little overlap; just make sure it won’t break down after extended exposure to sun and moisture.
Place the cylinder where it will remain and then line the inside with newspaper, landscape cloth, or straw. This job can be made easier by slowly adding soil as you go. The soil will hold this barrier up against the tower. If potatoes or strawberries are being planted, plants can be added at different soil levels for a bigger crop. Otherwise, keep filling the tower with high quality potting soil up to the top. Now you are ready to really start planting!
Planting a tower garden
Using a screwdriver or similar pointy object, poke holes in the side of the tower garden. Your fingers can make the hole as large as is needed to insert seeds or seedlings. Continue the process until you run out of appropriately spaced plants or seeds, depending on the variety being planted. Water thoroughly and regularly as the seeds sprout or the seedlings take hold.
As plants grow in a tower garden, the roots will spread throughout the soil, collecting nutrients and water. If you happen to notice stray worms on the ground after a rain, add them to the tower garden for better aeration and soil structure.
Aged compost can be placed on top and watered in to add more nutrients to the soil. Over time, your tower garden crop will grow and thrive. As an added benefit, weeding is almost completely eliminated with tower gardens!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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