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In 40-by-10 inches, a vertical garden can fit

Flowers, herbs and other plants can share a DIY planter

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Published: July 21, 2016, 6:00am
3 Photos
Lay your pallet flat, with the side you want facing front on the ground; it should have several horizontal planks. Cut landscaping fabric to cover the back and sides of the pallet. (Photos by Amy King/The Washington Post)
Lay your pallet flat, with the side you want facing front on the ground; it should have several horizontal planks. Cut landscaping fabric to cover the back and sides of the pallet. (Photos by Amy King/The Washington Post) Photo Gallery

Are you a gardener who is short on space or time? Take your plants vertical.

Ben Friton founded Can YA Love, a Washington, D.C.-based company that gives vertical-gardening classes around the world.

During Friton’s travels through East Africa, he saw makeshift upright growing systems made from burlap sacks in areas with barren or contaminated soil or little space or water. These bags of soil have holes cut for plants such as kale and chard.

“Some benefits are more obvious than others,” Friton says. An obvious example: Taking plants aboveground makes it possible to grow herbs, flowers and produce in places where soil is nonexistent, such as on a city balcony.

Less apparent advantages include portability. When Friton realized the sun wasn’t hitting the vertical garden in his back yard, he moved it to where it could get proper sun. Vertical gardens also require less irrigation than in-ground plots and — perhaps the best part — little or no weeding. Aesthetically, they can beautify blank or uninspired walls.

Gardeners can make rudimentary vertical beds using wooden shipping pallets, which are cheap, durable and ubiquitous.

Seek a pallet in the “free” section on Craigslist or ask a big-box store for a spare. Be sure to grab one without stamps or markings; these can indicate it has been treated with chemicals.

Friton says nonclimbing plants and those with shallow roots perform best. He advises that you place plants that don’t need a lot of water at the top and those that love moist soil low, where water pools.

Because the pallet will be heavy once packed with soil, this project is best for two people. In an ideal world you’ll let your plants take root for a week before flipping the pallet upright. But if you don’t have that kind of time, you can gingerly lift it and lean it at an angle to prevent the soil from spilling out.

You’ll need:

• A wooden pallet

• A roll of landscape fabric

• Staple gun and staples

• 3 large bags of general potting soil (You’ll need more than you think.)

• Various plants (From the top down, I used succulents, Vinca major “Variegata,” petunias, basil, rosemary, mint, ivy varieties and dusty miller.)

• Scissors

Step 1: Lay your pallet flat, with the side you want facing front on the ground; it should have several horizontal planks.

Step 2: Cut three pieces of landscape fabric: Two to fit the pallet horizontally and one to span it vertically. Cut it long enough to wrap around the sides and bottom gap, reaching the front.

Step 3: Pull the first horizontal piece tight and staple at every point where the fabric touches the sides and crossbars.

Step 4: Repeat for the other horizontal piece, then the vertical one. Reinforce the bottom gap with lots of fabric and staples.

Step 5: Flip the pallet over. Trim any fabric that shows. Stain the wood or paint it, if you wish. Allow it to dry.

Step 6: Fill the pallet with potting soil.

Step 7: Using your hands or a trowel, press trenches in the soil.

Step 8: Work plants into each trench, packing them tightly to minimize bare soil. Don’t forget to put the more moisture-loving plants toward the bottom.

Step 9: Water it thoroughly and evenly. Leave the pallet flat for a week so the soil can settle and the plants can take root.

Step 10: Slowly prop the pallet up against a wall that gets partial sun, keeping it at a slight angle to prevent the soil from falling out.

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