How to Build a Vertical Garden with Rain Gutters

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When space is precious, which is common in our urban neighborhood, you have to get creative. We built this vertical garden on the south facing fence next to the driveway. Finding a source for rain gutters that would look good, be strong and functional was the first challenge. We looked locally and at the big box stores but didn’t find anything we loved!

We ordered these galvanized rain gutters and parts from Gutter Supply Company. The sales person I talked to helped me decide which material and size to use. These are 6″ galvanized metal gutters. They have painted, copper and steel ones also.

Step 1.  Unpack and check quantities and quality. We ordered 4 20″ gutters, 8 end caps and 40 hangers. The gutters also come in 10′ lengths.

Step 2. We mount 2×4 cedar boards on the fence. If this were a free-standing installation we would use 4×4 posts instead. These boards help reinforce the fence and provide a surface to attach the hanger supports to. Once they are in we mark the various levels of the lumber onto which we will attach our hangers.

Step 3. We then run our string to keep the construction level. If you look at the far-right board you may notice that there is a shadow behind the string! If we were installing posts (a free-standing structure) there is less chance to have this problem. However the fence itself is not straight. When we install the supporting cross-members we follow the guidance of the string (which shows us the true straight line) and leave gaps between the support and the posts where needed. This is very important: The boards can bend without damaging the boards. The gutters, however, will crease if they are not installed very straight!

Step 4. Once the support is aligned we select a height for the hangers. I like mid-way up the board as it would spread the force more evenly. Again, with a string, we mark our horizontal line.

Step 5. We mark and fasten the hangers evenly across the span. The spacing is important for load but also because we want to be able to repeat the spacing along each level. It is a detail easily overlooked, unless they don’t line up. Then it is a glaring problem.

The gutter then sits right into the hangers and the fastener feeds through and clamps down on the forward lip of the gutter. Very snug and the parts went together very easily. The end cap slips on and is held in place with the tension of the clip. Here is a close up of the 3 pieces.

Step 6. Repeat steps two and three to install the remaining mounting surfaces. You will want to decide on a spacing that works well for your application. We used one foot centers.

Step 7. Repeat step four. Find and mark the space for the clips. I prefer to use pencil to mark the lumber. Sometimes it is harder to see when there is glaring light but it is much easier to remove then pen.

Cordless tools will give you more versatility. There have been several jobs where we have had to run cords around the length of the house to run our more powerful drills. Besides the cord, which is very easy to step on, there is the potential to cause the breaker to pop.

Step 8. Here I am showing you the gap between the post and the support structure to emphasize how out of square a fence may be. You will want to make sure your gutters are given as straight a line to set on as you can. Variation in lumber will be negated as you will run your string across the face to check for squareness. It may take a few back and forths with the materials but it is worth the effort.

Step 9. Once your support surfaces are ready you will install the hangers. If you run a plumb line all of the hangers ought to be right atop the other.

Step 10 Set the gutters in and snap on the hooks.

This is much easier if done in tandem. You will want to make sure that the end of each level’s gutter lines up with the one above. We found the tolerances to be very tight and the gutters lined up great. Repeat for each remaining layer.

Step 11. We installed micro-spray for the various layers to be automatically watered.

Step 12. Unless you are installing water-loving (or needing) plants be sure to drill the under-side of the gutters. We made 18″ holes at 10″ increments  to help with the drainage.

Step 13. Before we installed the soil we cut thin strips of screen-door screen and laid them along the length of each gutter. This is to help keep soil in but let water run out. Then in went the soil and the various plants! Be sure to use a medium that drains very well.

A variation we have tried is to use micro-drip tubing. There is less chance of over-spray/loss. This is great as most plants do not love having city water on their leaves. The down-side is that you have to water the whole bed. While the micro-heads, used above, can be adjusted (or even closed) if part of the bed is not in use.

These emitters are evenly spaced every six inches and will provide a very even and no-fuss watering.

So are you ready to install your own vertical garden? There are a variety of materials to choose from. And even for yards where space is not at a premium it is a great way to create (edible) green walls most anywhere!

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

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