Vertical gardening is a great way to garden if you have a small space. There are many different ways to use vertical gardening in your garden, and you can use it to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, or flowers.
In my opinion, the best way to get started with vertical gardening is to grow strawberries vertically. You can grow strawberries in a pot or planter that is attached to a vertical frame or structure. This is a great way to save space in your garden, and it is also a great way to keep your strawberries off the ground so they are not damaged by pests or animals.
If you need help deciding which type of strawberries you want to grow, check out my post here. There are a variety of different types with different harvest schedules,
Commercial vs DIY Strawberry Towers
Probably the best way of growing vertical strawberries is to use a strawberry tower. A strawberry tower is a tiered vertical garden with several levels that you can plant your strawberry plants in. The levels help to save space and make it easy for you to harvest the strawberries.
Strawberry towers can either be purchased (the easiest solution) or made yourself. We’ll talk about how to do the latter of these options later on in the article.
Commercial strawberry towers generally consist of a series of plastic buckets that stack on top of each other, draining water down from the top level through each of the lower levels into a tray on the bottom.
To plant your strawberries into one of these towers, you’ll fill up the lowest level part of the way with soil and situate your strawberry plants into their proper places so they won’t be in the way of the next level up.
Fill the level the rest of the way up with soil and gently shake the planter to settle any air pockets that may have been trapped around the strawberry roots.
Repeat this process until you’ve successfully planted up your strawberry tower, stacking each layer on top of the last one. The commercial towers are super easy to use, and they make growing vertically as simple as putting together a puzzle.
Because you get more plants into the same amount of space, this type of planter lets your strawberry plants produce more berries for you without needing more places to put them.
DIY Strawberry Towers
Let’s talk about some DIY strawberry container ideas to get you started. You can use a 5 gallon bucket and drill holes in the side for your strawberry plants to stick out of, or you can make one out of garden fencing, PVC, or a number of other materials.
If you already have some garden fence laying around, here is a quick 6 step guide to turn it into a makeshift tower for your strawberry plants:
- Get a section of garden fencing (the kind with larger holes), and wrap it into a cylinder shape.
- Put straw or sphagnum moss around the inside up against the walls of your makeshift tower (to keep your potting soil from falling out of the holes)
- Fill the space inside the straw/moss with potting soil.
- Do this in layers. A ring of moss or straw around the outside, then fill the inside with soil. Then another ring around the outside and more soil on the inside.
- While you’re filling the tower up, you can plant bare-root strawberries as you go by placing them sideways with their tops facing out of the holes. This removes the need for digging them in later on.
- When you get all the way to the top, plant your last strawberry plants on top facing upwards, and use your moss as a mulch.
While you can use either straw or moss for this, it’s recommended that you use sphagnum moss, because some straw can be treated with herbicides that can kill your strawberry plants. Sphagnum moss, by comparison, is much safer for your plants.
Another DIY method for growing strawberries is a PVC pipe strawberry planter. This can be relatively inexpensive, as all you need are two sections of PVC.
- Get a section of 6″ PVC and a section of .5″ or .75″ PVC pipe along with two end caps for the narrow pipe. The length you have the pipes cut to will depend on how tall you want them. 3-5′ would be a good range, and your thinner pipe should be around 6″ longer than the larger pipe. For example, 48″ for the wide pipe and 54″ for the thin pipe.
- Use a 2 to 3 inch hole saw to cut holes in the 6″ wide PVC pipe where you are going to put your strawberry plants. Don’t just make the holes along the front of the pipe. You can put some holes on the sides as well so you can place strawberry plants on 3 sides of the pipe. One side should be left un-drilled so you can put the pipe up against a wall or pole to help stabilize it.
- Using an 1/8″ drill bit, drill holes along the entire length of the thin PVC pipe except the top 6″. This will be how you water your strawberry plants. The thin pipe will go inside of the wide pipe, and you’ll pour water down the thin pipe. Make sure you put enough holes that water is distributed evenly throughout your planter.
- Put both end caps on the thin PVC pipe at this point.
- Place your 6″ wide PVC pipe wherever it is going to be permanently. If you think you might need to move it at some point, you might want to get a cap for the bottom of this pipe and drill drainage holes in it – otherwise your dirt will fall out.
- Secure your pipe to something nearby – this could be a stair rail, a t-post you pound into the ground, or anything else with string, wire, or garden ties.
- Wrap your thin PVC pipe in burlap to prevent the holes from clogging up (secure the burlap with twist ties) and put it inside of your wide pipe.
- Next, fill your wide PVC pipe up with potting soil. As you get to each of the holes, you can stuff a strawberry plant into the hole before you continue adding potting soil. To cut down on weeds, you can optionally put some sphagnum moss around the hole to act as vertical mulch.
- Continue filling until you’ve got strawberry plants and potting soil all the way up to the top. Cap it off with a strawberry facing upwards on the very top of the pipe.
- When you need to water your strawberry plants, uncap the thin PVC pipe and fill it up with water.
Planting Your Strawberries in Soil
Once you’ve planted your strawberry plants, you just need to keep them happy until they’re ready to bear fruit.
This mostly comes down to watering them properly and fertilizing them once per growing season.
Watering Your Plants
Strawberry plants need to receive adequate water to keep their roots healthy. They love it when the soil is moist, but not too wet. It is very important to pay attention to this. If you get too much water in the soil, your plants will end up getting root rot and dying.
Because strawberry plants should always be kept in moist soil, knowing when to water them can be a bit of a guessing game that is different from environment to environment.
It becomes more tricky when you grow strawberries vertically – depending on which method you use, because soil tends to dry out from the top down. The commercial planters fix this issue somewhat by giving each strawberry its own pot.
You can use a finger to check the top two inches of soil in each of the pots on the commercial planter, and if they are starting to dry out, then it’s time to water. Alternatively, you can get a cheap soil moisture meter and use that to test instead for the DIY methods, testing around the roots of each plant.
You’ll often find advice that you should fertilize your strawberry plants in spring, at the beginning of the growing season. While you can do this, it will lead to your strawberries being soft as a result of the nitrogen in the fertilizer.
If you must fertilize your strawberry plants at the beginning of the season, using a low nitrogen fertilizer can help mitigate this issue. Using the fertilizer at half the recommended strength on the bag can help as well, especially if you’re just planting bare root strawberries.
The best time to fertilize your strawberry plants is just after you harvest your berries from the plant. At this point, you can fertilize them with a good 12-12-12 fertilizer.
Fertilizing is a bit more complicated with vertical strawberry plants, as it’s not really possible to spread out a granular fertilizer evenly around your plants. Instead, it’s probably better to use liquid fertilizer.
Grow Strawberries Without Soil
By far the easiest way of growing strawberries – though not necessarily the cheapest – is to grow them without soil, using water as their growing medium. Growing strawberries this way is called hydroponics.
One of the best ways for growing strawberries using hydroponics is using a type of system called NFT (nutrient film technique). This is basically a series of pipes that you run water through, and the strawberry plants grow in baskets where their roots hang down into the stream of water.
You can make one of these yourself using 3 to 4″ PVC pipe and an aquarium pump, but you can purchase a decent system with spots for between 30 and 100 strawberry plants for under $100 from a site like Alibaba or eBay.
This – in my opinion – is a far easier way to grow strawberries than trying to use soil. The worry about how much and how often to water your strawberry plants is removed completely. All you need to do is make sure your water reservoir stays topped up.
Fertilizing is also removed as an issue. You’ll buy a set of fertilizers specifically for hydroponic systems, and you’ll find out from the manufacturer’s website how much to add per week or month. As your strawberry plants go from leafing out into fruiting, the fertilizer will change to a low nitrogen option to avoid producing a soft, mushy strawberry.
This is because fertilizers generally come in two part systems, one part containing nitrogen and other things needed for leafy growth, and the other part containing nutrients needed for flowering and fruiting.
You’ll change how much of each of these you add as your strawberry plants start flowering, which will fix the problem of soft berries from fertilization at the wrong time of year.
Growing in Soil VS Water: Which is Better?
Neither of these options are necessarily better than the other. Each of them has their advantages and disadvantages, so it comes down to the type of gardening you prefer.
For soil, the advantage is that it’s cheap, readily available, and easy to start. There is a lot of information available about it online. The disadvantage is that it’s a bit trickier to get right over time.
Knowing the right amount to water may take some time to get the hang of, and that’s likely to result in some dead plants over time. You also get a lower yield of strawberries compared to using hydroponics.
For hydroponic growing, it’s a little bit more complicated and expensive to get started. Hydroponic systems are coming down in price, but they are still a bit more expensive. Figure in the range of $60 – 180 for a cheap NFT system made from PVC pipes (if you’re not willing to DIY) vs $35 – 60 for an average strawberry tower made for dirt. Even at these prices, though, the hydroponic system can come out to be cheaper per plant you can fit in it at once.
Hydroponic systems can also be a lot more expensive: into the thousands and up for some of the really high end systems. Those aren’t necessary, though.
On the advantages for hydroponic strawberries, they generally grow faster and yield more fruit compared to those grown in soil. Growing directly in water gives your plants the perfect combination of air, nutrients, and water that really pushes them to their full potential. If you’re concerned about water usage, hydroponic strawberry plants use much less water per plant compared to planting in dirt
You also eliminate things like overwatering or worrying about when to fertilize. All of that is planned out for you. Just fertilize on schedule and top up your water in between.
If you’ve ever wondered, “can strawberries grow vertically?” The answer is a resounding yes. You should almost never grow strawberry plants any other way – although if you have a traditional gardening itch that can only be scratched with a strawberry, I have a guide on that here.
Vertical growing is a great way to increase space efficiency and production. There are a number of ways to do this, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
Regardless of which one you choose, growing strawberries vertically at all is a huge win over taking up tons of space growing them the old fashioned way or buying them from the store.
By following the tips in this article, you can grow high-yield strawberry plants that are both healthy and delicious.
Good luck with your gardening!