Everything You Need to Know About Living Plant Walls
Green wall, eco-wall, living wall, plant wall, whatever you want to call them, installing a vertical garden is an excellent way to utilize unused potential growing space in both interior and exterior applications.
Living walls can be pre-constructed, or you can retrofit an existing wall to hold a variety of different greenery. There are living walls for different budgets, as they can be any size, and made out of various materials.
While there are some rules and things to keep in mind, a DIY-sense of creativity and a love of plants are all you really need to make one. Their versatility means if you want one, there's like a way to make space for one.
Let your imagination run wild, and read on for everything you need to know about installing a living plant wall.
What Are Living Walls?
Living walls are vertical structures that host a combination of plants that grow together to make a fully covered wall of greenery. Multiple, small plants of various textures and color end up making a mosaic or tapestry of plant-life.
The only rule is that the growing structure is vertical, and wall-like; trellises and fences could be made into living walls, but the aesthetic is different than planting something in the ground and letting it trail up.
A living wall has the medium that plants grow on pre-installed onto an existing or newly constructed wall, either through dirt-filled packs, small containers, pots, or panel systems.
They can be freestanding, or conjoined to other walls. For instance, a bare wall in your kitchen could be turned into a living wall, while a section in your outdoor garden could also be a great spot for a newly constructed outdoor living wall.
Either way, a sturdy wall structure must already exist, or one needs to be built so that it's strong enough to hold the weight of the entire system.
Where to Install One
A living plant wall can be installed anywhere as long as the space meets the light and temperature requirements of the plants. They're great for interior areas, including residential and business spaces, but can also be great in urban settings.
Office spaces benefit from the aesthetically pleasing style of living walls, as employees and guests will appreciate their unique look. Residential homes and apartments can benefit from their beauty, but also from the possibility of growing food.
Parks, playgrounds, city centers, exterior walls of buildings, and businesses can all be great places to install a living wall to reduce CO2, while beautifying the space.
Living walls can be constructed completely from scratch to fit in new spaces and builds, or they can be retrofitted and made to work on existing walls.
Pre-made Living Walls
Every space will be different, as will the budget, and using pre-made systems can help facilitate the process, or provide you with a complete set-up.
There are a selection of starter kits on websites like Etsy, Wayfair, and Amazon, as most bricks and mortar retail stores haven't caught on to the trend just yet.
Pre-made products start cheap, and $80 can get you a plastic vertical garden that holds a dozen plants and has a simple, but functional irrigation system.
Fabric pouches are great for outdoor applications as they can hold more plants, and it's okay that the medium gets wet and soggy. They start at $40, but will need to be hung on something, and hand watering may be necessary.
Keep in mind that building a living wall on an existing wall in a home will need different considerations than building one outside in an urban or backyard space, even though the principle idea is the same.
DIY Living Wall
If you're handy and understand the needs of plants, you can build your own living wall system easily, and sometimes cheaper than buying pre-made products.
There are many ways to DIY a living wall for either indoor or outdoor purposes, but interior applications will benefit from a barrier that keeps moisture and dirt from ruining the drywall.
Constructing a steel grid out of re-bar within a wooden frame is one way to hold plants, or you could build a large frame and hang individual pots and planters onto it.
Landscape fabric and a layer of "poly" or plastic sheeting behind your panels or frame is a great way to protect the backing wall.
Using found materials is another idea that utilizes so-called "garbage" and up-cycles waste. Wooden skids, old fencing, both metal and wood can be re-used to create frames, grids, shelves, or used as the planters themselves, especially in outdoor applications.
Whatever you use to attach plants to the wall needs to be strong enough to hold them. This includes the dirt and the weight when plants are watered. Plants may be small at first, but they will get heavier as they mature.
Hand-watering vertical gardens are one of the biggest ongoing challenges of this type of structure. Not only is it cumbersome to individually water plants, especially as they become more ensconced, there is also the issue of catching excess water run-off.
Spray bottles and small watering cans with long stems can be useful for smaller living walls, and a gutter system can be attached to the bottom to protect floors. Outside, water run-off is not as much of an issue.
Larger living walls will benefit from a drip irrigation system. The number one way people kill plants is through improper watering, so irrigation lines that feed into each pouch or pot are a great way to keep everything consistently watered.
Simple irrigation systems are sold online for $30-$50, but automated systems or ones that re-circulate the water cost more. Choose plants that have similar water needs for the best results, and always allow for proper drainage.
Best Plants to Use for Indoors
The best plants to use will be ones that do well in the particular climate they are being planted in. Tropical, indoor plants will do the best in residential spaces according to their light and water needs as temperatures remain consistent around 70 degrees F.
Pothos, ivy, ferns, philodendrons, and spider plants, are good choices for indoor walls, but whatever you choose, make sure they have similar light, humidity, and watering needs.
An entire wall of indoor succulents would work great since they are all drought-tolerant plants that prefer lots of bright, indirect sunlight. This would also cut down on the need to water as much, and allow homeowners to travel without worry.
Herbs and other edible plants may do well indoors, but will need a bright, southwest facing wall with big windows, otherwise supplemental lighting may be necessary.
Best Plants to Use for Outdoors
An outdoor living wall can be planted with annuals or perennials that are rated for their zone. Otherwise, annuals will have to be re-planted each year.
Petunias, verbena, morning glory, and zinnias would all do well on a living wall, and look beautiful if you have the budget for yearly planting. Intersperse trailing greenery with compact plants like ornamental or edible cabbages and kale.
Perennials will continue to come back each year as long as they can establish root systems. Consider shallow-rooted plants that will have "winter interest" even when dormant like clematis, grape vines, and non-invasive ivies.
Herbs are excellent choices since they don't need a lot of space to grow, and certain varieties like creeping thyme and lavender may come back every year if allowed to establish.
Sedums and stonecrops are outdoor succulents, and could also make up an entire living wall that's drought-tolerant and vibrant in color.
In general, low-maintenance, non-fussy plants will do well in vertical garden planting. Choose ones that trail, but also ones that grow upright to create different textures and focal points, or create a monochromatic look with just one or two different species.
Can You Build Living Food Walls?
In theory, yes, but just like the lighting, humidity, and water needs of regular plants, there are many considerations that go into planting successful food crops: the main one being space.
Most fruits and vegetables need a substantial amount of dirt or growing medium to extend long roots, usually between 6-12 inches. It would be difficult to make a living wall with these requirements, though someone with DIY creativity could do it.
Smaller plants like herbs, vining plants like grapes and tomatoes (especially cherry varieties), as well as greens like lettuce, kale, and arugula don't need as much growing space as others.
If your living wall is outside, your ability to grow fruits and vegetables on a living wall is much easier, and choosing the right species can produce a healthy crop while making use of vacant vertical space on a garage or exterior wall.
Choosing the right species that perform well in vertical growing situations like trellises, cages, and fences will likely do fine in a living wall as long as the infrastructure is there and they can be cared for properly.
Cost is dependent on many factors, but the main consideration is the size of your wall. If you are constructing your own, plan to spend around $100 per square foot which would include the plants, dirt, a simple irrigation system, as well as the structure.
There are ways to cut down on all of the costs involved, including re-purposing and sourcing free materials, and growing your own plants from seed or cuttings.
Hiring a company will typically double the cost, and for residential applications isn't as necessary as large-scale living walls.
Large-scale panel systems that come with plants pre-installed are great for companies, or government buildings that want professionally built living green walls installed.
Companies like Sagegreenlife and ProWall specialize in this kind of application, but they aren't cheap.
Living plants take in carbon dioxide and refresh the space with fresh oxygen, though the capability of indoor plants has been greatly exaggerated.
Nonetheless, both indoor and outdoor plants reduce airborne pollutants to some extent and outdoor plants specifically can help draw in pollinators, and create a healthy micro-climate.
Living walls also utilize unused space, as most gardens are planted horizontally, limiting the amount available to indoor applications. Land use and space is of great environmental concern, especially in urban zones that want to beautify spaces and reduce CO2 levels in highly populated areas.
Living walls can reduce outdoor temperature fluctuations of "concrete jungles", as concrete and brick are thermal heat absorbers. Plants protect the building facades while keeping temperature changes to a minimum, decreasing the amount of expansion and contraction of building surfaces, while also protecting from rain, wind, and UV exposure.
Plants also reduce outdoor noise which can be beneficial next to busy roads, or construction areas. A living wall is an excellent barrier that can block out various sounds including both high and low-frequency ones.
Looking at a living wall is like observing a work of art, and the beautification of spaces should not be undervalued. While the environmental benefits are timely, increasing the aesthetics of a space can do wonders for homeowners' and workers' mental well-being.
Plants are known to reduce stress merely by their lovely appearance and the act of caretaking. Living walls can provide a visual respite for those who work indoors; either in offices, or from home, and especially in areas that experience long, cold winters.
The exterior of buildings and park spaces can also be improved by healthy, lush living walls. Flourishing greenery is enough to bring people out to these spaces to relish in the wake of good design while they relax.
Living walls can improve the exterior of a building to give the appearance of an eco-conscious, modern company that prioritizes progressive thinking. A well-constructed and designed living wall can add resale value to both residential and commercial spaces.
Save on Energy Bills
Walls covered in plants aren't just beautiful and good for the environment, they can also help to reduce energy costs in both residential and commercial buildings.
When designed with this intention, living walls can provide shade in the summer months while absorbing and reflecting intense sunlight, and reducing cooling costs. In the winter, as plants naturally die back, warm sunlight can be let back through the wall space to hit the building.
Depending on what the panels are made of, the extra structural element can also act as a kind of insulation, guarding exterior walls from excess heat and cold.
Interior living plant walls can also help reduce cooling costs in the summer in similar ways and through a process called evapotranspiration.
Living walls can also generate credits for the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which was developed by The U.S. Green Building Council to reward buildings that attain more environmentally-friendly design features.
Commercial and residential building owners can obtain points for installing living green walls if the design allows for efficient use of water and irrigation systems and other "green" criteria.
Just like cost, it's difficult to say exactly how long a living plant wall will last as it depends on many different factors. The structure itself may last decades, but plants don't always live that long.
A living wall full of indoor, tropical plants could technically live forever, save for a few replacements along the way. This depends on the homeowner's ability to keep plants alive.
Outdoor living walls may have a variety of success and failure, again depending on the purpose. A backyard space may have to try out a few different species to see what takes before a living wall becomes completely established, needing little maintenance after the first year or so.
For urban spaces, any corporate, government, or commercial building owners that hire a professional company should ask this question up front and see if maintenance is included in the cost.
Whatever the application, the right species planted in ideal conditions on a sturdy infrastructure with proper irrigation will have the best success.
Unless there's total neglect or poor design, plants could live 5-10 years, with individual ones being replaced, as needed.
For indoor and outdoor living walls, proper maintenance and upkeep in the first few months to a year when plants are being established is the most important time to nurture their growth and observe how they are doing.
Living plant walls are a great addition to various kinds of spaces that are looking to beautify with greenery. Outdoor living walls can help reduce noise and pollution, while indoor ones can brighten up people's moods while adding aesthetic appeal.
Beginners and expert gardeners alike can build their own living walls, as can homeowners or business owners. The sky's the limit, literally, and now that you know everything about living plant walls, you can start bringing nature back to the spaces you love.
You don't have to go big with this idea, but you can if you want to.