Vertical planting tips and ideas

So we are living in an age where for some, space is a premium and a quarter acre lot is a giant city oasis. Let’s focus on that as our starting point for this thread.

An example of the extreme for my thoughts on the topic come to us from California - A giant, indoor vertical farm aims to bring jobs and fresh produce to Compton - CNN

I will start things off with sharing my vertical planter fabrication.

I occasionally have access to free pvc pipe at work, and this haul is 8" SDR35 (the thinner green sewer pipe). I cut it to 6’ sections and have (I think) finished the first one.

I have 26 holes into a single pipe. I bought 75 strawberry plants from Nourse Farms and plan to fill 3 planters with them. I intentionally only used 3 sides of the pipe so that when I install it, the north side won’t have any plants. Is there some other fruit or veggie worth growing in a tiny spot like that on the north side that I should make holes for?

For my build, I used:
6 ft long 8" SDR35 pipe, speed square and sharpie to measure, grinder with metal cutoff wheel for the slots, a heat gun I borrowed, and an empty wine bottle to bend the pipe and make the hole once softened by the heat gun.

as you can see from the photos, I staggered the middle row from the other two so that it didn’t interfere with anything.

I measured the slots about 6 inches apart vertically, and fit 8-9 slots per row. I made the slots about the same width as my wine bottle, maybe a tad bigger.

As I heated the slot, I checked with the thin end of the bottle to see how pliable the plastic was. This takes patience and constantly moving the heat gun so you don’t burn the pipe. It will develop a sheen and change color slightly as it heats up. Once the pipe is very pliable but not looking scorched (brown), insert the bottle and start bending, heating where it is still needed. I found more heat was needed down the pipe on the “outie” side rather than towards the “innie” side above. I found with not enough heat along the slot that the pipe began to crack open under the pressure of the bottle pushing through, so heating enough is a necessary step. There is also a sweet spot to hold the neck of the bottle, almost in the center point of the pipe diameter where it seemed to make the best hole shape.

This may vary depending on the size of pipe you use and the shape of the bottle (or other object) you use to create your holes. A bowling pin could make a huge hole if you come across a really big section of pipe, or I have seen some people just use a smaller diameter pipe to bend the hole on YouTube. It took me about 4 hours of work to figure out the first one. If I had a more powerful heat gun I could probably complete the entire process in 1.5 hours, and I expect the next one to take me 2.5 with what I have.

I should effectively be able to grow ~25 strawberry plants in under a square foot once I figure out how to stabilize the towers economically and effectively.

I plan to install a 1.5" or 2" pipe in the middle with smaller holes drilled in it, possibly filling it with optisorb DE and rigging up some sort of automated watering zone for the planters once I get my Rachio sprinkler system installed.

Any tips on a soil mix? I was thinking compost, optisorb, and possibly sphagnum moss if I can source it at work.

Also for the record- if I had more space I’d be planting these berries on the ground, and if I had to pay for pipe I’d likely choose a different route. It’s very expensive right now. There are pre-made planters like mine on the market, for those inclined to purchase instead of making one yourself. There are many reasonable routes to achieve the goal of limited space high yield gardening based on resources available.


That’s really nifty! Please post updates on how your strawberries fare. Vertical is the way to go for me too, as I’m running out of horizontal space.

I watched a bunch of those YouTube videos and bought supplies (a heat gun and 2 inch mesh pots) to make a similar tower for aquaponic basil. Planning to use a 5 gal bucket with a lid as the base. Just haven’t gotten around to making it.


That looks like a really cool project! (Maybe spring 2022 for me… ? hmmm…) Thanks for posting.

Alex, the 8" pipe is a great size to work with for this project. I’m sure 6" or 10" would work but be more of a challenge.

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Make sure you guys are using pvc or hdpe for a good food safe plastic

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You are welcome! I am excited to try them out. I am leaning towards the watering pipe in the middle functioning as a stabilizer and using it to connect all of them for added strength.

I’ve used vertical planting towers before, hardest part for me was keeping the soil evenly moist. 25 plants transpire a lot of water on a hot day.

I think because I couldn’t resolve the watering problem I ended up with weak plants that got attacked by aphids and spider mites.

Maybe try a soaker hose down the whole length of the pipe or a drip line?


Is PVC a safe choice? Not implying anything, asking earnestly.

Every video I’ve seen on YouTube has been PVC. I would avoid CPVC as it photodegrades faster. HDPE is probably the “best” option from a longevity standpoint, but I expect these to last me at least 7-10 years before I need to change them out, probably longer. PVC does get more brittle over time. The hydroponic setups I’ve seen use pvc, and the store bought version of my planter seems to as well.

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The agricultural hydroponic systems are food safe uv resistant hdpe with special coatings to give bacteria less space to build up. They are the better choice but pvc is the second safest of the available plastics and definitely avoid cpvc as the general consensus is that stuff is trash. I try to use as little plastics as possible but have high density hdpe containers for water storage that i keep out of the sun. The other ones are even worse with chemicals or acidic water not to mention uv.

Here is a fun video on a old lady Doctor talking about taints and the effects of plastics and phthalates on our genitalia


Do of course have some PVC irrigation pipes but they’re not everywhere and I have no ideal what soil organisms would do to/with it as a container. Also have whatever my hose is made of, polyethylene drip tubing, and HDPE rain barrels :slight_smile:

Does make me nervous but seems tough to avoid. Just wasn’t sure if anyone has good research on the detectability of degradation products (or lack thereof) in plant matter grown in these.


I would be careful with following advise from youtube DIY’s

The video’s with most vieuws are usualy really misleading or just flat out wrong. And you never or almost never see a follow up.

PVC can be really harmful but can also be food safe. Not all PVC is equal. I would only use the PVC that is rated for drinking water just to be safe. Around here we have KIWA logo on it, to signify it’s drinking water safe. The pvc used for rainwater drain pipes and sewers is cheaper but not drinking water safe.


I am planning to try a soil mix which includes optisorb (DE) to retain moisture and allow drainage and possibly also some coconut coir and spruce tree chips (I just cleared one to make room for more fruit trees). Do you remember what you had in your mix?

A couple of other ingredients you might consider in your mix are rice hulls and a product called “Dry Stall” made from pumice (not to be confused with a similar product called “Stall Dry” which is made from DE). I use them along with coconut coir in my soil mix for cymbidium orchids to retain moisture and provide drainage.


I checked, and it appears that pumice is a challenge to find on the east coast for a reasonable price. I will keep it in mind for the future though if I see it.

I tried different mixes two years first one was a well draining one and the second I blended with my native clay soil for better water retention.

The problem wasn’t so much water retention as even water distribution, if you just water from the top the water just wont make it to the bottom without the top becoming way too saturated. If you water slow and long the plants at the top will transpire it all before it makes it to the bottom on a hot day.

I’ve seen approaches where people put a PVC pipe down the middle with holes drilled every so often, then you just drive water down this drilled pipe to evenly water the entire column.

I don’t have a great picture but here is what my ‘vertical planting tower’ looked like:



It seems like that would work well, assuming you cap the PVC pipe at the bottom and put some sort of reservoir at the top to allow sufficient volume of water through the pipe.

I am considering a similar approach as 1.5" pipe is pretty cheap, but I am also running through different scenarios in my head for making this a “structural” component and opting for a steel center pipe, slotted using the chop saw at work instead of drilling holes.

I did allude to this strategy in my first post but might not have been clear with the intentions.

Dont do a steel pipe for water especially acidic nutrient water. Schedule 80 white pvc is strong enough otherwise you can use carbon fiber for fishtanks if you got some crazy plans.

Any updates?