living wall

Living walls are great for homes with limited space. ATTRIBUTION: Charleston’s TheDigitel (Flickr)

Living walls, otherwise known as green walls, are self-sufficient gardens attached vertically to the exterior or interior of a building. While living walls have been around since the 1930s, they have recently become highly popular among those looking for ways to give back to the environment. Interesting in setting up one? Let’s take a look at what plants to use, design elements to consider, what maintenance is needed, and possible climate concerns.

Best Plants for Living Walls

When building a living wall, the plants play a major role in achieving a vertical planter arrangement. Not all plants are suitable, including species that are top-heavy or those that have differing soil and water requirements. Living walls can accommodate various species of climbers, wall shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses, herbs, and fruits and veggies.

Some excellent plants to try on your living wall include pothos, lipstick plant, sword fern, rabbit’s foot fern, limelight bower wattle, wedding vine, Cretan brake fern, wax flower, Australian native monstera, or peace lily. Succulents are an excellent option for a living wall, as they grow slowly and come in a wide range of sizes, colors, and textures.

Eye-Catching Design Elements

Living walls can add instant appeal to both indoor and outdoor surfaces. For a rustic look, wooden pallets are often used to hold plants. After adding landscape material and soil inside the pallet, plants can be incorporated between alternating slats. Similarly, latticework or chicken-wire fencing can be attached to a frame to support plant life.

The species and color of plants you choose will also significantly play into the design. It can be helpful to create a color scheme so that all of the plants on the living wall are cohesive. Colors or types of plants can be intermingled or separated to create rows of similar colors or plant species.

Living Wall Maintenance

Like all gardens, living walls require routine maintenance to keep them alive and thriving. This includes the occasional pruning, fertilization, weeding, and watering of the plants. Living walls contain little soil, which means they can’t hold a lot of water. Irrigation several times per day may be necessary depending on the plant species.

In addition to water, your plants will need food. Plants feed on the nutrients found in the soil. As there is a lack of soil in most living walls, extra nutrients may need to be added through fertilizer. Like with irrigation, the type, frequency and amount of fertilizer will depend on the specific needs of the plants.

Climate Concerns to Consider

Maintaining a living wall can be complex in any climate. Before you begin to create your garden, it’s important to consider both the regional climate and the wall’s microclimate. For example, outdoor living walls in colder climates may require insulation or heating, as these setups are not designed to freeze. Most outdoor living walls are ideal for climates warmer than USDA Zone 5. In addition to the regional climate, the wall’s microclimate must also be taken into consideration. Green walls typically group plants based on the microclimate they need, with the top of the wall having increased sun exposure and the bottom of the wall having more shade and higher moisture levels.