You don't need to have a green thumb to create a living wall. Photo by Vasyl Cheipesh

Mirrors and framed artwork are so…lifeless. Why not take inspiration from the increasing popularity of living walls and green roofs and add some vitality to your home? Think of these decorative elements as art and plants in one. 

“Living walls can evoke a feeling of lushness and make a space feel like you’re walking through a forest,” notes David Brenner, founder of Habitat Horticulture in Berkeley, CA, a company that has built some of the largest living walls in the country. “They’re a way to bring greenery and plant life into architecture without compromising floor space.” 

Even if you’re a gardening novice, “don’t be scared,” reassures Monique Capanelli, principal at Articulture Designs, in Austin, TX. “You don’t have to be a proficient gardener or know a ton about plants.” That said, she cautions against attempting to replicate an install you saw in Architectural Digest on your first go. Here’s how, whether you’re vertical gardening indoors or out.

You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a living wall. Photo by Vasyl Cheipesh

Find the right space

Whether in your living room, bathroom, kitchen, or foyer, choose a space with lots of natural bright light, says Capanelli. To maximize exposure, mount your garden on a west-facing wall in an area with lots of windows that can be opened. Outdoors, consider a wall under an eave or porch roof to help protect your plants from the elements.  

Choose your setup 

Start by hanging a few small wall planters and filling them with drought-tolerant plants, advises Capanelli. That way, watering will be relatively minimal, and you’ll be able to focus on each plant’s needs. But if you’re set on a more elaborate display, purchase a contained living wall or vertical garden system. Look for one with built-in irrigation on a timer, waterproofing, and drainage or wicking, instructs Brenner, who sells a mini living wall system called Growmeo. For durability, a wall system’s base should be polycarbonate or plastic rather than wood, adds Capanelli. Most important: it should be easy for you to maintain.

Pick your plants

Seek out low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants, suggests Capanelli. For indoors, consider pothos, philodendron, hoya, lemon lime dracaena, parlor palm, bird’s nest fern, and peperomia. Or go with air plants, like moss and tillandsia. Since they “eat and drink” through their leaves, they’re not planted in soil. For outdoors, limit yourself to specimens that will thrive in your area according to the USDA plant hardiness map. In California, where he lives, Brenner favors heuchera, succulents, maidenhair fern, and sedums. 

Water moderately

With indoor living walls, excess water can be an issue, explains Capanelli. Compared to outdoors, evaporation tends to be slower. Plus, water can collect in wall planters and felt woolen pockets (since they usually lack drain holes). So, when watering, err on the side of “less is more,” she counsels, and use a pump sprayer rather than a watering can. To figure out frequency, research your plants’ needs and keep in mind water will generally evaporate more quickly in smaller vessels with less soil and in brighter spots. Watering every 10 to14 days is a rough guideline, offers Capanelli.

Fertilize occasionally

If you start with good soil (like Capanelli’s favorite, FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil), you won’t need as much fertilizer. Opt for a slow-release version and make sure not to overfeed, Brenner cautions. Too much can cause excess growth (and pest problems) plus burn plant roots. “Always follow the product directions,” counsels Capanelli, suggesting two to four times a year for interior installs.

Deadhead and prune 

Remove dead growth as quickly as possible, instructs Capanelli. Not only will you maintain your living wall’s aesthetics—you’ll also prevent plants from wasting their energy nourishing dead matter. Otherwise, prune depending on whether you’re after a wilder or more manicured look. 

Faux living walls can be gorgeous too

If vertical gardens seem too high-maintenance, you can get a similar look with a faux or preserved alternative, like framed moss, notes Brenner. Since these arrangements are no longer alive, they require zero care. 

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