Vertical towers are made from plastic and sit outdoors. Any vertical tower you purchase must be able to manage the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. The sun will degrade plastic that can't resist UV damage in 1-2 years. Plastic will become brittle and the tower will actually crack and crumble. I have had some of my GreenStalk Garden vertical towers outdoors 24/7 for over 6 seasons. They have not shown any degradation, damage, or cracking from UV rays. They stand behind their towers with a 5 year warranty. You are making an investment and want your towers to last and not need replacement every year or two. Ultraviolet resistance, is key 1, as you want to protect your investment.
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6+ Gallons of Material Per Tier:
The tiers need to hold a lot of container/potting mix. Some of the less expensive vertical towers, that you can find, often only hold a few gallons of material in each tier and don't have UV protection. They appear to work fine in the early spring and when plants are small. However, I recommend each tier being able to hold a minimum of 6 gallons of growing medium. The GreenStalk Garden 5 tier vertical tower has 10 inch pockets and it holds 8 gallons of material. I grew 30 peppers in a 5 tier tower very successfully. This amount of soil volume supports the plant's root growth, nutritional needs, and greatly cuts down on the frequency of watering which is always a challenge for towers come the midsummer heat and mature plants. Key number 2 is a minimum of 6 gallons of growing medium for each tier or compartment.
Budget Friendly & Effective Growing Medium:
The need for more frequent watering becomes an issue as the heat of summer rolls in and plants mature. Having 6 gallons or more of growing medium really helps with this, but key 3 is selecting or making the right soil blend for your vertical towers. Any premium bagged container/potting mix will work but it is expensive and they are basically the same. They contain at least 50% peat moss and some basic fertilizer. Don't pay more for fancy packaging and misleading words. You can make something as good and even better. You can save a lot of money by purchasing a compressed bag of peat moss and a bag of organic granular fertilizer. Simply use 50% peat moss and 50% earth from the ground. This makes a wonderful basic blend that holds water. I, in general, use this base mix to fill 75% of each level of the tower. To that, I add several handfuls of organic granular fertilizer, compost, or other organic matter. If you don't have additional amendments, just add some extra peat moss and level off the fill. You can also add additional amendments as you wish, like worm castings. I often change my mixes, as noted in the videos, but they always have a lot of peat moss. Key 3 is retaining moisture and that is what peat moss does.
Watering will vary greatly depending on the plant sizes and temperatures. I recommend a vertical system, like GreenStalk's tower that has at top tier water reservoir that you can fill, and it will gravity feed water down to each lower tier of the tower. It is also a great way to move water soluble fertilizer throughout the entire tower. The watering system uses drip trays on each lower tower tier that catches water from the main reservoir and it slowly drips water into to soil to maximize distribution. This is the best watering system I have seen but even with that, in mid summer with producing plants, I water each pockets of the tower. Container gardening is always a challenge, come midsummer, because mature plants really pull the water out of the soil. A watering system and watering schedule are the 4th key. You will have to adapt the frequency of watering, come mid summer, no matter what type of tower you purchase. Never let your towers or any container dry out completely as it will damage the plant and production.
Water Soluble Fertilizing:
No matter what type of vertical tower you invest in, you will typically have 3-6 pockets for plants in a single tier. That means watering and feeding will become ongoing concerns over time. There are a lot of plants growing and their demands will increase. When plants are small, they can do quite well, using the fertilizers you mixed into the soil to initially set up your growing medium. When plants begin to flower and produce, they can quickly use up the nutrients in the soil. The best way to replace nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium is with a water soluble fertilizer. Water soluble fertilizers are in a form that is immediately available to your plants. I recommend using fish emulsion which is typically higher in nitrogen than in phosphorous and potassium. Nitrogen is the most used macro-nutrient by plants and it really needs to be replaced regularly in containers. I recommend feeding your tower plants, with a water soluble fertilizer, 1x in May, 2x's in June, 3x's July, 2x's in August, and 1x September. It is a 12321 method you can apply, based on your growing season, spring through fall. Water soluble fertilizers vary, so follow the mixing instructions and make sure each tier of the tower is well saturated during each feeding.
I am affiliated with GreenStalk Garden. The Rusted Garden Red 5 Tier Tower is on sale now and shipping is free in the lower 48 States. There is a limited production to TRG Red. I have worked with them for over 5 years and fully support their product. You can see how I use them in my garden if you watch the linked videos.
If I had to pick the two things most important in purchasing a vertical tower... I would go with UV resistance and deep pockets. You want your investment to last and you want plenty of soil for your plants to grow in and the extra weight of soil and water also helps them do well in the wind. I get 40 mile an hour wind gusts at times and haven't lost a tower yet.
Have a great season!
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