My dog is gross.

Evidently, the more disgusting something smells, the better it tastes. Forget bathroom trash cans and treasure buried in the mulch. She was eating compost the other day.

My vermicomposting bin had gone septic when the drain holes plugged. Before I could return with a pitchfork, she was paw-deep and happy as a pig in slop.

We’ve curtailed her bad habits by planting vertically. Vertical gardening is a convenient technique for the space-challenged home that can turn the open area of walls or fences into productive, attractive space.

Products such as wooly pockets ( are fuzzy fabric planters that can easily be attached to a wall, and Succulent Gardens ( sells components to assemble a living picture with succulents. While these are just a few quality products, most can be assembled by an industrious do-it-yourselfer. We decided to use a pallet for our vertical garden.

Nowadays, you see pallets repurposed as lounge chairs, tables, walls, shelves and art. Pallets are constructed with low-quality wood with the sole purpose of transporting heavy items, such as 11/2 tons of sod. Most of the time, contractors are just looking for a way to get rid of them. If you’re in the right place, you can have a vertical garden planter for free.

The first step is to attach a backing to one side of the pallet. This will contain the soil during the establishment phase. A thin square of plywood is sturdy and reliable. We took the inexpensive route and stapled a sheet of plastic to the back and along the sides.

Next, lay the pallet in a flat spot where it can remain during grow-in. The length of time depends on the types of plants and how long it takes them to root the soil into place. Once the pallet is lifted into a vertical position, the roots will keep the soil from trickling through the open slots. We found a place in partial shade that was close to the conditions where we were going to feature the garden pallet.

It took about two large bags of potting soil to fill the pallet. Native soil from the ground will be too heavy and could have drainage issues.

Speaking of drainage, we were concerned that the pallet would be difficult to keep irrigated. We envisioned water running down the front and not really penetrating into the soil. We drilled a series of tiny holes on one side of three 1-inch PVC pipes and horizontally inserted them inside the soil with the holes pointed down. We duct taped one end closed and affixed an elbow on the exposed end; this way, the pipe can be filled with water from our rain barrels and slowly leach into the soil.

Now for the plants. Instead of purchasing bedding plants, we divided hardy groundcovers already growing in our yard, such as mondograss, liriope, ajuga and spiderwort. These plants are shade and drought tolerant as well as quick and easy to establish.

Once we decided how to we wanted them placed in the slots, they were planted, watered and fertilized.

We’re horrible at the waiting game. We lasted only two weeks, not near enough time to allow for sufficient rooting. In fact, we should’ve waited even longer because our transplants had no roots to begin with. However, we carefully tipped the pallet up and slid it into place against a fence panel. This is not a lightweight endeavor, so find a strong back to help. The pallet was secured with screws to keep it from tipping over.

We lost some soil, but it was minimally disturbed. We planted elephant ears on the top that don’t like drought but acted as good indicators to add water. With a little elbow grease, we could turn our entire fence into a shaggy wall of foliage completely out of reach from our dog.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at