Introduction: Vertical Garden From Free Recycled Styrofoam

Vertical Gardens aka Living Walls can look absolutely stunning. You can have a garden growing right up your wall indoors or outside.
Grocery stores get some of their food shipped in 100% food safe styrofoam boxes that work perfectly for making your vertical garden. This instrucable will show you how to make a vertical garden that's modular, easy to water and has endless options for making world-class frames for your vertical garden. It's basically made out of a styrofoam box and a cheap non-toxic easy to use coating. 

I’ve also included some different options you have in building a living wall so that adds to the length of the instructable.

First you’ll need the following:
*For some of the foam supplies, you can go to livingwallart.com 
**Disclaimer: Livingwallart.com is actually my blog and I have the diy plan listed there as well... but I wanted to add an instructable here as well because I thought people would find it useful. The supplies I used to build this you can also get at www.hwff.com. They're the manufacturer of the foam coat... I just made it easy to order (for the same price) off the blog so if you like the plan and want to support the blog, you can get it at livingwallart.com as well.

  • Foam - Step 1 gives more specifics
  • Foam Coat - A non-toxic easy-to-apply coating that adheres to foam and makes a hard casing. Cleans up with water.
  • Boost or Bounce - A liquid that can be added to the foam coat to make it waterproof. It’s non-toxic
  • Foam Fusion – A liquid glue that won’t melt foam over time. It takes a bit to set, but once it sets it’s waterproof and will go the distance.
  • Something to cut the foam with – A hot wire foam cutter will slice through foam like butter and there’s no foam pellets to clean up after. An X-Acto knife will work, and you could even use a knife from the kitchen, but foam will be flying everywhere – you were warned =)
  • Paint brush or putty knife/drywall trowel and tupperware container.
  • Paint - if you so desire. The natural colour is a very light tan. Painting it also helps make it more waterproof.
  • Plants and potting soil
  • Two screws, two anchors, a ruler and a drill – all for hanging it.

 

Step 1: Get the Foam

Get the foam! - Your two options are to go the recycling way and the regular buy at the store way.

  • The recycling way - go to your local grocery store and go to the meat/fish area. Meat and fish are typically delivered in FDA approved 100% food safe foam boxes and will typically be thrown out. All you need to do is ask someone behind the counter . My grocery store typically has about 5-6 boxes they throw out everyday before 5:00 pm. The boxes vary in size and I try to get the boxes around 9″ x 24″ x 6″ and have a lid. After you get them, just rinse them in soap and water to clean them out and let them dry and you can to go step 2.
    One of many sizes you can get for free

    One of many sizes you can get for free

  • If you go the regular buy-at-the-store-way, you should be able to find the foam you need at Home Depot. Often times it’s around the insulation section of the store. The Home Depot here allows you to buy sheets of white EPS foam. EPS foam is the best to work with typically, but you’re welcome to try other types. You need to then make a box around 9″ x 24″ x 6″ in size.

Step 2: Glue the Lid to the Box

Glue the lid to the box – The thing with this step is you have to pick your glue well. Most glues actually melt foam. You'll find if you try regular glue, the foam will melt away after you apply it. It does the same thing if you try to paint the foam directly. The spray paint will melt the foam away. You need to get special foam glue. I use Foam Fusion and it works well. If you’re buying foam from Home Depot, use the foam fusion to glue your pieces together.

Step 3: Make Your Cuts

Make your cuts - You can use an X-acto knife or another knife from your kitchen perharps. These types of knifes will cut the foam quickly, but leave pellets of foam everywhere. You could also use a hot wire knife. The cuts will be smoother and there won't be any foam pellets, but it goes slower and the burning foam smells some. These are the four types of cuts you need to make:

  • A rectangular hole at the top of the planter that’s roughly 20″ long and 3″ wide. You're going to pour your soil through this hole.
  • You'll make between 5 and 10 holes in your planter that are about 2.5" in diameter. I just traced the bottom of the plant containter my plants came in. More holes will mean you can fill the front with more plants to make a thick plant wall.
  • Two holes will be put into the back of your wall planter for hanging. I used the hot wire foam cutter for this as it’s the easiest way to make small holes. You could potentially drill holes in there as well I'd imagine. Put the holes at the top of the back of the wall planter spaced about 8″ apart.
  • This is the one cut that's optional. It's for drainage holes. If you want them, I'd recommend having 4 spaced out along the bottom about the size of your pinky finger. Some details to consider:
    • If you’re planting a single planter inside, you won’t want drainage holes as the water will drip through the planter and end up on your floor. You could choose to wick water a planter without drainage holes if you want. There's options at various garden stores to for wick watering solutions. Alternatively you could use excess foam and make a water holder. You'd fill it with water and then put a shoe string or cotton string from the water holder to the dirt. The water will wick from the water holder through the cotton string to your plants over time. If you have your planters outside, you can put drainage holes in the planter. Also, if you’re planning on making a bunch, you may want the top ones to have drainage holes.. this will allow you to pour water through the top planter and the water will drip through one and then the other and so on. Warning – don’t go to crazy with this and have the planters stacked 10 high. It takes a while for each planter to absorb the water and have the water to drip through the drainage holes, so if you stack them too high, your arm will be sore trying to slowly pour the water into your garden. If you want the planters that high, you could make a resevoir out of more foam at the bottom of your wall of planters, you could put a pump in the bottom resevoir with a timer and the pump will pump the water up and using drip irrigation it will water all the levels of your vertical garden. The excess water will drip back into the resevoir at the bottom.

 

The planter held up to the wall.

The planter held up to the wall.

Notice the hole to hang the planter on the back

Notice the hole to hang the planter on the back

Step 4: Mix Your Foam Coat

The foam coat containter has instructions on how to use foam coat, but basically you just put water in the bottom of your mixing container- could be a tupperware containter - add some boost or bounce for waterproofing (put about as much boost/bounce in the container as you did the water – 1:1), then add the foam coat. Then mix it all together. You can either use a paintbrush or a putty knife/drywall knife.  You may just want to experiment with consistencies. If you go thick, it can create a cool effect and fill holes and cracks well. If you go thin, it’s easier to sand and goes on smoother. If you dilute it with Boost more than water, you can thin it without it getting weaker. You can optionally add Grit here which gives the foam a stone effect, but will make it harder to sand.

Mixing foam coat

Mixing foam coat

Step 5: Apply the Foam Coat

You can use a paint brush or putty knife. The coating hardens completely overnight, but it gets decently hard after only about an hour. The coating doesn’t smell, it’s not toxic and it cleans up with water.. so it’s very easy to work with.

Applying thin foam coat. Can make thicker or add foam coat for different effects

Applying thin foam coat. Can make thicker or add grit for different effects

Step 6: Paint It If You Want

When you paint, take care not to let it touch the foam or it will likely melt.

Vertical garden planter painted black, planted. This is with five holes. You can add more to fill it in.

Living wall planter painted black, planted. This is with five holes. You can add more holes to fill it in with more plants.

Step 7: Predrill the Holes in the Drywall If You're Planting Inside


Hold the planter up to the wall where you want it. Drill holes through the two holes in the top of the planter that you’d made earlier. Drill through the drywall to make room for the anchors, then push the anchors into the wall. (This step may be optional. If you’re hanging the planter on say, a wooden railing on a deck, you can just drill screws into the deck when you hang the planter.. you don’t need to predrill any holes.)

Hanging the living wall planter

Pre-drilling holes in drywall to make room for anchors

Hanging the living wall planter

Predrilling holes

Step 8: Plant It

Go to your local nursery or Home Depot or wherever you want and get your plants and potting mix.

  • Pour your mix in the planter up to the first row of holes.
  • Gently hit the roots of the plants you're putting into the holes against something to shake the dirt off the roots. This will make it easier to stick into the holes.
  • Stick the plants through the holes root first.
  • Pour more potting soil up to the next row of holes, making sure to press down on the potting soil to make sure it and the plants stay firmly in place. (Don’t go too crazy here as you want oxygen to get to the roots, but you can press it down firmly)
  • Put the plants in the top row of holes, press everything down again, and hang it.
Planting the vertical garden

Planting the vertical garden

Spider plant

Spider plant

Living wall planter

Living wall planter

Living wall planter

Living wall planter

Step 9: Hang the Planter

Hold the planter up to the wall, align the holes in the back with the ones you pre-drilled, and screw in your screws to the anchors in the drywall.

Step 10: Admire

You're done. Make sure to water and fertilize your plants according to the needs of the plants you choose... you can find out exactly what they need at the place you bought the plants.. and you're good to go.

If you want to show your vertical garden off, you can visit www.livingwallart.com and email it to Gavin and he'll post it on the site.

Vertical garden wall planter
Single Wall Planter, Black

Comments

author
confu made it! (author)2014-11-18

How does it look after 2 years?

author
HelenaTroy made it! (author)2012-07-20

I'm a member of an online gardening site, Grows on You (international membnership, worth checking out!) - we've been talking about using polystyrene boxes, but putting concrete or hypertufa around them, inside and out, for strength and looks. It does make them a bit heavy, but the polystyrene is buried inside, it's only used as something to hang the textured inner and outer layers on. There are lots of hypertufa how-to sites around - too many, I've got confused!

author
Alabastorian made it! (author)2012-02-16

Just a public health notice:

Do not apply chemicals or heat to foam in any space that is not very well ventilated. The the resulting airborne chemicals can make you very very sick.

author
blauschmetterling made it! (author)2011-04-16

Is foam really the best thing to use? I've tried using foam trays as drip pans and every plant on the foam has died. Styrofoam is highly reactive and will actually disintegrate when exposed to certain substance.

author
l8nite made it! (author)2009-11-29

Some of us are to dense to follow along with all the instructions if there aren't any pictures.  Others like to look at the pictures first then if they can't figure it out read the instructions( or in the case of some of the electical ibles to see if its beyond our skill)......... I fit all 3.....Its a shame because you did a LOT of typing!  Personally I'd like to see the boxes you'r referring to, how you apply the sealer, how to attach the boxes and how to fill them

author
isupereco made it! (author)isupereco2009-11-30

 Sorry l8nite. I will try to get  picture of the boxes I used. To be honest, you could use different sizes depending on how you want your vertical garden to look. I will try to get pictures of the size I used though.
As far as the sealer goes, I used the foam glue and applied a bead of glue all around the lid. Then I just put the lid on the box and it sealed together. The foam glue is waterproof. I could try to get a picture of that as well.
I didn't attach the boxes to each other. I have three hanging in a row, but I just hung one on top of the other. They're not attached.
When you say fill them, you mean the step where you fill them with the soil and plants? What pictures would you like to see?

author
isupereco made it! (author)2009-11-29

 I got to thinking after I left that comment that I should've declared that in the first place. I added some new info front and center on the intro page so it's easy to see that that's my blog.

author
lemonie made it! (author)2009-11-29

You might have changed the wording a bit, but it's essentially a copy of this page and you haven't any pictures of you doing it. Did you make one?

L

author
isupereco made it! (author)isupereco2009-11-29

 Yes, you're right. That's actually my blog. I thought I'd add an instructable here as well as having the diy page on my website. I didn't know exactly how to do it... but the pictures are from the one I have in my house.. and the diy on the website and the instructable is the same. 

Gavin

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