Introduction: Vertical Garden From Free Recycled Styrofoam

About: I love urban gardening

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
**Disclaimer: 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 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 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 tocut the foamwith– 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.
  • Plantsand 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

Gluethe 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 and email it to Gavin and he'll post it on the site.

Vertical garden wall planter
Single Wall Planter, Black