Last week, I built a gutter garden! I decided I needed to create something with my hands and play in the dirt. The problem is, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to really observe my new garden site, watching sun patterns and standing water and such. As a result, I’m not ready to build any permanent raised beds, or get a garden really going. But, that didn’t stop me from creating something temporary, using materials I had around the yard. My new gutter garden was cheap, easy, and gave me some planting space. Want to make your own? Keep reading!
Gutter Gardens Utilizes Vertical Space
Important to note, I did not invent this idea. I was first introduced to gutter gardening as a vertical gardening technique though theplantcharmer on Instagram. This guy grows a shit ton of food, all in vertical systems of gutters or similar containers. If you’re on IG, go check him out. And while you’re at it, make sure to follow me!
Vertical gardening is an awesome technique of growing lots of food in a small space. Because you can fit multiple linear feet of growing area in the footprint of just one container, it’s a great way for urban farmers and gardeners to produce more in their small space. Anchored to a wall or a fence, a gutter garden also takes advantage of space that otherwise isn’t usable.
I created my gutter garden as a temporary planting area, but I think that even after I have my ‘real’ raised beds built, I’ll still utilize this technique on a fence or side of the chicken run.
Materials Needed for a Gutter Garden
Plastic are the most affordable, or you could be super swanky and use copper gutters (life goals, right?!) Or, spray paint to blend or stand out. If you have your gutters replaced on your house, this is an excellent reuse project for a material that normally gets trashed!
I had a length of aluminum gutter that I moved with me, that I bought in Santa Rosa thinking I would use it for a turkey shed. The deeper the gutters, the better for growing. 4” seems to be the standard depth, but you can also find them in 5” or more.
A vertical surface.
This could be a shed, a house wall, a balcony railing, a fence or even an A-frame made from lumber. I think it’s important to note that water will likely get on your vertical surface, so be aware there could be a chance of mold or rot if it’s an important structure like your house. I put my gutter garden on a shed that is currently acting as a hen house. It’s in a bad spot so we’ll be removing it anyways.
Anchors or brackets to attach gutters.
You’ll need a way to attach your gutters to the wall. Chances are, you already have something laying around the house you can use. I used shelf brackets, that simply got screwed into the wall and I set the gutter on. There are also special gutter brackets that come with gutters, or you could build a wood shelf for the gutter to sit on, or you could just screw the thing into the wall.
Go with something light, like a potting soil that has perilite or vermiculite mixed in. Your gutter garden does have the potential to get heavy once filled with soil and plants, and you don’t want to risk it pulling of the wall. Skip the native clay soil (which sucks to grow in, anyways) and buy some light fluffy soil.
How to Build Your Gutter Garden
First, you need to add drainage.
I’ve seen some people set their gutters on a slight slope, so it drains out one end, but this seems cray-cray to me. How do you keep the soil from also slumping away? Instead, just punch a bunch of holes into the gutter. Drilling might seem like the logical way, but it takes a while to get a drill to start a hole in metal without it bouncing all around. A drill might be best for a plastic gutter. I used a hardcore nail and a hammer. Set the gutter on a bit of scrap wood, pound in the nail to puncture the metal, then pull the nail out.
Attach the Gutter to the Wall.
As mentioned above, I used some cheap shelf brackets. Do what works for you and your verticle surface. I made two tiers of gutters, offset a bit so the eve of my shed wouldn’t drip directly into the gutter garden.
Seal ends of gutter
Unless you’re reusing a gutter reclaimed from a roof, they don’t come with ends. You can buy metal (or plastic) end caps that then get glued in. I didn’t have end caps, and to get some involved locating a hardware store and using google maps and inevitably crying because Sacramento freeways suck. Nobody has time for that. Instead, I used cardboard and some duck tape. My tape didn’t even match my metal. Because I’m classy like that.
Fill with soil and plant!
By now, you have a gutter with drain holes and it is firmly attached to the wall. Now it’s time to plant! Fill the gutter with soil, and put in your plants or seeds. I planted the top level with strawberries, and the bottom with lettuce start.
Interested in knowing what other plants are well suited for a gutter garden? Download my free gutter garden plant guide!
Also note, because the gutters are shallow, the soil is liable to dry out faster than a raised bed or in the ground planting. Keep an eye on moisture levels, and water as needed!