Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Plant walls are also known as green walls, living walls, or eco-walls. You can create a plant wall indoors or outdoors, and they can be freestanding or attached to walls, fences, or other structures. With all of the versatile choices available, where do you begin when it comes to decorating a blank wall with plants?
Here’s how you can decorate your blank wall with plants:
- Choose the location of your plant wall.
- Decide how your indoor plant wall will circulate air.
- Decide if your plant wall will be attached or freestanding.
- Select the plants for your plant wall.
- Arrange the plants on your plant wall.
- Create a schedule for maintaining your plant wall.
- Enjoy the beauty and benefits of your new living wall.
As mentioned, plant walls are versatile, and more than just decorative; they can be your vertical vegetable/herb garden, an outdoor privacy screen, an indoor air purifier, or window treatment. They can also be a changeable work of art, a seasonal decoration, or a room divider. Read on to learn more about decorating your walls with plants.
1. Choose the Location of Your Plant Wall
Your first step is to decide which wall you want to decorate with plants. I’m using the term “wall” loosely because the wall you choose could be an ugly one indoors or an ugly fence outdoors.
Your wall could also be the partial wall around your apartment balcony or a space where you wish there was a wall. Maybe you’d like to hide the corner of your living room that you use as an office from your guests or create a private dining nook for two in your backyard.
Keep in mind that the location you choose may affect your choice of plants and the schedule you’ll need to follow when caring for them.
For example, if you choose an indoor wall with little direct sunlight, you may need to add LED grow lights to your living wall design. Alternatively, you may need to limit your plant choices to those that don’t need as much sun. If you choose a drafty area, you’ll need to avoid plants that don’t adjust well to sudden or frequent temperature changes.
2. Decide How Your Indoor Plant Wall Will Circulate Air
Plants act as natural air purifiers and indoor plant walls can function as air purifiers too. City planners and architects add plant walls to the exteriors of buildings for that reason and also because they cool city temperatures. Green eco-walls circulate the air in your home either passively or actively.
Passive Plant Walls
Passive green walls rely on the natural airflow of your home to direct air around your plants. That makes them inexpensive and easy to install. If you want your plants to play a more active role in filtering the air in your home, you should consider an active green wall system.
Active Plant Walls
Active eco-walls include a system that draws your home’s air through the wall to involve the plants more actively in filtering the air in your home. That active eco-wall system ensures that more of the air in your home reaches your plants. Installing an active eco-wall system is a little more complicated than installing a passive wall system, but beyond that, the two systems are the same.
3. Decide if Your Plant Wall Will Be Attached or Freestanding
What’s the difference between the two?
Attached Plant Walls
The attached plant walls come in two varieties – modular panel systems and shelf systems.
In modular panel systems, the plants are grown in the panels, tiles, cassettes, or boxes at a nursery. Then the individual panels are mounted vertically onto a supporting frame.
Shelf or tray systems consist of trays stacked on a backing board. The plants are placed on the trays or shelves tilted slightly forward. They remain in their own pots.
Panel systems can be installed indoors or outdoors. The nursery will help you choose plants suitable for your environment for an outdoor display.
The tiles can hold a variety of growing media, which lets you mix and match a wide assortment of plants. Panel systems can also contain their own recirculating watering system, so you only need to add water when the supply is low. They can also connect to your home water system and refill themselves.
Shelf systems also can be installed indoors or outdoors. As you might have guessed, they give you much more freedom when changing and arranging your plants.
Because the plants are in their own individual pots, you can easily mix foliage and flowering plants together to create designs. Consider making geometric patterns, monograms, messages, or works of art. Change your creation seasonally or whenever you want to alter your decor.
If you want to create a work of art, though, take a tip from famed needlework designer Erica Wilson. Consider the sort of simplified drawings you see in children’s coloring books. You may be able to see the image you meant to create in your arrangement of plants, but trying for too much detail may leave other viewers confused.
Variations on Shelf Systems
While I’ve described a large system of shelves above, you may want a shelf system that offers an airy, more open look:
- Use shelves. You can attach a few shelves directly to the wall of your room with brackets or a shelving system. Intersperse the shelves with wall art and staggered shelves of books or knick knacks.
- Use macrame plant hangers. Another option is to dispense with the shelves and hang your potted plants in macrame plant hangers for a Boho look. If you have a narrow wall space between doors or windows, you can use it to hang several plants vertically.
- Create groupings. You can also create a grouping by varying the length of the macrame hangers. Try a window treatment with plant hangers all bearing one length or with shorter ones at the center arching down to longer ones at each side of the window.
Freestanding Plant Walls
Freestanding plant walls can be placed against a wall or used as a room divider, and the entire wall can be moved to different areas. Use see-through shelving or a wheeled planter holding a number of plants.
See-through shelving gives you the same options as an attached wall system, but your works of art can become a room divider viewed from both sides. Plant taller plants in the center and shorter ones on each side for a room-dividing planter with a view from all angles.
Create a privacy screen or windscreen on an apartment balcony or patio with a planter as a free-standing plant wall. Grow taller plants like grasses or small trees to the back with shorter foliage and flowering plants to the front to create a privacy screen. You can even use planters planted with small trees indoors as a focal point. These will give a dining room/breakfast nook the feel of an outdoor picnic area or a living room/play area the feel of an outdoor park.
4. Select the Plants for Your Plant Wall
I’ve already noted a few points to consider when selecting plants for your living wall. For both indoor and outdoor green walls, choose hardy plants. Both indoor and outdoor living wall plants may need to tolerate variations in soil moisture levels, if only for short periods.
Plants for indoor green walls should also be able to tolerate the rapid and frequent temperature changes in drafty areas of your home. However, you can use tropical plants indoors.
When choosing plants for an outdoor plant wall, purchase them from a nursery in a climate zone to the north of your area. Plants from northerly climate zones are acclimated to the weather and range of temperatures in that area, so they will better withstand weather that’s uncharacteristically cool for your area.
Selecting Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs for Your Plant Wall
If you enjoy having a garden, but live in an apartment or townhome with limited space, plant herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Doing so utilizes the vertical space you have on a balcony, patio, or indoor wall.
If your plant wall is meant to be decorative as well as for gardening, consider that harvesting from your plant wall will leave gaps. If you are using a shelf system, you can simply add a new pot, but you would need to replace tiles in a tile system.
Unless you’re using a planter for your plant wall, you’ll want to have shorter plants with small space requirements. As mentioned above, a shelf system or planter will work best. If you’re using a planter, you could even create a trellis or buy trellises for a backdrop of climbing vines like the following:
- String beans
- Lima beans
5. Arrange the Plants on Your Plant Wall
A tile system lets you mix a variety of plants with varying growing requirements on the same tile. Each plant on a tile is grown with its own source of growing media. You may be able to create a more detailed image or include more textures with a tile system, but changing your image means changing all the tiles or creating a whole new plant wall.
A shelf system lets you change your display by simply changing the potted plants while attached shelf systems, freestanding shelf systems or planters provide depth when placed against a wall. Additionally, freestanding systems and planters offer three-dimensional views as room dividers.
Draw inspiration from mosaics and geometric designs from cultures around the world, nature, holidays, special occasions, and from your imagination.
6. Create a Schedule for Maintaining Your Plant Wall
Plants in a shelf system without a built-in irrigation system will need to be watered and fertilized just like the plants in a planter and other potted plants. Let the top inch of soil go dry between each watering, and follow the care instructions for each plant when fertilizing.
Vegetables and flowering plants need more water and fertilizer when blooming and producing and less when resting. Check the rest schedule for exotic plants from other global hemispheres.
Your living wall may have a built-in irrigation system, usually a drip system that pumps water from a tank and repeatedly recirculates it. You only need to fertilize the plants and refill the tank when dry.
Other living walls connect to your home’s water supply. For instance, hydroponic systems supply both food and water. You only need to refill the hydroponic solution. However, you’ll still need to remove damaged or dying leaves to keep your plants healthy.
7. Enjoy the Beauty and Benefits of Your New Plant Wall
In addition to adding a beautiful display to your indoor and outdoor living areas and purifying your indoor air, living walls offer other benefits. Environmental psychologists who study how people react to nature have discovered that health, morale, and productivity increase when elements of nature are included in homes and workspaces. Additionally:
- Indoor plants have a positive effect on guests and potential home buyers.
- Green walls help to dampen noise from outdoors and between rooms.
- They can reduce energy costs by providing shade, supplementing wall insulation, and reflecting sunlight away from outdoor walls.
- The above 3 three plant walls benefits help keep homes warm in winter and cooler in summer.
- Green walls can earn LEEDS credits and increase property values.
Whether you choose a tile system, a shelf system, an attached system, or a freestanding system, plant walls allow you to create your own piece of living art in your home.
In addition to adding beauty and a psychological boost, plant walls purify your home’s air, keep it warm in winter and cool in summer, and reduce your energy costs. How many home decor pieces accomplish all of that?
- Ambius: Ultimate Guide to Living Green Walls
- Ecohome: Living Walls: What They Do and Don’t Do
- Positive Psychology: The Positive Effects of Nature on Your Mental Wellbeing
- SAFNow: An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion (PDF)
- SAFNow: About Flowers
- Wikipedia: Erica Wilson
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