Rain gutters prove helpful to gardeners with small spaces.

Rain Gutter Gardens

by Pamela Martin

With increasing interest in the health benefits of kitchen gardens, added to the perennial interest in beautiful flowers in the yard, many moms and other backyard gardeners are getting more and more creative with finding ways to garden in small spaces. Whether your garden space is filled, or the only garden space you have is a apartment balcony, you can plant a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers by using rain gutters as your planters. Make gardens even greener by using recycled rain gutters. New or recycled, the rain gutter gardens can save you more than space.

1. Benefits

Besides saving space, a rain gutter garden means you can plant your spring garden earlier, since you don't have to wait for the ground to warm up after the last frost. You will need to however, protect the plants from frost. A rain gutter garden attached to a wall or fence makes it easy to tend plants without a lot of stooping and bending, while the height makes the yummy, tender plants safe from rabbits and gophers. If you use white gutters, the soil won't heat as fast, meaning less watering than in a dark-colored gutter.

2. Preparation

When selecting a rain gutter for your plants, be sure it is lead-free. Some polyvinyl chloride gutters contain lead that could leach into the soil, and then your plants. To prevent soggy soil, drill drainage holes in the bottom of the gutter, about 18 inches apart and each about the size of a drinking straw. Another option is to add a drip line to collect the extra moisture and redirect it to another planter. Choose a site for your hanging garden that receives adequate sunlight and shade and protected from strong winds. If you have a row of rain gutters, leave about 24 to 36 inches of space between them to allow for air to circulate among the plants. Use screws to attach your new garden to a wall or fence, as the weight of the soil and plants might be too much for nails to bear.

3. Soil and Care

Because the gutters are shallow, a quality soil with good moisture retention is crucial. Before adding the soil to the containers, amend it with compost and peat moss or add hydrogel crystals to aid water retention. Mulch the plants with more compost, and water your rain gutter garden every day during hot weather.

4. Plants

Most shallow-rooted plants will thrive in your rain gutter garden, including vegetables, flowers and herbs. Especially well suited are leafy greens, including lettuce (Lactuca sativa), which is almost always grown as an annual but as a perennial thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9, spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and mache, also known as lamb's lettuce (Valerianela locusta). As biennials, radishes (Raphanus sativus) and 2 to 3-inch long "Parmex" carrots (Daucus carota "Parmex") are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10, and beets (Beta vulgaris) are hardy in USDA zones 2 to 10. Perennial Scallions (allium fistulosum) are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) can be grown as perennials in USDA zones 3 to 10. These all can thrive in the shallow depths of rain gutters. Season your garden and meals with perennial herbs that will also do fine in the cozy space, such as as thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and parsley (Petroselenum), both hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, and oregano (Origanum vulgare), hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. Annual flowers, such as marigolds (Tagetes) and pansies (Viola spp.), add a touch of color to the rain gutter garden.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images