How to Care for a Living Wall
LiveWall was designed to be easy to maintain using simple steps and following sound horticultural practices. Green wall maintenance is easy, but critical and must be performed to ensure plant survival.
We encourage you to keep a log of your green wall maintenance activities to better understand how fertilization, watering, pruning and other practices affect the performance of your living wall plants.
To take the guesswork out of caring for your vertical garden, LiveWall has developed operation manuals for both indoor and outdoor living wall systems. The maintenance protocols are simple, and guide caretakers through requirements for each year, season by season.
LiveWall outdoor systems include built-in irrigation. Watering frequency and duration require adjustments as the average daily temperatures change and as the plants mature throughout the year.
Maintenance visits should be conducted routinely—every 1 to 2 weeks.
Plants need a dark period to rest and prevent metabolic fatigue. Therefore, grow lights should only be run 12-15 hours maximum per day—typically from 7 AM to 8 or 9 PM (to mimic light conditions in tropical regions). The rest of the time, they should be in darkness, or near darkness.
If security lighting is required in the area of the LiveWall, it should be of very low intensity and not directed toward the plants.
Do not run Norb® bulbs (or any bulb labeled as supporting plant growth) on the green wall for more than 15 hours per day.
We recommend running the lighting for the living walls on a dedicated outlet programmed to run for 14 hours per day.
The amount of water that green wall plants need can vary greatly. For this reason, we have developed specific irrigation recommendations based upon the plant type, wall orientation/ light intensity, maturity, and average daily temperatures. How windy and exposed the site is may have an impact, but it is good to start with the recommendations outlined in the seasonal irrigation chart below and adjust accordingly.
Irrigation Chart: Outdoor LiveWall with Standard Size Planters and Spray Irrigation
On outdoor walls, the higher up you go, the windier the conditions tend to be, and you will get more evaporative drying. To compensate for this additional loss, adjust to run the irrigation longer on the upper zones. You can expect to lose about ½ PSI of pressure per each foot of elevation. This corresponds to about ½ PSI for each tier of the LiveWall system and on very tall walls, booster pumps may be needed to sustain pressure. Plumbing should be sized and engineered accordingly.
In northern climates, deactivate the system in fall by blowing out the irrigation lines with compressed air, not to exceed 20 psi, and turning the irrigation controller off. Empty lines and valves are required to avoid freeze thaw damage, so this needs to be done before the first hard freeze of the system.
After blowing the system out, the rain may effectively water the top few rows, and keep it moist until freezing occurs. But, the lower levels can still dry out and should be monitored and kept moist unless frozen.
It is not uncommon to need to irrigate a few times during wintertime warm ups. If needed, you can water with a hose and hand-held sprayer or use the built-in system, then blow it out afterward until the danger of freezing has passed.
If you have perennial plants, throughout winter, the soil should be checked during periods of thawing to ensure proper moisture. The soil should be moist, not wet or boggy, or dry, whenever the soil is not frozen solid.
In climates with warm winter weather, irrigation will need to continue throughout the winter. Less water is typically required during the coldest months. Follow the LiveWall irrigation chart to adjust the run time and frequency as the temperatures change.
In the event of an occasional freeze, it is important to blow out the irrigation lines an prevent cracks and leaks, and reactivate the system as the weather warms and plants dry out.
Your outdoor living wall’s irrigation system may need to be blown out and reactivated multiple times during the winter months to sustain perennials.
To sustain perennial plants through the winter, the soil must not excessively dry out. The plants in the living wall will not receive sufficient moisture from rainfall due to its vertical nature, and because the planters are exposed, the plants will enter dormancy earlier than the plants in the ground will. Therefore, you will likely need to water your perennial plants before the danger of freezing has passed and typically much sooner than you begin irrigating your at grade landscape.
- If the application is planted with perennial plants and it is large, or commercial scale, activate the system as needed – but do so only on warm days where water can flow and drain freely, and only enough to remoisten dry soil. The irrigation system will need to be blown out after each use until the danger of freezing has passed.
- If the application is small scale, then wintertime watering can be implemented as indicated above, or simply by using a hand held hose or watering can as the weather necessitates.
Anything living requires maintenance, including LiveWall. Due to the design of the LiveWall system, maintenance requirements will be simple and will vary with the type of plants that have been chosen. LiveWall provides complete maintenance guides with suggestions for each category of plant.
Annual plants may not require much care at all. However, at the beginning of each year they will need to be replaced with new fully-grown annuals. Simply remove the living wall planter inserts from last year, and drop in the new preplanted inserts for the current year. For more information, see our planting guide.
If perennial plants are used, they will be subject to the typical maintenance of ground level perennial plantings: removal of spent flower stalks, fertilization, and trimming stems and foliage if they become overgrown. If the plants are deciduous (i.e., they drop their leaves in fall), they will need to be pruned back to the soil level each spring before they break dormancy. They will also typically require periodic wintertime watering during dry periods above freezing temperature.
Maintenance is Simple, Yet CRITICAL
The key to healthy living walls is short, frequent visits. We recommend twice monthly inspections, and provide a monthly email with seasonally relevant instructions to all owners and contractors caring for a LiveWall brand system. To receive these updates, submit your email in this form.
No. The LiveWall System is not designed to be climbed on for maintenance or any other reason. It is designed to hold plants, not a human body. Climbing on the system could lead to product failure and injury. Be sure to keep children off the vertical garden tiers, as well.
Vertical garden plants will be damaged or killed by deicing chemicals. If the living wall is near walkway areas that are shoveled, use care to throw the snow in another direction as it may contain deicing agents.
LiveWall systems may be purchased with a fertilizer injector that is tied into the irrigation system.
The fertigation system injects a low dose of fertilizer each time your living wall is irrigated.
LiveWall supplies an organic liquid fertilizer concentrate that must be diluted prior to use. For more information, download the injector operation and dilution instructions.
Manual Slow Release Granular Fertilizer
Outdoor walls and hand-watered indoor walls may be fertilized once annually using a granular slow release fertilizer such as Scotts Osmocote®.
A single spring application is usually sufficient to feed plants through the growing season. Shake one teaspoon of fertilizer evenly across the soil surface of each full-width, Standard sized wall planter. Apply half as much for half-width Standard size planter and twice as much for Large planters.
Manual Liquid Fertilizer
Every 6 to 12 months, indoor or outdoor living walls which do not have automatic fertigation may be fed with a higher concentration of liquid feed.
Fertilizer may be applied manually according to the label directions using a watering can or a hose.
IMPORTANT: Do not use granular fertilizer for indoor walls with automatic irrigation. The granules require water to run over the surface to activate, and LiveWall indoor systems include drip stakes that inject water directly into the soil.
Application rates will vary with formulation. In all cases, follow directions on package label.
All applications of fertilizer are the sole responsibility of the applicator.
The need to replant during spring will vary with the severity of winter, diligence to proper care, and plant material.
Annuals, Vegetables, & Herbs
These plants require replacement at the beginning of every growing season. There are two ways of doing this:
- Drop off your empty planter inserts at a local nursery to have them grow the plants in their greenhouses. If they begin 6-8 weeks prior to your last frost date, you can begin harvesting right away once you plant them.
- Plant the liners yourself using 2 or 3 inch starter plants from your local garden center.
In any event, it is important to thoroughly wash out the planter inserts and start with fresh potting soil.
Organically rich potting soil, available at every garden center.
Perennials & Tropicals
By definition, perennials, including tropical perennials, have the potential to live forever. But, when grown in a container such as the living wall planter insert, they will eventually become root-bound, and at some point will need to be replaced, or divided and replanted. How long they will go with out the need for division is a factor of the particular plant’s habit, its root characteristics, and climate. Many perennials are expected to last up to three years before becoming root-bound in the LiveWall system.*
How do you know when it is time to replant and divide a perennial? You know it is time when the plant has become so root-bound that the growth and flowering become stunted. When this occurs, the plants can be removed, divided and replanted. Or, they can be composted and replaced with new plants. Replacements should be done during spring or early summer so that the plants become well established prior to winter.
Potting soil containing pine bark, as it decomposes very slowly.
Sedums & Succulents
Because most Sedums and succulents have very fine root systems, they have the potential to survive for many years without becoming root bound. Some could be sustained for over a decade depending on the species and care. As such, they need to be potted in a soil that will hold its structure for many years.
“Alpine” soil-type that is gritty and highly inorganic (similar to blends used for green roofs).
*Consider a vinyl cover to reduce winter perennial plant losses.
Managing moisture of perennial plants during winter can be challenging. LiveWall supplies grommeted, vinyl winter covers to aid in the overwintering of “perennial” plants in cold winter climates.
Why is this needed?
In cold winters, especially those with sunny windy conditions, the plants can literally be “freeze-dried.” By covering with a vinyl winter cover, this effect is greatly lessened. Winter covers act to moderate temperature highs and lows, block the wind, and hold in moisture.
What do they look like?
They are printed with an attractive mid-green, translucent Boston ivy graphic.
How are they used?
- Winter covers are applied just before the soil freezes, approximately December 1 in Michigan for example, and only after THROROUGHLY WATERING THE SOIL (the day before covering). The plants should not be pruned before they are applied. This helps hold in moisture.
- Winter covers are typically removed during mid to late March in Michigan for example. Upon removal, plants are immediately and thoroughly watered (and thereafter watered according to need—see LiveWall watering chart), but not pruned until after danger of late frost, as they will have tender new shoots among last year’s foliage and stems.
How are they attached?
- They are tightly applied with zip ties, bungee straps, or ¼ inch nylon rope. They can be anchored into the support wall, the LiveWall frame, or the planter boxes. Some installers drill small holes in the top or bottom lip of the planters, which is relatively unnoticeable. Winter covers should be tightly attached to structure, with every grommet. If the wall is large, it will require multiple covers, and the grommets in the middle should be attached to the planters or structure, rather than just connected together. All grommets should be tightly attached to structure.
- If the site is very windy, consider adding some strapping or roping material across the face of the cover, to prevent billowing or flapping in strong winds.
What sort of results can I expect?
All walls, exposures, and weather conditions are unique, so there are no guarantees. However, when winter covers have been properly used, they have greatly improved overwintering success—with some walls in Michigan experiencing nearly 100% survival.
Contact us if you have questions about caring for your living wall.
We also offer monthly maintenance alerts to remind you of seasonal care needs and updates to the maintenance protocol based upon the current best practices. Simply enter your email below to receive maintenance updates from LiveWall.