Gutter gardens are receiving much buzz over the internet and are a good approach to generating fresh produce or a colorful display of flowers around your home. A gutter garden is especially ideal when space is at a premium or if you wish to have a tidy and more ergonomic gardening setup. Nothing is better tasting and more satisfying than freshly picked produce for that awesome salad, fresh salsa and a plethora of other healthy vegetable dishes. Gutter gardens are essentially akin to planters that hang from your house at a convenient height and are typically fashioned using some form of home guttering to serve as your planter. This article discusses and compares several types of commercially available gutters that are good options for use in a gutter garden. Then we will explain exactly which components you will need and how to assemble your very own gutter garden. I do not know who first came up with the idea for a gutter garden, probably someone a long time ago and it was never publicized. Now with power of the Internet word gets around. I did find an article from Martha Stewart Living dating March 2006 that called them "Garden Pots" and they used copper gutters stacked in several tiers to form their gutter garden. They were growing hanging ivy in them to form a living screen off of a porch, but could just as easily be growing flowers or produce in them. Hanging your gutter garden as they did with chains is another option to mounting on a wall, just make sure your chains, anchors and supports are all robust and secure.
From Martha Stewart Living - March 2006 "Surprising Garden Pots: Copper Gutters"
Re-using old guttering or buying cheap aluminum or plastic guttering are tempting options but may perhaps not be the best option. It is recommended you stay away from any kind of painted, rusted guttering or lead coated guttering for obvious health reasons if you are growing produce. Many plastics have unhealthy emissions and plastic gutters can also break down from the weight, UV sunlight and trowel work. It is best to use a gutter made from a pure metal that does not have any chemicals or paint applied, does not corrode or rust over time, is durable, long lasting, naturally weathers well, is aesthetically pleasing and is a genuinely attractive feature of your home. Steel and aluminum are relatively low priced but most varieties require some type of coating to resist rust and corrosion and coatings oxidize, scratch, are not durable, long lasting and mostly unhealthy too for a gutter garden. Galvalume is a zinc-aluminum coated steel that is a better candidate than either steel or aluminum alone, combining the corrosion and rust resistance of zinc and aluminum with the strength of steel but with an industrial looking gray metallic appearance and you would probably be tempted to paint this material. Three even better choices for your gutter garden are zinc, stainless steel and copper. Everyone is familiar with the appearance and attributes of stainless steel and it is a viable option. Stainless steel does not rust providing it's surface is not damaged and it is generally considered a healthy, sanitary material. Stainless steel's shiny appearance may be attractive or it may not blend in or complement your home's exterior. Pure zinc is a viable, healthy option that is durable, weathers well and zinc develops an attractive protective, grey patina that is somewhat pewter like though zinc is priced higher than galvalume and stainless steel. Then we have pure copper which may be the best choice for a multitude of reasons: copper has proven itself for centuries to be the most durable and longest lasting metal; copper weathers extremely well, forming a protective attractive patina; requires little to no maintenance; copper is attractive, aesthetically pleasing, elegant and complements most home decor well; copper is EPA approved antimicrobial, germicidal, antibacterial and fungicidal; copper is a key nutrient for plant life; copper is considered eco-friendly and is a green building material. These are all attractive and most desirable traits for use in your gutter garden. Copper although being our highest rated choice also has the highest initial cost of all the metals and metal alloys mentioned above. Copper's many and unique advantages, help justify it's premium cost, especially considering the relatively short lengths required for most gutter gardens, which put copper gutters' premium price within reach and affordability.
Once you have decided on the material for your gutter, you will then likely choose between three common styles of gutter: K-style gutter, half-round gutter and box gutter. A box gutter will give you the most volume with which to garden with, and as it's name suggests, it has a rectangular box appearance or if you like a plain box planter. K-style gutters are probably the most common residential gutters used in the U.S. and are somewhat boxy as well, though with a angled stepped front for a little more pizzazz. Half round gutters do look just like they sound, like half of a round cylinder or pipe and half-round gutters also have the most elegant appearance of all the various gutter types. There are also quarter round gutters which also are very attractive with their curved front. Quarter round and K-style gutters are generally available from 5 inches to 8 inches wide, half round gutters usually from 5 inches to 10 inches wide and box gutters are usually manufactured to size. Custom widths are also available through Rutland Gutter Supply. Compare the different appearances of K-style, box gutters, half-round, quarter round and embossed gutters, all pictured below.
In addition to choosing the material and style of gutter for your gutter garden, you will also choose the type of gutter hangers you will use to hang your gutter garden and the end caps used to cap off and finish the two ends of your gutter garden. There are several styles or types of gutter hangers available. So-called hidden gutter hangers are very commonly used and are called hidden because they are mostly not seen from the ground in a roof gutter system. Hidden hangers may not be the best choice for your gutter garden since they are positioned across the top of your gutter, they may obstruct or at least inconvenience your gardening work. A fascia mounting, squared-off gutter hanger with a front lip as pictured below may be better for box and K-style gutters while one of the decorative gutter hangers pictured below would prove ideal for the rounded gutters. A gutter spring clip holds the gutter in place when resting on a decorative gutter hanger and works well should you wish to remove the gutter easily for any kind of maintenance in another spot. You would use a gutter hanger every few feet to hold up the weight of your gutter garden, generally every three feet at least or every 2 feet if you also happen to live in the snow belt. You will also need to use so-called gutter hanger wedges, if your home's walls have an angled slope, to keep the gutter garden aligned perpendicular. Gutter hanger wedges are available in several sizes to address a variety of slopes in your home's siding or fascia. Installers typically use nails or screws to fasten gutter hangers and gutters to your home's wall or fascia. I would recommend a screw's added holding power recognizing a gutter garden's weight. Your choice of gutter end caps include flat end caps for all the various styles of gutters or also available for the half round guttering are radius end caps, which give your gutter garden ends an attractive and graceful rounded appearance. The gutter end caps are attached by both riveting and soldering them to the gutter. If choosing copper guttering for your gutter garden, it is recommended you use all copper materials for the guttering, gutter end caps, copper rivets, gutter hangers, hanger wedges and bronze or stainless steel screws. This is to maintain a uniform matching appearance and avoid corrosive effect of dissimilar metals. Below are pictures of various types of gutter hangers, gutter end caps, gutter spring clips and gutter hanger wedges.
After you have decided on the exact style and material for your gutter garden components, measure the exact lengths of guttering you need and keep in mind that you can go with a double or triple decker design if you desire. Your gutter garden should be in a location where it will receive the amount of sunshine recommended for what ever you are planning to grow. After the components have been ordered and they have been delivered, you are ready to attach the guttering for your gutter garden to your house. Measure and mark off the locations for your gutter hangers, to keep them evenly spaced and horizontally level. If using hidden hangers place them evenly spaced across the top of the guttering and attach to the wall with screws and use wedges if necessary. If using a squared-off box hanger or the decorative rounded hangers, attach the gutter hangers to the house siding with screws using appropriate sloped wedges if necessary, lay your gutter on the hangers and attach the hanger spring clips between the gutter hanger and guttering. Now you are done and can fill up your gutter garden with gardening soil or some composite mixture of garden soil, peat moss, manure, fertilizer and moisture retaining granules. Plant your seeds, seedlings or plants, water and enjoy your garden!
Additional Tips: Avoid applying any chemicals or paint to the inside of your gutter garden for healthier plants and produce. If you absolutely must paint to achieve a desired color match, then do so only on the outside surface. Stainless steel will need to be cleaned and polished occasionally to keep it's appearance while zinc and copper weather naturally and keep their beautiful, elegant appearance throughout their lifespan. Copper can be waxed regularly or even coated with a clearcoat or lacquer if you wish to keep the shiny new copper appearance but again do not apply any coating to the inside to avoid chemicals and to take full advantage of copper's natural germicidal, antimicrobial and fungicidal properties. Also any wax or coating is temporary and needs to be re-applied. The natural copper patina however needs little to no maintenance When copper weathers there is a natural patina that forms on it's surface which serves as a protective coating and the patina does not affect copper's antibacterial properties. The copper patina changes color with age, progressing from a shiny salmon color, to reddish shades of brown, brown, greenish brown and finally a light green pastel color. The outside patination process can also be accelerated if desired by applying selective accelerants. Copper is revered and prized for it's graceful, elegant appearance and gradually changing color throughout it's very long lifespan. Approximate copper weathering color chart is illustrated below. If you desire drainage for your gutter garden, you may either choose to drill a few small holes sparsely across the entire length or have your guttering fabricated with rain chain style taps every few feet along the length.