17 Plants on One Square Foot of Land

Can you manage to find 12 square inches in which to garden? Look what you can do!

Need to stretch your gardening space? We’ve all heard about going vertical, but here’s another way to take your garden to new heights. This tower garden uses less than one square foot of ground space and supports seventeen plants. I did this experimentally last year, planting basil and bok choy. The basil got a bit leggy after several months, but I think that’s my fault for being a little lax in caring for the tower. The bok choy worked beautifully.

You’ll need: 

  • 8″ pvc pipe* (mine is just shy of 4′ in length and was scrounged from a construction site trash pile)
  • 1-1/2″ hole saw
  • potting soil
  • seedlings (greens work well)

Aim for four rows of four holes, equally spaced around the pipe. Stagger the holes to allow more space for each plant. Note that I did not do ANY measuring, but my holes are about 7″ apart. Two rows start about 7″ from the top of the pipe; the other two rows start about 3″ from the top of the pipe. The bottom of the pipe will have roughly 12″ of solid pipe.

Dig a 12″ deep hole and bury the bottom of the pipe. Fill the inside of the pipe with potting soil up to the bottom of the first holes. Slide a seedling into the holes, and add potting soil to reach the next set of holes. Continue in this manner until each hole is planted. Add one more plant in the top of the tower.

If your seedlings are really well rooted, you shouldn’t have a problem with them staying put. Mine were not, so I wrapped the roots in a square of newspaper before sliding them into the hole. The newspaper made it easier to work with the seedlings and helped prevent the loose soil from escaping.


The photo at the top of this post was taken about two weeks after the tower was completed. During a rainstorm. Through a window. No, I won’t win any photography prizes with these images, but I think you get the gist.

One thing I’d do differently: I’d add a length of 2″ pvc, drilled with holes to the center of the tower for easier, more efficient watering. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it works for you.

*Yes, it’s plastic, but it was diverted from the landfill. Is pvc safe to plant in for health reasons? I dunno. I don’t know if pvc will leach chemicals into the soil, or if the plants will uptake them if they do. Certainly, given the choice between a bunch of pvc towers to garden in or a large, flat piece of sunny space, I’d choose the sunny space. But until I have that, I’ll continue experimenting! 

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  • Rachel McLain Browne ,

    Love the idea, but don’t think PVC would be a good choice at all if for no other reason than the amount of toxins produced when it is made.

    • Ellen Coomer ,

      I would take untreated wood planks and make a square tower and drill holes. That takes the pvc chemical out of the equation. The watering is an issue. I’ll have to give that some thought.

    • kay mac ,

      If I might point out; most water pipes that we get our drinking water from in the country, flows through those same pipes, so I wouldn’t let that be a concern Rachel.

      • David Lavine ,

        PVC is usually used for drainage. CPVC should be used for supply. That is the current standard. However, it’s not uncommon to see PVC used for supply.

        I like this idea. By using elbows and ‘T’s’ you make any number of different configurations. I also like the idea of the smaller diameter pipe to provide irrigation.

    • Carol F ,

      PVC is used in homes for water lines. I think it is safe or we would have heard that it is not by now.

      • Julie ,

        The difference is the water is not exposed to sunlight. I believe PVC breaks down in sunlight

  • Suzanne Bedard Brown ,

    I did this in my yard. I used 6″ PVC in 5 lengths. Buried about 1 1/2 feet, so about 4′ is out of the ground It works fabulous. I have lettuce and spinach in 2 and I tried broccol in the other. I agree about putting a smaller pipe in the middle for watering. I like that critters can’t get at the plants and the plant stay nice an clean. I also did some with tristar strawberries.

  • Suzanne Bedard Brown ,

    You need to make sure you use pvc that’s used for water pipes, as opposed to piping for other things like septic, etc.

    • Patty Martinez ,

      Thank you for pointing this out. I’m a novice gardener and have limited space so I’m always looking for space-saving ideas. Some things that are intuitive to others (like using PVC pipes made for drinking water) just don’t occur to me. :-)

    • mark ferguson ,

      Pvc is pvc regardless if it is for septic lines, electric lines, or water lines or IV bags..the main difference is the amount of filler used (usually sodium bicarbonate) which changes it’s strength and pigments for coloration. They have all been in the ground and used for many decades without people dying from leached chemicals. You stand a chance of dying from the water you drink, bot the pipes that carry it as long as the lead is out of any copper lines. And chemicals noted on hoses and inflatable toys can be toxic, you can smell down to 1 part per million… smell a beach ball then smell a pvc pipe of your choice at your local hardware store.

  • Brette Sember ,

    This is fantastic!

  • Attainable Sustainable ,
  • Angie Abella ,

    very reminiscent of strawberry towers. I like the idea!

  • Tina Crawford-Shellkopf ,

    Did you see the one on t.v. that is over $500.00?

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    Tina Crawford-Shellkopf, I did not. But I wouldn’t even be *tempted to fork over that much! This was pretty much free, other than the soil and seeds. ;)

  • Just - E - Nuf ,

    Love this idea. :)

  • What a wonderful idea!! Love that you experimented with it and took photos. I like that Suzanne tried some other plants, and as for Rachel’s comment, that’s a good point. Maybe it would be best to find PVC pipe that’s at a yard sale or some a friend is giving away instead of buying it new. 

    • Yes, mine was diverted from the landfill. I love that someone mentioned creating one from wood – that would work, too!

  • Sheryl ,

    So clever! Your projects always are so clever…but always make me realize how UN-handy I am. I’d love to know the final outcome!

    •  @Sheryl It does require learning to handle a drill, but that’s something I think everyone should take time to do – at least once in their life! (It’s not that scary once you’ve done it.)

      • Patty Martinez ,

        My husband doesn’t garden, but he loves to build things and is very handy and creative, so all I have to do is show him a picture of what I want and he’ll figure it out. But he does love fresh veggies so he knows there’s something in it for him anyway. :-)

  • Jean ,

    I have no place to “plant” the pipe. I’m wondering if there’s a way to stabalize it standing freely.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Jean, I’d try situating it in a 5-gallon bucket. If I were going to do this, I’d center the pipe in the bucket and fill to the rim of the bucket – both inside and outside the pipe – with small heavy rocks. Pea gravel, maybe? I’d love to know if you try it!

    • Lori ,

      I did one on my porch in a large pot. You just need to weight it down with rocks on the bottom

  • Suzanne Brown ,

    make sure you get pipe that’s used for water so that you have anything toxic leaching into the plants.

  • kathryn ,

    I’d like to think that using these pipes would make my slugs and squash bugs miserable. I’m certainly going to try!!!

  • Mel ,

    I wonder if you could make this a hanging planter by putting an end cap on the bottom, maybe with a hole in the bottom, similar to those upside down hanging tomato pots

    • Patty Martinez ,

      I’ve seen pics of hanging planters made that way so I’m sure you can. :-)

  • Tracie ,

    I have a couple of old upright laundry baskets with 44 holes on each of the 4 sides. I want to cut larger holes evenly spaced so I can use it as a garden. I’m going to insert something for the center so I can add compost to the baskets. Since I have all the other holes to deal with I’m going to use some type of fabric to hold it in place and just cut a slit in it when I plant the plants (I’m thinking strawberries). I will make several holes in the bottom of the baskets as well for drainage. I may have to use something a bit more substantial to fill the extra holes. Going to use regular potting soil mixed with water holding pellets so I don’t have to water as often. I hope laundry baskets do not leach chemicals onto the plants but I think they should be fine since the plastic looks like some of my drinking cups so I should be ok. Any ideas on what to use for the center portion? I was thinking PVC pipes but after reading your readers comments I’m not sure if I want that. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Perforated drainage pipe is the only thing I can think of, but it’s still plastic. 

      • Tracie ,

        Thanks, I’ve read so much about PVC and it runs 50-50 to it’s leaking chemicals or not. I guess I’ll try it on my laundry hamper concoction. I’ll send pictures when I’m done. I also want to coil a soaker hose around the composting section. Hopefully my brain can work it all out. lol

        • Melinda ,

          Wonder if a 5 gallon bucket would work?

          • Kris Bordessa ,

            It would be a bit shorter, but other than that, I would sure think so!

        • Jay P. ,

          PVC does not leach, its used in ALL water handling situations. It is safe as it is what brings the water to your home from the treatment facility. Miles and miles of this pipe handle your drinking and bathing water. For this purpose you have nothing to be concerned about.
          It’s better than using wood in some ways as wood will rot out from the moisture and have to be rebuilt, verse the PVC which only will break down from the UV rays at a much slower pace than the wood.

    • Susan ,

      You could use a layer of straw to line the inside of your baskets.

  • candy ,

    Some pros cons & speculations!
    About PVC leaching toxic chemicals; our water lines were lead pipe. We have converted most of our water supply lines to schedule 40 pvc in the United States. There are not any law suits on tv, yet, about people growing a 3rd eye or a second nose, that are connected to pvc. [but ya never know].
    Drain lines [lateral lines] are 4″ diam. and generally have holes to let water drain into the ground. [I’d suggest new for these; also called sewage lines]
    At 4″ size you can only fit 4-6 towers, though.
    Also the pvc may help the plants survive a frost or 2.
    I’m gonna give this an honest try, with tomatoes, spinach and cucumbers to vine, because I will put some lattice over the top to ward off some of the Texas sun.

  • Pat ,

    Tracie, why don’t you try coffee filters for your ‘fabric’ to help hold the dirt in place. They are inexpensive and they are porous to allow the plants to get water. Also, they are already cut out….might be easier to scale down to the size you need. Good luck!

  • Debra ,

    I tried this as a strawberry tower this year. The strawberries made runners to the ground because they needed more dirt. I wouldn’t recommend it for strawberries, but the plants lived the entire season. I did the little pvc down the middle with lots of holes for watering. worked pretty good. Top ones needed a little extra water.

  • Kim ,

    I was wondering if you could use larger PVC pipe to plant something like cherry tomatoes or a type of hot pepper? A PVC “combination” pipe with herbs, spices, letuces to put together a particulargroup of items such as a salad pipe, pasta or pizza sauce pipe. This kind may be easier and fun for children to plant and use. Just wondering? From an Old time gardener looking into easier gardening ideas because of grandchildren and age.lol

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      I don’t see why not! I’d definitely put a perforated pipe in the center for deep watering, though.

  • sheila ,

    I have done the pvc thing years ago and would not do it again. The plants get stressed = less berries, it takes more water than a mulched bed, the pill bugs constantly are mining out the soil which cause the plants to shift/drag/drop, don’t get any earth worm action up into the tower. It is the same problems but on a smaller scale than the vertical garden. What I do want to try is a chicken/hog wire bin of 3-4 ft/ 1 meter across and at same measurement in height with lots of active compost in center to do inter-cropping and perhaps place strawberries in this experiment. The compost would maybe attack too many berry loving bugs?

  • Lori ,

    First I love your comment at the end of your post, I know why I love your blog so much is that your much like me, this may not be the best but for right now I have no better options, choices, whatever, and this will have to do. I really like this idea, and ideas form some of the commenters, wish I could actually see what they come up with, and since I’m working with limited funds with limited space this would be a great idea, but since I don’t have much space to start seedlings could I use seeds instead of plants, or would they have a tendency to grow upward.

  • Hannah ,

    Do you have any suggestions for plants that do well being grown this way? I have about a 12 square foot area, but we usually grow as much as possible in it. Our biggest problem is running plants (cucumbers, squash, etc..) take over, and tomatoes shade too much of the space. Love this idea!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      I’d stick with greens and herbs — lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy. Basil did okay, but not great.

  • cathy ,

    An easy way to move water down the middle is a cardboard tube from wrapping paper, filled with pea gravel or spagum moss. I do this in my strawberry pots, worked better than more pipe.

  • Lorrie ,

    I am loving revisiting the tower idea. We are in the deep south (S FL) and in the hot months cannot grow much. Hubs has been seriously enjoying the fresh salad all winter and I was wondering how to make that work in the summer. I think using a similar method, I could grow salad in the shadiest part next to the house in the summer as long as it drained well. Gonna give it a try as he just retired as a plumber and I have a few HUGE runs of PVC taking up yard space and the tools to work with it handy :)

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