When I wrote the article below, I was excited about the potential of using rain gutters to expand my gardening options. I envisioned hanging gutter on a fence to grow lettuce, spinach, and strawberries. In the article, I tell how I used a piece of aluminum gutter and planted strawberries. For the first few weeks in late spring, the strawberries grew well with an abundance of blooms.
The first week of summer, my area was hit with a heat wave where the high temperatures exceeded 90 degrees for more than three days. I watered as needed, but one day, I noticed the leaves of the strawberries were no longer visible above the edge of the gutter. Much to my dismay, all the leaves had turned brown. I stuck my finger into the soil and found that the soil was moist, but very warm. I felt so bad—the poor strawberries had suffered the equivalent of heat stroke in the aluminum gutter. I know the gutter is dark brown and dark colors get warmer than a white gutter might. Still, I think that the aluminum itself was too much of a heat attractor.
An aluminum gutter may be better suited against an east wall or fence where it will be shaded from late afternoon sun. I transplanted the strawberries to see if they can be revived.
I saw a picture of someone who secured several rows of rain gutter on the lower side of the house. The objective was to grow shallow rooted garden plants in the rain gutter. If you search the Internet for "gutter garden," you find many people with wonderful ideas on gutter gardening, like this gismodowebsite with the gutter attached to a wire fence. The best part of using rain gutters as planters is that you can secure them almost anywhere: to the side of the house, fence, railing, or as I did, on tomato plant supports (the tomato plants are still short in the picture).
Choosing the gutter
The types of rain gutter most often used for gutter gardening are made of vinyl or aluminum. After a recent home improvement with new siding installed on my house, the old aluminum gutter was removed and replaced with vinyl. I had both leftover vinyl gutter and removed aluminum gutter from which to choose. The aluminum appeared to be more sturdy that vinyl, so that became my choice for a gutter garden.
I looked upon my venture into gutter gardening as an experiment. I was skeptical that it could work. Because of that, I only installed one section of gutter. After drilling drain holes about every 10 inches in the gutter and adding gutter end caps, I screwed the gutter to the metal tomato plant stakes.
Choosing shallow root plants
The aluminum gutter I have measures 4 inches wide and 3 inches deep. Shallow rooting garden plants are a must. Options include radish, spinach, Swish chard, lettuce (like Simpson variety), scallions, and my choice, strawberry plants.
Fertilizing should continue as if the plants were in the ground instead of a shallow container. I find it necessary to water the gutter every day if there is no rainfall. The hottest days of summer have yet to arrive, but I suspect I may be watering my gutter garden at least twice a day. (I will report back as the season progresses.)
It has been one month since I planted the strawberries and they are doing great. The plants have expanded and are producing blooms and fruit. I am concerned about the amount of ambient heat an aluminum gutter may absorb during the peak of summer. In hindsight, I wish I had started rain gutter gardening using both vinyl and aluminum gutters as experiments. Too late in the planting season for a good examination this year. There is plenty of room to add more rain gutter, even on a fence. Next year, I am on for the challenge to see what works better for gutter gardening, vinyl or aluminum!
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