Green Oasis Living Wall Common Issues Solved

6 Common Issues with Live Plant Walls and How to Solve Them

6 Common Issues With Live Plant Walls And How to Solve Them

Living Plant Walls are quickly becoming a trending addition to public/shared spaces. Beautiful and invigorating, they are here to stay.
We often get Designers asking what dangers to look out for when specifying a Live Wall, on the pages to follow we seek to answer this question. This is not to cause fear as the problems can easily be overcome with tried and true solutions.
After 12 years of installing and maintaining live walls we hope you can benefit from our experiences.

#1 Poor Lighting Design

bad lighting
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From our experience, the biggest mistake and source for problems with live plant walls is improper lighting. Lighting for plants is actually a broad topic – how little can you get by with, how much can you work with, what if the coverage is not even are some of the questions that should be asked. Part of the equation of course is the plant palette used which can compensate for lighting, for example,  if the lighting is low you can use low light plants however, this limits the design.

For most interior green walls, our experience has shown that an even flood of 200 foot candles of light allows for a pretty broad selection of plants. Higher light levels can be accommodated quite easily with a higher light plant palette and would likely be required if you are looking to grow herbs or vegetables. With the advent and growth of LED lighting, it is easy to effectively supplement natural light for a successful live wall. It’s important to use a professional lighting designer that can assist with creating a lighting design that has an even flood or wash of light. And, LED lights are quite inexpensive to run. A couple of problems we have seen with LED lighting on Live Walls are

#1: Uneven wash of light. The effects of this are plants growing unevenly on the wall resulting in thin patches or in the worst case scenario the plants closest to the light end up burning up from the intensity.

#2: We have also seen walls with grow lights that worked too well which may sound strange but hear me out. Recent developments in LED grow lighting has allowed lights to be manufactured using color spectrums where the plants grow as well as they do in direct sunlight. With a live wall, we do not want lots of vigorous growth, this increases maintenance in pruning, etc as well as an increase in replacement rates from plants overgrowing.

Lastly, #3: with supplemental lighting, be sure to use a timer and give the plants about 8 hours of rest or darkness each night, plants, like most living organisms need rest each day. In conclusion, when designing a plant wall, it is important to plant ahead. Review the available light before the plant design is done. Too little light or inconsistent lighting can be supplemented quite easily with LED lighting.

#2 The Incorrect Use of Plant Varieties

wrong plant combos
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Stressed plants will invariably lead to trouble and disease/ pests so it is very important to consider characteristics of each plant variety in the design – how will they look when they’ve been in place for months or years and what conditions do they grow best in.

With live walls, aggressive creeping plants will require extra maintenance from frequent prunings as will plants that grow too large. Likewise plants that need direct, unfiltered sunlight will likely struggle in a lower light environment and the list goes on.

While we all want the bright, beautiful plants you see on the internet, often these are not possible for long-term success. Unless there is a budget for replacement plants and extra maintenance, sticking with the tried and true plants is often the best option and, even with these there are some amazing designs that can be created.

#3 Improperly Designed Irrigation Systems

pipes improper irrigation
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With some live wall systems, the irrigation component is quite complex. For instance with a system where plants are grown hydroponically (think rockwool or some felt wall systems) this means there needs to be a very regular flow of irrigation water or the plants will fail quickly. Should the water supply be down for more than a few hours you will have big problems. Also, often Irrigation water will need to have its PH level adjusted with hydroponic systems, this is done mechanically but can be another source for trouble.

Other trouble we see with irrigation is in the living walls utilizing the tray system. While this is a very simple system, there is nothing to keep leaves and debris out of the irrigation channels that run behind the wall. As well as this, when plants are put into the trays at the angle required, often a little soil will tip out and go into the irrigation channel. Over time this builds up and not only can clog the irrigation but creates a wet messy bunch of decaying organic matter which is a perfect feeding ground for fungus gnats and other pests.

#4 Not Planning for Maintenance

maintenance planning
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Live plants that are out of their natural habitat will need some level of care. Standard maintenance needed for live wall success includes irrigation, pruning, cleaning, and scouting for pests or disease. While irrigation can be mostly automated and remotely monitored, you will still need to inspect and monitor this and adjust for seasonal fluctuations.
With a well designed live wall we recommend having at least a monthly service visit by a professional horticulturist. Maintenance doesn’t have to break the bank but it should be planned on as an on-going program to ensure success. Our Project Specialists make sure to cover these items ahead of time and ensure clients understand the ongoing needs of their Living Wall.

#5 Ignoring Pests + Disease

pests live walls
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Generally pest problems start small and can go unnoticed for weeks or months and when plants are out of their natural habitat there aren’t the predators or weather patterns that can help keep the pests in check.

A small problem will become a big problem if not addressed promptly and aggressively. We provide the warning signs to look out for and, if you have planned proper ongoing maintenance with horticultural services, your provider should be able to warn you in the early stages and keep your Live Plant Wall in the clear.

#6 Not Consulting With Professionals

consulations
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As Ben Franklin wisely said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While some systems, such as the POD Live Wall system makes live wall easier to design and care for, it is worthwhile to consult with an experienced professional – learn from their failures and successes.
cost of a living plant wall
In conclusion, Live Plant Walls can be an inspiring biophilic masterpiece. When there are so many positives, it is our duty to aid you in navigating potential issues. If we can help you with a specific project or problem please feel free to reach out to us.  I truly hope that you too get to enjoy the stunning effects of a live wall in your designs.

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