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Epiphyte Garden Panel

A lightweight vertical garden panel.

Many plants grow as epiphytes, which are an excellent choice for a vertical garden panel. In this garden panel I used a variegated vanilla orchid and Christmas cactus. Often you see or receive Christmas or Easter cactus as a small gift around the holidays. After they are done blooming, mounting them is a great way to take advantage of their epiphytic nature. Both plants need a bright spot to live. Other plants suitable in this project are hoya, rhipsalis, or, if you can find it, Huperzia squarrosa.


I have always loved vanilla, in anything from rice pudding and ice cream to lotions and candles. I am a sucker for its heady fragrance and sweet woodsy flavor. When I first heard that vanilla beans come from an orchid I moved this plant to the top of my must-have list. If you use orchid vines in this project they will continually reach for somewhere to root. In their native habitat vanilla orchids climb up high into trees and attach to the bark with their roots growing from their leaf joints. If you like, place a tray of soil on the floor below the panel and allow the orchids to reach the soil and grow into it. As they grow, the roots that are produced from along the stem will grow downward until they touch a suitable surface to attach to, such as soil, mulch, tree branches, or even a carpet. The plants only flower once they are mature, usually when they’re at least 30 feet or longer. Vanilla blooms are small and appear in clusters only once a year. Hand-pollinating them is a tricky process—it needs to be done when the blooms open, but they only open for a day. Pollinated blooms leave behind the prized seed pods—the vanilla beans we’re familiar with. I have not done this yet, but I love the possibility. A word of caution: You may wish to wear gloves while you’re handling the orchids. If the roots or stems are broken the sap can irritate your skin. If you have a reaction to the sap, wash your skin thoroughly with soap and water.



  • Plastic plant tray (the kind that nurseries use) (A)
  • 1 or 2 cups of orchid/epiphyte soil mix (B)
  • Either a contractor’s garbage bag or a 2- × 2-foot sheet of black plastic that’s 3–4mm thick (C)
  • 22-gauge wire (D)
  • Eight to ten 4-inch coconut fiber pots (E)
  • Foam spray—preferably black outdoor (F)
  • Brick of compressed coconut fiber (G)
  • Silicone in either brown or black (H)
  • About 1 cup of green moss (I)
  • Two to three 6-inch vanilla orchids and six 2-inch Christmas cactus (J)



  • Utility knife (K)
  • Two bowls (L)
  • Scissors (M)
  • Super glue (N)
  • Wire cutters (O)
  • Safety glasses (P)
  • Gloves (Q)
  • Caulking gun (R)

Use a utility knife to cut the sides of the plastic plant tray off.


Put the orchid soil mix in a bowl and mix with water until it’s saturated.


Cut the sheet of plastic to roughly the same size as the plant tray.


Use a few dabs of super glue around the sides of the tray to adhere the plastic sheet to the back of the tray and trim off any excess plastic once the glue has dried.


Make a wire hanger by cutting a 10-inch length of wire. Poke the piece of wire through the plastic sheet about 2 inches in from the side. Pull the wire through, and secure it on the front side of the plastic plant tray by twisting it tight around a cross piece on the plastic tray. On the back side stretch the wire to the other side and poke the end through the plastic sheet and secure it in the same way.


If you are using 4-inch coconut fiber pots, cut them down to about 2 to 21/2 inches.


Place the coconut fiber pots at a slight angle up from the tray and, wearing the safety glasses and gloves, use the foam spray to coat the area below, behind, and around each pot to secure it to the tray. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using the foam, and keep in mind that the foam expands. Fill in the areas between the pots with spray foam, again remembering that the foam expands. Allow the foam to set for 24 hours.


Shred the compressed coconut fiber so that you have a pile of loose fiber.


Wearing gloves and working on small areas of no more than an 1/8 to 1/4 of the panel at a time, use the caulking gun and silicone to coat the surface of the foam with silicone. Smooth out the silicone with a gloved finger so that it spreads evenly.


Coat the wet silicone with coconut fiber by sprinkling it over the area and then patting it in.


Attach a few pieces of green moss with silicone to empty areas on the foam.


Loosen the plants from the pots and separate out each strand.


Carefully remove the extra soil and plant the plants in the coconut fiber pots, adding soil mix if needed.


Cut several small lengths of wire and bend them into small U-shaped pieces. Use them to secure the plants into the foam if they are heavy or if it seems like they need support. You may also pin in more moss if you have blank spots you want to fill. Hang the panel.



Humidity is very important for these plants. I mist my panel daily and every few days I take the whole panel down and give it a proper soak, letting excess water drain off before hanging it back up. If you have low humidity or high temperatures in summer, you will need to mist the panel at least once a day. If the moss and the area around the plants are dry you need to water. If the plants are unhappy due to low humidity, position a cool mist humidifier and a small fan nearby.


These plants need very bright light.



Diluted water-soluble fertilizer can be applied one to two times during the growing season (spring and summer) after a thorough watering.


If your vanilla orchid vines reach 20 feet long, take a cutting of 2 to 3 feet. Allow the cut to dry completely before planting and if possible treat it with a fungicide since newly cut divisions are prone to damping off (a horticultural disease). Snip the bottom few leaves off so that two leaf joints are buried in the fresh soil. Keep the soil drier than you normally would for the first month, but still moist to the touch.