Irrigation and plant nutrition

Green walls cannot be sustained without irrigation. Interruptions to the water supply are a common cause of plant failure on green walls. Systems designed with inbuilt irrigation should mitigate plant losses due to inconsistent moisture management, although errors can still occur.

 

 

This green wall on the roof of a health care centre in Marion, South Australia, incorporates an inbuilt water tank to provide water supply and structural integrity for double sided modular wall systems, with plantings including strawberries and herbs. Image: Fifth Creek Studio

This green wall on the roof of a health care centre in Marion,
South Australia, incorporates an inbuilt water tank to provide
water supply and structural integrity for double sided modular
wall systems, with plantings including strawberries and herbs.
Image: Fifth Creek Studio

Automated, remotely controllable irrigation systems are used for walls in high profile locations, or in situations where access is challenging. Note that the quality, design and costs will vary between different systems. The most sophisticated systems enable the maintenance supervisor to keep track of the automated performance of the system, including the volume of irrigation delivered, its frequency, substrate moisture content, as well as pH and nutrient levels in the water supply. The settings can be overridden if needed; for instance, the frequency or duration of irrigation cycles may be increased on hot days.

In hydroponic systems, plant nutrition is delivered by a fertiliser injection system that releases controlled doses of fertiliser into the irrigation system (fertigation). Management of fertigation systems and rates of delivery requires specialist knowledge, as it is more complex than fertilising soil or growing media. Hydroponic systems require continual monitoring of pH, water hardness and total dissolved solids (TDS), and adjustment of these parameters where necessary.

For hydroponic green wall systems, the fertigation system may apply 0.5-20 litres of irrigation solution per square metre per day. Internal green walls requirements are at the lower end of this range, and external green walls at the higher end. Irrigation cycles typically last a few minutes and will be required several times a day. Keeping irrigation volumes low minimises waste and reduces run-off. Irrigation run-off may be captured in a tank at the base of the wall and recycled back through the green wall system.

Green walls that use a high quality, water-retentive growing medium, and are not in an exposed or particularly hot location, may thrive on a weekly watering regime. In most simple, soil-based systems, including DIY systems, controlled release fertiliser is mixed in with the growing medium, rather than using a fertigation system.

Irrigation must be available as soon as the plants are installed in the wall system. The irrigation system requires a water meter to monitor irrigation volume, and a pressure gauge to monitor the even application of water. The need for ongoing regular irrigation and the expectation that water will be used sustainably means that stored (harvested or recycled) water should be used whenever possible, so a pump is necessary.