Tiers of plants don't have to look like a supply store aisle.

Design Ideas for a Three-Tier Planter

by Pamela Martin

If your mantra has been "so many plants, so little space," a solution is at hand. Vertical gardening allows you to pack in more punch by moving up instead of out, and you can create three-tiered planters from a seemingly endless variety of materials. All that extra space also gives you the opportunity to turn loose your creative spirit in choosing plants for your designs.

1. Pot-Stackers

Terra cotta pots are simple building blocks for tiered planters. For one style, you'll need three pots in successive sizes. Fill each pot with soil, stack them with the largest on the bottom, and you're ready to create a dazzling container garden. If you select an especially large pot for the base, invert an empty plastic pot in the bottom container and fill around it with soil to keep your planting light enough to move around. If you glue a piece of reinforcing bar, or rebar, in the drainage hole of a terra cotta pot before filling it with soil, you can slide two more pots down the bar, balancing them on the surface of the one below to make a tilted planter.

2. Planter Boxes

Whether you use commercial planter containers or build your own wooden cases, you can stack three planter boxes, turning each about 45 degrees, to make a tiered planter you can rearrange easily. For a whimsical touch, attach the planters to an old step stool or a ladder to add height to your garden. If the steps aren't wide enough to support the planters securely, you can nail or glue a plywood extension to the treads.

3. Recycle and Reuse

If you have a collection of birdbaths, turn them into a kitchen herb garden by stacking them atop one another and filling them with soil. Cinder blocks can be recycled as well, when you arrange them in square or rectangular sets, stacked and offset about 45 degrees before planting in the spaces. Outdoor paint adds a little color to the blocks, or you can glue on decorative stones, tiles or broken crockery to make a mosaic. Odd pieces of kitchenware turn from junk to treasure when you glue juice glasses or shot glasses as risers between cereal or serving bowls and fill the bowls with herbs or succulents. Fill three-tiered produce baskets with hanging pot liners for a quick planter.

4. Filling Your Tiered Planter

The guidelines for tiered planters are similar to those for any other containers. For long-lasting beauty, focus your arrangement on foliage plants, because flowers will fade with the season. You can use a simple monochromatic scheme or go with a variety of colors, mixing textures from shiny to matte, narrow to broad, smooth to serrated to woolly. Use a thriller, fillers and spillers, according to the suggestion made by Steve Silk, in "Fine Gardening" magazine by adding height in the top layer to draw attention, cascading tendrils in the middle to soften the edges of the pots, and more compact plants in the base to provide contrast and complement the other sections.

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