Landscape Elements: Layering


Layering is the practice of using different heights of plants from the back to the front of the bed.  Taller plants at the back, shorter plants in front of the tall ones and if there is enough width in the bed even a 3rd or 4th layer of plants in front of them.  Each plant layer is shorter in height than the layer behind it, like descending stairs.

Layers add depth to the bed and are much more interesting to look at than a single line of one variety of shrubs running the length of the bed.

If you have 4 foot wide bed then you can create a layered landscape in that area, here’s how:

Choose your taller back row plants (row 1) and place the plants – still in their nursery pots – where you want to plant them in your bed.  Do the same thing with the row 2, but place them on the diagonal to row 1.  Once you’re happy with the way it looks then start digging.


The numbers represent different varieties of plants.  You can see the diagonal plant placement of the front row in relationship to the back row.  If the bed is wider, a 3rd or 4th  row of plants can be added if so desired.

The back row (row 1) is almost always foundation plants which are usually evergreen and keep their leaves year-round.  They are called foundation plants because they are the building blocks of your landscape – your foundation.

Row 2, 3 and 4 can be a mixture of shrubs, perennials (plants that die back but return each year) and annual seasonal color (plants that last 1 season). 

You may be wondering how to choose the right plants for layering.

We’ve made it simple:

Is the bed in the sun or shade? Choose plants that grow in sun or plants that grow in shade depending on the light requirement of your bed.

How tall do you want the plant to be? We’ve categorized our plants by their mature size making it easier to find plants that fit your height needs. Choose plants from our Small (1-3 feet tall), Medium (4-5 feet tall) or Large (6 feet plus) shrub sections.

We are always happy to make suggestions of plants for you to consider.

Layering can also be done in free standing beds.  If the bed will be seen from all sides, then place the tallest plants in the center and layer outward to the edges.


It can be effective in minimalist plantings also.  These are beds that have more space between each plant.  The same principles apply, just add more space between your rows and individual plants.

You can change the look of the beds from season to season or year to year with the use of annual color and perennials without changing the foundation plants.  If you like change or to mix things up from time to time this is an easy solution.


It isn’t necessary to layer your entire landscape.  Use layering along with other design principles in different areas of your landscape to achieve a well-balanced, eye-catching landscape.

We will focus on “color blocking” in the next newsletter.

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