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How to Layer Plants in Landscaping: A Thorough Explanation

September 26, 2023

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Landscaping with layered plants creates visual interest and depth in your yard or garden. It allows you to grow a variety of plants in the same space and take advantage of different sunlight conditions.

So, how how to layer plants in landscaping? Create depth and interest in your landscape by strategically arranging plants from low in front to tall in back, repeating some varieties throughout, and incorporating hardscaping elements like paths and seating areas.

Proper plant layering not only looks great but also makes the most of your land. This comprehensive guide will teach you how to layer plants successfully.

Choose the Right Locations

The first step in effective plant layering and landscape design is choosing the right locations to place each plant group. You want to take into account the sunlight, soil conditions, and maturation size of the plants.

Sunlight

Most plants fall into one of three categories based on sunlight needs:

  • Full sun – Minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Best for back of borders.
  • Part sun – 4-6 hours of sunlight. Middle of borders or part sun areas.
  • Shade – Less than 4 hours of sun. Under trees or shady spots.

Make sure to place sun-loving plants where they’ll get enough light and shade-lovers where sunlight is limited.

Soil Conditions

Some plants thrive in moist soil, while others prefer it dry. Check tags to see soil preferences and group accordingly. For example, create a moist area for ferns and hydrangeas and a drier zone for lavender and roses.

You can improve soil conditions with compost or other amendments to accommodate pickier plants.

Maturation Size

Consider the eventual height and width of plants, placing the tallest in back and shortest in front. For example, put small perennials and groundcovers in front, medium shrubs behind those, and tall trees in back.

This creates a layered effect as the plants mature.

how to layer plants in landscaping

Arrange Plants from Front to Back

When designing your layered garden, think of it as a stage. You want to place plants strategically from front to back to allow proper growth and visibility.

The Front Row

This row is for your low-growing plants – flowers, groundcovers, grasses, and small perennials. The options are plentiful, from creeping phlox to portulaca to sedums.

Leave 12-18 inches between the front row plants and walkways or lawns.

The Middle Row

Place your medium-height plants in this row, spaced 2-4 feet apart. Great options include large perennials like coneflowers, daylilies, and irises, as well as low shrubs like spirea and potentilla.

Leave at least 3 feet between the middle and front rows so front plants have room to spread.

The Back Row

This is the home of your tall plants – large shrubs, small trees, and tall perennials. Space plants 3-6 feet apart depending on mature width.

Leave 3-5 feet between back and middle rows. Popular back row plants are hydrangeas, lilacs, viburnum, elderberry, and serviceberry.

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Repeat Plants for Unity

Repeating certain plant varieties and colors throughout the different rows creates a sense of unity. It ties the whole landscape together.

You don’t need to go overboard – just repeat a few plants in both the middle and back rows to connect with the front. For example:

  • Repeat blue creeping phlox in front row with blue garden phlox and hydrangea paniculata in back.
  • Repeat daylilies in front with red twig dogwood shrubs underplanted with more daylilies in middle and back.
  • Repeat black-eyed Susan in front with purple coneflower and rudbeckia in the middle.

flowers on landscape

Use Filler Plants

Filler plants help fill in gaps, create lushness, and cover bare ground. Good filler plants grow relatively quickly and spread easily.

Some excellent fillers for layer gardens include:

  • Sweet alyssum
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Asters
  • Sedums
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Underplant middle and back rows with these lower spreaders to create flower-filled layers.

front yard flower garden

How to Layer Plants in Landscaping? Include Structural Elements

Add hardscaping and structural elements to complement the plant layers. Options include:

Pathways

Winding pathways between plant rows lead visitors through the garden layers. Materials like woodchips, gravel, brick, stone, or even grass make great paths.

Water features

Ponds, fountains, or container water gardens provide soothing sounds and visual interest. Place them in the middle or back garden rows.

Ornamentation

Enhance your layers with garden sculptures, statues, signs, bird baths, or other decorative elements placed throughout the space.

Seating Areas

Benches, chairs, picnic tables, or other seating invites visitors to sit and enjoy the layered plantings. Include seating nooks in front and mid-garden rows.

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Maintain the Layers

A layered landscape requires some specialized maintenance to look its best. Here are some tips:

  • Prune strategically to allow light and air circulation while maintaining desired shapes and sizes.
  • Divide overgrown perennials and shrubs to rejuvenate them and prevent crowding.
  • Cut back dead growth in spring and fall to encourage new growth.
  • Weed regularly so weeds don’t smother desired plants.
  • Water thoroughly during drought, soaking entire root zones.
  • Apply protective mulches to conserve moisture and reduce weeds.
  • Fertilize plants appropriately to keep them lush and healthy.

With proper planning and care, your layered landscape will thrive and provide years of beauty, interest, and enjoyment! Start layering today for a stunning garden.

landscaping architect laying sod in Denver

Wrapping Things Up

Creating a layered landscape allows you to pack interest, diversity, and beauty into your garden. By thoughtfully arranging plants from front to back, repeating plants for unity, and incorporating structural elements, you can craft a stunning multi-dimensional garden that looks amazing and makes the most of your space. Layer your landscape for visual appeal, plant health, and an environment in which you’ll love spending time. With the tips in this guide, you can plant, grow, and maintain breathtaking layered gardens.

About Denver Landscaping and Design

Create stunning, layered landscapes with Denver Landscaping and Design! Our experienced team specializes in designing and installing beautiful, functional, layered gardens that make the most of your outdoor space. We expertly arrange plants, trees, and structural elements to provide visual interest, depth, and a lush landscape you’ll love. With proper planning and maintenance, layered gardens thrive and provide lasting beauty. Contact us at (720) 605-0578 to get started designing your multi-dimensional layered landscape! Our team brings creative vision and expert horticultural knowledge to every project.

FAQs

How do you layer plants in front of your house?

Layering plants in front of your house creates an inviting, beautiful landscape. Place low-growing plants like flowers and ground cover in the front row about 1-2 feet from walkways. Behind those, put medium-height perennials, grasses, and low shrubs in the middle row spaced further apart. Finally, use small trees, tall shrubs, and towering perennials as a back row against the house facade to complete the layered look. Repeat some plant varieties throughout the rows for visual unity.

How do you pair plants together?

When pairing plants, consider their sunlight, soil, moisture, and size requirements to ensure compatibility. Complementary plants with similar needs planted in close proximity will thrive, while incompatible plants struggle and compete.

How do I make my plants look organized?

Organize your plants by height, placing taller plants towards the back and shorter ones up front to create layered dimensions. Repeat certain varieties throughout the layers and use filler plants to create unity, fill gaps, and cover bare ground for a lush, cohesive look.

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