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How to Plant Stacked Containers

Updated on May 8, 2020
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill likes cooking, writing, painting, & stewardship, and studies gardening through MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.

Bet you won't make just one!

Stacked containers are an easy, space-saving and cost-efficient method for creating gorgeous mixed flower pots perfect for small patios, balconies, kitchens and entryways.

Stacking gives your old containers a whole new look. They can also be less expensive and lighter weight than conventional planters, requiring fewer plants and less potting soil.


A wheelbarrow of fun.

Here's what you'll need to make a stacked pot.

  • 2-3 pots in ascending sizes, each with drainage holes*
  • 2-3 clean plastic nursery pots to fit inside them
  • Assorted plants, including 1 tall thriller, 3 bushy fillers and 3 or more trailing spillers
  • Potting soil
  • Water

*Plastic or ceramic containers, which retain water best, work well for full-sun annuals. For plants that need well-drained soil, such as herbs, try clay pots.

You can buy matching containers of various sizes or just use what you have. Over time, the inner pots will become obscured by plants.

The First Tier


Warning: This is going to be messy.

Make a sturdy base.

Place an upside down plastic nursery pot in the largest container, pour potting soil around it and moisten the soil. The plastic pot should feel sturdy in the pot and rest level.

That's it! You've created the first tier. Now you're ready to build the next level of your stacked container.

The Second Tier


Are your hands dirty yet?

Next, place the second largest pot on the upturned nursery pot. Make sure it's stable and that the drainage holes line up.

Then put an upside down plastic pot inside pot #2.

Pour potting soil around it and add a bit of water.

The Optional Third Tier


One more time with feeling.

If you want to make a three-stack pot, place a small pot on top of the second planter's inner plastic pot. Again, make sure it's stable and that the drainage holes are aligned.

Finally, place an upside down plastic pot inside the third tier, pour potting mix around it and add water.

Whew! Now all of the tiers are in place, you're ready to plant!

Do you like the look of stacked containers?

See results

Planting Time

Thrillers, spillers & fillers

Begin adding spillers and fillers (trailing and bushy) plants to the first layer first. Don't be afraid to manhandle the roots a bit. You're going to have to in order to cram—er, plant them in the bottom planter. You'll have to add more soil, too.

After planting the bottom pot, you'll probably have to adjust the pot at the second level. (Things tend to shift a bit as you're "cramming.") Keep going, adding in more spillers and fillers, more soil, and adjusting the pots.

Plant the thriller (the tall show-stopper) in the top pot along with any additional fillers and spillers until all of your plants are planted.

Be sure to leave a small un-planted area in the top pot to serve as a watering spot. This will allow you to water the entire stacked container from the top.

Add more soil as you plant.
Add more soil as you plant. | Source

Budget Two-Tier Stacked Container

Created for a sunny corner, the budget-friendly stacked container below has only two tiers and contains just six plants: a Martha Washington geranium thriller, Dusty Miller fillers and snowdrop spillers.

To keep costs down, the plants are located on the front side only, and the thriller is planted against the back of the top pot.

A two-tier pot at one week old. As the flowers grow, the inner pot will become completely obscured.
A two-tier pot at one week old. As the flowers grow, the inner pot will become completely obscured. | Source
The same pot at two weeks.
The same pot at two weeks. | Source

A 3-Tier Stacked Pot Instructional Video: White Garden

Sample Three-Tier


The three-tier stacked container above is planted with sun-loving, drought tolerant plants. The bottom tier contains Oenothera berlanderi siskiyou 'Pink' (evening primrose) and Verbena canadensis 'Homestead Purple'. The second tier contains the same as well as Sedum 'blue spruce.' At the very top is a small dracaena.

What are you waiting for? Get to it!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Jill Spencer


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    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      4 months ago from United States

      Hi, Joan. The blue planter above is 16 inches in diameter, and the filler pot is 9. The green pots for the three tier planter I no longer have (they cracked over time), but they are closer in size. For the three-tier, I only had about three or four inches of difference between the pots and really had to split the plant roots and cram the plants in. They did just fine despite the rough treatment, however. Just be sure to stuff in extra soil, too. Hope your planter is a success! Best, Jill

    • profile image

      Joan Embertsonmeticulous 

      5 months ago

      Thanks for letting me know that u will get back to me hope u feel better soon

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      5 months ago from United States

      Joan, I’m a little sick today but will check the pots out tomorrow and get back to you. Jill

    • profile image

      Joan Embertsonmeticulous 

      5 months ago

      Hi was wondering what sized pots u used I'm having a hard time building one of these because there is no room to put my Flowers my pot for the bottom is 18 " wide the second pot is 13 inches wide what am I doing wrong

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hi Rebecca! Thanks for stopping by. Since you love container gardening, you'll have to give stacked pots a try. They're sort of fun to make & a little different from the same old same old. Take care, Jill

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is just awesome, DF. I love container gardening. I like the stacked pots idea. How novel. a new one on me. Love it!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hi Sharkye11! Glad you stopped by, and thanks for sharing this hub. Absolutely don't buy a kit. One of the big advantages of stacked containers is that you can use what you have in a unique way. Thanks again for reading! Take care, Jill

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Love this! I've seen stacked planters, but wasn't really sure how to do it without buying the expensive pre-made variety. This is a great tutorial! Voting, sharing and more!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Have fun, Glimmer Twin Fan! Stacked pots really do look nice.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      7 years ago

      This is an awesome idea. I have put plastic pots in my large deck containers, but that was only so I did not have to put so much dirt in the planter. I have just the corner for it! Shared.etc...

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      You'll do fine, Patricia. Just don't drop a pot on your foot! (I speak from bitter experience.) Hope you have a great weekend, too. Take care, Jill

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      7 years ago from North Central Florida

      How cool is this. I will be making some of these for my yard. I have bookmarked these to look at to avoid a fiasco. The photos and clear directions help greatly

      Sending Angels your way Have a lovely weekend :) ps

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hi Marina7. I like that pot, too. The color is so vivid, and white plants really look good in it. Thanks so much for commenting. All the best, Jill

    • Marina7 profile image


      7 years ago from Clarksville TN

      I like the first one in the big blue pot the best. Thank you very much. Excellent hub!!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hey Deb. I don't fill up any pot completely w/soil anymore. Now I'm into using pinecones--but not for stacked containers. I think they'd probably tip over! Nice to hear from you. --Jill

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      7 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Absolutely fabulous! And to think that I was wasting all that dirt for no reason.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hope stacking works for you, Donna. Be sure to plant the containers where you intend for them stay. They can be really heavy, even when the potting mix is cut in half. Take care, Jill

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      I love this idea also. I need some space saving, dramatic ideas for my apartment patio garden, and this could be the winner. Thanks!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Maren! Hope you're enjoying spring! It's starting to get pretty here, although it's still a bit chilly, especially in the mornings. Take care, Jill

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Good stuff, as usual!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Awesome, Randy! Bet you can make really beautiful, lush stacked gardens there. Take care, Jill

    • Randy M. profile image

      Randy McLaughlin 

      7 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      I will try this and see what comes of it. It will be interesting to find out what combination of plants would work where I live. Thanks for the idea!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Hi Carol! You could do some lovely drought-tolerant stacked pots there in Arizona. This year I think I'm going to do at least one in all white flowers so they'll "glow" in the garden at night. Thanks for commenting & sharing. Appreciate it. --Jill

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      I am always inspired to get into the dirt when reading one of your hubs. We have such a dry climate and bad soil..However I do want my backyard to look pretty..Love this idea as with all your writing. Voting up and pinning.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Suzie HQ! Making them is a lot of fun--a little something different, you know, just for a change. Glad you stopped by!

      Hi ytsenoh-- Sounds like a nice weekend project. You're inspiring me to get out there, too, if the weather holds. Thanks for commenting & for your kind words. Take care, Jill

    • ytsenoh profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Excellent. We were just talking about this over the weekend. As usual, you do such a fantastic job in sharing, explaining and helping through the instructions. Very nice.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      7 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Jill,

      Love the tiered look you showed. i am a big fan of this type of planting and agree with you in the choices of plants in each tier. I love trailing plants at the lower levels and a nice stunner on the top! Looking forward to planting up this idea, voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing! It's just about time to start making up our spring containers. I'd like to add a few more stacked pots and get much better pics. Take it easy. -- Jill

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      7 years ago from USA

      I love how these stacked containers look. Pinning now :) Thanks for sharing!!


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