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How to Build a Space-Saving 3-Tiered Planter

Using rot-resistant cedar lumber from the home center, This Old House DIY Expert and House One Editor Jenn Largesse shows how to build a space-saving tiered planter.

It’s no secret I’m a terrible cook, but when I take the time to try using a recipe, I find that fresh herbs can make all the difference. To keep these taste-enhancing plants close at hand, I built a tiered planter that can sit on our patio right off the kitchen. It has a rather small footprint compared to the number of herbs it can hold, and as a bonus, it fills our sitting area with the fragrant smells of mint and lavender.

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter
Plants from Boyert’s Greenhouse and Farm
Jenn Largesse

To build the planter I used rot-resistant cedar from the home center to create three frames that each house a store-bought planter box. I elevated the boxes with ladder-like sides, cascading their placement from back to front. If dinner turns out half as good as the planter holding the ingredients, I might be onto something—or calling for a pizza, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Getting Started

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter illustration Ian Worpole

By lining the three holders with store-bought planters, I extended the life of the wood frame. Even though the wood will get wet during watering, it won’t take the wear and tear of consistently holding damp soil. Additionally, cedar is best left untreated, versus alternative dimensional lumber species that would require a protective finish that could break down over time or contaminate the herbs.

To layout the planters, separate woody-stemmed herbs that prefer dryer soil—like rosemary and thyme— from moisture-loving herbs, like basil and parsley. This will make watering and maintenance much quicker. Also, consider planting potentially invasive herbs like mint in a pot to keep them contained.

Lastly, consider height, as the lower planters have more headspace toward the front of the box and the higher planters will allow a weeping plant more distance to grow without touching the ground.

Scroll down for a list of tools, materials, and the cut list for this project.

Steps for Building a Tiered Planter

Step 1 - Cut the Planter Box Pieces

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 1 Jenn Largesse
  • Measure the width and depth of the store-bought planter boxes.
  • Add about 1/4-inch to each dimension so that the planter willful freely within the box.
  • Cut the 1x4 pieces to size to create the front, back and end walls of each box, and the base.

Step 2 - Prep the Planter Box Boards for Assembly

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 2 Jenn Largesse
  • Each planter box wall is made from two stacked 1x4 boards.
  • To join these boards, drill pocket holes along one edge of each pairing. Assemble the walls with wood glue and 1 1/2-inch screws, noting that the pocket holes should face downward after assembly so as not to collect water.
  • On the two boards that create the base of each planter, drill two pocket holes at each end and two pocket holes along one edge of each board.

Step 3 - Attach the Base of the Planters to the Walls

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 3 Jenn Largesse
  • Using glue and 1 1/2-inch screws, attach one base board to the front wall, flush with its bottom edge. Tip: Use an end wall to center the base board on the width of the front wall.
  • Drive 1 1/2-inch screws through the pocket holes in the base board and into the front wall.
  • Repeat to attach the remaining base board to the back wall.

Step 4 - Finish Assembling the Planter Boxes

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 4 Jenn Largesse
  • Set the end walls into place between the front and back walls.
  • Drive 1 5/8-inch trim-head screws through the face of the front and back walls and into the end walls to secure the parts in place.
  • Attach the base boards to the end walls using 1 1/2-inch screws driven through the pocket holes at the ends of each base board.

Step 5 - Size the Legs and Supports

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 5 Jenn Largesse
  • Using a miter saw cut the two 1x3 back legs.
  • Set the miter saw to 22.5-degrees and cut the two front legs to length with parallel mitered ends.
  • Cut the 1x2 supports to length with the back end cut square and the front end mitered at 22.5-degrees.

Step 6 - Mount the Supports Between the Front and Back Legs

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 6 Jenn Largesse
  • Mark the height of the supports on the back legs.
  • Using a speed square position the supports perpendicular to the back leg.
  • Secure each support by driving two 1 5/8-inch screws through the support and into the back leg.
  • Slide the front leg under the supports until it sets flush with their mitered front ends and even with the top edge of the back leg.
  • Drive two screws through each support and into the front leg to secure the pieces. Repeat to assemble the second set making sure the front leg faces the opposite direction when flat so that when upright they make mirrored right and left leg assembly.
  • Stand each leg upright and use a small level to ensure the supports run level and the back leg stands plumb.

Step 7 - Add a Support Between the Back Legs

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 7 Jenn Largesse
  • Place the 1x3 crosspiece between the back legs, resting on the bottom supports.
  • Drive 1 1/2-inch screws through the pocket holes in the underside of the crosspiece and into the legs.
  • Stand the assembled legs and crosspiece upright.

Step 8 - Mount the Boxes Between the Legs

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 8 Jenn Largesse
  • Place the top box between the legs so that the front edge of the box sets even with the front end of the top support.
  • Drive two 1 5/8-inch screws through the inside of the box and into each leg piece.
  • Repeat to attach the middle and lower boxes, driving screws through the box ends and into the inside of each front leg.

Step 9 - Add the Liners and Plants

Summer 2021 Easy DIY, planter step 9 Jenn Largesse
  • Lower a window box liner into each planter box. Because you’ll need to tilt the boxes to fit them into the lower planters, it’s best to set them in place before filling each with soil and plantings.


Cut List

  • 7/8” x 4 Planter Front and Back – 12 @ 25 3/4 inches
  • 7/8” x 4 Planter Sides – 12 @ 8 inches
  • 7/8” x 4 Planter Base – 6 @ 24 inches
  • 7/8” x 3 Back Legs – 2 @ 37 1/2 inches
  • 7/8” x 3 Front Legs – 2 @ 40 5/8” (mitered at parallel 22.5-degree angles)
  • 7/8” x 3 Crosspiece – 1 @ 25 3/4 inches
  • 7/8” x 1½” Supports – 2 @ 10 3/8 inches (Front edge mitered at 22.5-degrees)
  • 7/8” x 1½” Supports – 2 @ 15 3/4 inches (Front edge mitered at 22.5-degrees)
  • 7/8” x 1½” Supports – 2 @ 21 1/8 inches (Front edge mitered at 22.5-degrees)