Layered Landscaping: Add Vertical Interest With These 9 Perennials

landscape layeringNot to discredit landscaping professionals (because hired professionals can do some phenomenal work), but you can do your own basic landscaping at home, and we’ll teach you how to get started in this blog post.

Landscaping done right takes multiple factors into account, including climate, hardiness zone, plant growing conditions, mature plant height and spread, flowering season—the list goes on, and that’s just the gardening side of the equation. Landscaping becomes an art form when considering design principles like balance, repetition, and scale.

If you’re intrigued, consider this your crash course in layered landscape design. Keep reading for a few pointers from our talented team and our recommendations for what plants to use!

Landscaping design principles and benefits

What is layered landscaping?

Layered landscaping is a type of garden design that combines plants of different heights, shapes, textures, and colors to create a multi-dimensional effect. It is a popular landscaping technique that adds texture, depth, color, and interest to a garden or outdoor space.

This type of landscape is not only functional but aesthetically pleasing, too. Intentionally planting plants of varying heights is great for creating focal points in a garden or outdoor space and helps to make a space more inviting, private, and comfortable. This type of landscape is not only functional but aesthetically pleasing, too.

Proportion can be achieved by carefully selecting certain plants that complement one another in size and color. By using plants of different heights, shapes, and textures, layering can create a sense of balance in the garden. The repetition of similar plants throughout the landscape creates a sense of unity.

Carefully considering these design principles will make your layered landscape stand out from all the rest!

Types of plants for landscaping

When creating an effective layered landscape design, choosing the right plants for your climate, hardiness zone, and gardening goals is essential. If you’re unsure where to start, you can shop our plants by your hardiness zone so your garden is guaranteed to thrive. 

Generally speaking, a balanced layered landscape will have at least a few plants in each category: groundcover, mid-sized perennials, and shrubs or trees.


The purpose of groundcover plants is precisely how it sounds. These species help cover the ground, retaining moisture and preventing soil erosion. Groundcover can also help with weed suppression, as these low-growing plants prevent sunlight from reaching the ground.

Visually, groundcover draws the eye to the lowest level, featuring lush foliage and a variety of textures. Groundcovers are usually placed in the foreground of a landscape or the edges of a bed to ensure that the plants don’t get hidden by larger plants in the background.

This North American native is an underrated groundcover and landscape plant! The frilled, maroon leaves are striking enough on their own, but the petite bell-shaped blooms that follow are delightful and attract pollinators to the garden. The shade-tolerant perennial thrives in zones 4 through 8, and mature plants will reach about six inches tall with 12 inches of spread.

A popular houseplant, cast iron plant, is technically a perennial that is just as happy indoors as out. The glossy, lance-like leaves reach between one and three feet tall, with a mature spread of about two feet. A drought-tolerant and shade-tolerant cast iron plant is one of the more low-maintenance groundcovers.

Of course, ornamental grass is one of the most varied and versatile groundcovers to use in any landscaped area. Choose between variegated varieties like Sweet Flag, Lily Turf, or Evergold Variegated Sedge

Each of these grasses is a compact, clumping plant that reaches eighteen inches tall at most. The plants are hardy down to zone 5 and need very little care throughout the year. Brilliant, colored foliage is attractive and is perfect for plugging holes, especially in shady areas of the garden.


Mid-sized perennials are larger than groundcovers but not quite as tall as trees, bridging the gap between low-growing plants and shrubs. Usually, these plants reach between three and four feet tall at most, with a similar spread.

Planting flowering perennials is an excellent way to showcase different colors and textures. Plant various perennials that bloom at different times throughout the growing season for year-round color!

Add unique shape and color to your landscape with agapanthus. Glossy strap-like foliage frames tall flower stems topped by ball-shaped clusters of tubular flowers that butterflies and hummingbirds can’t get enough of. Flowers range in color from lavender-white Queen Mum to a rare violet-blue Northern Star. Depending on the variety, agapanthus reaches two to three feet tall when mature and prefers hardiness zones 6 through 9.

Daylilies have adapted and naturalize  so well to our climate that many people think they are native here, though they originally hail from Asia. Daylilies come in various colors ranging from the buttery yellow of Happy Returns to the rich ruby of Pardon Me. Many daylilies are rebloomers, so expect to see multiple flushes of color from one planting. Daylilies grow about two feet tall and make excellent cut flowers.

A garden classic, nothing says summer like Shasta daisies. These hardy perennials grow in clumps, reaching three feet tall when mature. The snow-white multi-petaled blooms are a hit with pollinators, as they bloom from midsummer well into fall. Shasta daisies thrive in hardiness zones 5 through 9 and can tolerate full sun or partial shade.


A crucial piece of any well-done landscaping project, shrubs create the illusion of background. Taller plants draw the gaze upward, complement fences and buildings, and define clear borders. Evergreen shrubs and deciduous plants provide year-round interest and a dazzling autumn show. Shrubs are also an essential food source and habitat for birds and beneficial insects.

A favorite landscaping plant for Southern growers, azaleas are an excellent choice for mid level to tall landscaping. Azaleas come in nearly every imaginable color, from the creamy Pleasant White to carmine-pink Renee Michelle to the bright red Encore Autumn Fire. A North American Native, azaleas thrive in acidic, well-draining soils in hardiness zones 7 through 10. Azaleas grow between two and five feet tall, on average, depending on the variety.

The butterfly bush, as it is often called for its aptitude to attract butterflies and other pollinators, is a beautiful shrub that thrives in various climates. The fragrant, plume-shaped flower clusters begin blooming in summer, and deadheading spent flowers will encourage blooming until fall. Before pruning, buddleia can grow up to eight feet tall. Butterfly bush thrives in full sun in hardiness zones 5 through 9. Colors range from the rich violet Black Knight to the blush-colored Pugster White, with each new variety as stunning as the last.

Holly trees are a classic landscaping option, and with such a wide variety within the species, there is bound to be something to meet your needs. Chinese hollies (like China Girl) grow up to ten feet tall and feature classic needlepoint leaves. In contrast, Japanese hollies like Soft Touch aren’t as sharp and are much lower-growing, topping out around three feet. Remember to plant a male and a female to ensure berry production regardless of which variety you choose. Birds love the berries, but they are not for human consumption.

There are many different types of plants to choose from when creating a layered landscape. Opt for plants you know will thrive in your climate and hardiness zone, and incorporate a blend of low-growing groundcovers, medium-height perennials, and shrubs or trees into your landscape. Other than these basic suggestions, feel free to experiment with different colors and textures to cultivate a landscape that showcases your personality and preferences.

Shop our collection of groundcovers, perennials, and shrubs today, and use these tips to design your dream landscape!