How to make a simple growing shelf to maximise growing space

Brick ladder

When space is tight, a simple, tiered shelving system for your containers can be at total game changer. 

  • You'll be able to grow a LOT more in the same space.
  • You'll find it easier to keep pots organised.
  • And, by creating different levels, you'll create a more visually appealing garden than one all on the ground. 

You'll also often find that the higher levels get more sun than pots on the ground, particularly in spaces that are partly shaded by walls.  

I posted recently about how to build your own wooden growing ladder. These are great - but they do take more time and effort to make.  

A simpler, quicker way to make tiered shelves for growing is to use planks and concrete blocks, here is how:-  

Sourcing your materials

  • If buying new, look for the lightest blocks you can find, in the size you need. Also, check they are suitable for external use (some are not). 
  • Concrete blocks can often be picked up free or at low cost from networks like Freecycle or Gumtree. But do double check first that they are suitable before committing and lugging them home. Used concrete blocks with remnants of cement are likely to be unstable when stacked on top of each other, unless the cement is removed. 
  • Old scaffold boards make good strong shelves. An alternative is decking boards which can sometimes be salvaged from skips (ask first) or bought second hand from wood recycling centres. Decking boards normally come ready treated and therefore may not need painting.

Safety issues

Due the weight of the blocks, this system is less suitable for spaces like balconies and rooftops where weight is an issue. But I'm sure the idea can be adapted by using lighter materials to raise the shelves. If you have any ideas about how to do this, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Also, do please bear in mind the weight of concrete blocks, and check your structure is strong and stable after building so that it can't do any harm to people or property!

Adapt the principle to your needs

This is just one, simple way to create tiered shelves (another is the growing ladder). You can adapt the shelf idea to your needs - and what will work well in your space. The space underneath the shelves also has potential for storage, particularly useful if space is particularly tight.

If you build some sort of shelving system, I'd love to hear what you do and how it works out in the comments. 

1 comment

Sandra Maria

Dear Mark, 

Thank you for sharing this idea of building a simple plant shelf. I like your blog and newsletter very much and learnt a lot from your fantastic book. I grow my plants on a balcony with about 11 m2 space. So both weight and space are an issue. Since last year I had a lot of pots placed around the balcony but was not really satisfied with the situation, especially with all the small pots for seasonal flowers or annual herbs. One can easily trip over this pots and a lot of space is blocked. Therefore this year instead of these small pots I tried a vertical vegetable bed in six rows one upon the other which provides space for about 20-30 plants, depending on their size. The bed has a continuous body of soil on the back from top to bottom, so there is much more soil in there that it seems (my shelf has a dimension of 1 x 1 Meter and I filled it with about 120 l soil and perlite as well as worm mould.) As far as I can see by now plants seem to like there new environments. I share here some photos. The top shelf is reserved for tomatoes to be planted in May. Sun comes from the right in the photos, so on top and on the right side there are plants loving sun (tomatoes, basil, sage, rosemary, lavender) and the more to the left and to the bottom plants are planted which need less sun as for example salads, chive, strawberries, etc. I bought this vertical bed at a local company (for self installation) but for people with some more craftsman skills it’s probably possible to construct it completely by themselves. I am curious how the plants will do during the season. 

Best wishes and happy growing, Sandra Maria 

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