Photos by Ryan Benoit

How to Turn Your Clay Pots Into a Vertical Garden

Photos by Ryan Benoit

MAY 2016 UPDATE: Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and great questions about our DIY vertical clay pots. This project has had quite a life since we first created it for Whole Foods Market back in 2014. Since then, we’ve created a super-size 10-foot-tall version to house tropical plants like anthuriums with scarlet flowers and black-gold philodendrons. It’s been featured in Better Homes & Gardens (see the very bottom of this post) and shared over 10,000 times on Pinterest. And on Memorial Day weekend 2016, we performed a live demonstration of this gravity-defying DIY at the grand opening of Potted @Lazybones in Santa Monica.

We’re excited to update this post with the full step-by-step DIY — that’s right, no more clicking around to get the details. If you’ve built one, please take a photo and tag us on Instagram!

Vertical-Clay-Planters-The-Horticult-Ryan-Benoit-Design-2014-RMB_5457

We first demo’d the hanging pots on our friend Jill’s 6th floor balcony.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Design

Next stop: our friend Tim’s porch. We changed up the plants to eight different varieties of coleus.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

We then brought the pots back to our garden.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Design

We made another set of vertical clay pots for our nepenthes pitcher plants in our outdoor shower area/carnivorous garden. We used 8-inch clay pots for the outer planters and 6-1/2 inch clay pots for the center stack.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

This winter we removed the coleus and brought in a collection of nemesia plants for a bright, fresh and aromatic screen.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

This spring we helped Tim bring vertical clay pots back to his porch. He wanted succulents so we chose a more shallow 8″ pot for a different look.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Voila!

DIY Vertical Clay Pots

Tools:

  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Hacksaw or angle grinder with cutoff wheel
  • File
  • Primer
  • Sandpaper
  • Cross-head screwdriver
  • Tape measure
  • 1-inch deck screw and a pair of 1/4 and 3/8-inch washers
  • Scrap wood for drilling flanges
  • Adjustable wrench (optional)
  • Clamp

Vertical Clay Pots - Tools

Step 1. Make a rough sketch.

Roughly sketch your arrangement. Determine how many columns and pots you want to use. One column can look just as powerful as three. Consider the mature height of the plants that you want to pot when determining the distance between pots. Choose a location that you’ll be able to safely hang each rod.  Keep in mind that each rod with pots and plants can weigh over 30-lbs. Ideally you’ll want to thread a screw-eye into wood.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Above is a guide to the spacing that we’ve used. Because the pots are secured along a threaded rod any spacing is achievable!

Step 2. Source your pots based on your sketch.

After you’ve sketched your arrangement, choose your glazed or unglazed pots. Look for pots with at least a 1/2-inch drain hole. Make sure the pots have center drain holes or you’ll need to drill the holes yourself. Glazed pots will not stain and require less maintenance, however, the roots of most plants breath better through unglazed pots.You may need to expand the drain hole with a masonry bit

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Clay pots come in many different sizes and shapes. Almost any size or shape will work for this project. The most important part is the drainage hole at the bottom. You can use glazed pots or pots without holes which will require you to drill holes manually using a masonry bit.

Step 3. Refine your sketch.

Based on the actual size and proportion of your chosen pots, sketch the entire arrangement including exact distances between pots.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Here is the spacing we used for our first arrangement. The eyebolts for hanging the pots (not pictured) add another 4 inches of length to the top of each rod. Make sure to leave 3/4-inch at the bottom of the lowest pot for the bottom flange and nut.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

This is how we spaced Tim’s three-pot succulent arrangement.

Step 4. Gather material based on final sketch.

  • For each column you’ll need:
    • One eyebolt (with sleeve anchor for concrete) or screw eye to thread into wood.
    • One S-hook
    • One stainless steel threaded rod sized based on your sketch. Most rods come in either 3 foot or 6 foot lengths (although 6 foot lengths can be hard to find). For 8-inch and below diameter pots, we recommend 3/8-inch diameter rod.  For pots larger than 8-inch, use 1/2-inch diameter rod and widen 4-inch test plugs with a 1/2 inch drill bit.
    • One stainless steel eyebolt matching the rod diameter.
    • Coupling nut matching the rod diameter.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

  • For each pot you’ll need:
    • One test plug. Use a 3-inch test plug for 8-inch and smaller pots. Use a 4-inch test plug for pots larger than 8 inches. If using 1/2-inch rod, you’ll need to expand the center holes of each 4-inch test plug with a 1/2-inch drill bit. Disassemble the test plug and use flanges only.
    • Two stainless steel washers matching diameter of rod
    • Two stainless steel nuts matching diameter of rod
    • Two 2-1/2-inch, 1/8-inch thick o-rings (optional, but improves drainage).
Vertical Clay Pot Garden

For each pot, you’ll need two washers, two nuts, two o-rings and a drilled test flange (drill in step 5). Larger flange is secured inside of the pot and smaller flange secures at bottom of pot.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

At Home Depot, plastic test plugs can be found in the plumbing section. You’ll need a single 3- inch test plug for each 8-inch-or-smaller clay pot. For 10-inch-and-above clay pots, use 4-inch test plugs.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Test plugs are normally used for pressure testing new or repaired plumbing systems.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Disassemble each test plug. You will not use the rubber piece or the zinc-coated hardware.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Installing o-rings will allow better flow to the pots’ center drain holes and will also soften the contact between the plastic plugs and clay pots. The pots are less likely to shatter if the nuts are over-tightening during assembly.

Step 5. Cut the rod(s) to size.

Use a hacksaw or angle grinder (with cutoff wheel) to chop the rods to length per sketch.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

We used an angle grinder because we already have one, but it’s much easier than manually hacking through stainless steel rod.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

If you don’t have an angle grinder, use a hack saw to cut rods to your measured lengths. Stainless steel is a hard metal so it will take some time get through the rods.

Step 6. Drill holes in the test plugs.

To convert the test plugs into drainable flanges, drill six 1/4-inch holes through all test plugs as depicted below. We highly recommend securing each flange to a piece of scrap wood with a deck screw and a couple of small washers to prevent the bit from grabbing the test plug and spinning it into your hand. We learned this the hard way!

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Before drilling the drain holes in each test plug, secure the test plug through the center as shown with a 1-inch deck screw and a couple of small washers (1/4″ and 3/8″ flat washers worked for us). This will prevent the plastic flange (test plug) from moving while drilling.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Drill six drain holes in each flange.

Step 7. Paint the smaller bottom plugs (optional).

The fastest way to make the red plugs more subtle is to spray the plugs with a gray primer. Make sure to sand the plastic plugs lightly with a medium grit sandpaper beforehand so that the paint better adheres to the plug. Allow required time for paint to dry.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Step 8. Assemble the pots along the rod(s).

According to your diagram, assemble the nuts, washers, o-rings and test plugs along the rod(s). Here are some tips and guidelines.

  • Do not over-tighten test plug flanges around pots. Hand tight is preferred. Wrenches optional.
  • Secure the middle pot first (second from bottom)
  • Secure the upper pot(s) second
  • Secure the bottom pot last.
  • After all the pots are loosely secured, make final adjustments to match distances in between pots per your sketch.
  • Make sure o-rings are properly aligned. O-ring should not be visible when properly aligned.
  • Before hanging and potting plants, fill each pot with water to make sure it drains.
Vertical Clay Pot Garden

We recommend laying out your pieces before assembling to make sure you have all the components.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

We assembled our original pots without o-rings. The pots have drained good, but we’ve had to clear a few clogs over the past two years.

Start threading the nuts down the rod to the second-from-the-bottom pot. You’ll save time (and your wrist) if you thread two at a time for the middle pots. Using your diagram, thread the first nut down to the distance of the bottom of the middle pot (second from the bottom).

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Place a washer, a bottom flange, and an o-ring on top of the nut.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Place the pot through the rod so that it sits on top of the flange.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Place an o-ring and an unpainted top flange over the bottom of the pot.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Place a washer and thread a nut all the way down the rod and loosely tighten it up against the top flange. You may need to adjust the height later.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Repeat for the pot(s) above. Make sure the o-rings are centered and they should not be visible.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Secure the bottom pot last. You’ll need to leave about 3/4-inch below the pot to fully thread the nut.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

You can fine tune the spacing between pots before or after hanging (see next step).

If using a wrench to turn the nuts, be careful not to over-tighten which could shatter the pots. Hand tight works just fine.

Step 9. Attach eyebolt(s) and hang.

Attach an eyebolt to each rod using a coupling nut. Assure that the rod and eyebolt meet in the middle of the coupling nut. Optional: Use thread-lock to prevent rods from spinning loose and falling to the ground.

To hang, install a screw-eye in a beam, eave or ceiling in the desired location. To prevent the pots from falling, make sure to screw into solid wood or use an sleeve anchor bolt with the appropriate load rating. Note: pots can get quite heavy when filled with soil.

Hang rods using an S-hook. Never hang pots outside of a railing when hanging on a balcony.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Thread the eyebolt halfway up into the coupling nut.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Then turn the coupling nut over the top of the rod. Make sure that the eyebolt and rod meet in the center of the coupling rod. This is important so that your pots don’t fall! You can use threadlock as an extra precaution.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Attach an S-hook to the thread rod. We crimped the S-hook with pliers to make it easier to hang.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

If hanging with a screw eye, pre-drill a hole. We recommend using at least a 3/16-inch thick screw eye for a sturdy installation.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Important: hang stacked planters inside the balcony railing if hanging on a high-rise balcony. (Obviously, if water — or worse! — drops, it will only fall on the floor of the balcony.) Use bowls to collect drain-off from lowest clay pots.

Step 10. Bring in the plants!

You may need to carefully split the roots around the rod if potting larger plants. We recommend bringing in younger plants (think six-packs) so that the roots can grow naturally around the rods.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Potting larger plants can be a bit tricky because of the center rod. You are better off planting smaller plants and letting the roots grow naturally around the rod.

Step 11. Water

Water each pot until you see water drain from the bottom flange. We hooked up our pots to an irrigation system with drippers installed just above the soil line on the top pots. Monitor pots over time since they can become clogged. If they do become clogged, try loosening the flange and spinning the pot to clear the dirt. If you still can’t get the water to drain, you may need to completely empty the pot, loosen the flanges and spray out all dirt with a hose before reassembling.

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

Make sure the pots drain! Water the plants until you see water flow out the bottom flange.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Good luck! And let us know if you have any questions in the comments. We’d love for you to send us photos of your arrangement! See more photos below of our installations.

—TH

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Design

The view from street level.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Coleus is the closest we will get to recreating the East Coast’s intense fall foliage in our Southern California yard.

 

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Design

Early 2015 we built our largest installation.

After filling the arrangement with tropicals, it was featured in Better Homes and Gardens, April 2016.

 

Vertical Clay Pot Garden

We didn’t hang the pots for this installation. Instead, we made a frame and secured the rods with metal flanges (top and bottom) as shown here.

The Horticult on Snapchat

Follow us on Snapchat for behind-the-scenes stories about our vertical garden!

  • Margo

    <3 it

  • RTH

    Love this! Unfortunately, it seems darkrye has disappeared into Whole Foods and your full DIY is no longer available via the link provided (nor via search on Whole Foods). I’m saddened 🙁 Can you post the original / full DIY here for peeps like me who’d LOVE to take on this awesome project?! Many thanks!

    • Chantal Aida Gordon

      Whoa, thanks for the heads up, RTH! That’s a bummer. And absolutely — we’ll post the full DIY for y’all in the next few days. (Send us an email and we’ll be sure to ping you when it’s up.)

    • RTH, this is a bummer! And thanks for the head’s up. We absolutely will post the full DIY in the body of this post. For now, here’s the archived version; it’s a long page, so just search for “hort” and it’ll scroll you down to the instructions: https://web.archive.org/web/20140911024456/http://www.darkrye.com/cultivate4/

      • RTH

        Awesomeness! Thanks so much!

  • Scandia99

    I found this on Pinterest and I love this idea! I’m gathering the supplies and will have it up this spring with herbs.

  • R Rizzonelli

    I tried to do this last summer with plastic hanging pots only with chains but it didn’t work out and I have had doubles with macrama before. Thank you for sharing; you are very creative or whomever came up with this idea. Don’t be surprised if I don’t have these installed on my front porch this coming summer.

  • TulumChica

    I’m planning a privacy screen based on your project using 10″ pots with 1/2″ threaded rod. I purchased 4″ test plugs as recommended in the BHG article. However, the center hole in the test plugs is not 1/2″. Did you drill it out? Or should I stick with 3/8″ rod?

    • Definitely drill out the center hole to 1/2″. You’ll want the larger diameter rod for the larger pot installation. Another trick for improved drainage is installing o-rings between the flanges and the clay on top and bottom: http://amzn.to/1qsWHmz Good luck and let us know if you need any more help.