A few years ago, I took a trip to Germany and France, where I found myself captivated by the many window boxes bursting with Alpine geraniums and other blooms on buildings in every small town and large city. No matter how elaborate or quaint the structure, the window boxes added charm and a warm welcome.
I have wondered since then why we don’t utilize this delightful gardening motif more often in our own American gardens. Nothing adds such style, curb appeal and the “wow” factor to the exterior of our homes as colorful window boxes filled with an assortment of blooming plants. So why not give it a try and add a window box or two (or three) to your home this summer?
How to Choose a Window Box
Window box materials come in a wide range of choices including wood, wrought iron, terracotta, composite, plastic, fiberglass, copper, and treated metal. Choose a material that complements your home’s exterior style and color. Purchase boxes that are well made and durable. Red cedar is a good choice if you want a wooden box, as it is naturally insect and weather resistant. If you choose another type of wood, make sure it has been treated with a finish to prevent rotting. You can also purchase liners made from coconut fiber, preserved moss, or plastic. If you want to forego daily watering, add a self-watering reservoir system.
Window boxes should be large and in proportion to your windows and house to make a big statement. Select a box size that is at least as wide as your window or wider if the boxes are on upper-level windows. Remember that the larger the container, the more plants you can add and the bigger the impact. Larger window boxes also require less watering, which means less maintenance! To ensure good root growth, make sure your boxes are at least 6 to 8 inches deep.
Window box planters are not just for windows but are also great additions along a porch or balcony railing or secured to a trellis or fence. Want to hide the air conditioning unit? Surround it with a trellis and add planter boxes to the trellis filled with cascading plants.
You can find a plethora of window box design plans online if you want to build your own. Check out the DIY Network, HGTV, or This Old House for step by-step instructions. MarthaStewart.com features a creative alternative to the basic window box. Here you can find instructions to cut circles in a wood board in the dimensions of old terracotta pots. You will place the pots filled with flowers in the wooden frame and attach to your structure. You can also find a wide variety of finished products online to purchase. Amazon.com, windowbox.com and gardeners.com are good places to start.
How to Design with Plants
Before selecting the plants for your boxes, notice the amount of sun exposure the area gets and choose plants that will be happy in these conditions. The most demanding exposure for plants in the summer is on the western side of your home, facing late afternoon sun. West-facing window boxes need tough plants that can thrive in full sun, and they will require more frequent watering. Choose shade plants like ferns and caladiums for a shady exposure.
Instead of just placing pretty flowers haphazardly in your containers, select a variety of plants in different heights, shapes and textures. Remember the old tried-and-true method of adding a “thriller,” “filler,” and “spiller.” Place the tallest plants in the back or middle with filler plants in the middle and cascading plants in the front to spill over the side of the box. Repeat the same design scheme in other boxes that are seen together for a balanced, coordinated look. Create a lush look by choosing bigger plants and planting close together to fill in all the space.
While geraniums are a charming European mainstay for a window box, you can liven things up with more unusual selections such as succulents, tropicals, grasses, and plants with interesting foliage, like coleus and caladiums. Fill window boxes near your kitchen with an array of herbs or small vegetables. If you keep your boxes planted all year round, include evergreen plants like boxwood, fern, or variegated ivy to give structure, and then just change out your seasonal blooms throughout the year.
How to Care for your Planted Window Boxes
Treat a window box like any other container you are planting. First cover the drainage holes with a coffee filter before adding potting mix to keep the mixture from leaking out onto your structure and staining the walls. Then add your potting mix, a soil-less mixture of nutrients that ensures good soil aeration and drainage. Place your plants in the container as designed using various heights, colors and textures. Finally, sprinkle a light mulch on top to protect the plants from heat and help retain moisture. Most window boxes will need to be watered daily, especially during the hot summer months. Fertilize your plants with a water-soluble formula for blooms at least every ten days and deadhead spent blooms and ragged foliage as needed. Change out your annuals seasonally for a fresh look.
I’d love to see your window box creations! Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might see your shot on Fayette Woman’s Facebook page!