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If you’re adding some patio containers or window boxes to your home, be sure that you know which flowers are perfect for hot, sunny spots and which grow best in the shade. See our lists of the best flowers for sun versus shade so that you can choose the right plants based on your window’s sun exposure!
Why Choose a Window Box?
Window boxes are great for houses and apartments alike! Growing plants in window boxes puts them at eye level, which gives a different perspective than having them in your garden.
From the inside, the plants will become part of your view of the outdoors. And from the outside, the plants and containers become part of the architecture.
Wondering what to plant? Petunias, geraniums, zinnias, nasturtiums, and begonias are good choices for main-theme flowers. Fill in with things like inch plant, ivy, euonymus, heather, or vinca, which will cascade over the edge of the box. Impatiens do well in shady locations. More subtle choices include coleus, heliotrope, and salvia. Window boxes look their best if they’re packed with plants!
Experienced gardeners can train climbing vines around the window frame for an ensemble effect. Connoisseurs may choose to add topiary forms as a focal point. Ivy or creeping fig topiaries or other identifiable shapes can capture the imagination.
Selecting Plants for Your Sun Exposure
Above all, the most important considerations are sun exposure and which way your window box faces. The leaves of shade-lovers will get scorched in the high light levels of a south or west-facing wall; plants that thrive in full sun will grow tall and leggy in a northern exposure.
Window Box Flowers for Full Sun
(for a sunny, hot, south or west-facing window)
opal and bush basil
sweet potato vine
‘Homestead Purple’ verbena
miniature climbing rose
Window Box Flowers for Shade
(for a shady, cool, north-facing window)
fern (maidenhair, tassel, Boston, asparagus)
variegated English or Algerian ivy
inch plant (tradescantia)
Often overlooked for window boxes are foolproof flowering bulbs. Whether you do a fall planting of miniature daffodils, snowdrops, or hyacinths for springtime bloom, or you do a late-spring planting of lilies, alliums, or dwarf gladiolus for summertime bloom, be sure to tuck a few bulbs and corms into your window boxes for added impact.
Vegetables and Herbs
If you’ve got an accessible location, try planting edibles—plant herbs like sage, chives, thyme, and mint. Just open the kitchen window when you need some fresh herbs!
Cherry tomatoes, lettuce, andkale mixed with marigolds will do nicely in a window box, too. Like flowers, they will need water every couple of days and fertilizer every two weeks. (Note: since a window box is just a breeze away from your living quarters, you might want to avoid aromatic fertilizers like fish emulsion.) Be sure to cultivate the soil regularly so that the water will penetrate throughout rather than just run off.
Wood, Metal, or Plastic Window Boxes?
There are many window boxes or troughs sold in garden centers that can be easily mounted or hung on a balcony or window ledge. These days, they tend to be plastic.
For a house, a wooden window box can easily be custom-built to fit the length and width of a windowsill, so wood remains the medium of choice. Its life can be extended significantly by simply using the box as a holder for a metal or plastic planter or several potted plants. Wood is also the easiest to mount to your house. A word of caution here—do not set the box directly against the siding of your house. Leave an inch or two of breathing space so moisture does not build up. Ensure the box is securely fastened to your house, too, as you don’t want a strong breeze to send it flying!
Tips for Window Box Care
Good drainage is essential. Choose window boxes that already have drainage holes, or drill some yourself. It’s important that the soil not stay oversaturated, as this could lead to root rot.
Use a standard potting mix from your garden center, or mix your own using soil, coconut coir, sawdust, sand, and a little bonemeal. Add compost if growing edible plants. Fill the box to within an inch of the top. It’s important to use enough good potting soil around the plants so they sit firmly.
Water and mix thoroughly. Add more soil if it has settled, and water and mix some more.
Make sure to water and fertilize often. Window boxes that are in full sun will dry out quickly!
Don’t be afraid to replace plants that have finished blooming with others that are fresh!
Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann