How to Garden with Window Boxes

 Window box gardening is a new way to start a garden for beginners.  The advantage to window boxes is that they are usually close to the home, if not on the home making them easy to access and upkeep.  There are 3 easy ways to garden with window boxes: 1. From a Window, 2. On a Deck Railing, 3. In a Ground Planter on a Deck or Patio.  Let's talk about all three.

Gardening from a Window with a Window Box

Gardening from a window is an easy route.  Usually these are for people just starting as a window box is usually a small space.  It can be any window, but usually one that is accessible.  Window boxes are generally used for curb appeal when on the front of the house, but on the back of the house gardening and functionality make a lot of sense.  

To size your box the rule of thumb is to measure the width of the window and surrounding trim and to get a box that size.  This will make the box look correctly sized for the window.  Pick a window that can be opened from the inside or easily accessed from the outside.  

PVC window boxes are ideal since you can put the soil directly in the box.  Potting mix is ideal over potting soil as it's looser and easier for plants and vegetables to take root.  Some manufacturers have a self-watering option which helps with less watering making the setup even easier for beginners.  Before putting your potting mix in I recommend laying down a thin layer of gravel or a layer of black landscape fabric to cover up the bottom and drain holes.  Either method will work to keep soil trapped in the box and to filter water out so that its clean when it drains out the bottom.  Next fill with potting mix then start your planting by digging small holes in the potting mix for seeds.

Gardening from a Deck Railing

Gardening from a deck railing is a good way to create a large garden space that is easily accessed from a back deck.  In many cases where there is lots of rail length you can expand your garden by adding more railing planters.  This means you can start with one rail planter first and get used to the concept then add more later on.  Some railing planters sit atop the rails so they can create privacy as well and be higher up while other railing planters hang over rails with a hook system.  Depending on if your rails are flat or curved you may have to hang over the rail with a universal hook instead.

Planters with removable hooks can be removed from the rail in the winter and brought inside though some manufacturers make the planters where they can also be left out year round such as Flower Window Boxes, Inc. Most rail planters are skinny so you'll be utilizing length to get good square footage out of your garden.  Pay attention to the inside dimensions of the planters you are getting to make sure you are maximizing your planting space and getting the best bang for your buck.

Gardening from Ground Planters

Ground planters are the best option if you need a lot of square footage for your garden.  The cheapest route to go is with a raised bed garden in your back yard.  These kits are affordable and easy to set up and ship unassembled at an economical price.  If you want to bring the garden closer to you though to make it more convenient then using a container and placing it on your back deck or patio is a good option.  Some manufacturers ship the planters fully assembled while others ship them as kits you have to put together.

Planter cost is usually based on volume.  Adding height to a planter could make it more convenient and easier to reach but might add a lot to the cost without changing your square footage of planting space so consider these details when trying to figure out sizing.  As a good rule of thumb I like to make a footprint on the ground where the planters will go so it helps me visualize how it will look.  To do this take a roll of paper towels and roll them out to the approximate lengths of the flower boxes.  Cut with scissors and make rectangles and lay them on the ground in the approximate locations.  Most paper towels are 12" wide so if you want to simulate a planter that is 24" wide just lay two paper towel rectangles down adjacent to each other. 

Once you've locked in the size you want and the location you want to put the planters it's time to order them.  Typically it's easier to order planters online.  Most stores don't stock a wide selection since it's a seasonal product with lots of custom sizing options.  Choice of material is important.  Some materials like fiberglass or hollow plastic cannot be left out in winter which means the boxes have to be emptied out during winter and this creates a lot of maintenance.  Wood can split during the winter.  We prefer solid cellular PVC since it can be left out year round and doesn't rot.

Now that you've selected your material and size it's time to order and plant your boxes.  Lay down a thin layer black landscape on the bottom and then put a 1" layer of pea gravel on top.  This will create a filtration barrier so that any drainage that comes out the bottom of the planter will be filtered and the water will be clearer.  Next, use potting mix instead of potting soil.  It's a little more expensive but your garden will perform better and chances of deck staining are significantly reduced, especially with the filtration.

About the Author

Matthew Buquoi is the owner of FlowerWindowBoxes.com, a no rot PVC window box company that builds window boxes, rail planters, and freestanding planters.

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