How to Choose Plants for Window Boxes So They Look Picture Perfect

updated Sep 3, 2019
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There’s just something about a well-done window box that makes the outside of a home or building look especially polished and welcoming. Over the years, I’ve created many window box designs with annuals, perennials, and ornamental elements. Use the tips below to create your own stunning window box style for year-round plant use.

Step 1: Think it through

Yes, it’s true that window boxes can heighten the charm of any home’s facade. That being said, these containers are a big commitment and can turn south quickly if they’re not properly maintained. 

Before you make take the window box plunge, decide if you are able to install the window boxes safely, water the plants regularly (whether from the ground or from a window inside the home), and seasonally maintain your design.

Step 2: Find a good window box

A quick Google search will provide you with a seemingly infinite list of possible window boxes for your home. There are expensive options, cheap options, and everything in between. If you’re a first timer, consider going out into the world and physically handling your potential boxes, instead of purchasing online. When you’re shopping, make sure your new window boxes…

…Are of good quality and the right size. If you hold the window box in your hands and the material feels cheap and flimsy, don’t do it. You don’t want to spend a pretty penny on containers that shatter in less than a year. Also, be aware of purchasing containers that are too small or large for your space. Measuring ahead of time is key!

…Have drainage holes. Some window boxes come with open drainage holes at the bottom or holes that have plugs that can be removed. If you purchase boxes that do not have drainage, I highly recommend drilling holes in the bottom to let excess water drain out. Otherwise, you’ll easily drown your plants or, in the cold weather,  the water will freeze and crack your planters. If you live somewhere with harsh winters, you may also want to invest in freeze-proof containers.

…Will attach to your home safely and sturdily. You will find window boxes that have simple hooks that are perfect for fitting onto a deck railing but won’t work for a window in a triple-decker. For the latter, make sure you’ll be able to install the window boxes with brackets under your windows. Of course, note that installing window boxes is a more permanent change to the facade of your home, so consider well before you do this.

Credit: Gardenista

Step 3: Create your design

Consider what you want the final product to look like. Do you want a more traditional-looking design? A more whimsical one? Do you want it to drape or appear more vertical? Try drawing out your ideal window box on paper or building a Pinterest board before heading to the nursery. No matter the look you’re going for, plan for a selection of plants with different colors, textures, and heights to keep your window boxes visually interesting and appealing.

Step 4: Shop for plants

Window boxes are an excellent option for people who love to update their outdoor flowers seasonally because the small space allows you to experiment more with the design. You can find annuals and perennials for all seasons at local nurseries and big-box stores. 

While you’re plant shopping, remember to think about the lighting requirements: What kind of exposure will your window boxes get? You don’t want to plant succulents in a box that gets very little direct sun, and you don’t want to plant ferns in a box that gets blasted with hot light for most of the day. 

For a window box that’s south- or west-facing and gets more than six hours of direct sun per day, consider alyssum, full-sun celosia, geraniums, lavender, marigolds, Mexican sage, mint, petunias, potato vine, succulents, thyme, verbena, and vinca.

If your window box is south or west-facing but gets four to six hours of direct sun each day, think about ageratum, basil, begonias, shade coleus, dusty miller, ferns, grasses, impatiens, and veronica.

And for a window box that’s north- or east-facing and gets four hours or fewer of direct sun every day, you’ll want to go with clematis, ferns, grasses, hellebores, heuchera, hostas, impatiens, and mosses.

Step 5: Plant and maintain

Experiment with placement before taking the individual plants out of their plastic pots. Plant your boxes with a layer of soil along the bottom, then fill in until the plants are sitting snugly in their new home. Water your boxes thoroughly immediately after planting them.

The key part is not forgetting to water on a routine basis. Because a box’s space is smaller than other containers’, it doesn’t take as long for the plants to drain the moisture from the soil and start wilting. In the summer’s full heat, containers need to be watered at least every other day, if not every day. When it’s cooler, you should have to water once every three to five days. If you’re unsure, reach in and touch the soil. If it feels dry, water it!