Author Linda Cobb
Master Gardener Linda Cobb

Linda Cobb is a garden writer and certified Master Gardener who lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She is the author of My Gardener's Guide: Easy Steps to a Better Garden.

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Our Garden by Linda Cobb

Welcoming Window Boxes

This is a sample chapter from my book, My Gardener's Guide.

There is nothing better than window boxes to welcome you into the house and garden. They echo that old cottage garden style. It is an idea that is very old. Framing the window in plants is very appealing from the inside, as well as from the outside.

Window boxes come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. It can be any color you chose, or it can be a wire hayrack-style. I find that the simplest window box to be constructed of pressure treated lumber, and of course, with several holes in the bottom for drainage. The window box attaches to the windowsill by the use of hooks and eyes that are found on a simple screen door. No matter what container you choose, I always recommend a plastic insert window box also with drainage holes in the bottom. This will keep the wooden window box dry. It gets enough exposure to rain and the elements. I have found that a succession of potted plants on a windowsill makes a big impression. It lends to a very meditterean atmosphere.

The most important thing to remember is that there is not a lot of growing space in that small window box, therefore, there is not a lot of space left for soil and developing roots. By the end of a season, there is so much growth that you will find mostly roots in the box. This will require a lot of watering. You will want 4 to 5 hours of sunlight a day minimum. Don’t forget that wind causes boxes to dry out. Remember that the box is out of the ground, and as the wind swirls around it, the box dries out faster. In the dog days of summer I have watered my window boxes every day. You should fertilize twice weekly with half the normal strength fertilizer. I have been known to use a blossom booster type fertilizer to encourage a lot of blooming.

When you are putting together the plants that will grow in your window box, consider this. You want to put in a plant that flows downward, in a vine like style. You will need plants in the middle, and finally you should put in plants that achieve height in the back. It is important to consider height and proportion. My window boxes are jammed full of plants, making my planting look much better. Don’t be stingy with the plants. Pack them in there.

The heat of the south dictates many seasonal changes in window boxes. I usually completely redo my window boxes in the spring, summer, fall and winter. After each season, I completely scrub out the liner and replace the soil and plants. In the springtime I use trailing verbena mixed with English ivy for the vine like effect. Combined with violas, listhianthus and geraniums, this makes a very pleasing pastel window box.

From season to season, I may re-use plants such as ivy and vinca vine. I will remove the plant, check the roots, and trim it up. I believe in gardening in color, and following a color scheme can really make a huge statement. Consider planting an all herb window box. The fragrance will be wonderful as well as convenient. For a summer window box, I use asparagus fern(a drought loving plant ) and vinca vine to trail downward. In the middle I use yellow lantana flanked by red geraniums. You can choose heuchera for a different color. A heat lover such as swan river daisy offers a different pastel blue along with lacey foliage. A wonderful trailing plant called bacopa has tiny white flowers on drought tolerant foliage. A superb fall window box consist of tiny dwarf alberta spruces along trailing english ivy , with a lot of chyrsanthemums. A winter window box brings many choices. I will reuse the same small dwarf alberta spruce along with the ivy, but I will add a small english boxwood, along with some pansies. This provides color all winter long. The view out the window looks great. An alternative choice would be to use kale or cabbage plants, bergenia, and gold leaf variegated ivy. Dwarf conifers can also be used. A winter formal window box can consist of a rounded boxwood in the center flanked by pansies on each side.

You may choose a combination of plants or you may plant just one variety in your window box. Remember these few rules. Plant something trailing downward, a filler in the middle and a plant of height in the back of the window box. Use a lot of plants and pack them in. More is not enough, is my motto. And finally, water, water, water. The result will be breathtaking.

Posted by Linda on Aug 19, 2004

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