They’re the perfect way to green up small spaces, but don’t be fooled — window boxes are as tricky as a traditional garden. Avoid these common newbie mistakes.
On the surface, window boxes seem perfect for the first-time gardener. They’re apartment-friendly, low-investment, and, if all else fails, easy to unhook and hide in the closet until next year. But in reality, container gardens are like college dorms: crowded, fussy, unstable little ecosystems requiring specialized care, constant vigilance, and the occasional extermination.
Because an RA isn’t in this year's garden budget, we hit up Patricia Schrieber, director of education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, for some pro tips.
1. Select compatible plants
When space is tight and resources are communal, it's important that the plants you select are on the same page. "Whenever you grow in containers, you have to grow plants that have similar needs – it’s impossible to have plants in the same container that like different water, different sun," says Schrieber. Her advice: Before you hit the nursery and get distracted by the flashiest blooms and this year's trends, decide on your color palette and then choose varieties that play nice.
2. Know your dirt
"Get soil that supports the type of plants you have," says Schrieber. "Different plants need different soil and moisture contents." More research than you're prepared to do? Skip the big box store and make some knowledgeable friends at your local garden center.
3. Build in breathing room
Everyone wants lush window boxes overflowing with blooms. But, Schrieber warns, plants grow (well, that's the idea, anyway) and it's important not to crowd them. Plant your boxes sparingly to account for how big they'll be in a month, or be prepared to take some out later.
4. Give them the good stuff
Window box gardens can't pull extra nutrients from the surrounding soil, and fertilizers tend to leak out the bottom. With that in mind, Schrieber suggests showing a little extra love and fertilizing with each watering.
5. Peruse for pests:
No garden is too small or too high for a hungry bug. "No matter where you grow, you’re always going to have pests," says Schrieber. "Carefully check once a week for any damage." The good news: on such a tiny scale, you can just flick off the offending critters.
The three "ers" of window boxes
What makes a head-turning window box? That would be the holy trinity of container gardening: filler (leafy plants that flesh out the box), spiller (those coveted cascading vines) and thriller (tall flowering plants).
Even the experts need a resource. For a pro-approved reference guide, pay a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden's website (www.missouribotanicalgarden.org).
Still wary? For a beginner-friendly box, Schrieber suggests trying your hand at succulents. These hearty plants are accustomed to growing in harsh, dry environments and will be fairly forgiving of weekend trips, forgotten fertilizer and garden variety neglect.
Working with a serious space constraint? Woolly Pocket's new "Mini Wally" measures only 8" x 13" and happily adheres to everything from fire escapes to kitchen walls. $18, www.woollypocket.com