Thinking Inside the Box

Stepping out our front doors, we urbanites are often met by concrete pavement and brick walls. But looking up—if we’re lucky—we can feast our eyes on surprising splashes of life growing in window boxes.

When I planted my first window box, the only thing that grew was my embarrassment. But my experiments provided fodder for conversation with more knowledgeable neighbors. Before we knew it, a trend began, and our block’s window boxes helped us reach the finals in the Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest.

Window Box Gardening Tips

If you and your neighbors are ready to tackle window box gardening, keep a few things in mind:

  • Safety first. Don’t take any chances—always fasten boxes securely so they cannot tip or slide off the sill (eye hooks and strong wire can do the trick).
  • Choose the right container. Whenever possible, bigger is better. Boxes of terra-cotta and wood are more porous and therefore require more watering than plastic, cement, or metal. Be sure your box has drainage holes.
  • Right plant, right place. Consider the amount of light, shade, wind, and heat in the location and choose accordingly. Drought-tolerant plants are a forgiving choice.
  • Mix it up. Combine colors, textures, shapes, and heights. Don’t be afraid to mix perennials and annuals, or flowering plants with ones that provide gorgeous foliage.
  • Be water wise. Even heavy rains may not reach your plants on a windowsill, so check daily that the soil is moist. Water thoroughly—mornings or evenings are best.
  • Fertilize and “deadhead.” Containers leach nutrients quickly, so regularly add a liquid fertilizer like fish or kelp emulsion. Top dressing with a layer of compost also gives your plants a nutrient boost. Keep your plants looking tidy and flowering steadily by removing dead leaves and spent flowers.

For More Information

To learn more about the Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest, visit

Nina Browne is program manager for GreenBridge. She is a certified Brooklyn urban gardener (BUG), tree steward, and citizen pruner, as well as a school gardener at her children’s public school in Fort Greene. She earned her MA in urban anthropology from NYU and a BA in cultural anthropology from Barnard College.


April 13, 2013
s williams

What are some good suggestions for window box plants (north-facing) for early spring? What will last the longest in this weather? I would like something that looks full and hangs over the side as well. Thanks.

April 17, 2013
BBG Staff

With planning, you can have a wonderful early-spring window box display with bulb plants like snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, and tulips, which need to be planted the fall before. Pansies can be put in very early in spring, but you should wait until danger of frost is past for most everything else. For a north-facing planter, try ornamentals like ivy, silver pony foot, trailing nasturtium, and sweet potato vine to hang over the edge, as well as coleus, impatiens, fuschia, and oxalis for color. For edibles that can take some shade, plant salad greens, parsley, chives, and mints.

Add Your Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this article. Comments are moderated and will be posted after BBG staff review. Your email address is required; it will not be displayed, but may be needed to confirm your comments.



WeddingsGarden News BlogCalendarOnline ShopPress Room


8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday:
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(but open Columbus Day,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

More Information


Members Free
Adults $12
Seniors (65 and over) $6
Students with a valid ID $6
Children under 12 Free

More Information


150 Eastern Parkway
455 Flatbush Avenue
990 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11225


Maps, Parking, and Directions

Join BBG

Get free admission and more!
Become a Member


Note: IDNYC membership processing is not available during Chile Pepper Festival.