Gardening How-to Articles

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 the community program manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She is a certified Brooklyn Urban Gardener (BUG), tree steward, and citizen pruner and has undertaken such projects as organizing the school garden 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.


  • BBG Staff April 17, 2013

    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.

  • s williams April 13, 2013

    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.

Submit a 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.

Image, top of page: