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Window Dressing
8 tips for a vibrant small container


April 2017

If you live in a condo or have a small yard, you can exercise your green thumb with a window box — and note that these containers are trickier than your average ones. “A window box, because of its small size and narrow proportions, is more subject to drying out,” says Kurt Bartel, the vice president of the landscape management department at David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. “The soil, water and nutrients are the three keys to keeping whatever plants you use happy.”

Here Bartel offers specific tips for maintaining a vibrant window box:

1 “No. 1, you have to have drainage,” he says. “The water has to be able to percolate through the soil profile.” Either look for a container with holes in the bottom or drill holes into a container, he advises.

2 On the flip side, you have to maintain moisture in the soil, Bartel says. He suggests using Soil Moist, a Jell-O-like polymer product that absorbs water, expands and slowly releases moisture back to the plant.

3 Don’t attempt to use regular soil from a garden and put it into a window box. “It’s way too heavy a soil,” Bartel says. “You have to use soil mixes to ensure good drainage and make sure the soil is sufficient for the plants to grow.”

4 Replenish the nutrients that are lost with each watering. With a soluble fertilizer that you mix with water, you can water and fertilize your plants at the same time, Bartel says. He recommends doing this weekly or biweekly for your window box.

5 For a visually pleasing arrangement, you need a thriller, a filler and a spiller, according to Bartel. “The thriller is a plant that grows upright, the centerpiece if you will,” he explains. “Fillers are intermediate-sized plants that add color and dimension. Spillers hang over the side of the box and cascade down.”

6 Choose plants that like the amount of light your window box receives. Plants that do well in shade include coleus, begonias and impatiens, and you can find many varieties of each, Bartel adds. In full sun, opt for celosia, lantana or succulent-type plants, he suggests.

7 Don’t be afraid to mix vegetables and herbs with flowers. Especially if you like to cook and have an easily accessible window box, your rosemary or basil plant could be happy right next to a supertunia, Bartel says. Pepper plants — red, yellow or banana — also make colorful additions to your container.

8 Water often and consider the elements. A good guide is watering every two to three days, Bartel says, since window boxes tend to dry out. But, he adds, how much you need to water depends on the amount of sun, heat, wind and humidity the container has been exposed to. If your window box is hard to reach, you may want to invest in an irrigation system, he says.

This story ran in the April 2017 issue of: