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Gardeners' Dirt: Window boxes and wall planters add curb appeal

By By Deloris Gaus
Aug. 25, 2010 at 3:25 a.m.
Updated Aug. 26, 2010 at 3:26 a.m.

A vinyl window box is attached to the window of the metal U.S. post office building at nearby Hochheim on Highway 183. Cooler weather, short and trailing blooming plants were thriving in this box in early spring of this year.

MATERIALS FOR WINDOW BOXES, WALL PLANTERS Wood, iron, aluminum, vinyl or PVC

Containers that hold soil and can be hung - antiques, frames, glass boxes, tin cans, buckets and old tools

Liners made of wood, vinyl or coco

Fasteners to attach to walls, ledges, fences

Soil mixture suitable for plants in containers

Plants selected for growing in containers

WINDOW BOX PLANTS Coleus

Artemisia dusty miller

Geraniums

Dwarf marigold

Petunias

Verbenas

Impatiens

Phlox

Alyssum

English ivy

Various herbs

Succulents

Ornamental cabbage

Nasturtiums

My first vision of gardening with window boxes and wall planters was the nostalgic view of the cream-colored-painted stucco houses of Europe with window boxes and little old ladies tending their geraniums through the window. Then I thought of apartment dwellers who do not have a garden space for growing flowers and window boxes being their ideal solution. Then I thought of a kitchen window box full of culinary herbs for the cook of the household. Window and wall planters add charm and creative touch to homes and businesses. These can be attached to walls, fences, porches and decks. The planters can be very simple or very ornate, but they should be compatible with their surroundings. Usually, one thinks that window boxes are for the outside of the home; however, with the window as a light source, these planters can also be used inside the home.

MATERIALS FOR WINDOW, WALL BOX PLANTERS

Select Wood Varieties

Wood used to be the choice for window boxes, and many older homes still have wooden window box planters. The disadvantage to wood is the rotting factor.

According to Bob Putnam, my neighbor in Yoakum, the boxes are less expensive if you build the boxes yourself. Putnam has built his own for a number of years and has done a few experiments to extend their length of use.

He uses white pine because it doesn't warp and is straighter than yellow pine. Treated wood will last longer and is safe even for vegetables but some may shy from using it.

Using heavy pliable plastic stapled to the inside makes a simple liner and improves the rotting factor or potential for wood preservative leaching if you are still concerned about that.

Painting the inside with several coats of paint and then with polyurethane has also improved the length of use.

Different kinds of wood, like cedar, cypress, redwood and bamboo, would improve length of use but are more expensive.

Iron and aluminum

Iron planters are very decorative, some with curves and angles, and can be beautiful, but expensive, and will also rust if the water permeates the coating on iron. Usually, these are lined with vinyl liners, which hold the soil and also keep the water contained. Iron planters can also be lined with coco liners, but the water will seep through the coco and cause some water damage with time.

Powder-coated aluminum looks like iron, which is a less expensive product and can be purchased online and in home improvement stores.

Vinyl

Vinyl is a good choice because it is light in weight and comes in different colors, such as black, terracotta, white and green. These are usually preformed and inexpensive. If the vinyl is thin, it will warp and crack within a few years depending on heat and sun exposure. Vinyl boxes are sold for use on decks with simple brackets, which can be attached to the deck railing. Vinyl wall boxes can aesthetically improve long spans of wood fencing.

PVC

High quality PVC is usually the best choice because it does not rot or warp; however, it is more expensive in the initial investment. These window boxes come in an array of standard sizes, and the panels can be cut for a custom fit. Usually, wall-mount brackets are included, but decorative corbels (brackets) are sold separately. This type of window box has the look of wood without the maintenance. Check to see the limited warranty for the number of years these should last.

PLANTS FOR WINDOW BOXES

Plants for window boxes are viewed from inside as well as outside the home, so consider the back as well as the front. Usually, plants are low in height, since one looks out from the window. The same design principle applies as in a flower bed - plant taller toward the back, medium height in middle and low and trailing on the very front. Dwarf plants are good choices.

Use colors that are bright, but coordinate with the colors of the home or surroundings. Use various textures, such as rough, smooth and glossy. Dark, light and grayed foliage plants will add interest and bring all the plants together. Planting rye grass in the window box would be a good filler planting. Plants suitable for the exposure of the window box, such as sun or shade and season of the year need to be considered.

SEASONAL WINDOW BOX

Imagine a window box for Christmas with plants, which could remain as potted plants and then changed out soon after the holidays.

Try using a clipped boxwood or rosemary tree for the center, which is about 12 inches tall. It could be lighted with white lights. The background for this tree could be the center window facing.

Traditional poinsettias could be placed on each side of the tree, the number depends upon the length of window box. Paper white narcissus or forced hyacinths or white cyclamen would nicely complement the poinsettias. Dusty miller could be added to fill in the spaces with Swedish ivy or English ivy to drape over the edges on the front.

OTHER TIPS FOR WINDOW BOXES

I picked up on other suggestions during research of window and wall boxes.

Make a template for the bracket of the wall to which one would attach the bracket, especially if the wall has lengthwise offset boards and is not flat.

Never attach the window box to the window frame.

Putting a piece of landscape fabric in the bottom will keep in the soil, but let the water drain.

Window boxes and wall planters are simple and can enhance most any part of your home or business environment. Wouldn't it be nice to see these throughout your neighborhood and town? Try one, or two, and enjoy their charm for a season or more.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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