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Flowers for Window Boxes: Sun- and Shade-Loving Plants | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Best Flowers for Window Boxes

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Which Flowers Grow Best in Sun and Shade?

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If you’re adding some patio containers or window boxes to your home, be sure that you know which flowers are perfect for hot, sunny spots and which grow best in shade. See our lists of the best flowers for sun versus shade so that you choose the right plants for your sun exposure! 

Why Choose a Window Box?

Window boxes are great for houses and apartments alike! Growing plants in window boxes puts them at eye level, which lends a different perspective than having them in your garden.

From the inside, the plants will become part of your view to the outdoors. And from the outside, the plants and container become part of the architecture.

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What to Plant in Window Boxes

Wondering what to plant? Petunias, geraniums, zinnias, nasturtiums, and begonias are good choices for main-theme flowers. Fill in with things like inch plant, ivy, euonymus, heather, or vinca, which will cascade over the edge of the box. Impatiens do well in shady locations. More subtle choices include coleus, heliotrope, and salvia. Window boxes look their best if they’re packed with plants!

Experienced gardeners can train climbing vines around the window frame for an ensemble effect. Connoisseurs may choose to add topiary forms as a focal point. Ivy or creeping fig topiaries or other identifiable shapes can capture the imagination.

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Geraniums, a classic sun lover.

Selecting Plants for Your Sun Exposure

Above all, the most important considerations are sun exposure and which way your window box faces. The leaves of shade-lovers will get scorched in the high light levels of a south or west-facing wall; plants that thrive in full sun will grow tall and leggy in a northern exposure.

Window Box Flowers for Full Sun

(for a sunny, hot, south or west-facing window)

Upright
artemesia
dusty miller
lavender
marigold
miniature rose
opal and bush basil
ornamental pepper
periwinkle
rosemary
rose-scented geranium
salvia
 
Trailing
sweet potato vine
dwarf soapwort
‘Homestead Purple’ verbena
nasturtium
peppermint-scented geranium
petunia
pink
prostrate rosemary
setcreasea
strawberry
sweet marjoram
thyme
 
Climbing
Carolina jessamine
golden hop
honeysuckle
jasmine
miniature climbing rose
moon vine
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Coleus, a shade-lover

Window Box Flowers for Shade

(for a shady, cool, north-facing window)

Upright
astilbe
cardinal flower
coleus
English daisy
fern (maidenhair, tassel, Boston, asparagus)
garden heliotrope
hosta
impatiens
Johnny-jump-up
lamb’s ears
lemon balm
lenten rose
mophead hydrangea
pansy
parsley
snapdragon
tropical houseplant
wax begonia
 
Trailing
creeping myrtle
fuchsia
peppermint
clematis
variegated English or Algerian ivy
inch plant (tradescantia)
 
Climbing
clematis
trumpet vine
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Photo credit: Brandt Bolding/Shutterstock

Flowering Bulbs

Often overlooked for window boxes are foolproof flowering bulbs. Whether you do a fall planting of miniature daffodils, snowdrops, or hyacinths for springtime bloom, or you do a late-spring planting of lilies, alliums, or dwarf gladiolus for summertime bloom, be sure to tuck a few bulbs and corms into your window boxes for added impact.

Vegetables and Herbs

If you’ve got an accessible location, try planting edibles. Plant herbs like sage, chives, thyme, and mint. Just open the kitchen window when you need some fresh herbs!

Cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and kale mixed with marigolds will do nicely in a window box, too. Like flowers, they will need water every couple of days and fertilizer every two weeks. (Note: since a window box is just a breeze away from your living quarters, you might want to avoid aromatic fertilizer like fish emulsion.) Be sure to cultivate the soil regularly so that the water will penetrate throughout rather than just run off.

Wood, Metal, or Plastic Window Boxes?

There are many window boxes or troughs sold in garden centers than can be easily mounted or hung on a balcony or window ledge. These days, they tend to be plastic.

For a house, a wooden window box can easily be custom-built to fit the length and width of a windowsill, so wood remains the medium of choice. Its life can be extended significantly by using the box simply as a holder for a metal or plastic planter or for several potted plants. Wood is also the easiest for mounting to your house. A word of caution here—do not set the box directly against the siding of your house. Leave an inch or two of breathing space so that moisture does not build up. Make sure the box is securely fastened to your house, too, as you don’t want a strong breeze to send it flying!

Tips for Window Box Care

  • Good drainage is essential. Choose window boxes that already have drainage holes or drill some yourself. It’s important that the soil not stay oversaturated, as this could lead to root rot.
  • Use a standard potting mix from your garden center, or mix your own using soil, coconut coir, sawdust, sand, and a little bonemeal. Add compost if growing edible plants. Fill the box to within an inch of the top. It’s important to use enough good potting soil around the plants so they sit firmly.
  • Water and mix thoroughly. Add more soil if it has settled, and water and mix some more.
  • Make sure to water and fertilize often. Window boxes that are in full sun will dry out quickly!
  • Don’t be afraid to replace plants that have finished blooming with others that are fresh!

Do you live in an apartment building or condo? See how to start a balcony, rooftop, or terrace garden!

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