Best Flowers for Window Boxes

Which flowers grow well in sun versus shade?

July 19, 2021
Window Box Flowers on Balcony

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 learn which flowers grow well in shade! See our lists for 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.


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.

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)

dusty miller
miniature rose
opal and bush basil
ornamental pepper
rose-scented geranium
sweet potato vine
dwarf soapwort
‘Homestead Purple’ verbena
peppermint-scented geranium
prostrate rosemary
sweet marjoram
Carolina jessamine
golden hop
miniature climbing rose
moon vine

Coleus, a shade-lover

Window Box Flowers for Shade

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

cardinal flower
English daisy
fern (maidenhair, tassel, Boston, asparagus)
garden heliotrope
lamb’s ears
lemon balm
lenten rose
mophead hydrangea
tropical houseplant
wax begonia
creeping myrtle
sweet autumn clematis
variegated English or Algerian ivy
inch plant (tradescantia)
sweet autumn clematis
trumpet vine

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!


This article was originally published in 2008 and has been updated.


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Covid flower boxes

I like to have patio flowers match the pillows of my furniture: cream, pink and red. However due to covid several nurserIes said just get what is available....don't know what is coming. So this yr, i got whatever and they are all finally flowering. To cut cost, as per previous thread. I got 3 packets of nasturtiums...1.50. They are fantastic, no matter what direction, they have now easily filled most of my boxes. Plus one packet of seeds has beenn a surprise.

Window Boxes

Hi I forgot to leave this:
3 window boxes in front are 90 East facing the two side are 195 S per my compass on my IPhone. Thank you!

Rhonda Jean

compass points

The Editors's picture

We should all be so specific! No matter; see below. 

Window boxes

I live in Danvers MA and my window boxes are subject to full morning sun and in the afternoon are completely in shade. What are the best flowers to grow full and lush until fall. I wouldn 't mind even taking them in for winter and replanting for next season in larger pot. We have a heating garage that is home to a lot of plants and they thrive very well in the winter months. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Rhonda Jean

AM sun, PM shade

The Editors's picture

We all want full and lush flowers until fall! Your best bet is probably to consider the shade plants listed above. Consider that the morning sun is not as hot as the afternoon sun, and just about all plants need some sun. And so it goes that if you put in sun-lovers, the morning sun alone is just not going to be enough. So look above; you’ll find lots of options.

Perennial window boxes

HI! I live in zone 6a and have multiple window boxes in both sun and shade at every window of my house. Do you have any advice or suggestions for growing perennials in window boxes? I have not had success bringing any plants back year after year and it can get quite expensive to plant them new each year. Thank you!

perennials for the boxes

The Editors's picture

There are a number of perennials listed above (yes, it would be helpful if that was indicated and if there was a link to each plant—we’re working on that). Some examples include lamb’s ear, astilbe, hosta, geraniums. It’s important to consider the specific needs of each plant: astilbe likes slightly acidic soil (around 6.0), coleus even more acidic (5.5 to 6.0), geraniums like it about 5.8 to 6.3, and lamb’s ear sweeter than all of these (6.0 to 6.5). To keep such plants thriving you could put them into the window box in plant pots and fill around them with sphagum moss or the like. The challenge of the plants in the window box, even in pots, if that they ae not protected from the harshest freezes; they are exposed on all sides, where as if they were in the ground, they would be —well—grounded.  You could transplant them into the ground in fall and dig them up in spring. Or lift them from the window boxes (in pots, if you do that), and put them in a protected area (basement, garage). Do not abandon them; water them a bit every once in a while. Geraniums can be pruned to a few inches and brought indoors. Another way to keep your costs down is to start plants from seed, especially annuals. Hope this helps!

Fall flowers in. Window box planters.

I live in North. Georgia Mountain. What do u suggest. I plant in them. Fall. Season. Perhaps something. Small. Kinda. Flower. Thanks for your. Help. Sincerely. Ted

Window box plantings

I live in Wisconsin and our window box faces northwest. I've found that the best plants are moss roses as they hold up well in all types of weather. Plus they come in vibrant colors!

I live on the Atlantic Ocean,

I live on the Atlantic Ocean, my window boxes face south and get full sun, I love color and hanging, what loves sun?

Annuals for Window Box

I have a window box that's east facing. I live in south central Illinois, it's in the low to mid 70's during the day most days now. I want to do a mixture of flowers and vines. I like bright flowers and my house sits a little ways off the road I want something that will be seen. I know that sweet potato vine does good but it can take over too. What is your suggestions? Thanks so much.

window boxes

I always use sweet potato vines in my window boxes and love them. I am considering what else to include for west facing boxes this year. I am in Northern Illinois and wonder if you have suggestions for colorful flowers.

west-facing box with sweet potato vines

The Editors's picture

If your windows are west-facing, you’ll want flowing plants that can take the hot sun. Since sweet potato vines are trailers, perhaps include some colorful annuals for the middle such as marigolds or zinnias? Blue saliva and purple angelonia might look nice, too.

Hey - I've got railing boxes

Hey - I've got railing boxes on our roof top deck - full sun almost all day long…any suggestions? Thanks!

Many flowers thrive in window

The Editors's picture

Many flowers thrive in window boxes if you have full sun. We don't know where you live, but some general suggestions are: French marigold, geranium, heliotrope, and verbena. Hope this helps.

Hi! I have window boxes

Hi! I have window boxes facing east, but they are also under some casement windows that open outward. So, I was thinking of some creeping petunias in there so that I can still open my windows. Would these work? I live in Wisconsin. Thank you!

Yes, a low-growing, trailing

The Editors's picture

Yes, a low-growing, trailing variety of petunia sounds perfect.

What flowers would I use for

What flowers would I use for an east facing window box?

Hi Maygirl, East-facing

The Editors's picture

Hi Maygirl, East-facing windows usually get morning sun. Plants that have this preference include: fibrous rooted bedding begonia, lobelia, ageratum, dusty miller, viola, sweet alyssum, seed dahlias, snapdragons and coleus along with the always popular dwarf marigolds. Keep the soil moist and don't forget to deadhead!

Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for replying! Now my children and husband have a list of flowers to get me for Mother's Day and my birthday!!!

I live in Greenbelt Maryland.

I live in Greenbelt Maryland. My question is when should I start to put the liquid food in my hummingbird feeder?

Hi, when you start feeding

The Editors's picture

Hi, when you start feeding depends on where you live and the type of hummingbird. In general, ruby-throated hummingbirds often start their migration in March and April. For Maryland: hummingbirds usually arrive around first week of April though it can vary. In the spring, while you are waiting for the first hummingbird to arrive, just fill up your feeder about 1/3 full or less to avoid wasting the nectar. Hope this helps!

I live in north Alabama. What

I live in north Alabama. What flowers and vegetables can I plant in May?

In northern Alabama, you are

The Editors's picture

In northern Alabama, you are most likely in Zone 7. Check out this listing of flowers, herbs and vegetables that can be grown in your zone: Good luck!

Where can I find those Zone

Where can I find those Zone links? I'm in Zone 8a, Terrell Texas.