Nothing says springtime like window boxes bursting with luscious flowers and plants. Though compact, window boxes require considerable maintenance and can be tricky to install on brick or brownstone. So, before you attempt your own window boxes, or hire an expert to install them, consider these tips from local gardeners.
1. Keep It Light.
“Window boxes can be custom fabricated from a variety of materials, but generally it’s best to use as lightweight a material as possible such as cedar or aluminum,” said Kate Turney of Twelve Gardens. “If cedar, the interior must be waterproofed to prevent rotting. Aluminum conducts heat, so don’t place aluminum window boxes in full sun unless they are large — at least 14 inches deep and high.”
Serhiy Mshanetskiy of Brooklyn Heights Gardens recommends heading to the flower district in Manhattan to buy premade fiberglass window boxes from Jamali Floral & Garden ($29.99 – $42) or Planter Resource ($75 – $135).
“I prefer fiberglass to wood,” Mshanetskiy said. “It lasts longer. Usually we buy ready-made ones, but sometimes because of the size of the window sills, we have to custom make them.”
2. Paint It Black.
If there is no ledge for the window box, Mshanetskiy attaches the box with custom iron brackets that are drilled into the facade. A local iron worker can also fabricate custom enclosures with brackets to hold premade wooden boxes for $200 to $500 per enclosure, said Shlomi Azaria of Royal Iron Works.
Gardener Florence Sheers, of Flo’s Gardens, usually paints wood window boxes black to blend with the style of most Brooklyn townhouses.
“Black works well because the ironwork and most of the window frames are black,” Sheers said. “When your ledge is too narrow, we attach the window box below the ledge so you just see flowers from inside the house.”
3. Layer Up.
Once you select a planter, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom, or cut them yourself, gardeners advised. Then, start with a layer of pebbles, covered with landscaping fabric to keep the potting mix inside the planter.
“Get the good one that lasts for years,” Mshanetskiy said of the fabric. “In window boxes, you may have to forego all these layers because they’re not tall enough, so you forego the pebbles and just put landscaping fabric.”
Self-watering systems can be installed for $1,500 to $1,200, Sheers said. The water usually comes from a spigot at the front of the house, or from the basement and through the hatch.
“Some people travel or their windows are not easy to access, so they install irrigation,” Sheers said. “It’s fairly easy, not very invasive, and it’s just clear lines across the façade.”
Self-watering systems can be heavy, since they may hold water in a reservoir for up to a week, Turney said.
“Also, many people like their window boxes to match their window dimensions as well as frame color, requiring customization,” she said. “If you want custom boxes, it is recommended to decide in advance how much hand-watering you are up to, because attractive-looking irrigation for window boxes is a bit tricky to accomplish.”
5. Pick the Right Plants for the Site.
Finally, when it comes to plant selection, Mshanetskiy recommends heading to the Borough Hall Greenmarket on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. Some of his favorite spring plantings include Dragon Wing Begonias and Algerian ivy.
“If something trails down, it’s beautiful,” he said. “You have to have something vertical, a trailer and one going down. Something big — massive thing — and then you fill it with colorful annuals.”
Turney recommends Sedum, Festuca, Delosperma and Nassella for window boxes in full sun because they require less watering. And in shady spots, ferns, Rubus, Vinca and Heuchera are a few plants that do well.
6. Start With Pansies and Ivy.
Hardier plantings can be placed in window boxes in April, but gardeners recommend waiting until mid-May for more delicate species.
“There are some plants, like pansies, that can tolerate frost or snow,” Sheers said. “But ranunculus will not do well if there’s a snowstorm in early April, so it’s a bit tricky. Sometimes, we just put something to start with, like pansies and ivy, and if we see it’s warming up by mid-April, then you can have a wider range of spring flowers.”
7. Outsource It.
If you’re still intimidated by the prospect of planting your own window boxes, you can hire a professional at a cost of about $2,000 a year. That includes planting two window boxes four times a year and upkeep.
“Homeowners who have never done it underestimate it, or sometimes they do know but they’re just terrified and that’s why they hire us to do it,” Sheers said. “It is a bit tricky. We’ve been doing this for almost 15 years, so we’ve done a lot of window boxes in Brooklyn, and the choice of plants is very important.”
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