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August 8, 2017 > A fresh view on window boxes

A fresh view on window boxes

By Daniel O'Donnell

The cell phone has shown how fast accessories and additions follow an invention. It did not take long for a countless number of apps to be developed, different carrying cases to be made, and hundreds of different ring tones to be created. This was not the case for the common window. The earliest windows were made from animal skins or primitive paper thousands of years before the Romans were to use glass. The accessories and upgrades came much later. Shutters, curtains, and stained glass would follow over the next few centuries, and after many more centuries, the window box planter.

A window box is a term used to describe a planter that is mounted in front of a window. There are many reasons to do this. Sometimes a gardener does not have an actual garden. A window box provides a small garden, whether it is on the first or the thirty-first floor. Window boxes can create a colorful natural privacy screen in high-density urban areas. They can be used to grow fresh herbs and vegetables right outside the kitchen window, or planted with fragrant flowering plants to delicately scent a room. They can be installed to provide habitat for wildlife and an optimal viewing condition for whatever flies, flutters, or floats by, or simply because they look good.

There are multiple materials that window box planters can be made from, each offering a different look and some varying practical characteristics. A black wrought-iron box will outlast most other window boxes and can provide a modern or sophisticated style. Plastic window planters are lightweight, come in a variety of colors, and are fairly durable, but can heat the soil up to temperatures that can harm certain plants' roots and/or promote the growth of harmful plant pathogens. Wooden window boxes add a cottage charm and provide excellent aeration, but will need to be replaced more frequently than other types of boxes. A hanging felt planting bag is easy to install and lightweight, but might require more water than other planters.

Most plants in a window box will require a little more water than if they were growing in the ground or even in a pot placed at ground level growing under the same light conditions. Evapotranspiration, the loss of water from evaporation from the soil and transpiration from a plant's leaves, is usually greater in a window box due to heat reflected off the window and wall, and having less shelter from the wind. An organic potting soil with compost will help retain water, while at the same time providing good drainage for excess water that can add significant weight if it were to stay in the window box.

There are many ways to mount a window box. Some come with brackets and some with bolts that go directly into the wall. Some window boxes can be placed on an existing shelf below a window. The important thing is to make sure they are secure, especially if over a walkway or terrace. They should also be mounted below a window that has easy access from either inside or outside for watering, harvesting, replanting, and maintenance.

It is important to maximize the space that is available because a window box's space is limited. Window boxes look the best when they are packed. Start with taller plants in the back, shorter ones in the middle, and trailing plants in front. It is also important to use plants from the same hydrozone since the space is so limited. A hydrozone refers to a grouping of plants based on their similar water needs. A high water-usage plant growing with a low water-usage plant will only guarantee the death of one of them because the growing space is so small.

The same water conservation principle of using summer dry or drought-tolerant plants offers the best chances for successful window boxes in this area if they are going to be neglected or not watered very frequently. Any plants that are chosen for a window box should be shallow rooting and adapted to the conditions that they will be in.

Grasses will do well in windy conditions. Succulents and geraniums will flourish in high temperatures. Spider plants are great trailing plants as their long ÒspiderettesÓ are happiest when dangling. Clivia is one of the few flowering, low water-usage plants that can be used for a window box in deep shade. Lettuces, chard, and basil are just a few edible plants that will produce bountiful results in a window box.

Window boxes are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at most nurseries, hardware stores, and online. Although things change rapidly in today's world, the enjoyment people get from plants and flowers is not going to change. The use of window box should not change either.

Daniel O'Donnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont.

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