Growing Window Gardens
If you’re anything like me, you fall into a slight depression soon after the outside garden succumbs to the cold and by Thanksgiving you’re ready for spring. If you’re anything like me, growing foodstuffs and ornamentals in your precious little window space is a must for surviving winter.
Window, or container gardening is a great option for people living in condominiums and apartments – those whose space is limited and a good option for the disabled or elderly – those whose mobility is limited. It is also a good option for those of us who come close to insanity if we couldn’t grow something all year around. That would be me.
Window gardening allows you to control you soil quality and water use, garden through the winter, have tasty cooking herbs close to the kitchen and be able to move your garden around as needed.
Check out this video! It’s a great introduction to window-box gardening.
What to Grow in your Window Garden?
To begin, give a little thought to what you want to grow in your window garden. Are you looking to spruce up the home a bit? Add some color? Grow food? Have some fresh herbs on hand? Will your plantings be permanent or will you be changing out flowers as they mature? So, get an idea of what you want to grow and match that with lists of plants that grow well in the window.
In reality, you can grow almost anything in your window but here is a list of things that seem to do particularly well.
Flowers: geraniums, lavender, impatiens, salvia, petunias, daisies, begonias, cacti, zinnias, fuschias, nasturtiums (you can also do all kinds of bulbs).
Herbs: lavender, sage, thymes, rosemary, basils, parsley, marjoram, dill, hops, sorrel, lemon balm, bay, sweet basil, lemon verbena, peppermint, spearmint, jasmine.
Vegetables: lettuce, onions, carrots, garlic, cabbage, tomatoes, bush and pole beans, peas, scallions, kale, peppers.
Vines: ivy, myrtle, creeping Jenny, sweet potato vine, vinca
How Much Light for Your Window Garden?
Plants need light. It seems kind of obvious but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people don’t take this into consideration when planning their window gardens.
Consider that, if you’ve got a north-facing window you will want to choose plants that need less sun such as ferns, ivies, violets, begonias, impatiens, mints, philodenrons.
If you have a south-facing window, your plants will get sunlight for most of the day so you’ll want to go with sun-loving plants like tomatoes, which need about 7 hours of sunlight a day to thrive, (most vegetables and herbs will go into this sun-loving category), geraniums, nasturtiums, dahlias, petunias, cacti (and other succulents).
Your east-facing windows will support both sun-loving and shade-loving plants while your west-facing windows best support plants that need less watering as they will get the heat of the day. If you’re in the city, be sure to notice how the surrounding buildings affect the amount of sunlight you get. Are you surrounded by buildings much taller than yours that takes away your sunlight? Are the streets wide or narrow? Do the buildings reflect or absorb sunlight?
Containers for Your Window Garden
Garden centers make these things called…yes… “window boxes”. As you might assume, they tend to be suited to window gardening. Being long and narrow, they are easier to secure than round pots.
You can use anything from ceramic or clay pots to wood boxes, hanging baskets, crocks, washtubs, baby bath tubs (that’s what I used last year!) or plastic buckets for your container garden – if it suits the space.
A window box placed on the window-sill is one thing, a table placed next to the window is another. There is really no limit here but you will want your container to have the ability to drain off excess water. This is very important as you don’t want your plants to be sitting in water, rotting.
Be sure to get some good quality soil (probably from the gardening center) that drains well and put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container to aid with drainage.
You’ll also want to consider the size of the container. You will want the box to fit the length of the window for sure. The depth (front to back) of the box will depend on how you plan to secure the box and how deep your window sills are. Remember its going to be holding many pounds of soil and water. The depth of the box will depend on what you are growing. Flowers and herbs require less soil depth than do carrots, potatoes or tomatoes, for example.
Next, be sure that the plants you choose are appropriate for the container AND the place you will put the container. Tomatoes need a lot of soil. So, a big pot in a warm sunny place will do you fine for tomatoes.
Carrots, on the other hand, take very little space and are not terribly picky about temperature. Onions too. It has been a few years since I’ve done it but I’ve had great success with container carrots and onions in the past. One of the things I’ve had success with in the past is interplanting fast-growing lettuce with slower growing carrots for a more efficient use of space.
Securing Your Window Garden Container
Regardless of the container or its placement, you’re going to want to tie it down. Within the window frame, the easiest things to use are hook-and-eye latches. If it extends over the lip of the sill you will want to use anchored angle-irons or angled wall/railing brackets along with your hook-and-eye latches for added security. Be sure to secure your planted BEFORE you fill it with soil…its just so much easier that way!
Window Garden Care
Once you’ve filled your containers with soil and the right plants, you need to take care of them. Most of the time you’re going to have to water your container plants every day. In the summer, you’ll have to water twice depending on the plant and the amount of heat its getting throughout the day.
The tried and true method to know for sure what your plant needs is the finger test. Stick your finger about one-inch into the soil. If the soil is waterlogged, don’t water. If it is dry, water. Ideally, you want it to be just nicely moist. When you water, use tepid water and place it at the base of your plants and not on the leaves.
I also recommend cultivating your container soil by pushing a stick into the soil in several different places on occasion and you should be sure to mulch your indoor plants to conserve water, balance temperatures and keep weeds from growing.
Because container gardens wash nutrients out of the soil without the possibility of natural replacement, you’re going to want to fertilize your container about once a month. This can be done by adding fine compost or by using a liquid fertilizer.
I recommend sticking with the organic stuff either way. If you’re going to buy your fertilizer, look for something with a 15-30-15 nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio.
Finally, be sure to “dead-head” your flowers. That is, remove the dead and dried flowers to encourage new flower growth and to keep your plants looking lively.
Window and container gardening will bring a lot of color and life to the inside of your house. Eventually, if you’re like me, you’ll fill up every nook and cranny with winter-denying life!
How Did I Do It?
How to grow a garden in containers
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Jim O’Donnell gardens in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A certified permaculture designer and ecological restoration specialist, Jim’s first book Notes for the Aurora Society was published in 2009.