Window Box Ideas That'll Level Up Your Garden Game

Accessorize your house with a few extra blooms.

flower box on a window
Photo: Moointer/Getty Images

Fixing up your front yard and adding plants to your front porch certainly enhances curb appeal, but to add a little extra wow, window boxes are the way to go. They add bright pops of color to your house (without an expensive painting or re-siding job), attract butterflies, birds, and other wildlife, and give your house a charming cottagecore or coastal grandmother vibe.

Decide on style.

With tons of great window box options out there, choose one that best fits best your home's style—perhaps something sleek and simple for a contemporary home, or a more traditional style for a colonial or Victorian.

Think about materials.

You'll find containers in all sorts of colors, styles, and materials; and there are pros and cons to consider for each of the most popular materials:

  • Wood is a classic and stylish choice, but may eventually need upkeep. Use teak or other outdoor-friendly wood to minimize damage from exposure to the elements.
  • Plastic stands up beautifully to the elements but may look cheap, especially on first-floor window boxes where they're easily viewable.
  • Terra-cotta is a beautiful choice but allows water to evaporate, so plants may need to be watered more frequently. Also, they are prone to cracking in areas with cold winters.
  • Metal is a sturdy and stylish choice but, depending on the metal used, is prone to rusting.
Galvanized window box
Made of galvanized, powder-coated bronze sheeting, this oil-rubbed window box (available in six sizes) will weather the elements without staining your home’s siding. To buy: from $30, Hooks & Lattice

Consider self-watering options.

Window boxes need regular watering, especially if situated in full sun, so look at self-watering window boxes, which often feature a reservoir of water that plants can draw from as needed.

"Self-watering planters still need to be watered, but will need to be watered less," says Blythe Yost, co-founder and chief landscape architect at Tilly, an online landscape design company. "It's not a set-it-and-forget-it system like many people think. However, it can be very helpful if you have a hot, sunny location, as the planter won't dry out as quickly."

To make your watering chores easier, Yost recommends looking for small drip lines—AKA spaghetti emitters—to add to your irrigation system and use these to water the window boxes automatically.

Plan out the placement.

You don't have to place window boxes below every window at the front of your house. You might opt to place them just on the windows flanking the front door, or only on second-floor windows. Here's what to consider.

The direction your house faces matters.

If your home faces south or west, you'll need to up your watering game. "Boxes that face south and west will dry out faster with more direct sunlight," Yost says.

Look at how shady or sunny each spot is.

If your window box is under an awning or roofline, it may get less sunlight. It may also require more watering if it doesn't get rainfall.

The amount of sunlight impacts what kinds of flowers and plants you choose. If your window box gets less than six hours of sunlight, fill it with shade-tolerant plants.

Flower box for a shady window
What to PlantLook for shade-happy plants with colorful leaves, like the four vivid varieties of coleus that fill this box (Solenostemon scutellarioides Kiwi Fern, Dark Star, Dappled Apple, and Dark Heart). Play with contrasts in texture and hue. Here, the ruffly maroon-and-coral Kiwi Fern anchors the middle of the box, offsetting the deep purple and apple green foliage surrounding it. When to WaterDaily during the hottest summer days; the rest of the year, check every few days and water as soon as the soil is dry to an inch below the surface. How to MaintainPinch off new flower spikes and stem tips every two weeks to keep plants looking lush and full. Ngoc Minh Ngo

Make sure your window boxes are easy to reach.

If your window boxes are on upper floors, make sure furniture in its room doesn't block you from reaching that window. "They need to be somewhere you can reach to water and change out the flowers," Yost says.

Choose the right plants.

The color scheme you pick is just one part of choosing the right plants for your window box. Focus on container-friendly plants that thrive on a little neglect.

Keep it simple.

You don't need a lot of different flowers to design a gorgeous window box. "I like to go with simplicity," Yost says. "Keep it simple and it will make a great impact—a nice A/B pattern can really pop."

Opt for native plants.

Flowers from your area are more likely to thrive without as much watering and may bring you additional benefits. "Research what native flowers will attract certain butterflies or songbirds, so you can use your boxes for some wildlife viewing," Yost says.

Think low maintenance.

Consider drought-resistant flowers like zinnias, geraniums, and lantana to minimize watering duties. And don't forget about interesting plants like coleus, sweet potato vine, or dusty miller, which add a pop of color without needing deadheading.

Artificial plants can be even easier to maintain—but they come with caveats. "Don't buy super-cheap ones as they will bleach out quickly," Yost says. "Do some research and buy something that will weather the outdoor conditions and last."

Paper construction of red flowers in a window box by Matthew Sporzynski
from the July 2005 issue of Real Simple. Monica Buck

Lean toward annuals.

Perennials seem like a natural pick for window boxes because you don't have to replant them every year, but in most parts of the country, that may not be a wise investment. "I would be worried that perennials won't make it through the winter," Yost says. "Annuals are probably a better option unless you have very hearty perennials."

Swap them with the seasons.

Window boxes are perfect for changing up your look for the seasons, with fresh blooms like pansies for spring, zinnias for summer, chrysanthemums for fall, and evergreens or ornamental kale for winter.

You can also accessorize plants with other elements, like pumpkins and gourds or outdoor holiday ornaments, to add a festive touch—with no watering required!

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