Not Martha

feeling danerously clueless

In order to make our deck feel more private I’ve hatched a plan to hang window boxes from the rail all the way around and plant tall things in the boxes. I know nothing about window boxes besides that at Home Depot they have the plastic kind and the wrought iron lined with straw kind. Everywhere else I’ve looked online they have the really expensive kind. We are going to buy eight window boxes and I am getting that feeling like I’m about to make a really expensive mistake. So I need your help — Do you have window boxes? Are there any things I should know before I buy? Do you prefer one kind over the other? Would the wire basket kind even be able to hold tall plants like palms? (We, sadly, have neither the time nor the tools to make our own.)

Any help or knowledge you can share would help tremendously as I’m at an Idiot’s Guide to Window Boxes level here.

· comments [52] · 06-4-2007 · categories:the home ·

52 responses so far ↓

  • 1 April // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I thought about doing this in my old condo. I never did it, because we moved, but my plan was to plant bamboo which does work in window boxes and grows pretty quickly. I think it’s a good idea!

  • 2 megan // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you, I’m definitely keeping bamboo in mind. We have plans to plant clumping bamboo (or maybe bamboo in very large containers) along the back of our property and I’ve been doing a lot of bamboo reading in the last few days.

  • 3 jen o // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    do you need giant ones, or will the regular kind do? i got a couple turquoise galvanized steel window boxes at ikea back in march for cheap, but they may be all gone by now.

    the only problem is, the hanging hardware that correlates is made for metal pole railings only! there are no options to attach it to a wooden rail.

  • 4 megan // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Jen, I checked Ikea and they don’t have any window boxes left, and you’re right, the hanging hardware wouldn’t have worked for my deck railing anyhow.

  • 5 Nancy // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Have you tried Half Price Pots? There are several outlets in the Seattle-ish area and while I know nothing about gardens they are on the top of my list to go to for nicer yet reasonably priced garden containers.

  • 6 megan // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Nancy – I forgot all about that place, I’ll check there, thanks.

  • 7 Natalie // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    My first response was “Bamboo!” but now I’m wondering about using split bamboo fencing (seen here as an example
    seeing as how you are planting bamboo along the back of your property.

    How large is your deck? What type of material is the railing made out of? Hardware would be the biggest concern, as most are designed with a load bearing capacity to hold soil and some annuals — not tall plants like palms.

    You would be looking at 200$ minimum for planters alone; excluding plants, which would need to be purchased at a fair maturity in order to provide adequate screening.

    I might propose the bamboo fencing, which is apprx 35$ for 13′, and perhaps placed half way/slightly higher up on the railing.

    Using the remaining budget for unique, attractive pots to be filled with flowers or foliage of your choice… kitchen herb garden, tomatoes, and string clear fishing line across the bamboo and plant a climber such as sweet peas in one of the pots to make it more attractive on your side.

    There are other options. Feel free to email me… n_walliser, hotmail.

  • 8 melissa f. // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    make sure they are big enough– shallow boxes can be a pain to keep watered (even in seattle!), so even thought the wrought iron ones look cooler you’ll probably be happier with something more solid.

  • 9 robyn // Jun 4, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    I have the same dilemma in my current apartment. Lots of deck space, no privacy. We bought a ton of the plastic-type window boxes at home depot that actually mount to the top of our deck railing (which makes them nice and wide and able to support lots of soil) and filled them full of tall chili plants, tomato plants and herbs.

    Last year we tried the lined-with straw baskets and ended up chasing away squirrels with mouthfuls of straw. Every. Day.

  • 10 Miss Sassy // Jun 4, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Megan, how about having window boxes and large pots on the deck itself (rather than the railing) and planting some lovely large geraniums and the like. When we rented, I found that the hanging window boxes were pricey and wouldn’t fit the outside of our deck. I don’t know what your deck looks like so this could be a useless point.

    Another option is there are actually hanging basket/birdhouse poles that attach to decks through the slats. They screw in and are removable.

    I like the planters that look like terra cotta but are actually very light (I forget what they are made of). You can fill them up with styrofoam packing peanuts under the dirt to keep them lighter. Don’t use the cornstarch peanuts. Make sure your plants have enough room to grow their roots.

    You could also hang a bunting around the sides of the deck to give yourself some privacy.

    Good luck!

  • 11 megan // Jun 4, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks everyone, this information is excellent. The deck has a 6 inch wide wooden lip along the railing, which is at waist height. The walls of the deck are wood and set close together (essentially solid), so I can screw right into the wood through to solid supporting beams and get a secure hold for a window box.

    Natalie – I have considered the fencing, but we’re also hoping to create a bit of a sound barrier between us and the neighbors… in which case growing bamboo plants makes more sense. I am looking into creating a frame so we can plant a climber and string some lights but we’re working the time/effort balance. I’ll see if potted plants and a bamboo screen might work out.

    Melissa – Excellent to know. I like the solid boxes better than the basket type, and anything that helps me keep them watered is good as I don’t have the best of luck with plants.

    Robyn – Thank you, I hadn’t seen ones that mount on top of the railing, those might be perfect for my purposes. Also, thanks for the squirrel information, I think you just saved me a lot of trouble.

    Miss Sassy – The deck itself isn’t all that large so I’m avoiding having planters on the floor of the deck if I can, though I might give the corners over to some ficus trees or something similar. Though, large planters were my first thought too. The sides of the deck are solid wood, so from waist down we’re feeling pretty happily private. (Oh gosh that sounds vaguely dirty.)

  • 12 Lenore // Jun 4, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    My impression of the straw lined ones is that you have to replace the straw liners periodically, so you may not want that if you’re looking for something semi-permanent. Be sure that you pick plants that don’t need a deep or wide root structure for support. Bamboo is probably a good choice.

  • 13 rosebengal // Jun 4, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Reiterating that solid window boxes are preferable to baskets designed to hold soil in a nest of either coconut fiber or moss (these dry out ridiculously fast even in the PNW although they are a bit lighter than metal or wood) and nesting birds always steal my moss! If you purchase metal window boxes make sure you go with something rustproof – I made the mistake of purchasing some copper-like window baxes from Target and they rusted out within 2-3 years. Lastly, after years of neglecting to water my window boxes and planters more frequently than my yard, I highly recommend a soil additive called Quench by Zeba It is corn-starch based and slowly releases water at the root level. It literally saved my patio plants last year and wasn’t outrageously expensive especially compared to having to replant everything mid-summer!

  • 14 megan // Jun 4, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Lenore – I see, I’d want to be keeping the plants in these around for a while.

    rosebengal – Thanks so much for the advice and the information about Zeba, it sounds perfect.

  • 15 teri // Jun 5, 2007 at 12:46 am

    i would be concerned about the stability of planting anything tall in a window box. can the window box hold enough soil to provide a stable base for anything more than a few inches tall? i am not a gardener, but am looking at this from a physics point of view.

  • 16 kath // Jun 5, 2007 at 3:12 am

    The biggest obstacle I can see to your plan to put tall plants in a planter box is the root systems. Taller plants need deeper roots and a planter box will not give them that. Unless you want to build something on your deck that you can plant bamboo in, you might want to rethink the height of the planter plants. We built wooden rails around our porch and built planters into the top of them. They do dry out fast, and we really can’t put anything in much taller than 12″. Good luck!

  • 17 Alex // Jun 5, 2007 at 4:12 am

    Have you considered growing climbing plants on some wire, a latice or a simple structure made from bamboo sticks?
    Every spring I sow peas, beans and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) in pots and let them grow up all suitable supports that I can find in my garden – drain pipes, fences, shed etc. I love how fast they grow and that you can harvest your own vegetables later on.
    Sweet corn (maize) is really cool too and grows tall very quickly. I don’t know whether that would work in pots though.

  • 18 Chichmama // Jun 5, 2007 at 4:39 am

    We just did this. We got the plastic terracotta window boxes from Home Depot (the ones with the built in drip pan so I didn’t have to water every single day). We got the hardware from Lowes as the Home Depot brackets didn’t work on our deck. The Lowes ones are actually metal frames that hold the whole planter rather than the brackets that seemed rather flimsy. Not much more expensive (and look much prettier). They can clip over the railing and get moved around easily as needed.

    I put in spreading petunias, which grow quickly and tumble over the edge of the window box nicely. But you do have to keep up with the watering, I killed several pots worth last year. They do look very pretty, but don’t think they really meet the tall requirement. But if you plant something too tall, it is going to topple the box over.

  • 19 Lindsay // Jun 5, 2007 at 5:32 am

    what about making your own? i think the plastic ones they have are actually meant to serve as removable liners for more permanent window boxes. some people have them made out of wood and affixed to their window frames or decks, etc.

  • 20 Sarah // Jun 5, 2007 at 5:58 am


  • 21 Ellen // Jun 5, 2007 at 6:10 am

    I don’t have any window box knowledge – I was turned off by the price when I looked into them a few years ago.

    I do, however, have opinions about plants. If morning glories and moonflowers aren’t too invasive in your area, they’d make a nice fast-growing screen. If there’s something to hang from overhead, you could hang strings for them to climb, or you could just have them climb stakes.

    Cottage Living did a feature about this not too long ago…,21135,1578799,00.html

  • 22 Abbie // Jun 5, 2007 at 6:19 am

    I’m not sure what your deck looks like and if this would work for you, but I love this idea. Very private.,21135,1578799,00.html

  • 23 jessica // Jun 5, 2007 at 7:27 am

    The only thing that come to mid is that you will have to water thoes suckers just about everyday. Planter-boxes dry out fast!

  • 24 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Thank you everybody!

    Teri – If I can find boxes to mount on top of the railing I could secure them into place, that might take care of the toppling concern.

    Kath – Thanks, 12″ of plant just might be enough to offer privacy while we’re seated.

    Alex – I have considered growing climbing plants but for this year we don’t have the time, ability or tools to create a framed structure around the deck.

    Chichmama – Thank you for the tips, I’ll be sure to check both places. Maybe I can grow tall grasses in the boxes.

    Lindsay – We simply don’t have the tools, the space, the time or the know how to build our own right now.

    Thank you Ellen and Abbie for the link to the Cottage Living story.

    Jessica – I’m prepared for the labor commitment, thanks for the heads up.

  • 25 karen // Jun 5, 2007 at 8:32 am

    No new advice (except to chime in on the straw-lined baskets – they don’t retain water AT.ALL.); just wanted to share that I loved reading all these great ideas!

    Megan, your blog is a fantastic source of practical & creative information – thank you!

  • 26 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Thanks Karen!

  • 27 Cinnamon // Jun 5, 2007 at 9:27 am

    We planted dill, coriander, basil and tarragon in ours when we had a wooden deck and they got pretty tall. The basil actually got 3 feet tall. But it was something that started out pretty small, so by the end of summer we had privacy, but at the beginning we didn’t.

    We bought the cheap plastic ones from Home Depot and had to water them at least twice a day to prevent the plants from burning.

  • 28 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Cinnamon – Thanks for the information. I’m hoping to plant some herbs in one of the boxes. I’ll have to keep a good eye on the soil since we do get sun around our deck.

  • 29 rosebengal // Jun 5, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Just wanted to chime in again to say that morning glory and moonflowers are invasive in Seattle (you can see them strangling trees along the Burke Gilman Trail where is wraps along the west side of the UW campus).

    If you are looking for tall herbs for direct sun try pineapple sage, lemon verbena (both are great in ice tea), and bay leaf.

  • 30 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Thanks! In the first house we rented in Seattle we were constantly pulling out morning glory that crept over from our neighbor’s yard, so no chance I’d be risking that.

  • 31 Chichmama // Jun 5, 2007 at 11:01 am

    I just had another thought….since you have solid decking, you could attach trellises to the back of the deck, hang the planters from the front and then grow some climbing things like clementis or ivy. Then the weight of the climbing things would be on the trellis rather than the window box. It would be a lot of installing of things and training of things to climb, but would probably look great.

  • 32 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Chichmama – It’s a possibility, but I’m keeping in mind that I have a fear of attaching climbing plants right next to my house (we beat back our neighbor’s ivy on a weekly basis during the summer, it’s hateful).

  • 33 Lenore // Jun 5, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Clematis is a good vine choice as it can grow well in the PNW, is not invasive like ivy (yes, I have icky ivy memories, too) and some varieties can be grown in pots. And it has really cool looking seed pods.

  • 34 jjzach // Jun 5, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    I have had great luck with supplies from! I just got a catalog in the mail and they have a 10% off your entire order offer now through 6/24/07.

    I have cedar window boxes under my front windows and the first year it felt like a full time job to keep the flowers alive. I planted Geraniums in it last year and for the first time I could actually leave them for a weekend without coming back to dead flowers. I found that the Geraniums got quite big and provided some extra privacy while inside my house.

  • 35 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you Lenore and Jjzach, I’ll look into these. My father grows clematis at the back of his house so I’ll have to ask him for advice on it as well.

  • 36 Minerva // Jun 5, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I had the same privacy/noise issue at an apartment a few years ago, so I lashed wooden lattice to the outside of my railings. They are around 8′ high, so from my balcony floor they created nice walls. In my railling boxes I grew morning glories to go up and a trailing hybrid petunia called “Tidal Wave” to go down. I also planted herbs and edible flowers in a few of the planters. I had full coverage in a month. It was great!

  • 37 iona // Jun 5, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    I did the lattice thing too, and it worked out really well. It serves as a sound barrier and as a visual barrier, and you can train clematis and roses and wisteria and all kinds of good things on it. I did use ivy, but I beat it into submission. It grows fast – love it.

    Also, I have lots of the cocoa mat lined haymarket type iron baskets and I love them to death. They look a lot better than plastic window boxes, and the cocoa mat fiber retains water and lasts 5-6 years before it breaks down. If you buy good ones and attach them well they’ll hold tons of plants.

  • 38 illek // Jun 5, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    The only advice I can give is to line your planters with newspaper. This is the first year I have ever done so and it is amazing the difference it makes. I water my planters and baskets half as often. I did half and half this year and the newspaper lined baskets only need water *at most* every other day so far. I was shocked at the difference!

  • 39 megan // Jun 5, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Iona – Did you soak the coco fiber in the haymarket baskets before you filled them?

    Illek – Thanks for the tip!

  • 40 Diane Carlson // Jun 5, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    We have plastic window boxes lining our cement patio – and like others said, you could always go to Lowe’s and get a plastic (this would be my recommendation!) lattice screen, and a plastic windowbox on the ground in front of it. Then grow morning glories (I am trying moonflowers once again, but I can’t ever get them to grow for me!-in the past) One thing I do strongly recommend for window boxes, and all planters – we put stones in the bottom for drainage, well, we found that putting them in nylon bags (like the onion bags) makes them a WHOLE lot easier to clean up at the end of the year, and also when replanting them next year. We have used the bags of stones, and the plastic planters over and over here in Michigan. Good Luck!

  • 41 Serena // Jun 6, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Megan,

    Are you thinking window boxes because you don’t have a lot of space for planters right on the deck? Sorry if I missed this – I admit I didn’t read all the comments.

    In my experience, baskest/boxes/anything that hangs on a rail is best for short plants or things that will hang down. They can look really pretty but I am having a hard time imagining how you would use them to create much privacy or block noise.

    We bought large planters for one side of our deck that faces the neighbors’ house and planted black bamboo in it last fall. As it’s been getting warmer we’ve finally got new culms sprouting up and they are about 9′ tall now! Bamboo is only going to get as big as the container will allow, so putting bamboo in a window box is not going to be very satisfying. Our containers are about 24 inches high and maybe about the same across.

    I’ve been giving them some miracle grow and watering regularly and they are happy. The fertilizing is important since they quickly suck up the nutrients in the pot. Not only are they creating a beautiful, living screen from the house next door – when the breeze blows there is a lovely rustling of leaves.

    If you don’t want something quite that tall you can still use bamboo but snip the tops off. Once it’s cut it can’t grow any higher. And when it’s confined in a pot of course you can use any variety you want – it doesn’t have to be the clumping kind.

    I hope that’s helpful!

  • 42 Serena // Jun 6, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Ok, I took the time to read carefully. You haven’t got a lot of floor space … so … what about this – You attach a trellis to the side, like others have mentioned. Put it on the outside of the deck, of course, since you want the 6″ of space to attach containers.

    Get a trellis that’s tall enough for you to overlap at least 3′ below the railing so you’re not worrying about wind knocking it over once it’s full of plant growth.

    There are different kinds of trellises – I personally like the ones that use a square lattice rather than the diagonal lattice. Cedar looks great when it’s new but it can start to look pretty shabby after a couple of seasons so you might consider plastic.

    You said you were considering planting ficus in the corners of the deck, so what about putting a climber in a large pot in a corner that you can eventually train up to the corner of the lattice?

    In the meantime you can pretty up the lattice with fairy lights and some smaller flowers in cheap plastic window boxes attached to the railing. If you can’t find a box hanger, you could use zip ties and wrap a couple around the top of the box and under the railing. Plant some hanging plants in there and they’ll cover up the ties in no time.

    Here’s another thought – how high off the ground is your deck? Have you got some room between the bottom of the deck and your property line to plant a climbing vine there? You’ll get a lot more growth out of something that’s allowed deep roots. Evergreen climbers like star jasmine or potato vines could be planted in the ground and trained up to reach your trellis creating an unholy wall of green privacy.

    Keep in mind where your sun is coming from so you don’t lose any precious rays!


  • 43 iona // Jun 6, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Yes, I soaked them – they hold water so well that I only have to water once or twice a week, even if they’re in full sun.

  • 44 megan // Jun 6, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Serena and Diane – Thanks for all the details, I do appreciate it. Right now I cannot attach a trellis to the deck, I really couldn’t do it unless we put up posts in the corners and added beams overhead, and I simply don’t have the tools or the time to do that this season (next year maybe). I took a wander around a nice nursery in town recently and I think for now window boxes mounted on the deck rail planted with grasses for height and some lower growing plants or trailing plants to fill in the visuals will do the trick. We went to create the illusion of privacy, but we know we won’t be able to create actual privacy without some more work.

    Iona – Thanks for the follow up.

  • 45 megan // Jun 6, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    For anybody reading this far down I wanted to share what I found today: these deck rail planters, at Fred Meyer. While they aren’t the greatest looking the Loden color isn’t too bad, and there is no installation needed as they sit like a saddle over the rail. We might use these this year.

  • 46 Kris // Jun 10, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    I made a deck more private with tomato plants. They only need a 12″ pot to grow in, grow tall, and you get tomatoes. Should be able to find plants already started at your garden store.

  • 47 Judith // Jun 14, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    What about the idea of putting some sort of bamboo woven fencing/screen material along the railing, on the inside, for privacy? Judith

  • 48 megan // Jun 14, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks Kris!

    Judith – Essentially there isn’t a way to easily attach a bamboo screen with out doing some work with major tools, all stuff I don’t have time for until next year.

  • 49 Judith // Jun 14, 2007 at 7:02 pm


    I recently saw a site selling bamboo matting (I think in 13 ft X 30 inch segments) for attaching to fences for enhanced privacy and aesthetic beauty, designed to be attached around the deck posts with heavy black cord. Looked very simple. The Japanese also attach sedge or other grass matting in this fashion. Judith

  • 50 megan // Jun 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I can picture what you’re talking about, but my deck doesn’t have posts the way most decks do. Know that I went out to the deck and gave it a good few minutes of consideration, it might work but I don’t have all that many spots to lash it to… and at that point I start to think there must be an easier solution.

    Next year we’re going to see about creating a frame around the deck so we can grow things up the sides and hang lights, but this year we really have to get some things planted in the front yard, it’s looking terribly barren.

    I appreciate the suggestion, it has me thinking.

  • 51 Judith // Jun 16, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Just in case you didn’t think of it (you surely did!) the sedge or other grass matting in rolls can be attached to the vertical iron or wood slats, even if there are no posts. I have a similar problem to yours–a fishbowl situation–and I am considering the matting. Judith

  • 52 megan // Jun 16, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Thanks Judith, I don’t have vertical slats of the kind you see on most decks, mine are more like solid walls and they don’t have the kind of strength I can attach much to. But I’m looking at it as a possibility.

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