Good reasons to garden
Just because you don't have a gigantic outdoor space to plant veggies (and herbs) doesn't mean you should put your green thumb on hold. In fact, there are plenty of plants that will thrive in small containers. And gardening is not only stress-reducing, it's good for your your health
too—strengthening your bones, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and calming the mind, among other benefits. It's also true that kids who grow their own veggies are more than twice as likely to eat them, according to research
from St. Louis University. Read on for what you need to know to plant a super-successful window-box garden.
Look for sun
You don't have to limit your window box garden to the kitchen, especially if it gets zero sunlight, says Tam Serage, head grower at Shenandoah Growers, an organic farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia. "You need to take a look at what kind of sun that space gets," he says. "Does it get full morning sun, afternoon sun, or mostly shade? You don't want to plant something that needs full sun in a place that's going to be shady all day."
In order for your veggies and herbs to flourish, you'll want to choose a window box or container with enough space for blooming buds. "Pick as large of a container as possible to keep plants moist," Serage says. "Keep in mind that a small container will dry out faster—it could be dry by the end of the day." TIP: Always make sure your container has some sort of drainage system even if it's one you need to DIY. "Drill holes in the bottom of the container—a pencil size width works best," Serage says. "Be sure to drill three to five holes to make sure you don't overwater your plants, which could lead to mildewed soil."
Acclimate your plants
Believe it or not, plants can be in a state of shock after you've taken them in the car from the garden store or nursery, so give them a few hours to acclimate to their new environment before you plant them. "Don't put them in the hot blazing sun right away," Serage says.
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Prep your soil
As your plants get used to your environment, get started prepping the soil. "Add topsoil, compost, and other additives to make the soil a nutrient-rich environment for growing your plants," says Lester Poole, a master gardener at Lowe's. "You can also find soil mixes that are specifically blended for whatever you're planting." TIP: Consider feeding your plants once a month with plant food.
You might think it's a good idea to fill an entire window box with soil but, in truth, you should start by filling the window box one-third full with soil. When you add the plants to the box, make sure there is plenty of space in between each one; water thoroughly immediately after planting and make sure the water drains through.
Don't let your plants get thirsty
The easiest way to know when to water your window box: Use the finger method. "Simply stick your finger about an inch down into the soil," says Ashleigh Lemon, a gardening expert at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. "If it's dry, add water. If it's moist, wait a little longer before your next watering. It's nice to get into a routine of watering each morning once the planters fill out." Tip: The larger the plants, the more water it will need in order to thrive.
Start with herbs
Now that your containers are prepped, seek out plants that will grow the best. Most herbs, including rosemary, mint, and basil, are considered ideal fodder for beginning gardeners as they're quite hardy. "The key: Keep them trimmed to keep them at a manageable size," says Lemon. "Also, the more foliage a plant has, the more you have to water. Plus," she adds, "herbs enjoy being trimmed." Here are more tips for getting an herb garden started
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Think small when it comes to veggies
If you're hoping to plant everything you need for a delicious healthy salad, keep this in mind: Container veggies should be limited to smaller-sized produce such as smaller Roma or grape tomatoes. "Tomatoes grow quickly so you'll be reaping the benefits not long after you plant," says Poole.
Consider easy-to-grow onions
Another great option for your window box: Scallions that begin as bulbs and should be planted about an inch deep, root side down. "These most definitely thrive in small containers and need little more than a nitrogen based fertilizer to grow," says Dianne Venetta, a gardening blogger. "They love lots of sun and moist soil—not too wet, not too dry. Another important tip is to keep soil well-drained."
Pass the greens
Salad greens like kale and Swiss chard can thrive in a window box, and you can consider planting lettuce seeds too. "These are tiny and should be sprinkled over dirt and covered with a light layer of soil, say a one-eighth-inch depth," Venetta says. "There are a variety of lettuce types available and a colorful selection will add beauty to any indoor space—even as a table centerpiece."
Another great windowsill option: chili peppers, which can grow to about a foot high. "They love sunny warm weather and are beautiful to behold with their array of colorful fruits," Venetta says. Tip: They require sun, moist conditions, and well-drained soil, but in addition to nitrogen, they also need a healthy dose of phosphorus to produce big fruits. Ask a pro at your local gardening shop which fertilizer or top soil will work best for chili peppers.
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Don't forget to protect your garden
Martien van Gaalen/Shutterstock
If you live in a place where local deer or other animals might just eat all the delicious plants you've worked so hard to grow, take seps to protect them from the elements. "Birds will sometimes sit on your plants or do their business on them or rodents will want to eat them," Serage says. "To prevent this, gently surround your boxes with garden netting to protect them and keep them growing strong."