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Winter-proofing your window box

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Q.   I recently moved into an apartment with two window boxes.  I am not much of a gardener and I would like some ideas about what to plant, if anything, at this time of year that would have a chance of making it through the winter.

A.  Our BrickTank expert panel suggested a host of easy options, each with a slightly different spin:

  • “If you have north facing windows, a great choice is English Ivy. The dark vines will hang dramatically from the box, reaching downwards as they grow.  Adding brightly colored red branches will add some height and really pop against the dark ivy.  For south-facing windows, try one-gallon-sized Alberta Spruce.  Three will fit nicely in a 30” window box. If your boxes are 24”, try a single Alberta with some ivy on each side.  Water three times a week until the temperature drops, then reduce to about one time a week.”—Josh Fleischman,  Blondie’s Treehouse
  • “Normally I am only a fan of the real thing, but there are some GREAT fake boxwoods out there which are suited for the outdoors.  You cannot tell them from the real thing and no watering needed. Check the flower district.” – Kelly Giesen, Kelly G Design
  • “Small junipers and English Ivies are the best.  Junipers come in all shapes and in varieties of greens, grays and blues, so you can mix them for a pleasing arrangements.  Build a nice base with junipers and add whatever you’d like for seasonal interest—small pumpkins and gourds for fall, sprigs of bright red holly, cut pine, spruce or cedar, or even save room for  a small lantern to be lit for Christmas eve, Chanukah or the winter solstice and properly secured in each box’s center.” – Joe Taylor,  West & Taylor Landscaping   
  • “Window boxes are usually too small, without enough insulating dirt, for plants to thrive longterm.  Ivy can handle it but tends to crowd out anything else you might want to plant there.  Plus, one of the best parts of window boxes IS that they change with the season. Right now at the greenmarket you can find branches of colorful bittersweet, ornamental kale and autumn leaves.   Soon there will be pine branches and holiday plants available.”  --Clare Donohue, One to One Studio
  • Mums will last until frost and cabbage will last through the winter. Both have a nice flower.” – Roberta Axelrod, Time Equities.

A final note about the boxes themselves:

"They cannot be placed on a window sill without being secured by a window-gate type enclosure to keep the box from falling," says Michael Wolfe, the president of Midboro Management.  "Nor can they be placed on a fire escape. They usually require board approval.”

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