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June 17, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me make my window garden a success.

I've recently moved into a new apartment, and one of the things that drew me to it was the large, beautiful windows. I leave them open around the clock, and they're a great source of natural light, but I've decided that they can be of even greater use to me. I'd like to put in a set of window box gardens to provide me with some fresh produce. This is my first time attempting anything of this nature, however, so I figured I'd come here to ask for some help.

My windows face south, and (at least this time of year) they get light throughout the majority of the day. My floor is taller than the surrounding buildings, so the only shade that the window boxes would get would come from my own building. I live in Los Angeles, so the Southern California climate should be taken into account.

What I'm looking to get here is advice on what sorts of things can be easily grown my beginners given the factors mentioned above. Please note that I do not like onions, and although I know from past experience that mint is ridiculously easy to grow, I'm not looking to grow any more of it at the moment. Also, and tips or tricks that you've found useful in maintaining window box gardens of your own would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Parasite Unseen to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Hmmm...okay. I have a large south-facing balcony garden for vegetables, flowers, and herbs. First, climate wise, you have to consider that Southern California is very dry in the summer, so you will probably be very water conscious. When your garden is young, water once a day in the evening around sunset. You will want to use lined planter boxes. A lot of people like coco fiber, but I prefer a double layer of landscaping cloth. It lasts longer, is thinner, and if you double it up it provides just as good of a mix of water retention and drainage.

For patio gardening, I use improved soil like Miracle Grow. Some people will scoff, but I really appreciate it when I am constrained by space. Generally you plant densely in box gardens and while you can do this organically if you have an excellent compost and the know-how, if you don't have these things, you just won't get the same results. Another thing I would do is invest in a low nitrogen fertilizer like Monty's Joy Juice. A little bit goes a long way and it's great for ensuring transplant success if you are new to gardening. If you use a regular fertilizer you will likely get very large, beautiful green plants with little yield (I've seen 7ft tall tomato plants this way).

As for what you can grow, go to your nursery to see what they offer. You probably won't want to start something from seed this late in the Spring (though a few things you could probably start for Fall). Easy growing vegetables are hot peppers, patio variety tomatoes, almost all spices, and leaf lettuce.

Once your garden gets growing and your plants start to flower, you will want to begin watering also early in the morning (about 2 hours before full sun).

Hope this helps! Have fun!
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:42 PM on June 17, 2008

Look for self-watering planters; they have a water reservoir that keeps your plants from drying out and keeps them much healthier and productive. It'll also reduce your watering to just a few times a week rather than twice a day when the weather's hot.

With that exposure and climate, you can grow most anything (except some greens like lettuce and spinach that like cooler temperatures). I'd start with patio-type tomatoes, basil, other cooking herbs. Maybe try eggplant!
posted by vers at 3:01 PM on June 17, 2008

Though I always recommend fertilizing with organic fertilizers, it is especially important when doing container gardening. They are slow-release and an overdose will not burn the plants as badly as a synthetic would; also buildup (as tends to happen in containers over time) won't kill your plants.

You will get extra veggies from mixing compost 50/50 with your potting soil. Potting soil alone does not have the nutrients necessary to make heavy eaters like veggies very productive. The abundance and complete variety of micronutrients in compost, combined with their slow release, is exactly what you need.

If you have a south-facing window, you can grow anything but squash, cucumbers, corn, and melons (those are the big guys). But there are plenty of "patio-variety" (read: compact) tomatoes and peppers out there. Eggplants are also a nice size, and it's not too late to plant beans if you hurry.

I find it very handy to have fresh herbs close to hand; once I moved them away from the front door and into the veggie patch I find I almost never remember to harvest them in time for dinner. So plant a good variety of basil, dill, and oregano. Thyme and rosemary are perennials for you, so plant them together so you don't disturb them when you plant your annuals around them each year.

Water as soon as the soil an inch down feels dry. Thoroughly saturate the soil, wait for it to all sink in, and do it again. It's important that there are no dry "pockets" in containers.

Hurry hurry!
posted by GardenGal at 5:38 PM on June 17, 2008

And if you have lots of windows, and plan to be there more than one year, strawberries do fabulously in containers.

Also remember to plant some nasturtiums to attract pollinators, who might normally not come into your area. You can get the trailing variety so that they don't take up box space. And the flowers are so delicious in salads!
posted by GardenGal at 5:41 PM on June 17, 2008

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