Tips for Succulent Gardening in Window Boxes

Window box with colorful succulents

Mix different kinds of succulents for a colorful window box. Image from flickr.

Are you dreaming about adding some window boxes to your home, but lack the time and patience to pamper persnickety flowers? In the last few years, succulents of every shape and size have made their way into gardens and homes across the country, with a few setting roots in window boxes on the shady sides of homes. If you’re looking for a low-care option for your window boxes, succulents may be the answer. These plants offer interesting textures for your inner designer to mix into endless combinations and the occasional flower stalks for an unexpected splash of color.

Growing Succulents in Containers

Succulents are very unlike other plants you have grown in the past, and unlike their cousins the cacti, they don’t generally tolerate bright, direct sunlight. Their ability to tolerate drought sets them apart from more standard nursery offerings. That’s not to say that they can live without water, though. This common myth has led a lot of beginning succulent gardeners down a road paved with disappointment. Most succulents prefer moderately lit, warm and well-draining locations – if you design your window boxes with these requirements in mind, you’ll soon be graced with happy, healthy succulents.

Choose a composite window box with lots of drainage holes – succulents will absolutely not tolerate wet feet! – and fill it with a commercial cactus medium. Avoid heavy, rich soil mixes, these will only increase the risk of disease and attract pests. If temperatures in your area dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for any significant amount of time, you may want to plan for smaller window boxes that can be brought indoors during the winter. Regardless of the size of your container, plan to water deeply once a week until October, when most succulents begin to go dormant.

Window boxes with many succulents

Combine trailing succulents and tall succulents for an impressive display. Image from Paradis Express.


Designing with Succulents

Slow-growing succulents can be packed tightly into window boxes for a very full look or spaced further apart with small stones or glass pebbles serving as a decorative mulch and doubling as anchors. Many people plant taller, larger succulents in the back of their window boxes and creeping succulents in the front to create a many layers of texture. Generously flowering creepers like ice plant and moss rose combine the texture of succulent foliage with bold flowers for a unique look as they spill over the edge of your boxes.

Although many gardeners like to mix it up, planting many different shapes, colors and sizes of succulents in the same window box, there is merit in a repeating pattern. Like tulips neatly arranged in a planter, a tidy row of Aeonium, Aloe, Echeveria or Pachyphytum can bring a sense of order to a more formal home or landscape.

Another neat trick is to arrange multiple levels of window boxes using stair risers for support. If you plant cascading succulents in the front of each box, a waterfall effect will eventually emerge to tie the many levels together visually. As long as your window box creations aren’t too wide to water properly, the sky’s the limit with succulents!

2 replies
  1. Nancy hart
    Nancy hart says:

    I would love to join the discussion. I am trying?to change my beautiful cottage style garden and introduce succulents without it looking hodge podge. Our water situation here n malibu is serious and costly. I have several window boxes in the front of my white house planted with red and pink geraniums now. I see in your illustrations the most effective looking boxes are dark.
    Your illustrations are beautiful!

    • Lindsey Pfeiffer
      Lindsey Pfeiffer says:

      Thanks Nancy! We’re in Southern California also and completely understand how important drought-tolerant plantings are.

      White houses often look great with planter boxes that are painted darker colors. Most people opt for a matte black or bronze for a clean look. I planted a mix of Sedum nussbaumerianum, Echeveria shaviana, and Sedum morganianum that has basically been taking care of itself for the past couple of years!


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