When you live in an apartment or condo, balconies are a welcome respite to relax in the fresh air and even have your own personal garden. But they also tend to overlook parking lots or other apartments, and you often have to sacrifice either plants or space to actually sit and enjoy your balcony. That’s where railing planters come in.
Railing planters are planters that hang from or straddle a balcony, deck, or patio railing. They bring the garden up to you and your eye level, make your balcony more attractive to you and passersby, add privacy, and save space. You can also grow your own vegetables in a compact space.
However, it’s important to remember that not all railing planters will suit your particular space. The type of planters and hanging brackets you can use depends on your railing (width and material), the plants you want to grow (how big of a planter you need), and your gardening habits (how often you water).
This article will take you through the advantages of railing planters, the types and materials you will want to consider, how to hang them without drilling, and the best plants to grow.
Railing planters are planters or plant containers that either sit on or hang from a balcony, deck, or patio railing.
- Bring greenery closer to eye level, so you can easily see them outside your window or when you’re hanging out on your deck or balcony.
- Save space, allowing you to either have more plants on your balcony or keep your patio floor for things like chairs to actually relax in your garden space.
- Provide privacy when used with trailing plants, blocking the view passersby have of you – and you have of them. They can obscure less-than-ideal views of parking lots or other buildings. They help create a little outdoor oasis all your own.
- Bring your garden up to you so you don’t need to bend over to garden, which can be a real lifesaver when you have a bad back or other health reasons that make squatting or kneeling difficult.
- Keep plants away from children, pets, and wild animals – at least from those that can’t jump up onto the rail.
What Kinds of Railing Planters Can You Get?
These look like your classic window box – a rectangle that is much longer than it is wide. They may come with brackets that hang over the rail, and if they don’t, it’s easy enough to find brackets that will fit your rail or shelf brackets for the planter to sit on. They may also come with an adjustable arm to steady the planter.
You can find railing box planters in a wide range of styles, from terracotta-looking plastic to wood boxes (easy to DIY!) to a metal frame with a coir lining.
Straddle planters have a deep groove along the center that allows you to sit the planter directly onto the rail. They’re often wider than a railing box but may also contain less growing space because of the groove. They are usually made of plastic.
Before buying, make sure that it will fit your railing. You can always get a different type of bracket for a railing box, but straddle planters only accommodate one or two widths of rail. If it’s too thin, the planter will shake and may come off.
Hanging Pot Holders
Hanging pot holders are essentially hanging brackets with a shelf – they hold a round or square pot on the rail. These are great if you have potted plants you don’t wish to repot, and they let you switch pots around and bring plants inside during the winter.
They only fit smaller pots, so you can’t grow anything too big. Also, the smaller the pot, the more often it needs to be watered. They also don’t come with adjustable brackets.
Railing planter pots have a similar style, but with an incorporated plant pot.
You can also get self-watering rail planters in the railing box or straddle style. These planters have a water reservoir in the planter’s bottom, with a pipe above the soil surface that lets you add water to the reservoir. As the soil above dries, the wicking action pulls water from the reservoir into the soil.
Self-watering rail planters are fantastic for dry climates, for people who forget to water their plants, or people who travel. Make sure you get one with an overflow hole or you’ll face overwatering challenges.
What Materials Are Best For Railing Planters?
Most railing planters are made from plastic since it’s lighter, cheaper, and more formable than other materials. These planters come in a wide range of colors and designs – from a terracotta look to a resin basket weave – which makes it easier to find something that fits your aesthetic while staying within your budget.
Wood is definitely more attractive (no plastic copy can yet truly replicate woodgrain’s appeal), can be a lot more sustainable than plastic, and is easy to DIY. They’re also harder to maintain. You’ll need brackets that can hold more weight than a plastic planter.
Some wood planters will last longer than others, depending on the wood species and the thickness of the boards. You can get pressure-treated wood that resists rot longer, but you don’t want to plant directly into those planters if you’re growing vegetables. You can also extend the life of your planter by keeping the plants in other pots within the planter or by lining it to keep a barrier between the moist soil and the wood.
Metal planters are expensive, but they’ll also last you for decades or even a century. They’re often coated to prevent rust. Some metal planters are full boxes, but most are frames for coco liners or hanging pot holders.
Aesthetically, coconut fiber lined planters look amazing and the coconut fiber will hold on to water longer, but they may still dry out quickly and need to be watered more often than other planters.
How Do You Hang Plants On A Balcony Rail?
If you’re worried that you have to drill holes, don’t worry! There are tons of way to hang your planter without drilling, some planter-specific, including:
- Straddle/Saddle/U-Shaped Planters. These are ready-made to sit on your rail with no extra assembly. Make sure that you buy one that fits your particular railing. A planter that’s made for a thin metal rail won’t fit on a thick wood rail, and a planter made for a thick rail will fall off a thin rail. To attach, simply place the planter on the rail. If there’s a support arm, lock that in place to the width of your rail.
- Built-In Brackets. Some planters are designed with a lip that goes over the rail. You simply hang the planter and lock in the support arm (if available).
- Attachable Brackets. These planters come with pre-drilled holes for attaching the included metal brackets to the planter. You will need to screw the brackets on, but there’s no drilling needed.
- Deck Clamp Bracket. These brackets, mainly used for wood rails, clamp onto the rail with an adjustable screw. Keep the screw on the bottom when installing.
- Deck Drape/Shelf Brackets. These brackets hang from the rail but create a shelf that you set the planter on. The planter isn’t actually attached, just resting.
- Heavy Duty Cable Ties. If you have an unusually shaped rail that makes using other bracket types difficult, use cable ties. Either buy ties specially made for garden planters or make sure they can handle a heavy load! Once locked in place, you must cut them off to remove them, so they’re not reusable.
- S-Hooks. If you want to hang a hanging basket with a hook from your railing, then you can use a bracket or an s-hook. The s-hook only works for thin rails.
Whenever you’re using brackets or cable ties, you’ll need 1 pair for containers below 48 inches long, 2 pairs for containers 48 inches up to 72 inches, and an additional pair for every 16 inches past that.
If you’re hanging on a balcony, keep the planter on the inside of the rail and not the outside. If for whatever reason it falls, then it won’t fall to the ground – or on some unfortunate person. Your lease or condo agreement may specify this.
If you’re hanging a planter on a deck railing, you can go either side – but keep in mind which direction you’re primarily going to see the planter. You want to set it where you can see it most often, not get hidden by the rail.
Do Railing Planters Need Drainage Holes?
Yes, railing planters need drainage holes. Drainage holes prevent overwatering and root rot, which is especially important for outdoor planters that are exposed to rain. You can’t control how much water lands in your planter.
However, there are two situations where you won’t have drainage holes: self-watering planters and cachepots.
Self-watering planters are designed to keep a water reservoir at the bottom of the planter. If there was a hole there, it wouldn’t hold the water, defeating the purpose of a self-watering planter.
However, it should come with an overflow hole so that if too much water enters the reservoir (whether by overwatering or rain), the excess water will drain through the overflow and save you from some very soggy soil.
Cachepots are containers that are used for decorative purposes, and instead of planting directly into it, you set potted plants within it.
A drainage hole is still great to have in this situation as otherwise rain will sit and stagnate on the bottom, but if it doesn’t have one, lift the pots up by placing gravel or pottery shards on the bottom to raise the nursery pots above any stagnant water.
A wood planter may not need a drainage hole if the gap between bottom boards allows water to drain away.
What Can I Plant In A Railing Planter?
You can plant most anything you want in a growing planter, so long as it can do well in the planter size. Plants that need 10+ gallon pots like squashes are better left to larger containers on the floor rather than hanging precariously on a rail.
Amazing plants to add to your railing planter include:
- Trailing flowers. Anything you’d want to plant in an outdoor hanging basket like petunias, ivy geranium, and sweet alyssum will do well and look amazing in a railing planter! They also add privacy.
- Ornamental succulents. Succulents like aloes, jade, burro’s tail, string of pearls, and mistletoe cactus can also make striking additions to your railing. Keep them in their original pots or repot them, and bring them inside during the winter.
- Dwarf/Micro dwarf tomatoes. While regular tomatoes are too big for most railing planters, dwarf and micro dwarf tomatoes grow wonderfully in a 3-5 gallon railing planter. Some micro dwarfs have a trailing habit, where they’ll spill over the edge. Beautiful and delicious.
- Leaf lettuce, arugula, and spinach. These vegetables add green, purples, and even reds to your balcony railing while also providing a frequent source of fresh greens. Don’t grow whole heads – you’re better off planting densely and cutting leaves off as they grow. You’ll get a higher, continuous yield throughout the growing season.
- Strawberries. Strawberries do great in hanging and railing planters. They may even send baby strawberries trailing over the side. There’s nothing like eating a strawberry picked straight from the plant.
- Herbs. Most herbs can do really well in planters. Basil, purslane, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives – the list goes on. The bonus to growing them on a rail (besides having fresh ingredients) is that you’ll see them often and remember to use them. If you’re growing mint, watch for its stolons – they’ll dig into other planters.
- Kale. Did you know that kale is grown as ornamentals? Pretty and tasty. Since they grow tall, they add height to your arrangement – great for being more visible and blocking out an unsightly view.
- Vine peas and beans. While they’re often grown on trellises, you can also let them hang over the side of your railing planter. They produce beautiful flowers followed by tasty pods.
Railing planters can provide color and greenery to your balcony, add privacy from the street below, and give you a lot more space to grow your garden. Just make sure that you consider what will work best in your particular space first.
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