Railing planters are the ideal choice when gardening in small, outdoor living areas. These versatile containers help you make better use of limited space and add an attractive touch to any deck, porch, patio, or balcony railing. When you pick the right planter boxes for your railing, you can enjoy beautiful flowers, edible herbs, fruits, and veggies easily and affordably. You can derive many benefits.
The idea of a railing planter is not something new. Essentially it follows the same principles as what we know as a window box planter except fastened to the horizontal rail. Many a DIY deck builder has taken the steps to incorporate a deck rail planter box right into the design of their wood deck railing.
Table of contents
- Points to Consider Before Attaching a Planter to Your Railing
- 5 Ways To Secure Railing Planters
- What’s the Best Material for Railing Planters?
- Special Care Tips for Your Railing Planter Garden
- What Are Some of The Best Choices in Plants for Railing Gardening?
- Expand Your Growing Area and Improve Your Home and Your Life!
- Closing Thoughts
Points to Consider Before Attaching a Planter to Your Railing
Whether you own your home or are renting, you will surely want to avoid damaging your railings. Whether you have metal, wood, or plastic railings, keep in mind that bare metal brackets can cause damage by scraping. That’s why it’s smart to look for or design your planters with rubber or plastic-coated brackets.
Be sure to provide ample space between the base of your porch or deck garden planter and the surface of your railing for good air circulation. If water sits on wood, plastic, resin, or metal for extended periods of time, staining, rotting, and/or rust will ensue.
It’s also smart to add drain holes to the sides of your planters near the base to prevent water draining out of the bottom and collecting on top of your railing. With clever positioning of drain holes, you can use water that drains from one plant to water the plants directly beneath it.
You must also be very certain that your railing planters are secure. This is especially true if you are gardening on a balcony! You don’t want your garden to come crashing down due to a slight bump or a high wind. Take great care to attach your planters securely to avoid property damage and possible injury.
5 Ways To Secure Railing Planters
There are several different ways to prevent your rail planters from hurtling to the ground. Each method has its pros and cons. Some are well-suited to one application and not suited at all to another. Here are 5 ideas.
#1 –Tie It
It is possible to attach a railing planters to a railing using a chain or a rope, but this is probably the least desirable option in any situation. To do this, you would simply wrap the rope or chain in such a way that it encircles each end of the planter securely. You can use eye hooks screwed into the railing to secure the rope or chain.
While this method may work for lightweight planters and might be a good stop-gap measure, there are a few reasons not to do this as a permanent solution. For one thing, it’s rather unsightly. If you attach your planter to your railing with rope or chain, it will not improve the appearance of your home.
For another, rope or chain can eventually dig into your wood deck rails as well as metal or steel rails causing significant damage (as can screwing eye hooks into the side of the railing.)
Lastly, it is not especially secure. Winds and jostling are bound to loosen your fasteners, and before you know it, your railing garden will go crashing to the ground. If you plan to use this method at all, you should consider it only a temporary measure to be used until you can devise something more attractive and sensible.
#2 – Screws:
For semi-permanent installation, you can just screw the planter to the railing. You should add feet to a flat-bottomed wooden, metal, or plastic/resin planter box to provide air space, and then drill a couple of pilot holes through both the base of the box and the feet to attach the planter to the top of the railing.
You can also use screws to attach wooden, metal, plastic, or resin planters to the sides of railings. Be sure to drill pilot holes first to prevent splitting the material as you work.
With metal, plastic, or resin planters, it’s a good idea to use washers equipped with rubber rings to add extra support and security. This will help minimize wear and tear due to wind, weather, and the sheer force of gravity.
#3 – Brackets:
If you want to avoid damage to your railing, if you need to move your railing planters from time-to-time, brackets can be very useful. Metal brackets may be “L” shaped to hang plants on one side of the railing, or they may straddle the railing to hang plants on both sides.
Some brackets provide for planters to be attached using screws. Others simply have hooks that allow you to attach, remove, and interchange planters with ease. Brackets made of powder-coated steel resist rusting and wear.
#4 – Straddle:
By far the best and easiest alternatives for railing planters are prefab straddle containers like the Bloem Modica Deck Rail Planter. These boxes are specially designed to straddle a standard-sized railing securely. They already have properly drilled drainage holes and built-in air circulation space.
They come in a variety of attractive colors, sizes, shapes, and styles, and you can move them about and rearrange them as you wish. If you move, just pack them up, and take them with you.
These planters are typically made of heavy-duty plastic that should last forever with proper care, so they are well worth the reasonable price you can expect to pay.
#5 – DIY Straddle Style Planter:
If you are handy, you can build a 3-bin railing planter using outdoor quality plywood. This unique design provides three generous planting spaces: One rests on the rail, and two others provide ample planting space on each side of the rail.
This planter simply sits securely on the rail without attachment. You will not need to drill any holes to put it in place. Remember to add footing under the center planter to provide air circulation and help prevent railing damage. Place drainage holes on the low sides of the center planter so that it will drain into the two side planters.
What’s the Best Material for Railing Planters?
You will find planters available in plastic, resin, wood, metal, and basket styles that you can line with coco coir. These have pros and cons depending upon your setting and the type of plants you wish to grow.
Baskets lined with coco coir
They provide a lot of air circulation for the roots. This is ideal for decorative plantings of succulents or even bromeliads. Other types of plants will need to be checked very frequently and watered very regularly as these planters do not hold water at all! They are also subject to drying out from wind. Check out this 30 inch Window/Deck Planter
Metal can be attractive, but can leak into the soil and may be harmful to your plants. Additionally, it can wear and rust badly, and can become scalding hot when exposed to the sun. If you are going to use metal containers, be sure to also use planter box liners and place these planters in shady locations. Metal bucket planters like these are colorful and versatile.
Wood is a classic choice that is always attractive and is typically safe for plants. You must be sure to choose durable, outdoor quality wood or your planters will deteriorate rapidly.
Hardwoods such as cedar, eucalyptus, and Brazilian walnut (aka Ipe wood) are good choices. Outdoor treated plywood can be a suitable choice, but you must be sure it is not treated with anything that would be toxic to you if you are growing veggies. This 20″ Rectangular Rustic Wood Planter has a Plastic Liner.
Plastic and resin
There are durable, colorful, versatile, and do not become dangerously hot in the sunshine. Although these materials are not a very ecologically sound option, you can mitigate the environmental impact of your choice.
If you buy with care by choosing planters made of recycled plastic products, and then follow up by taking good care of your purchases so that they will last a long time, you can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of plastic rail planters. If/when your planters do break or degrade, be sure to turn them in for recycling so that they do not end up in the ocean or cluttering up the landfill for all eternity.
If you are crafty, you can make different styles of planters for use on your railings and throughout your home and garden with hypertufa. This is a lightweight, durable DIY concrete-like substance that you can easily mix up to form into any kind of planting container you want. Hypertufa containers are attractive and extraordinarily durable.
Upcycled Household Items Make Charming Railing Planters
If you are strapped for money or simply want to reduce the amount of garbage you toss out, there are a lot of household items you can use as railing planters. Here are a few smart ideas that can save you money and add creative interest to your railing garden.
Large yogurt containers can be painted or otherwise decorated to make attractive planters for herbs, succulents, and small flowering plants. Just drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage, decorate, and plant away. These mini-railing planters are handy because they fit nicely on the typical railing. They come with their own drip saucer (the lid), can be moved about easily to prevent damage to the railing, and if they fall, they won’t do much harm. You can also drill 3 or 4 holes near the rim and thread durable string or wire through to make a hanging planter. Hang these mini-planters between the slats of your railing to even further increase your growing space.
Gallon milk jugs can make very nice railing planters since you can use the handles to secure the jugs to the inside of your railing. To do this, you will need a dowel or steel rod slim enough to slip through the handles.
You can secure this pole to the inner side of your deck railing using hooks that are large enough to accommodate the diameter of the pole. You’ll need to affix these hooks every two or three feet to support the weight of your milk jug planters.
To make each individual planter, cut out the upper area of the jug where the spout is located. Remove this area in such a way as to leave the handle intact while opening the greatest surface area in the top of the jug. There is usually a ridge around the top area that can act as a guide. Remember to drill several drain holes in the bottom of each jug.
Once you have enough milk jugs to fill your space, plant them as you wish and slide them onto your supporting dowel or rod. Put the rod in place using the hooks you have installed. This arrangement can be moved, altered, and rearranged as you wish.
Make small, individual planters using creative cast-offs such as colorful rubber boots. A single screw with a washer driven through the upper back portion of the boot’s shaft will secure it to the side of a wooden railing. A row of brightly colored rubber boots planted with bright flowers, herbs, and veggies is a charming sight. Remember to drill a few holes in the soles for good drainage!
Stray kitchenware such as cups, mugs, and bowls can make suitable mini-planters for small succulents and bromeliads, which can live outdoors in warm weather. Because these containers don’t have drainage holes, it is not a good idea to use them for plants that need a lot of water. Instead, layer pea gravel, activated carbon, and a sandy planting mixture to accommodate small succulents. Water sparingly to prevent root rot.
If you have a shady, sheltered outdoor area, you can use these containers for growing bromeliad plants; simply fill the container with decorative moss and place the air plant artfully. Mist it daily. Remove the bromeliad and soak it in filtered water about once a month to give it a good drink. In wintertime, bring it indoors.
Special Care Tips for Your Railing Planter Garden
Evaluate your environment. Determine how much sun, wind, and rain your balcony, porch, patio, or deck receives and plan accordingly.
Evaluate The Lighting
If the area gets a punishing amount of hot sun, you will need to provide some shade, even for sun-loving plants like tomatoes. Harsh, scorching sun is unpleasant and dangerous for your plants and for you. Umbrellas and shade sails can help control the amount of sun your outdoor living area receives.
A trellis covered with rugged, sun-loving climbing plants can provide natural shade. Examples include ivy, grapes, honeysuckles, and climbing roses. These can all do well with hot sun once established, but you will need to provide them with a bit of protection while they get established.
If you have a hot, sunny environment, be sure to choose your plants and planters accordingly. Choose heat and sun-loving plants and keep an eye on them for signs of overheating and scorching.
Understand that you will need to take extra care to be certain your plants get enough water. This is where adding a spaghetti tube drip irrigation system is a smart move. Add a thick layer of mulch to the surface of your pots to help conserve moisture. Avoid use of metal containers or dark-colored containers in an extremely sunny setting as these can heat up dangerously.
On the flip side, if your outdoor living area is shady, you will need to choose shade tolerant plants or plants which thrive in the shade. In this sort of setting, you can make good use of attractive metal railing planters and/or coco coir-lined baskets.
If you are bound and determined to grow food crops such as tomatoes in a shady setting, try planting trailing vines (e.g. cherry tomatoes) in hanging or upside-down planters you can moved to catch more sun elsewhere.
Tips On Watering Plants In Railing Planters
You should water sparingly to prevent root damage caused by water logging and to prevent mess and trouble. If you live on an upper floor of an apartment building, your neighbors below will not be happy if you over water and they end up with dirty plant water pouring onto their balcony.
To prevent this problem, there are a few things you can do.
- Be sure to water your plants regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. Very dry soil does not absorb moisture well and water will just run right through.
- Wherever possible, position your garden in such a way that plants needing less water are below those needing more generous watering. When you do this, the runoff from the upper plants can be caught by the plants in the lower level.
- Position drip trays below your plants to catch runoff water.
- Keep a thick layer of mulch on the surface of all your plantings so that water will not evaporate too quickly.
5.. Check the soil regularly by poking it with your finger. If the top inch feels dry, you should water moderately.
- Take special care to keep your plants well-watered when it is windy or very sunny out. You may wish to move them off the railing during this kind of weather to give them some protection from the elements.
- Self-watering railing box planters that have a water reservoir can take care of the watering for you, but be careful to keep the reservoir full! Check it frequently during hot, windy weather.
Personally, instead of planting directly in the railing planter I like to use them as “plant holders.” By doing this you can use the 5 gallon bucket method of watering!
Get yourself a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with about 3 gallons of water. I like to add about a tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer as well. Then take each plant and submerge the entire rootball in the bucket and allow all the air pockets to become filled with water.
Allow the water to drain off and replace the plant back into the plant holder.
Planting Your “Horizontal Rail” Garden
Your railing garden is a captive audience. If your plants cannot get what they need from the soil in their pots, they don’t have the option of spreading their roots in search of better nutrition. Be sure to begin your garden using a high-quality container mix like this. Augment this with aged compost and water-saving crystals.
Be sure to provide a layer of drainage material such as coarse gravel or Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of your planters. This will help prevent root rot. Styrofoam is really the better choice in this instance because it is lightweight. Repurposing it in your planters will help keep it out of our landfills and waterways if you dispose of it properly when the time comes.
Once you have planted your garden, give it a good watering, and then top it off with a thick layer of mulch to help hold the moisture in.
Fertilizing Your Plants
Container plants tend to use up their resources quickly. Choose a good, all-purpose container plant slow-release fertilizer to ensure your plants are getting the nourishment they need to survive and thrive. Follow packaging instructions carefully. Or as suggested above apply liquid water-soluble fertilizer and fertilize when you water your plants.
What Are Some of The Best Choices in Plants for Railing Gardening?
Because of limited space, you don’t want plants that tend to run rampant. Major ramblers such as melon and squash are not good candidates for a railing garden or any container garden.
Some of the best plants you can choose are:
Cruciferous veggies: Broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower can do well. Naturally, you may only be able to grow one specimen per pot, but these can add interest to your garden and flavor to your table.
Alliums: Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks grow well in pots. They have pretty flowers and add flavor and nutrition to your daily diet.
Trailing plants: Peas and beans can be grown in a railing garden as trailing or climbing vines. Some produce very pretty flowers followed by tasty edibles.
Chili pepper plants tend to stay smallish, so they can do well in a railing garden. Chilis are flavorful and extremely good for you in terms of improving circulation and keeping inflammation (e.g. arthritis pain) at bay.
Strawberries do well as railing plants.
Leaf lettuces of all types are excellent choices in railing planters. Butter lettuce, romaine, red leaf, and others are colorful and flavorful. Rather than waiting for whole heads to develop before harvesting, plant densely and harvest on a regular basis by trimming leaves. This will allow you to reap a tremendous yield of fresh lettuce throughout the growing season from just a few plants.
Most herbs do well in small pots or planters on railings or windowsills. Harvest them on an ongoing basis to keep growth under control and enjoy fresh herbs daily. [source]
Small flowers such as marigolds, pansies, petunias, dwarf zinnia, geraniums, and the like all flourish in railing planters. Don’t forget the million bells plant for lots of flowers.
Shady, sheltered porch, balcony, and deck settings make an ideal warm weather home for ornamental succulents (aloes, jade plant, hen & chicks, ice plant, etc.) and even bromeliads (air plants). In wintertime, move these indoors to brighten your bathroom setting!
Expand Your Growing Area and Improve Your Home and Your Life!
If nothing else, having an attractive porch, deck, or balcony railing planter display can really increase the curb appeal of your home by transforming it into a welcoming and attractive destination.
Food gardening with containers is a satisfying pursuit, and you are sure to be surprised by how much food you can produce in a limited space. When you make the most of what you have by using your railing space to grow food, you can save a great deal of money and improve the quality of your diet.
A railing planter garden can give you one-third more planting space. Consider that if you have planters on the surface of your deck, patio, balcony, or porch, and hanging plants above, you still have lots of empty space on the railing. Adding planters to this area expands your gardening possibilities and adds to your privacy in your outdoor setting. [source]
Another good reason to plant on your railing is accessibility. The top of a porch railing is just the right height for easy access without reaching, stooping, or bending. Adding planters to the railing makes gardening accessible to seniors and others who may have mobility issues. Railing gardening is a great way to add interest and activity to every day and expand and improve quality of life.
The focus of this article has been on railing planters themselves and some of the different planters types and materials available.
From years as a commercial plant grower I understand how topics can cause all types of different discussions.
For example, attaching a deck railing planter in a backyard is much different and requires much less “attention to detail” than attaching a balcony planter to a steel rail 20 stories in the air at a condo.
As you move up in the air, care takes on a different aspects as well. Dealing with more wind, more heat from concrete and what happens with excess water, all become something to consider.
Plants and garden planters can add some much to a landscape and patioscape. This includes attaching planters to the railing of a rooftop balcony or a deck at ground level.