Flower boxes add beauty when hanging from deck and porch rails, but they are also heavy -- especially when the soil inside has been heavily saturated with rain. To ensure that your flower boxes stay on the rails and don't unexpectedly come tumbling down, causing injuries, use well-designed and sturdy hardware. Many commercial brackets exist for the purpose, but you can also make them yourself using a variety of methods and materials.
Over the Rail, No Nail
For those who don't want to deface their railings with screws or nails, “drape” brackets that drop into place over the rail are a good solution. They use only the weight of the planter, which sits on the lower portion of the shelflike bracket, to hold them in place without fasteners. These conform to the size and shape of the top rail for square-topped or rounded rails -- so measure your railings to ensure you get the correct bracket. If unsure, buy the adjustable kind. If you are handy with metal, bend your own brackets from bar steel in a kind of modified backward “Z” shape, to exactly match the shape and size of your railings -- no hardware needed for attachment.
Over the Rail, Straddle-style
Another no-hardware choice for wide rails is the over-the-rail straddle-rail-style boxes that incorporate a flower box and support system in one. As the name implies, they straddle the rail and depend entirely upon the width and integrity of the rail beneath them to hold them in place. These are best used on strong, wide wooden rails and are probably not the best choice for round or narrow railings. Make your own version by screwing three boards together into a U-shaped trough. Invert and attach a planter on each side, then set the whole thing across the rail, saddle-bag-style. Again, no fasteners are needed on the railings themselves.
Almost any flower box can be attached directly to rails if you don't mind marring them. The blemishes only show if you remove the boxes, however. Mount commercial plastic, metal or wood boxes directly to the top or sides of the rail by screwing through the interior of the boxes directly into the rail for stability. For extra strength, bore holes all the way through the rails and attach the boxes with bolts and nuts, using wide washers against the planter and rails on both sides to avoid tearing out the holes when weight from soil and water is added.
A hybrid solution between attaching flower boxes directly or merely holding them in place without marring the rails is to attach brackets under an unattached flower-box. Buy commercial shelf brackets, or do this yourself simply by screwing wooden triangles directly to the pickets or balusters and attaching a shelf board across them to set the planter on. You can make another variation by bending steel rods into the shape of the numeral 7 -- with small loops on each end. Attach them to the balusters with screws set in the loops and place a shelf over the upper part to support the flower box.
Pros and Cons
Drape-style brackets have the advantage of simplicity, but may not be as strong as some other supports, since they depend entirely on the strength of the bracket material. Straddle-boxes are impressively simple to use but, unless fastened in place with screws or other hardware, could become dislodged if bumped accidentally -- not a good idea if you live in a high-rise apartment. Securely mounted boxes using screws or other hardware have the advantage of durability but are more difficult to relocate and leave blemishes on railings. The same applies to attached brackets on which the flower box merely sits, although in that case the flower box itself leaves no marks and may be removed or rearranged on the shelves.
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