How To Create Superior Hanging Baskets
Hanging baskets add an extra dimension to gardening, positioned just above eye level; they invite you to lift your gaze skywards. Whether you plant for subtlety or go for a riot of colour, they make for instant appeal.
Hanging baskets are a form of gardening that is available to everyone, even those who have no garden. Fixed to house walls, they are an extension to the home, bringing pleasure every time you walk through the door. They are democratic: delightfully framing the doorway of an elegant town house, they are equally at home at the entrance to a country cottage. They can be fixed near a kitchen window if you want to grow herbs, for instance. They can also be suspended on either side of a patio door and enjoyed from inside when it is too wet or cold to venture outdoors. They are also the ideal way for a city dweller to experience something of the thrill of growing things.
Deciding What You Want
A wealth of plants can be grown in baskets, not just the traditional lobelias, pelargoniums and fuchsias, splendid though these are. While they are generally associated with summer, you can plant baskets for spring, autumn or even winter interest, because many plants flower at these cooler times of year, even if the choice may not be as great.
Hanging baskets are also extremely versatile as the can be enjoyed in many ways. Most people think of them as vehicles for vibrant summer flowers, but they can be used not just for flower plantings, but also for plants with variegated or coloured leaves, herbs, and even fruit and vegetables. In a conservatory (sunroom), use them for trailing rainforest plants, such as cacti, ferns and orchids. They look delightful then hung on the front of your summer house or log cabins adding an amazing look.
Making an impact
As with many other types of container, hanging baskets offer boundless opportunities to experiment. You can try out all kinds of colour combinations and be subtle as you like or as ritzy as you dare. You can use an arbitrary mix of flowers that will certainly be cheerful if not elegant or you can adopt a more sophisticated approach and plan the effect from the outset. Hot vibrant colours, such as red, orange and yellow, will always make an impact, while soft blues, pinks, cream and white are more soothing. Purples are ambivalent, adding drama to an already brilliant planting but sounding deeper notes in a gentler pastel scheme.
Deciding on style
Some of the best hanging baskets are to be found in council schemes and adorning the streets of towns, where they are often paid for by the shopkeeper. The baskets are usually planted for summer interest and often contain bright, eye-catching colours. You can, of course, copy these at home, but there is no reason you cannot add a personal touch. An informal mixture of plants suits a cottage garden, for instance, whereas an elegant, white painted, stuccoed house needs a more tightly controlled look, perhaps involving no more than two colours. If you favour a very minimalist style, try a few hanging rat’s-tail cacti with perhaps a spiky aloe for height. For a funky look, try using one of the more compact grasses, such as festuca glauca.
Watering and Feeding Your Hanging Basket
Whatever compost you choose, you can cut down on watering by adding water-retaining gels. Some need pre-soaking; others can be added directly to the compost. Most new composts contain some plant food, but this is usually exhausted after 6 weeks. You can do a lot of the prep work in your potting shed before hanging in final position.
To keep the plants flowering well, you should give a high-potash plant food. Tomato fertilisers are suitable, but you can also buy special hanging basket formulas. Pelleted fertilisers are easy to handle and feed the plant as they break down in the compost. One application will last for a whole season, but check, as individual products vary. Liquid feeds are sold as powders to be dissolved in water, as liquids to be diluted or as ready-mixed products. They are usually watered into the compost as a root drench at intervals, depending on the product.
Some can be sprayed directly on to the foliage as a foliar feed, and these are especially good for giving your plants an instant boost if they have suffered a setback, such as an unexpected cold spell or pest attack, but a certain amount of the product is inevitably lost.
Hanging baskets have to be planned for in advance. Although it is possible to buy plants in flower for instant impact, this is an expensive option and the flowers are likely to be short lived if they have been forced out of season. As a general rule, you need to plant up your baskets 6-10 weeks before the main season of interest. Spring flowering bulbs, for instance, are sold in autumn and winter and should be planted at that time.
The best advice when buying plants is to go to a reputable garden centre or nursery. Bedding plants are sold in strips, but larger plants such as ivies, pelargoniums and fuchsias are usually potted individually. ‘Plugs’, basically young plantlets with well-developed root systems, are often sold via mail order by seed merchants; Busy Lizzies, Fuchsias, Pelargoniums and Begonias are often marketed this way.
If possible check the plant before purchase to make sure that it is not harbouring any pests or diseases. Bedding plants should have fresh, bright green foliage, with no hint of yellowing, and should be compact, not straggly. Potted plants should have a good root system.
If you can, slide the plant from the pot. The roots should fill the pot nicely without being tightly coiled. Select plants that have plenty of healthy buds that are not yet open. Bulbs are sold when dormant (usually in autumn and winter). Buy them from a reputable garden centre or nursery and look for firm, plump bulbs that show no signs of withering or fungal disease.
Maintaining An Interesting Hanging Basket Throughout The Year
Hanging baskets are traditionally associated with the summer, but they can also be enjoyed at other times of the year. Spring baskets, possibly involving some dwarf bulbs, such as daffodils, irises or crocuses, with a few early bedding plants, are always a delight, but it is also possible to enjoy baskets in autumn with a combination of tender perennials, which seem to go on flowering for ever, with the addition of some late-sown annuals.
Winter baskets offer less scope, but it is still possible to have some choice of colour. Choose robust, winter-flowering heathers and hardy pansies, and even dainty ivies, whether colourful variegated varieties or plain green, can be surprisingly interesting and attractive.
Sun Or Shade
Once you have decided where your baskets are to go, the amount of sun or shade the position offers will influence your choice of plants. Many of the summer flowers are sun worshippers, but remember that in a very sheltered spot against a warm wall, the heat on a hot summers day will be intense. Reserve such a favoured spot for real exotics, such as South African osteospermums. Many plants will thrive in shade. Lobelias are shade tolerant, and begonias and busy lizzies actually prefer it. Fuchsias usually do best if kept out of direct sun.
The size of the basket is an important consideration. Although large baskets are the most spectacular and can house the greatest number of plants, they will take up a lot of space when the plants are mature and will be heavy, particularly when wet. That can be an issue if you need to move the basket for any reason. However, a large basket would be first choice for growing fruit and vegetables, which normally need a good root run to develop properly. Smaller baskets create a daintier effect but perhaps offer less scope for exciting colour combinations.
Once you have decided what you want your hanging baskets to provide, you can begin to explore the many types that are available and decide which best suits your needs and the style of planting you have in mind.
Types of Hanging Baskets
Hanging baskets come in all shapes and sizes, and when you come to shop for one you will be amazed at the range available. The traditional basket is half a sphere and is usually made of plastic coated wire, with three chains to hang from. Wrought iron is also sometimes used, especially for hay baskets, which are meant to be fixed directly against a wall.
More ornate antique baskets (and, increasingly, reproductions of these) can be found, but decorative as these are, they are usually less sturdy, so are less suitable for a very heavy planting.
Decide whether it is the basket itself or the plants that are in it that will be the focus of interest. Some baskets really are baskets and are made of wicker or bamboo or some other twiggy material. Many are beautiful to look at and are perhaps best with a simple planting. It is not always possible, or indeed advisable, to plant through the sides of such containers.
Unless they have been treated with some kind of preservative, they will be vulnerable to changes in the weather and may dry out and split in hot sun. They may need to be replaced after a few seasons, while a metal basket is virtually indestructible and will last for many more years than those made of wicker or bamboo.
The ideal basket is strong but lightweight. It will be heavy enough once it is full of moist soil and all the plants have reached their optimum size so you do not want to start off with a heavy basket that is going to add substantially to the overall weight. Some baskets are sold already lined with plastic, but remember to pierce this before use to allow for drainage.