Sunday, May 1, 2011

Planting Hanging Baskets

There’s nothing quite like European style hanging baskets overflowing with colorful summer annuals. Their sheer exuberance always makes me smile. Here I’ll share my tips and tricks for creating your own hanging baskets that will look good from May to October and have you smiling too.
 
Two hanging baskets and a window box set this shady spot ablaze with color.
My design


I prefer baskets where I can plant the sides as well as the top to achieve a really full look. That means using a wire frame with sufficiently large gaps between the struts that I can stuff plants in-between. If the spacing is very wide I might need to add a layer of chicken wire first to stop moss falling through.

Next comes the lining. There are several options here. The traditional method is to use sheet moss soaked in water, then starting at the base push this against the sides of the basket extending to just above the rim. You are aiming for an even cover about 1” thick. This can be time consuming and messy as you have to patch up holes like a jigsaw puzzle as you go but it definitely gives the softer and more natural look which I like.
One example of a myriad
of possibilities. This copper
frame is lined with coir.

Pre-shaped liners are an alternative and these can be moss which is attached to a mesh making it easy to work with, or either coir or coco fiber which look like dead moss (i.e. brown)! It’s not my favorite option and is tough on the hands but I know that some folks like it, is more readily available and it lasts for several years.

Now get plenty of planting mix ready. I combine 80% soil-less potting medium with 20% organic matter; either fine compost or a product such as Gardner & Bloome ‘Blue ribbon potting soil’. For every cubic foot of planting mix I add about 1 tablespoon of a granular slow release balanced fertilizer such as Osmocote. I don’t usually include moisture retention polymers as most of my clients have drip irrigation systems for their baskets so adequate watering is not a problem. However where hand watering is the only option it might be a good idea to add these. Experience leads me to suggest that you use just half the recommended amount, however, as I find they actually hold too much moisture and the soil can become overly saturated. In this situation plants such as coleus can rot.

'Midnight blue' Torenia and 'Bonfire' begonia make great
partners in the shade.
My design

Place the basket on top of an empty plant pot to raise it up to a good working height and keep it stable. If you have a ‘lazy Susan’ it helps to set this pot/basket combination on top to make turning easier.








Decide how many tiers of plants you are going to add to the sides; two are usually about right. Add enough soil to come just underneath where you want the lowest tier of plants to be. Gently make an opening in the lining either by pushing the moss to one side or cutting a hole in the liner. Using 2” sized plants (often called basket stuffers), remove them from their pots and wrap the roots in a little cling film to make sliding them easier. Gently push the plant roots through the hole, rest them on the soil surface and remove the cling film. Repeat as desired adding more soil to reach the next level, staggering the 2” plants on each tier to vary color and texture and allow for even coverage.
Even I had a hard time to squeeze any more
plants in! 
My design

Now you are ready for the top. Start with an upright plant in the center then add other trailing and mounding 4” plants around the edges. If there is room squeeze a few extra 2” plants into this layer too. You’ll probably have to squish things in a bit, moving root balls around to find space for everybody. Aim to have a good thick layer of moss at the rim and finish the soil ½” below this.

Water the basket gently with a fine shower setting on the hose, being sure to completely saturate the sides as well as the top until water drips freely. Remember some of these roots systems are tiny and a long way down!





For clients I try to grow these on in my unheated greenhouse for a week or two before delivering and hanging them, but if the night temperatures are above 50’ then they can be hung outside straight away.

The baskets will need watering every day unless it has rained heavily, and even twice a day in high summer. Adding a drip irrigation system is the easiest way to accomplish this but otherwise use a hose to saturate sides and top thoroughly. You will be well rewarded with visits from hummingbirds and compliments from neighbors!

How many plants do I need?
For a 16” diameter, 9” deep basket;
18 x 2” plants (3 each of 6 different varieties*),
6 x 4” plants for top layer,
1 x 4” upright plant for the center.
*You will use 6 x 2” plants on each of two side tiers and the final six on the top tier.

Favorite trailers and edgers plants for sun;
Lotus vine, silver falls (Dichondra), purple bell vine (Rhodochiton), million bells (Calibrachoa), verbena, Fleabane ‘Profusion’(Erigeron) , trailing geraniums, fan flower (Scaevola), sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) - if not too hot, lantana, bacopa, Alyssum
Newly planted - the moss will be completely hidden in a
few weeks.
My design


Favorite trailers and edgers for part shade;
Black mondo grass, impatiens, cuphea, purple bell vine (Rhodochiton), Swedish ivy ‘Troy’s gold’ (Plectranthus ciliatus), purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) verbena, begonias, fuchsias, fan flower (Scaevola), wishbone flower (Torenia), sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), asparagus fern, periwinkle (Vinca), ivy

Favorite upright plants for sun;
Dwarf varieties of New Zealand flax (Phormium) such as Jack Spratt, upright geraniums

Favorite upright plants for shade;
Coleus, ferns, taller Heuchera, Croton, orange hair sedge (Carex testacea), upright heliotrope

I avoid plants which need endless deadheading such as marguerite daisies (Argyranthemum) or African daisies (Osteospermum) and use million bells over trailing petunias as they perform better in our unpredictable summers. I also prefer zonal or fancy leafed geraniums rather than Martha geraniums as the latter do not give enough color.

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