Get the best from hanging baskets
Hanging baskets have proved to be one of those gardening novelties that have stood the test of time and millions of them brighten up our gardens every year.
It’s no wonder, as there’s no quicker or more impactful way of adorning walls and other places where colour and interest from plants is otherwise hard to achieve.
Types of basket
You’ll find a huge range of different baskets in garden centres and online. No longer as popular as they were, are the traditional baskets with open sides through which you can plant to achieve a display that really drips with colour. These need lining in order to retain the compost and roots. Traditionally these were made of plastic-coated wire. They are still readily available and inexpensive but a modern heavy-duty plastic one might be better. These still have the open sides but usually have an in-built saucer base, will stand up on their own for planting and are often deeper than their wire counterparts.
Then there are those that only allow for top planting and are basically hanging pots. The cheap plastic ones are best planted with trailing plants such as Surfinia petunias, fuchsias or ivy-leaved pelargoniums that will hide the sides. Sticking to one or two varieties will ensure more impact.
In more recent years, baskets made of natural materials, such as willow, have flooded the market. They are attractive in their own right and it doesn’t matter if the sides aren’t completely hidden by the plants. There are even cone or inverted pyramid-shaped versions that are particularly good as they provide more root space. They look the part but you should expect to replace them after three years or so.
The third type are ‘hybrid’ baskets with in-built planting pockets that allow for side planting. They don’t require a liner, often have a reservoir or saucer base to aid watering, and can be planted up with more ease and speed than open-sided baskets but they’re not so flexible when it comes to planting.
When it comes to hanging baskets, size really does matter. The smaller sizes (20cm and 25cm diameter) have insufficient capacity for a lengthy display, whereas the largest sizes (40cm upwards) are too bulky and heavy, as well as expensive to fill.
The optimum is a 35cm diameter basket.
Sphagnum moss is the traditional basket lining, but its use is now considered ecologically unsound. There are lots of alternatives, ranging from pre-formed liners, from wood and paper pulp, to flat discs or rolls formed of natural and synthetic materials, including cocoa fibre, sisal and foam.
Thirty years ago the range of plants available was relatively narrow, but plant breeders have worked tirelessly to quench our thirst for a wider range of reliable, uniform, long-flowering plants to fill our hanging baskets. There is now such an array that there’s room here only to mention a few stalwarts.
As far as colour range and – in many varieties –perfume go, nemesias are hard to beat. They are ideal for the centre of the basket as a change from the usual pelargoniums, fuchsias or begonias. That said, pelargoniums are supremely drought-tolerant, and the fancy-leaved and scented varieties offer extra value.
Begonias add sumptuousness but need shelter and are best out of hot sun. Also good for shade are fuchsias. Petunias are great in full sun and lobelias are a staple plant for baskets, filling them out cheaply.
To ensure your plants grow well you need to buy them at the right stage. They should be well rooted but not pot-bound. Choose bushy, branching plants as opposed to those that are single stemmed. Avoid leggy, drawn plants and, although they will go on flowering all summer anyway, choose those that are just coming into bud rather than are in full bloom.
Keeping your basket in shape
Critical to the success of hanging baskets is their aftercare. Like any plant in a container, those in hanging baskets are reliant on you for their food and water. In fact, as they are more exposed to the elements, they will dry out and run out of nutrients far more readily than other types of container. As a rule they’ll need watering every day (more often on hot or windy days). Adding slow-release feed to the compost at planting time will keep them going most of the summer, but when they start to flag, do a weekly or twice weekly feed using a Best Buy liquid or soluble fertiliser.
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