Even before the snow melts, I’m gazing through those gorgeous catalogs that are piling up in my mailbox, dreaming of how great my baskets will look come summer. No matter how little space you have, there’s always room for at least one basket.
Once you plant a hanging basket, you’ll find this is an addictive pastime and you’ll soon be looking for available spaces to hang just one more basket. There is no better way to cheer up a bare wall or barren space than to plant a hanging basket.
Types of Hanging Baskets
There are basically two types of hanging baskets available, wire and plastic. Wire mesh is the most popular because plants can be inserted into the sides to make the basket lush and full. The drawback of plastic is that they can only be planted from the top. It is difficult to hide a plastic container, whereas a mesh container is filled with live plants that appear to be hanging from the air.
If you decide to plant a hanging basket in a wire basket with a moss lining, be aware that when you water it, water will be dripping down from it. Therefor, be sure you hang it in a spot where draining water won’t be a problem.
Besides wire baskets, you can plant a hanging basket in ordinary items that can be found around the house. Real baskets, galvanized watering cans, egg baskets shaped like hens, and even old hunting boots can be fitted as eye catching hanging baskets as long as drain holes are drilled into the bottom of the containers. Keep an eye out from some of these items as they are often available at yard sales and flea markets for very reasonable prices.
Liners for Hanging Baskets
Mesh baskets must be lined to hold the potting mixture inside it. Fresh moss or sphagnum moss is often used to line containers if you want a natural look. There is also a range of specialty made liners available in coconut fiber, foam, and a cotton-based moss substitute designed to fit into different sized baskets.
Putting Your Basket Together
Since moss is a little more involved than planting a plastic baskets, I’ll give directions for that procedure.
Before you use sphagnum moss, it must be soaked in water so that you can mold it to fit your container. A 12″ basket takes about a 200 cubic inches of moss. You will find cubic inches measured on a bag of sphagnum sold in a garden center. Soak the moss for about 10 minutes in a bucket or large plastic container. Pick up a handful and squeeze out the excess water.
Press and flatten it against the wire framework, starting at the bottom. Aim for about 1″- 1 1/2″ of thickness against the side walls. Build this up to about 3″ deep. Place an old plastic saucer in the center of the basket on top of the moss. This will help to retain water. Cover with a 3″ layer of potting mix.
If you don’t wish to use a saucer, another alternative is to mix your potting soil with polymer crystals. These crystals retain 200 times their weight in water and will help reduce your watering time as well as provide moisture to your container on an ongoing basis. Mix the potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer and water-retention granules in the amount recommended on the package. Fill the planter halfway with the potting mixture and water well.
If you plant a hanging basket in a plastic container and wish to have plants growing from the sides of the container, drill holes in the container before planting and insert plants as you would in the wire basket container.
In order to keep your hanging container balanced when planting, set it on a 5 gallon bucket that has some rocks in the bottom of it to keep it balanced and upright..
Choosing Your Plants
Plan your design ahead of time when you plant a hanging basket. Sometimes it helps to cut photos from gardening catalogs and move them around on paper to get a look you love. Check out the section Tips for Designing a Garden Container for some planting plans and ideas.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to choose a few varigated trailing plants to give your hanging planter a casual, free look of summer. These varigated plants will also add some highlights to your planter. Be sure to have some taller bushy plants to add mass and a focal point to your planting. Choose several plants of varying heights to add interest to your planting.
To judge the size of plants to use in your pot when you plant a hanging basket, measure the depth of your basket. Make sure that the plants are no taller than twice that measurement. As an example, if the depth of the pot is 8″ deep, choose plants that are no taller than 16″. This way, you will insure that the plants will be in proportion to the pot and will create a pleasing design.
Plan on using at least 3 trailing plants when you plant a hanging basket, as trailers are an important part of the hanging basket design.
Add Your Plants
Give your new plants a thorough soaking before you remove them from the pot and replant them. Just remember, everything will go much smoother and your plants will adjust to their new home much faster if everything you are working with is moist.
The first plants you’ll want to put in are your hanging plants. If you have several varieties of cascading plants, plant the shortest trailers in the sides of your basket. Add soil up to the level of any plants you put into the side of the container. If you are using a plastic liner, use scissors to cut a hole in the liner just large enough to push the roots through. It helps to wrap the roots in plastic wrap to protect them before pushing them through the moss and the liner. Just remember to remove the plastic wrap from the root ball when the plant is in place. Make sure all the roots are thoroughly embedded into the potting mixture.
Add the rest of the plants in the top of the planter, teasing apart any root balls that look pot bound and firming the soil around the roots as you plant them. Plant a major plant in the center as a focus piece. This might be a geranium, coleus, begonia or other plant that says, “Hey, look at me! I’m special!”. Add contrasting colors around the edges to set off the main focal point. Plant your longest trailing plants around the circumference of the hanging basket. By planting your longest cascading plants on top, you will insure you don’t end up with a gap between the layers as the plants mature.
Don’t be afraid to place your plants close together when you plant a hanging basket. You can get an average of about 10 small plants in a container for a really lush look. Plant your basket with the root balls touching each other. Remember, you will be watering and fertilizing daily so the plants will be getting all the nutrients they need for the growing season.
Be sure that your top plants are transplanted at the same level as the pots they came from, no higher, no lower. If you wish, add a layer of compost, leaves, stones, etc. so that your plants will not be disturbed when you water them.
You’re done. Hang and water your hanging basket, making sure it is thoroughly moist, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Care and Feeding of Your Hanging Garden Container
Hanging baskets dry out quickly. Be sure and check them every day and sometimes twice a day in the heat of summer. Use a watering wand for hard to reach baskets. Watering leaches nutrients from the soil, so be sure to keep up a regular fertilizing schedule. You can apply a fertilizer on a once or twice a week schedule or you can use a diluted fertilizer every time you water. Whichever way you choose to feed your plants, be sure to follow package directions to prevent leaf and root burn.
For bushier growth, pinch out the smallest set of leaves at the tip of each stems. Wherever you pinch 2 stems will start new growth (instead of only a single stem) so your plants will fill out more quickly. If you are a new gardener, be sure to look at what you are pinching so that you don’t pinch out any new flower buds! Wait two weeks after planting before you pinch, to enable the plant roots to become accustomed to their new home.
As your trailing and cascading plants grow downward, you can use clips or hairpins to attach the plants to the moss. They will then grow more roots and will be stronger and healthier for this little attention to detail.
Dead-head (remove dead flowers) to keep the hanging baskets looking at their best. The ultimate life purpose of a flower is to make seeds for the survival of the species. Once the seed is made, the plants die. To keep your plants blooming and looking their best, it is necessary to remove dead flowers as soon as you see them.
Rotate your baskets on a regular basis to insure they grow evenly. If you don’t do this, you’ll find your plants all leaning towards the sun and you’ll eventually end up with a planter of uneven growth and bare spots.
In the event that your pots dry out and are in big trouble, take them down and submerge them in a bucket or water for about an hour until everything is entirely wet and the plants are starting to revive. Hang them to drain in a shady spot and hopefully they will return back to their beautiful blooms.
When frost comes and the season is over, take your basket to the compost pile or garden and turn it upside down. Peel the layer of moss from the root ball and save the moss and basket for next season. Just be sure to clean any foreign material, soil, or roots from the moss and you can use it next year to build a new basket with fresh soil.
Keep Your Container From Drying Out
An alternative that you could try if you find your containers in the sun drying out too quickly in sunny or windy areas is to line them with a plastic liner. The thicker 4 mil plastic sheeting that you buy at home improvement stores is a good thickness for this liner.
Build your moss layer on the sides up to the rim when you plant a hanging basket. Since moss shrinks as it dries, if you mold the moss over the rim, (think pie crust, all you cooks out there), this helps to hold the moss over the rim as it dries.
Cut a sheet of plastic liner to fit comfortably inside the container and use scissors to make a dozen or so cuts in it for drainage. Push it into the moss layer and trim off any corners, use your regular potting mix, then plant as usual.
Once planted, if you cover the top inch of the basket with packed moss, it will help keep your container moist and cut down on your watering. When you do water, be sure to give a thorough watering until everything is moist. If you skimp on watering, you’ll find yourself watering your pots more often.