Hanging baskets liven up landscapes
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Hanging Basket Tips
• Before buying or planting a basket, observe how much direct or indirect sunlight the area where you want to hang it receives. Even though the basket may hang on your home's south side, the eaves or porch may block out most sunlight. Deeply shaded locations, such as a covered porch, may require foliage or tropical houseplants instead of varieties that bloom.
• Plants in hanging baskets and most other containers usually require more water and fertilizer than those planted in the ground. It's not unusual for a hanging basket to need water every day, especially if it's in full sunlight or wind. Feel the soil, and if it's dry to about 1-inch deep, soak until water runs freely from the bottom of the basket.
• Mix a slow-release, granular fertilizer into the potting medium to provide season-long feeding.
• Don't be afraid to cut back plants if the basket starts to look bad. This should revive them and improve their growth.
• Placing plants close together in baskets creates an instant full look. However, be careful not to crowd them, making sure the soil and plants are 1 inch below the rim of the basket.
Regardless of whether you buy your hanging garden or plant it yourself, choose varieties that have the same light, water and fertilizer requirements. For instance, Torenia and Trailing phlox grow well together because both prefer sun and shade and do best in evenly moist soil.
Grouping baskets in sets of three makes a bold color statement, says Jeanine Standard of central Illinois-based Proven Winners-brand plants. She recommends three design features: something taller in the center surrounded by mounded, medium-sized plants and an outer row with plants that trail or cascade to soften the edge of the basket and create a full, lush look.
Most plastic hanging baskets measure 10 to 12 inches across and usually are not much deeper than 6 to 8 inches. Baskets tend to be narrower at the base than the top, which reduces even further the amount of soil the plants have to grow in. Larger baskets tend to be made of papier-mache or may have a fiber-lined wire grid.
As you can imagine, once filled with soil and watered, baskets can become quite heavy, says Rosie Lerner, consumer horticulturist educator with Purdue University's Extension office in West Lafayette, Ind. She recommends using potting mixes — usually a soilless combination of peat moss, shredded bark, vermiculite and perlite — because they're lightweight and drain extremely well.
The containers, too, must have good drainage. In fact, Lerner says Purdue horticulturists make a few slashes in their hanging baskets' cocoa fiber lining to aid drainage.
Select low-maintenance plants that are tough enough to survive and forgive if you forget to water. Here are a few drought-tolerant varieties that work well in hanging baskets:
• Dragon wing begonia (Begonia) — full sun or shade
• Fan flower (Scaevola) — full sun to partial shade
• Petunia, Supertunia (Petunia) — full sun to light shade
• Silver falls (Dichondra) — full sun to shade
• Coleus (Solenostemmon) — full sun to shade
• Ivy-leaf geranium (Pelargonium peltatum) — full to part sun
Select plants that have a long season of flowers or foliage color. Many baskets sold in late spring and early summer are filled with plants that like cooler temperatures. These plants may burn up in the summer heat and sun. "Consider changing the plants in hanging baskets to reflect the season," says Annmarie Creamer, display garden manager at the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, about 35 miles east of Columbus. She suggests planting lettuces, parsley and other cool-season vegetables in spring.
Herbs also do well in hanging baskets — especially those that trail, such as oregano and thyme — as accent plants and to eat. As the seasons change, add fruiting or flowered branches from trees and shrubs, evergreens and hollies.
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, freelance writer, author, speaker and photographer, is an Advanced Master Gardener and a regional director of Garden Writers Association. A self-proclaimed trial-and-error gardener, she also enjoys spending time with her dog, Penn, and cat, Cowgirl.