Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hanging Around

Pink Mandevilla
A hanging basket is the answer to filling bare spots, for porch decorations, no yards, and purely decorative fun.

Most often seen with flowers or foliage, increasingly vegetables, especially tomatoes, are used.

A full lush hanging basket can be a thing of beauty.  It takes some specific tricks to accomplish.

First:  Aside from the beauty you wish to compose, retaining moisture and nutrients will be the focus.

Use the biggest basket you can lift and fit into your space.  Large ones hold more soil, more nutrients and more moisture.

Wave Petunias

If you fill your own baskets, line the inside and bottom with plastic or several layers of newspaper.  Punch a few holes around the lower sides of the plastic for drainage; no holes are needed for newspaper.  This helps keep moisture from evaporating as fast.  This is especially important if you live where there are hot winds blowing most of the summer.

I throw a hand full of mulch in the bottom of each basket.  It seems to hold the moisture.  Mix a moisture retaining substance into the potting medium such as 20 – 40% vermiculite or perlite.  For those who have access or make your own, worm compost is excellent.  Use potting soil (either purchased or make your own) because garden soil is too heavy.

Next think about the plants and what you wish to accomplish:

  1. Color
  2. Flowers, foliage, vegetables or herbs
  3. Trailing or compact
  4. Cost

Most of us have seen or had Boston (shade) ferns or Asparagus (sun) ferns in hanging baskets on our porches.  Both adapt well and provide a punch of green.  Both require continuous moisture and added nutrients during the summer.  Both over winter well.

Petunias are easy, come in many bright colors, and often trail over the sides.  Most require some serious pinching back in late summer or they will become leggy.

Impatiens are as common as petunias except they are especially well adapted for shade.  They need to be pinched back in late summer.

There are a hundred bazillion annuals suited for baskets.  Mostly the ones less than 8 inches in height are best or ones that vine.  Perennials work although you risk loosing them in the winter unless storage conditions are good.

Make sure all the plants in one basket have the same needs:  light, moisture, and nutrients.  After planting, fill to rim with mulch.  Bark, pine needles, shredded paper, cardboard, and dryer lint all work.  Don't skip this step - it will be a huge moisture saver in the hot days of late summer.

Fertilize every week with a weak solution.  I water my pot once and then come back with a fertilized water solution.  This allows the fertilized water to move evenly over the root system instead of running out the bottom first.  Exception nasturtiums; they stop flowering and only produce leaves when fertilized.

Red Mandevilla

Decide if you want a packed-full basket in the beginning.  These look lovely until later in the summer when they must either be pinched back or replanted. 

Most hanging plants need water every day and when it's hot and/or windy twice a day.  Can you fit that into your schedule?  I water each plant slowly until water comes out the bottom.  Then, I move on to the rest and come back and repeat it over again - each time.  Never - ever - ever - let a hanging basket dry out completely.  The plants will never recover. 

If you are going to be gone a few days, sit them in a bucket of shallow water in the shade.  Do this for more than a week and it will rot the root.  That's when you either hire someone to water or kiss the plants good-bye when you leave.

Once you've purchased good hanging baskets, chains and hooks - keep them clean and use year after year.  Even hanging planters made from unusual containers need care and good chains and hooks.  I also reuse my coconut liners for several years.  Caution:  mice love to make nests in them in the winter. 

Have fun with your hanging planters - they really are an extended garden joy. 


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