There are several different types of basket. The choice depends on its usefulness or suitability for a particular situation.
These are obtainable in large sizes, and are reusable from year to year. The wire is galvanised or plastic coated. Trailing plants can be planted around or through the sides and will eventually cover and hide the base. The disadvantages are that large baskets are heavy and require strong supports. They dry out quickly, and must be lined to hold the compost in place. They need to be supported while planting.
Solid plastic baskets with flat bases
Also reusable from year to year, these are generally fairly lightweight as they tend to be smaller. A water reservoir is often incorporated into the base, and they do not need support while being planted up. Disadvantages are that they are generally available in small sizes only, and trailing plants cannot be inserted around the sides. They are not ideal for permanent planting as they may become waterlogged in winter.
These are composed of durable wood, arranged as slats to form a square. They have a natural look and can be made to any size. They are also reusable, and hanging plants can be used around the sides. Drawbacks are that wood may need treating against rotting from time to time, depending on the type of wood used, and they will require a lining of some kind. Larger baskets may be quite heavy.
Preparing baskets for planting
Traditionally sphagnum moss has been used for lining wire and wooden baskets, but increasing use of sphagnum moss may put at risk some of the rarer species of Sphagnum and the use of alternatives is preferable. Black plastic sheeting can be used, although it will take a while after planting for plants to grow and cover the rather ugly plastic. Trailing plants can be inserted through holes cut into the plastic. Foam, coir fibre, wool, impregnated fibre or compressed peat liners are available in various sizes. Some types have side slits, allowing the liner to be shaped in the basket, and trailing plants can be inserted through the slits in the sides.
Plastic baskets need no lining, but must be washed out thoroughly to unblock drainage holes before they are used again.
Either a loam-based compost such as John Innes potting compost No.2, coir compost or a coir-based potting compost can be used. Coir-based composts tend to dry out more quickly, but they are lighter, and cause less strain on supports.
Moisture-retentive polymers such as Agrasoak, Broadleaf P4 and Terrasorb are useful compost additives for hanging baskets. They increase the water-holding capacity of the compost, extending the period between waterings and reducing the leaching out of fertilisers.
To maintain stability while planting baskets with concave bases place the basket on a large empty plant pot or place old house bricks around the base. Wire and wooden baskets are planted up in layers, so that plants can be inserted around the sides. Start by placing compost in the bottom third of the basket. Introduce hanging plants singly, through holes in the mesh or slats, so that the roots lie horizontally on the surface of the compost, and the top of the plant hangs outwards. Space plants evenly around the basket at a minimum distance of about 7.5cm (3in) apart. Add more compost, to about two thirds of the height of the basket, then plant another layer of trailing plants directly above the spaces left between the lower layer of plants. Fill the basket up with compost, leaving a rim of about 2.5cm (1in) from the top, so that water does not run directly off the surface when watering.
The centre of the basket is usually planted with upright plants, with slightly trailing or cascading types around the edge. Leave space between the plants to allow for growth, and plant about every 7.5cm (3in). Plastic baskets, in which there is no provision for side planting, should be filled with compost to within about 2.5cm (1in) of the rim, then planted in the same way.
Pot-grown plants should be well watered and have the roots teased out a little, to encourage them to grow outwards into the surrounding compost. Firm the plants well in, then thoroughly water the basket and allow to drain before hanging on a suitable support. It is advisable to give a second watering after an hour or two when using polymers as they will absorb more water.
Plant baskets in spring as soon as annuals have outgrown small pots, or as soon as ready-grown plants are available in garden centres, but keep baskets in frost-free conditions until the danger of frost is past, usually by about mid to late May.
Check the compost daily, twice a day in warm weather. During sunny and windy periods, the compost may dry out rapidly. Water freely and thoroughly at all times during the growing season. Pump-action watering equipment, such as the Plantpak Pump-can, or devices for lowering baskets eases the problem of high-level watering.
Regular feeding is vitally important for two reasons. Firstly baskets are planted with quick-growing plants, demanding relatively high levels of nutrients. Secondly, frequent watering washes out nutrients from the compost and unless a slow-release fertiliser is used it is advisable to feed at weekly intervals with a general purpose liquid fertiliser from 4–5 weeks after planting until about mid-September.
Most flowering plants thrive best in sunny situations, but some will grow and flower to a lesser degree in semi-shade. A few will survive and flower in full shade, but less satisfactorily. Begonia semperflorens, Impatiens, Solenostemon (Coleus), Matthiola and Nicotiana are amongst the most tolerant of sunless or shady conditions.
At the onset of the first frosts tender annuals (and vegetables) will be killed. A few perennial plants, such as pelargonium and fuchsia, can be potted up and brought indoors, where they will continue flowering for a short period. They can be over-wintered with care but better results will be obtained from young plants obtained by taking and rooting cutting in late summer.
Although hanging baskets can be planted up with dwarf shrubs for permanent planting, or winter-flowering perennials and bulbs, baskets are most often used for summer-flowering half-hardy annuals and tender perennials.
Plant combinations given below are for planting in various layers of the basket.
Zone 1 The centre of the top layer
Zone 2 Around the edges of the top layer
Zone 3 Around the sides of the wire and wooden baskets, or incorporated in Zone 2 for plastic baskets.
AGM Denotes plants which have received the Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Some suggested plants
Begonia tuberhybrida ‘Non Stop’
Clarkia amoena (godetia)
Dahlia (dwarf bedding types)
Fuchsia (upright habit)
Iberis umbellata (candytuft)
Nicotiana alata (use dwarf cultivars)
Impatiens (busy lizzie)
Limnanthes douglasii AGM
Malcolmia maritima (virginian stock)
Matthiola bicornis (night scented stock)
Tagetes patula (French marigold)
Tagetes signata (T. tenuifolia) (striped Mexican marigold)
Fuchsia (trailing types)
Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’ (variegated ground ivy)
Hedera helix (small-leaved cultivars)
Helichrysum petiolare AGM
Lobelia erinus ‘Pendula’
Pelargonium (ivy-leaved types)
Thunbergia alata (black-eyed Susan)
Suggested planting schemes for
Zone 1 Pelargonium ‘Paul Crampel’ (or any
Fuchsia ‘Eva Boerg’ (or any upright type)
Zone 2 Pelargonium ‘La France’ AGM (or any
Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’
Zone 3 Lobelia erinus ‘Cascade’ (or any
Zone 1 Fuchsia ‘Snowcap’ AGM (upright type)
Zone 2 Impatiens, Hedera helix 'Cavendishii' AGM
Zone 3 Lobelia erinus ‘Cascade’
Zone 1 Senecio cineraria 'White Diamond' AGM
Zone 2 Impatiens (white flowers)
Helichrysum petiolare AGM (golden leaved
Zone 3 Lobelia erinus ‘Cambridge Blue’
Zone 1 Viola (blue pansy)
Zone 2 Impatiens (white flowers), Bellis perennis
Zone 3 Lobelia erinus ‘Sapphire’
Zone 1 Begonia tuberhybrida ‘Non Stop’
Zone 2 Ageratum ‘Blue Mink’, Alyssum ‘Carpet
of Snow’, Hedera helix
Zone 3 Thunbergia alata
Zone 1 Petunia hybrida ‘Grandiflora’
Zone 2 Mesembryanthemum, Hedera helix ‘Tricolor'
Zone 3 Lobelia erinus ‘Cascade’
Hanging baskets can also be planted with cropping plants, such as herbs, fruit or vegetables. Care must be taken when choosing varieties and numbers of plants.
Herb baskets A selection of the less vigorous herbs can be both ornamental and useful. Chives, summer savory, parsley, winter savory, thyme, sage, feverfew, oregano, pennyroyal, lemon balm, hyssop, salad burnett and rosemary are all suitable. Several of these are small shrubs which may outgrow the basket after one season but cuttings can be taken each year in late summer and the more vigorous ones replaced each spring. Avoid using mint unless a whole basket can be devoted to several different types, as mints are both rampant and invasive. Chives or mint are suitable in sunless situations.
Vegetable baskets A selection of dwarf, trailing vegetables are probably the most useful in the limited root space of a basket. Dwarf French bean, cherry tomato, courgette, ridge cucumber, and dwarf peas, such as mange tout are most likely to be successful.
Fruit baskets Almost any strawberry variety, including alpine cultivars, are likely to crop well in hanging baskets, in the same way as strawberry tubs. Fruits are held away from the soil, so are less likely to be attached by slugs, and can be easily netted to protect from birds. Baskets are best planted up in August/September and kept overwinter in a cool greenhouse or conservatory.
Wisley Laboratory Advisory Service
The Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden,
Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB
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