Hanging basket tips from the pros
Maybe you’ve admired jaw-dropping hanging baskets on Pinterest or Instagram or hanging from the light posts along Main Street. But that’s not always the reality in my garden — how about yours? If you’ve been wishing for great baskets instead of growing them, take a look at the hacks from three experts who have been designing and growing hanging baskets for years. Put their tips and techniques to work and you’ll have the plantings you’ve only dreamed of year after year.
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How to put your hanging basket together
Every year the city of Waynesboro, Virginia, has gorgeous hanging baskets like this one in the photo that bring color and beauty to the town. Here’s how Stephen Black, City Horticulturist and the man in charge of them, does it.
Get a big basket and a liner
Bigger is better when it comes to hanging baskets. The heavy gauge steel wire one in the photo above is 18 inches in diameter and 11 inches deep so there’s plenty of room for potting medium and root growth. Stephen gets his from a wholesale supplier but you can find large sturdy baskets from Kinsman Company. Stephen also uses SupaMoss, (find it at your local garden center) to line the baskets – it’s a sheet of recycled cotton lined with perforated plastic. It holds up well and helps retain moisture, but Stephen likes it because it’s easy to plant through the sides.
Plant the sides of your basket
Once the liner is in, it’s time for the plants. Hanging baskets are often seen from below so instead of waiting for the plants to spill over the side, Stephen plants the side of the liner, too. That provides a pretty view quicker than if just the top of the basket is filled. Plants with trailing and mounding habits work best. And since the baskets stay up from May to mid-October, foliage plays an important role, too.
Stephen’s tips for planting a hanging basket
Planting your hanging basket is easy. Here’s what to do:
- Start with a layer of potting mix in the bottom of the hanging basket that’s deep enough to reach the first row of plants you’re adding to the side.
- Use a screwdriver to poke holes in the liner then slip a plant’s rootball in from the outside.
- Cover the root balls with potting mix and add another layer of plants.
- Repeat until the side of the basket is full, then add plants to the top.
If the basket has horizontal and vertical wires, as the one in the illustration below does, you have a built-in planting grid. Otherwise, stagger the plants and allow a few inches between them so there’s room for growth. This basket has three layers and Stephen finds it fits about 30 small plugs. But you could use multipack annuals or fewer large plants. Don’t position vigorous plants, such as sweet potato vine, next to each other or the basket will look lopsided.
Hanging basket watering hack
Stephen keeps the baskets consistently moist with a small reservoir in the center. The illustration above shows you how it goes together. It’s made from a 4-inch-long piece of 4-inch-diameter plastic perforated drainpipe. He covers the bottom of the drainpipe with a piece of the basket liner. Drip irrigation tubing runs down the chain and into the reservoir but there’s no emitter — Stephen found that they water too slowly to keep these big baskets hydrated. The tubing fills the reservoir with water daily and it gradually soaks in, keeping the potting mix evenly moist and the plants growing and blooming happily.
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Best tools & materials for hanging baskets
Wouldn’t you love to see the hanging baskets in the photo above? You can if you visit Victoria, British Columbia. Supervisor, Mike Creighton, along with the Parks and Rec staff create and hang more than 1,300 of these beauties every year. These baskets are packed with plants and hang on busy streets with lots of reflected heat. Here are his essential tools that keep them looking great and a few plants that are great in hanging baskets:
- Mike has tried numerous hanging basket liners over the years, he’s found that New Zealand sphagnum moss looks the best and holds moisture.
- Watering daily is the only way to keep plants looking so good. But that can wash out the nutrients, so each 16-inch-diameter basket has a custom-made 2-inch-wide and 48-inch-long galvanized steel collar tucked in around the rim so potting mix doesn’t wash out.
- Below the basket sits a 13-inch diameter and 3-inch-deep galvanized tray that’s attached snugly to the basket with “S” hooks. It catches and holds the water and fertilizer mixture so it can be absorbed throughout the day when it’s needed most.
Hanging baskets need extra attention
Let’s face a fact about hanging baskets: They’re a hostile place for plants to grow so they need some extra attention. Rebecca Finneran, Michigan State University Extension Senior Horticulture Educator has some tips for keeping them in great shape:
Hanging baskets need lots of watering!
Hanging baskets need watering — probably daily in the hottest part of summer. Just assume that your basket will get hyper dry at some point. When peat-based potting mixes dry out, the surface forms a hard crust and water just runs around the sides and out the bottom, leaving the center bone dry. When this happens take the basket down and place it in a trug or wheelbarrow full of water to rehydrate the potting mix. After an hour, take it out and rehang the basket.
Don’t forget to feed
Make sure to use a potting mix with slow-release fertilizer already mixed in or add your own at planting time. In addition, use a liquid plant food according to label directions at half the recommended rate once a month to keep plants growing and blooming. If you don’t notice new growth, increase the rate to full strength once a month.
Groom your hanging basket
Rebecca says there’s always a point in the life of a hanging basket where you walk by and think, “Wow, that looks really great!” and a week later you think, “Wow, that looks really ugly!” Most hanging basket plants eventually get leggy and need a haircut — you might find it difficult to remove all that growth, but the plant will look better if you do. Cut most plants back by one-third. Vigorous plants, such as sweet potato vine, can be pruned by half and they’ll bounce back within a few weeks.
Hanging basket planting hack
That beautifully blooming basket you buy at the garden center every year was probably planted in late winter and will soon be in need of a boost to stay flowery. Rebecca recommends popping your basket out of its small plastic pot as soon as you get home and replanting it in a different basket that’s 2 to 4 inches larger, such as the one in the illustration above. This provides more room for roots to grow and some protection from drying out.
Choose a basket to fit your style
Are you ready to start planting hanging baskets? Whether you’re looking to save time and work in the garden, want a timeless, elegant look or a special basket that’s as showy as the plants, this group of hanging baskets has you covered.