Hanging baskets add a whole new dimension to gardening, helping to utilise all the available space. With hanging baskets you can not only brighten up a sunny wall, but with the right choice of plants, use them to brighten up shady areas, for porches, conservatories and even provide fresh herbs through the winter with an indoor basket next to a sunny window.
There are several different types of basket available, from the old favourite wire mesh type, which is almost indestructible, to solid plastic types which are almost like a large pot. Wire types can be planted through the sides and bottom to give a floral ball effect, whereas solid plastic ones hold water for much longer and you don't need to line them.
When planting your basket, first make sure the young plants or seedlings are at the correct stage. They should be sturdy well rooted and at the stage for transplanting.
If using a mesh basket, you will need some form of liner to prevent the soil falling out. This could be plastic film, an artificial liner or moss. Moss ensures excellent drainage and high humidity both of which help the plants to grow well, but you will need to water more often than with the other liners which are easier to use, although you will usually have to punch holes in them to insert the plants.
The plastic pot type baskets can only be planted at the top and it's a simple procedure to fill with compost and put in the plants, remembering to leave space at the top for watering.
With wire baskets, when using moss, line the bottom of the basket with a layer of moss about 1in thick and build the moss up to about halfway up the sides. Then fill the centre with a moist, good, free draining soilless compost, preferably one specially prepared for hanging baskets. Alternatively you can make up your own by adding 20% Perlite to a standard soilless potting compost, plus a wetting agent, water retention agent and a slow release fertiliser. These will ensure that the water is distributed evenly, that it is held for as long as possible and that the plants are fed through the season.
Insert the first layer of plants by carefully pushing the leaves through the mesh, pack plenty of moss around the plants and fill up the centre with compost, gently firming round the roots as you go. Make sure you leave a space large enough to take the roots of the plant which is to go in the centre and build up the outer layer of moss as you go.
Before planting the top, first arrange the plants to their best effect and then plant firmly, making a slight dip in the centre to prevent run-off when watering. If possible, finish off the top with a layer of moss to improve the look of the basket and conserve water.
Provided you are using a good compost and you are prepared to feed and water regularly, you will find the best effect comes from putting plenty of plants in the basket. With bedding plants it is a good rule of thumb to put in at least one plant per inch of basket diameter, that is 12 plants for a 12 inch basket. However if you are using only strongly growing plants such as Fuchsias or Geraniums, then it's better to restrict it to 5 per 12 inch basket.
Once planted, give the basket a good watering with a watering can with a rose on to settle the soil around the roots and stand it in a greenhouse for 2-3 weeks. If no greenhouse is available, then place in a cold frame, or failing this, outside in a shady, sheltered spot and bring it indoors each evening. During this period, turn the baskets each day to ensure even growth, dead head the flowers as they fade and pinch out the growing points of any long, straggly plants to ensure bushy plants.
When the plants are well established the weather is mild and warm, with all risk of frost having passed, the baskets can be hung in their final position. Use a suitably strong bracket, a 9in bracket is suitable for a 12in basket, and secure firmly. A sunny wall which doesn't get too hot, facing S.E. or S.W. is best but avoid a windy spot. Unless you have used shade loving plants, the basket should be in the sun for most of the day. Keep the compost moist but not water logged by frequent watering, usually once a day in hot weather. Water in the evening for preference. You can tell whether a basket needs watering by testing with your fingers whether the top half an inch of soil is dry. If the surface only is dry then leave for another day. When you water, water well, roughly giving about half a gallon to each basket. It is essential the compost is neither too wet nor too dry as some plants, like lobelia for example, never recover from drying out.
From mid June onwards it's usually necessary to feed with a good liquid fertiliser once a week, or you can give a weekly feed of a high potash fertiliser to encourage flower production. Replace once a month with a high Nitrogen feed to prevent the foliage going yellow. Finally dead head the plants regularly, particularly Mimulus Geraniums, Nasturtiums, and similar, to ensure a succession of flowers.
These need a little more attention but can be both attractive and productive. They must never be allowed to dry out and for this reason wire baskets are best lined with polythene. Suitable subjects are Bush Cucumbers, Chilli Peppers, Lettuce Salad Bowl, Parsley and Tomatoes and Herbs like Basil, Sage, Chamomile, Chives, Marjoram, Sorrel and Thyme.
Vegetables need more space than bedding plants and a tomato such as Tumbler or a Pepper such as Redskin should be planted 3 per 14 inch basket, whereas with cucumbers, like Bush Champion, one plant per basket is sufficient. Feed weekly with a high Nitrogen feed, grow most of them in a sheltered spot, but provide a little shade for herbs and shade from strong sun for cucumbers.
Why not utilise your baskets to the full by planting up with winter flowering Pansies such as Floral Dance or Universal Mixed. Place in a sheltered spot, keep well watered and if the compost freezes solid stand indoors every 2-3 days to allow it to thaw out.