Run out of space for plants in your garden and pots? Well, start going upwards! Hanging baskets are a great way to add additional colour to your garden, patio or balcony, and now is the perfect time to get started. With warmer weather just around the corner, your new plants will have time to establish roots and really get growing, ready to make the most splendid of splashes when you start to go out and really start enjoying your own personal green oasis.
Alan Titchmarsh claims that a great hanging basket is a combination of 50% fashion and 50% technique. And with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show coming up in just a few weeks, you may well want to wait to discover this year’s most finger-on-the-pulse, fashion-forward plants.
But for most of us, desperate to get outside after a spring that has sprung in fits and starts, with intermittent snow, a hanging basket is a simple, straightforward reason to be happy – a joyous jolt of colour, right at eye level, where it can be most easily enjoyed.
Step 1: choose your container. There’s a huge variety around, from the classic wire hemisphere to the super-stylish contemporary cone shape. So just pick a style which complements the feel of your garden, and which will be big enough to hold plenty of the plants you love most – and give them room to grow.
Step 2: add a lining. Most baskets will need lining, although you can now buy solid-sided all-in-one baskets. Traditionally sphagnum moss has been used for lining, and this is easy to buy in packs in garden centres. It absorbs water, and is certainly a useful way to keep moisture in your container. Coco fibre liners are also popular, and keep their shape very well in wire baskets. For the eco-conscious, recycled felt liners are also available, and you can buy environmentally friendly wool and jute options, too.
Step 3: add compost. Half-fill the liner with moisture-retaining compost. You might want to add some water-absorbing crystals, too, although do go easy with these, as we’ve heard stories about them being over-zealously applied, only to end up oozing over the edge of the container like the Creature from the Black Lagoon!
It’s a good idea to add some slow-release plant food, too, to make sure your aerial plants have the flower power to do you justice. These solid granules or sticks can be easily mixed in with the compost.
Step 4: add your plants. This is the best bit! Simple summer bedding plants work really well in hanging baskets. Surfinia petunias, calibrachoa, geraniums, trailing fuchsias, verbena, viola and lobelia all look delightfully summery, and flower abundantly. Think also about adding some colour and texture contrasts, with trailing green ivy or perhaps carex, for height.
To ensure a beautiful display when the basket is viewed from below, push the roots of trailing plants through the liner around the outside of the basket and into the compost and firm well. Resting the basket on top of a bucket will make this a good deal easier, rather than having it roll around as you’re trying to plant!
Next, plant up the top of the basket, with a larger central plant and smaller ones all the way around. Remember to plan how they will drape over the edges as they grow; you’re aiming for a display that’s gorgeous from all angles.
Fill in any gaps with compost and firm down well. Make sure you’ve left a few centimetres of depth at the top, as baskets take a lot of watering, and you don’t want them to be overflowing every time you get the watering can out.
Step 5: give your basket a good drink. When you’re happy with your basket, water it well; give it a really good soak. Baskets do tend to dry out very quickly, so they will need daily watering. Finally, hang it where it can be most admired!
As summer progresses, give your baskets a regular liquid feed to top up the slow-release food in the compost. Flowering is hard work, and those little plants need all the food they can get. And don’t forget about the watering; hanging baskets really do appreciate some daily TLC. But they’ll reward your efforts abundantly – and their daily drink gives you a frequent opportunity to admire them all over again!