Gardening Advice Page

Ten Essential Hanging Basket Tips:

hanging basket1 Think Big – More is Better
There is no such thing as a modest hanging basket. While you might opt for a subtle combination of flower and foliage colours, they will still work best packed to the brim to make a big, bold display. The fact that baskets are temporary allows you to experiment with different colour schemes and themes from season to season. And being movable feasts you can also grow plants just where you want them. If your growing area is limited – perhaps just a balcony, small courtyard or patio area – think vertical and make the most of any under-exploited space. On a larger scale, treat hanging baskets as living ornaments, using them to add focal points in the garden, to decorate outdoor living areas, and to add a personal touch at the entrance to your home.

2 Choose a Better Basket
Never use a basket less than 35 cm (14in) diameter – anything smaller simply dries out too quickly – and snap up any you find with flat bottoms as they sit on any surface and make planting very simple. Most hanging baskets fall into 2 types – the traditional wire or plastic type and what are better described as hanging planters. True hanging baskets need a liner to hold the compost and are planted round the sides, base and top for an all-round massed effect.

3. A Good Looking Liner Gives a Quality Finish
Moss is still often held up as king when it comes to lining a basket, but you should only ever use it as a cosmetic finish to hide an inner plastic liner. On its own, moss simply doesn’t keep a basket moist. Rake yours fresh from the lawn rather than buy it. Biodegradable liners made from coir fibre, wool waste and even hemp can be composted at the end of the season. They look natural and make easing young plants through the sides of a basket very simple. Avoid stiff card liners as these are notoriously difficult to use and look awful.

4. Compost is Critical
Either buy a special container/basket compost, which will have water-storing granules and slow-release fertiliser added, or use a quality multi-purpose compost and add the extras yourself. The latter is the most economic, and there’s a certain buzz to be had in making up your own mix. Avoid soil-based composts because of their considerable weight. To add your own water-storing crystals and fertiliser, spread the compost out on a large sheet, scatter the granules evenly, then roll the compost from corner to corner until thoroughly mixed.

5. Size Up Your Plants
The earlier you plant your baskets, the smaller the plants can be. Plug plants bought by mail order can usually go straight in – ease each one into a planting hole made with your finger. If you leave planting until May/June, buy plants from the garden centre in multi-cell trays, strips or 9 cm (3.5in) pots. Buy trailing plants like lobelia in small sizes – they are easier to feed through the sides of the basket and soon fill out.

6. Don’t Jump the Gun
How many times do we sow the seeds of our baskets’ destruction by hanging them out too early? Half-hardy annuals make up the majority of plants used in summer baskets, and they need frost protection. Plants started early under cover can go outside during the day from early May onwards, but bring them in at night. From mid May they can stay out day and night, but if frost threatens, move them near a building and swathe in garden fleece.

7. A Good Support Act
Small details make all the difference when fixing your basket to its support. First, make sure the means of support is adequate in both size and strength. Use the correct size of bracket for the basket and fix it the right way up. The hook should curl under so the weight is taken by the metal crosspiece. Inevitably baskets swing about in wind, so attach wire or a strip of metal to the wall or fence and hook this to the basket to stabilise it. To keep the basket turning evenly, use a swivel. It means the basket won’t grow lopsided.

8. Drink to Success
Regular and thorough watering is vital for success. A watering can is fine for just a few baskets, but for a busy watering round nothing beats a trigger-operated lance fitted to the hose. For deluxe watering, try an automatic dripper system which pipes water directly to each basket. DIY kits for reusing old plastic drinks bottles are also available. In summer a daily check is needed. Get to know the weight of a basket just after watering by lifting it gently from beneath. You’ll soon start to feel the difference as it dries out and becomes lighter. In the height of summer, baskets need a daily soak until water just drips from the base. Evening and early morning, when it’s cooler and plants are under least stress, are the best times to water.

9. Feed and Pamper for More Flowers
’Plugs’ of slow-release fertiliser in the compost are vital to give a balanced flow of plant foods. ‘Top up’ with a high-potash liquid feed (such as tomato feed) from the end of June, used at half the recommended strength every other day. Use just plain water on alternate days to give roots a break. For more flowers, pinch out the tips of young shoots when they reach 15cm (6in) long and nip off flowers and they fade, along with any seed pods.

10. Know Your First Aid Drill
If your basket dries out and everything wilts, put it in the large container of water in the shade. Leave it overnight to revive, and only hang it up again when all the plants have recovered. Sprinkling a wetting agent on the compost should prevent further problems.