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Hanging Baskets

What gardener hasn’t dreamed of lining their verandah with hanging baskets overflowing with a rainbow of colours just like on the homes in Britain?  Of course, the sunny climate here in WA is very different to that which the English enjoy and this is why gardening in baskets can be a challenge.  But, don’t give up; it can be done.  Just remember that no plant will thrive if it is just left hanging!

The first thing to remember with hanging baskets here in WA is that they are hanging!  In most cases, they are hanging at a height of around two metres off the ground where they are pummelled from all directions by hot, drying winds and they don’t have the coolness of the ground to take the heat out of the air temperature that other potted plants have.  It stands to reason that hanging baskets do it a bit tougher as warm air rises!

The soil in hanging baskets can dry out very quickly (far quicker than potted plants in plastic or concrete pots), the root ball can get hot and the lining material can even fall apart from busy birds stealing it for their nests.  Plants in hanging baskets have a lot to contend with.

However, having said all that, it is indeed possible to successfully grow hanging baskets laden with all sorts of flowering and edible plants if some good decisions are made and with a little extra time and care.

Petunias are one of the best options for hanging baskets in full sun because they put on such a glorious display of colour which can be mixed and matched to suit any garden or home.  They will flower continuously all the way through summer and will spill over in the same way as those fabulous baskets in Britain.

Through the cooler months when the petunias aren’t flowering, replant the baskets with cinerarias, primula and polyanthus or even try some leafy greens such as lettuce, rocket, parsley and coriander.  Soft herbs and leafy vegetables will do very well in hanging baskets during the cooler months providing the potting mix stays moist and they get regular doses of liquid fertiliser.  Other herbs such as mint, oregano, thyme and marjoram are also fantastic in baskets as are strawberries as their fruit can dangle over the side out of reach of those pesky snails.  Patio style cherry tomatoes are also fabulous as they will still supply lots of fruit whilst still maintaining a compact shape.

Succulents are actually wonderful when potted up into hanging baskets and cope with less water and full sun.  Choose the taller growing ones for the centre and surround them with sedums or chain of pearls which will drape over the side.

Of course, smaller growing fuchsias with their bowing flowers that can be seen from below are classic hanging basket plants but they do need a protected spot to ensure good flowering and they should never be allowed to dry out.  Also for semi-shade, impatiens are a joy with their wide range of brightly coloured flowers that look a bit like miniature camellias.

Nothing beats the lush, delicate foliage of maidenhair ferns in hanging baskets in full shade but other ferns such as fishbone fern or asparagus fern look stunning as well.  Just choose the size of the basket to suit the size of the fern.

Mixed plantings look terrific and it is just a matter of choosing plants that won’t overtake the others that still have the same sun and water requirements.  Try combining geraniums with the tiny flowers of alyssum and the variegated strappy leaves of the spider plant which will send out striking plantlets that hang over the side.  Trailing geraniums combined with impatiens also look stunning.

Choose the largest hanging basket possible but remember that it has to hold a lot of weight so ensure that it has a strong chain and that it is hanging from a spot that can cope with its weight, especially when it is fully saturated.

Plastic baskets have the advantage of reducing water loss and some even come with self-watering saucers which help to ensure that the potting mix remains consistently moist.  However, wire baskets are inexpensive, look fantastic and don’t detract from the wonderful plants that they hold.

If planting into a wire basket, after placing the coir liner into it, line the inside of that with a piece of plastic such as from a rubbish bag.  This will reduce the amount of water that drains through and once the soil is added, it can be trimmed so that it is not even seen.

Use only a premium potting mix which contains both a soil wetting agent and controlled release fertiliser.  If available, a potting mix especially for hanging baskets is an even better idea as these contain water saving crystals which will help hold the moisture though these crystals can be bought separately and mixed into the potting mix anyway.

After planting, don’t forget to mulch the top of the soil with sphagnum moss or compost which will do the same job of stopping water evaporation in the hanging basket as mulch does in the garden.

Water the hanging baskets often so that the soil doesn’t get the chance to dry out and the best way to do this is to water the basket, move onto other plants and then come back and water it again.  This will ensure that it has soaked in really well and that all areas of the soil are wet.

Of course, it’s a great idea to capture any water that drains through the hanging basket by putting a bucket underneath and using this to water other plants or by putting some other potted plants underneath which will use any water that overflows.

Overhead reticulation is ideal for hanging baskets but it is best if it is fed through a 4mm pipe into a small sprinkler head where the water is sprayed evenly over the surface of the basket without being wasted over the side.  Drippers are sometimes used for baskets but these can be a bit problematic because their constant dripping in the same spot causes the water to form a channel from the top of the soil straight down causing the water to track straight out of the bottom of the hanging basket without wetting the surrounding soil.

Although premium potting mixes contain controlled release fertiliser, plants in hanging baskets do much better if they are given additional fortnightly applications of liquid fertiliser.  Remember though, for flowering plants, choose a liquid fertiliser especially for flowering plants. Fortnightly applications of seaweed solution will also help toughen the plants so that they cope better with the strong winds.

If the baskets aren’t too heavy, lift them off their hook every few weeks and turn them around so that all sides of the plant can get some sun encouraging them to grow equally on all sides.  Alternatively, purchase hooks especially for baskets that allow them to be turned every now and then.

If the plants start looking a bit tatty, take a good look at the soil to make sure that it has in it everything that they need. Remember that the plant can only get the food and water that is in the basket so if the soil isn’t holding water or there are no nutrients left in it, the plant just can’t thrive.  If the problem is simply that the water is not soaking in and instead draining over the sides, a quick solution is to apply a wetting agent but every plant will benefit from being repotted back into fresh potting mix.  It is amazing how quickly plants will recover when they are freshly potted and given a good dose of water.

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