by BRIAN MINTER
May 31, 2003
Hanging baskets are most welcome additions to our homes at this time of year, adding grace and charm to our outdoor living areas. They look very impressive when they first go out, but did you ever wonder why so few of them improve as the summer goes by? There is certainly a knack and just a little bit of talent to creating spectacular baskets and growing them successfully.
There are several issues to consider before you even begin choosing your plants. The most common mistake is using a basket which is too small. Whether you choose plastic, wire or wooden baskets, use a minimum size of 12 to 16 inches in diameter and twelve inches in depth. With this much growing space your plants will not go under stress as easily from drying out, and they will require far less watering.
Be particular about your soil. Use one of the many new sterilized container mixes, and make sure it is a quality product. Professional mixes, which come in all sizes and from many different companies, usually cost a little more, but they are sure worth it. They are the same mixes that growers use.
The selection of plants for your basket will depend upon the location. Hot, sunny locations require an entirely different group of plants than those in shady areas. Remember: it is the afternoon sun you have to worry about.
Sun-loving basket plants that stand up under intense heat are the Lotus Vine, Gazanias, Ice Plants, 'Dragon Wing' Begonias, Geraniums, Sanvitallia, Lysimachia, Thunbergia, Artemesia 'Silver Brocade' and the tiny new 'Million Bells' Petunias.
Some of the shade-lovers are Tuberous Begonias, Lobelia, Fuchsias, Impatiens, Coleus, Lamia, Heliotrope and Fibrous Begonias.
For baskets that get a little of each, sun and shade, you might wish to include Trailing Verbenas, Trailing Nasturtiums, Calceolaria 'Rugosa Sunshine' and New Guinea Impatiens.
While baskets of mixed colours are always attractive, you can add a touch of class by blending the same colour tones together. For example, lavenders, pinks, blues and silvers are winning combinations. Monochromatic colour schemes also look very impressive. An all-white or all-pink basket can be quite stunning.
It is better to crowd the plants just a bit rather than start out with a skimpy looking basket. They will get root-bound quickly and begin trailing much faster.
As for the care of baskets, there truly is an art in growing them on to perfection. Proper watering is the most important job. Half of the secret is to water thoroughly and preferably with warm water. Cold water stresses plants. The other half of the secret to success is not to water again until the basket dries out. The only way to tell is by gently lifting up on the bottom of the basket to feel the weight. If it is heavy, let it dry out further.
As for feeding, always feed immediately after watering. Use a well balanced fertilizer like '20-20-20' initially to get the plants growing, then switch to a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous and potash, such as 'Blossom Booster 0-12-12' or 'Mor Bloom 0-10-10' to bring on the colour. In addition, I would strongly recommend using a slow-release 14-14-14 fertilizer on top of the soil, and regular liquid feedings as well.
The last chore is clean-up. Most of the plants I have mentioned do not need 'dead-heading', but it is a good idea to pick off all the old flowers and seed pods anyway. Many spent blossoms can burn foliage, and once annuals go to seed, they become lazy and stop blooming.
This year take the time to choose your container, colour scheme and plants carefully for truly outstanding hanging baskets. If you feed more frequently and water properly, home and garden magazines will be taking pictures of the baskets on your patio!