Caring for Your Hanging Flower Basket
Container Gardening Ideas
Hanging Flower Basket Care
As only a few pounds of compost, at most, can be accommodated in the average hanging flower basket,, or other gardening container, and this will be the only support the plants will have, it is obviously sound practice to use good compost so that they grow well right from the start. Too many people simply dig up a spadeful of any old earth from the garden, thinking that as so little is required it is hardly worth the bother and expense of buying a bag of special compost. This is a great mistake, and problems can result. Soil lifted from the garden is often impoverished or otherwise unsuitable. I recommend you buy a bag of John Innes Compost No. 2, to which I always add a few handfuls of peat to lighten it.
A hanging flower basket must be lined before being filled with compost. Green sphagnum moss, which has always traditionally been used for this purpose, can be gathered in woods in moist areas if you know where to look and can get permission from the landowner. Fortunately, most florists sell it along with wire hanging baskets. Reindeer moss, a curly kind of moss, comes in big dried-out packs which have to be soaked before use. This moss has the advantage that it looks good even when it is not very moist. I have successfully used moss scraped up with a rake from a friend’s lawn in springtime – and it is very satisfactory to put such a tiresome thing to such a good use.
Many people use black or green plastic film as a liner, but personally I think this is ugly when viewed from underneath. This is certainly true until the plants become established and hang down to cover the sides, or unless some of the planting is done through holes made in the sides. It really is far prettier to do the basket in the old way. I knew someone who lined a hanging basket with moss and then interlined it with plastic, but this proved not very successful as the plastic prevents the moss receiving any moisture and it soon turned brown. Even so, I thought the dark man brown moss looked far better than the shiny plastic.
I have heard of hanging flower baskets being lined with hessian, sacking, and artificial ‘grass’ sold for. I prefer a suitable growing plant as a lining, and I have used many things, including low-growing mat-like alpines such as stonecrop. I have even used the moss which grows in ‘pads’ on a low garage roof at the back of my house. Really. I have found you can use any moss you can come by, though it should be reasonably thick, and the short velvety kinds must be in large pieces. If you can get only small pieces, line your basket first with fine mesh chickenwire. Truly the only moss I have found useless, was some short stuff brought to me by a friend from sandy woodland; it was impossible to handle without it breaking up. Most mosses stay nicely green if the basket is properly and regularly watered.
Best of all linings, to my mind, is Arenaria balearica, a charming little lime-green evergreen foliage plant studded in summer with tiny white stars. Normally a plant seen growing in crevices or walls and , it is beautiful all the year round and is like a specially lush green moss. If kept regularly watered it will never go brown. If you do not already have it in the garden you will need to buy a number of plants to line a basket. However, if you do have it handily growing, as I do, you can simply lift a ‘mat’ of it. Place it in the basket ‘growing side out’, of course. Used in an indoor hanging basket, for example in a sunroom, it grows quite fluffy and luxuriant and quite changes its character.
Among alpines I have used as basket liners, in addition to stonecrop, are asperula suberosa (like a pink-flowered stonecrop), dwarf campanulas, aubretia, dwarf alpine helichrysum (with grey or silver foliage). Also successful are violets, helxine mind your own business), and for indoors nertera depressa (bead plant), a tiny creeping herb which covers itself with many little orange berries.
First cover the bottom of the basket thickly with moss or your chosen plant material (I sometimes mix several different ones for unusual effects) and bring the lining about two inches up the sides of the basket. At this stage many people place a plate or saucer in the bottom of the basket to help hold water. I don’t do this myself, for it seems almost certain that any plants or moss under the plate will brown and die. However, if you wish to try it, a deep plastic saucer of the kind sold to go under plant pots serves well as a small reservoir of water in dry conditions.
Other people recommend an extra lining of turf, grass side out, or bulb fibre on top of the moss. I would not personally introduce grass to my baskets in this way, as in my experience it simply grows out through the moss towards the light, and I think most of us have enough trouble grass cutting on the lawn without having to clip grass round a hanging basket.
Continue lining the basket with moss, bringing it up the sides and filling in with compost as you go. If you want trailing plants to grow out from the sides, plant these as you proceed, laying the plant on its side, covering the roots with compost, and firming it in so that you leave no pockets of air. Do not take the compost right up to the top, though the moss lining should reach the rim. After planting up to the top leave a small depression towards the centre of the surface of the compost, to hold water.
Some hanging flower containers, such as the white plastic-covered wire ones, are so attractive in their own right that I sometimes leave a couple of inches clear of lining and compost. This seems specially appealing when a basket is planted at the top with decorative foliage plants, or when the basket is hanging in a sun room or conservatory which has white furniture.
It is sometimes recommended that, before planting, a hanging flower basket should be well watered and allowed to drain. I do not find this very practical, for the wet compost makes the job of planting messy and dirty. I plant first and then water the contents after, and if the compost then compacts, I just top up with a little more. John Innes Compost used straight out of the bag is, I find, usually moist enough to handle, but if it is very dry I add a little water from a can with a rose, spraying it straight into the bag and mixing it until the compost just holds together when squeezed lightly in the hand.
Planting at the top can consist of one vigorous trailing plant, placed in the centre, or four or five plants placed round the edges with one in the centre. I was talking to a member of a municipal parks department and was admiring a trailing variegated plectranthus in a hanging basket. I was told that they place one plant in each hanging flower basket and in a season that cascading growth can reach as much as ten feet and has to be trimmed back. The idea is lovely for an indoor decoration, especially in a conservatory, covered walk, or on a balcony or verandah.
To get a really trim and rounded effect with any gardening container which contains a trailing plant, hairpins or short U-shaped pieces of wire can be used to hold the outward-growing stems close in to the sides of the basket. For more free or unrestricted growth, just let the plants go their own sweet way. The tailored-looking basket is easy to achieve if only neat-growing plants of one kind are chosen, instead of a mixture of plants of different habits, which result in baskets of haphazard shape (though these have their own definite charm).
With such plants as, geranium, lobelia, ivy, etc., four or five plants are required to fill the top of the average sized container to provide a really good show. Obviously the earlier the planting is done, the better and longer-lasting display you shall have. Anyone who has a light, airy, frost-free place, such as a sunroom or conservatory, can plant up a basket in April and get a head start on those who have to wait for the end of the frosts, which can mean as late as the end of May in most parts of Britain. Using hardy plants, however, we can make up our hanging flower baskets at any time of year, except in snow or hard frost, and either put it outside or enjoy it indoors.
Potted plants should have been watered an hour or so before they are ready for final planting in the garden container basket, so that they will knock out easily from their pots or boxes with a few sharp taps on the side. This also prevents thecoming away from the roots. Make a hole in the compost to receive each plant, and press the compost firmly round the roots.
A round covering of black or green plastic film at the top of an exposed basket, or one which hangs high under a clear glass or plastic roof, can be an advantage. Suitably sized holes are made where necessary for the plants to grow through. The idea is that the plastic conserves moisture. A covering of damp moss can serve the same purpose. The same idea can be adapted for troughs, window boxes, etc., especially where the top surface is above eye level. The edges may need to be held down with small stones, hair pins or can even be stapled down to a wooden container. Suitable plastic is sold in rolls but these are far too big for the average person with just one or two gardening containers,or baskets. In this case the answer is to cut up an ordinary black plastic dustbin liner.