In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2008
Regional Report

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2958

Colorful hanging baskets are fun to plant but do require constant care.

Create a Colorful Hanging Basket

San Francisco has a glorious display of baskets hanging on the lamp posts in front of City Hall. If you have never created this kind of planting, why not give it a try? Winter is probably a good time to start because you wont be a slave to the watering can. Hanging baskets dry out much faster than other types of container plantings, but they are so glorious that I feel they are worth the indentured labor.

The first thing you will need for this project is a metal basket. Metal is preferable because it will support the weight of the finished project, including soil, plants, and water. Start with a small basket at first so you can get the feel of how it all goes together. I once tried to use a topiary frame as a basket, but the openings were so large that the moss, plants and soil kept falling out. It was a total failure, but at least it wasn't on live television.

Select plants in cell packs. Pansies, nemesia, alyssum, calendula, bacopa, schizanthus, campanula, and snapdragons are all cool-season annuals that do well in hanging baskets. If you prefer a more permanent planting use succulents, low-growing perennials, or even (heaven forbid!) ivy. Make sure that all the plants you use have the same growing requirements.

The next step is to line the basket so that the soil doesn't fall out through the openings. There are fancy cocoa mats that are pre-cut to fit an individual basket or, you can use heavy black plastic (garbage bag) to line the basket. I have created hanging baskets using sphagnum moss as a liner, but they dry out so darned fast that if the soil dries accidentally, it's almost impossible to get it to accept water again without dunking the entire planted container, squishing the plants on the bottom. If you like the look of moss, go ahead and place a layer directly on the inside of the basket, then line with plastic or cocoa mat. Secure the lining to the top of the basket with twist ties, tie wraps or paddle wire. Eventually the plants will grow and cover whatever you decide to use for a liner.

The next step is a little complicated. Basket hangers should be planted from the bottom up, filling around the roots with soil as you move upwards. Cut a slit in the basket liner where you want to insert your first plant. Plants that require a little more moisture should go on the bottom of the basket. Here's a trick the professionals use: instead of pushing the root ball through from the outside, pull the foliage through the slit from the inside. This way, you won't damage the root ball. It's important to get the crown of the plant past the liner to prevent crown rot. The next plant should be 2 to 3 inches away, but if you don't have room, just plant three or four plants around the bottom. Once you have planted all the way around the bottom cover the roots with a few inches fresh potting soil.

The second layer should be planted 2 to 4 inches above the first, making slits, inserting the plants, and covering with soil just like you did with the bottom. Continue adding layers of plants and soil until you come to within 3 inches of the top.

Finishing the basket involves attaching the wire hanger to the top rim of the basket. The reason you don't do this step first is because it would hinder your movements while you are planting. One way to make sure that the basket will hang evenly is to bend all of the wires prior to attaching it to the basket. Make a bend a few inches from the bottom so that the combined bent wires look like a hook. Now space the hooks evenly around the rim of the basket and twist them a few times so they are secure. Unless you make this initial bend before attaching the hanger to the basket, you will NEVER get it to hang straight.

Once the hanger is installed, go ahead and finish planting the top portion of the basket, filling in with soil to within an inch of the rim to leave room for water. I usually use a slow-release fertilizer when planting containers, and then supplement with liquid fish or some other low-nitrogen fertilizer applied at one half strength each time I water.

Finished hanging baskets are heavy, so make sure they have ample support. Water every other day in cool weather and enjoy!


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