Stephanie Hudak maintains a garden business in Madison, Georgia, where she specializes in designing containers. Currently she is working with the city to develop drought tolerant combinations for the street-side planters.

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Creating Successful Hanging Baskets
by Stephanie Hudak       #Containers   #Flowers   #How to

This “luscious”  combination is sure  to add a bright spot  to your garden. It  combines lantana  Luscious Citrus  Blend (3); petunia  Supertunia Citrus (3)  and Ipomoea Chillin  Limeade (3).

Bright, colorful hanging baskets are like exclamation points in your garden story. They can draw your attention to other areas in the landscape; connect the garden to the house; or add a bright spot to an otherwise dark area of the porch or patio. As yards get smaller and gardening time is lost to busy schedules, a hanging basket may be the fastest and easiest way to bring color into your landscape. Successful three-season baskets are possible by paying attention to the core components: correct soil mix, adequate fertilizer, proper watering and good plant choices.

Container Size and Style

Choosing the right size and type of container is also important to the success and longevity of the basket. The larger the capacity, which is generally designated by basket size (10, 12, 14 inches), the more plants you will be able to grow, since more soil allows for better nutrition and more available moisture. Plastic pots are the least inexpensive, but keep in mind how the baskets will be seen; most are viewed from below and that may be all you will see until the plant material completely spills over the sides. Wire formed baskets with liners come in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes along with the opportunity to plant through the sides, allowing more design options. Selecting the right type of liner for them will improve your chances of success.

Sphagnum moss gives you the most natural look and an easy way to add side plants, but can be tedious to work with and dries out quickly. Cocoa liners are attractive, most readily available and longer lasting, although their thickness makes it harder to cut through. Supamoss has cotton fibers attached to plastic sheeting which makes cutting into it easier; pin holes in the liner allow for drainage while the plastic conserves moisture.
Use Good Quality Planting Soil

It is essential to use a quality soil mix and not regular garden soil, which is too heavy and doesn’t allow for good drainage. Many soil mixes now contain moisture beads and slow-release fertilizer, but if you have a large quantity of baskets to fill, adding your own may be more cost effective; just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for the correct ratios. Once the basket has been completed, you can use a weekly solution of diluted water-soluble fertilizer in addition to the granular slow-release material. Heavy bloomers such as petunias will benefit from this supplemental feeding.

Water-retaining gel crystals hold on to both water and dissolved nutrients making them available to the plants when needed, but it is important to add them correctly. More is not better in this case as too much gel will keep the soil overly wet, causing root rot


Presoaking the root balls prior to planting will help retain the soil and also give the plant a head start in growing. Squeeze out the excess water, compressing the soil making it easier to pass through the hole you’ve made in the liner. In a checkerboard fashion up the sides, make “X” slits or holes (approx. 2”) in the fabric, just big enough for the root ball. Placing the plant in a small plastic bag will help protect the roots, removing it after transfer through the hole. Place 4 to 5 inches of soil in the bottom of the basket, then insert the root balls through the slits. Add another layer of soil several inches deep. Continue until you reach the top, finishing with soil.


Filling the Basket

If you are using a plastic or fiber pot, add the amended soil to within a few inches of the top and begin adding the plants. Six-packs are less expensive, but larger plants will fill out the basket quicker. In general, a 10-inch basket will accommodate the ultimate growth of three 4-inch potted plants; a 12-inch will hold four or five and a 14-inch basket will allow space for an additional centerpiece and six plants. Add the side plants to wire baskets by working from the bottom upwards, starting with a layer of soil, then the plants and a final layer of soil. Finish each container with your chosen design; adding organic mulch, such as moss or finely chopped bark to the top to help retain moisture

This basket of perennial Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Chablis’ and annual Supertunia Priscilla is the perfect combination for the porch of an antebellum home. Using a smaller 10-inch basket you can still create an arrangement with a huge “wow” factor by combining Superbells Dreamsicle, Supertunia Royal Velvet and Supertunia Red – one plant each should work.

Proper Watering Techniques

Keeping the soil “evenly moist” can be tricky, but it’s very important. A new container with young plants may not need watering every day, but a fully mature one at the end of summer may need water twice a day. Just don’t let wilting become your method of detection; stressed plants are an invitation to pests and disease. In general, a 10-inch basket will need at least a half gallon of water each time.

Grooming makes a difference

A lot of plants being sold today are “self cleaning,” meaning that they shed their spent flowers, eliminating the need for deadheading (removing old flowers). It is still a good idea to regularly check the baskets for pests or diseases so that you can deal with them before the plants are beyond help. Even if your basket does not require regular deadheading, it will eventually need a haircut to keep it looking full and healthy. It may be hard to sacrifice some of those beautiful blooming branches, but ultimately it will help the container look just as fabulous in October as it did in May. Cut back approximately 20 percent of the branches (one in five) to the bottom level of the container every month or so. This will keep your basket in bloom and leave adequate foliage for healthy growth.

Hanging above a garden chair this lovely frothy pink basket invites you to sit down for a leisurely visit in your garden. The 14-inch basket holds Nemesia Safari White (2); petunia Supertunia Cotton Candy (3) and verbena Superbena Purple (2).

Picking the Right Plants

Check the growth habits of the plants before you bring them home from the nursery. What works well in the flower bed may completely take over a basket. It is also important to know whether the plant trails naturally, if it mounds or if it will reach for the sky. Some plants prefer cooler weather and may fade away with the heat of summer, leaving your basket with a different design than originally planned; and aggressive plants could shade out their slower growing companions turning a combination basket into a mono-culture. Doing your homework or finding a knowledgeable nursery will help with these issues.

Mono-culture baskets have one or more plants of the same variety and are easier to care for since their requirements are the same. Calibrachoa, begonia, cuphea, torenia and petunia are all plants that provide a big show on their own. Petunias from the Easy Wave and Supertunia series have large, brilliantly colored flowers for the sun; and for the shade the torenia Summer Wave or Catalina series provides non-stop trumpet-shaped blooms. Alone or in a mixed basket, Cuphea llavea ‘Totally Tempted’ is tough to beat.

You can create stunning combination baskets by using plants with a variety of colors, textures and growth habits. Center spiking plants are not always necessary in a basket but they do provide added interest and another option for color and Angelonia angustifolia Angelmist or Serena series are good choices. Supertunias will provide impact and vibrancy with their large flowers while the smaller flower heads of verbena and lantana make a soft transition to trailing plants like sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas). The restrained growth habit of the Sweet Caroline series makes them well-behaved companions. For extra color and continuous blooms, fill in with tiny flowered Chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Flambe Yellow’ (strawflower) and you have created a striking arrangement.

Perennials work well in a basket but they have a short bloom time so consider them mainly for their foliage. A good example is Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Chablis’ which provides only spring blooms but variegated foliage accents all summer. Houseplants are a good basket choice for dense shade areas. They will not grow fast enough to fill out a basket in one season but that works to your advantage if you initially fill the container with mature plants since they won’t outgrow their space before the season ends. Retired plants can then come inside for the winter.

Plant bulbs in a winter basket with hardy ivy for early season color.  After the flowers are spent replace them with next season’s selections. The mature ivy will help give your container a full appearance.

A Basket for Three Seasons

Although this may sound like a lot of effort, the only real work comes in planning and preparation. Properly nourished and watered, a healthy basket with well-chosen plants could last three full seasons, from spring through fall, giving you months of pleasure – a great return on the time you have invested.


Tried and True Plants
There are lots of plants to choose from when designing your basket. These are some of the best.

Petunia cvs                                                       • Calibrachoa cvs – Million Bells
Cuphea llavea                                                    • Lantana camara cvs
Evolvulus glomeratus – blue daze                        • Begonia – dragon wing
Torenia cvs – wishbone plant                              • Lamium maculatum –spotted dead nettle
Lysimachia nummularia - creeping Jenny              • Dicondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’
Ipomoea batatas – sweet potato vine                  • Hedera helix – ivy
Lysimachia congestiflora ‘Walkabout Sunset’        • Helichrysum petiolare – licorice plant
Scaevola aemula cvs                                           • Verbena cvs   

Cooler Weather Plants - These do better in cooler weather and may only last through spring if you live in hotter climates.

Lobelia erinus cvs               • Nemesia fruticans cvs
Browalia americana cvs        • Sutera cordata (bacopa) cvs
Diascia spp and cvs

Cuphea llavea
‘Totally Tempted’
Ipomoea batatas
‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Purple’
Lantana camara
Luscious Grape’
Nemesia fruticans
‘Opal Innocence’
Scaevola aemula
‘New Wonder
‘Catalina Gilded Grape’


(From State-by-State Gardening May 2010.)


Posted: 03/16/11   RSS | Print


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