Plant up your own hanging baskets this summer, rather than buying a run-of-the-mill, ready-planted one. It’s so much more satisfying to do it yourself. You can put in plants you like, not those horrid little conifers and ivy that always seem to be included in shop-bought baskets. You could even include edibles like strawberries or tumbling tomatoes. You can choose a colour palette to suit the location, maybe to tie in with your front door or brick colour. Plus you can choose plants that will be happy in the spot where you want to hang it (sun or shade) – remember: right plant, right place! Have I convinced you yet?
I found a lovely old green wire basket in my local charity shop (photo above) that I lined with coir liners from Poundland. I also bought some cheap wire frame baskets and lined them with recycled wool packing material (kindly donated by a neighbour). The wool will not only hold in all the soil, it will help to keep the basket moist in dry weather, and it’s wildlife friendly too – the birds have been pinching out a bit here and there to use as nesting material.If you’re using a wire frame basket and you don’t have a ready supply of recycled wool(!), put an old carrier bag between the compost and whatever liner you’re using (felt, coir, cardboard or whatever). You won’t see it but it will do a good job of retaining moisture.
When you’re ready to plant up your basket, fill it half way with multi-purpose compost. Then mix in a handful of slow release plant food granules (such as Growmore), to keep your plants flowering for weeks and weeks, and a spoonful of water gel crystals. Hanging baskets dry out very quickly in summer and need thorough watering at least every couple of days, more often in hot weather. The gel crystals will hold water during dry spells, stopping the compost from drying out completely should you forget, or don’t have time, to water your basket.
When it comes to plant choice, it’s traditional to go for tender plants (those that cannot survive below freezing temperatures). The best plants for hanging baskets are bedding plants that are specially grown to flower like crazy for one season. They’ll be composted in autumn. Look for plants that are described as trailing, so they hang down over attractively over the sides of the basket.
Do consider where the basket will be positioned before you buy your plants. For a sunny spot, try petunias, calibrachoa and diascia. For a shadier spot, fuschias, busy lizzies and begonias work well. Pick one plant to be the main feature of the basket and choose a handful of smaller plants in colours that complement the feature plant. If you’re putting the basket next to a red front door, try a white and yellow colour scheme, or go for pinks and acid greens next to a dark grey door. Use lighter colours that will stand out for a shade basket.
I like to use some plants for the foliage interest, such as variegated nepeta, rather than just choosing plants for their flowers. You can also use unusual, soft-leaved herbs, such as golden oregano, purple sage, and banana or pineapple mint. You could plant an edible basket, filled with herbs, and strawberries or tomatoes.
You can really pack the plants in because the display only has to last one season. Pop the plants out of their pot and gently place them on the compost in the basket. Once they’re all positioned, you can add the rest of the compost in around them until they’re all well surrounded. Only fill up to an inch below the top of the liner, so that your compost doesn’t all wash out, and to leave room for the gel crystals, which will swell up when watered. At this point, a cheap and cheerful way to add more plants to your basket, is to pop in a couple of nasturtium seeds. Water it well, and then you’re done.
Continue to water your basket regularly (every day or two, depending on the weather), and have a feel every so often to check the soil is wet enough/not too wet. Push your fingers an inch or two down into the compost, and if it feels dry, water it, and if it squelches, leave it! To keep plants flowering, water weekly with diluted liquid tomato food (look for the red bottles in the garden centre), mixed according to the instructions on the label. You should also deadhead, deadhead, deadhead! Pinch off all the spent flowers as often as you can and you’ll be commensurately rewarded for your efforts.
If your basket does at some point completely dry out, it may need taking down for a good soak in a bucket of water for half an hour. This is because some peat-free compost mixes can be very hard to get wet again once they’re very dry, and a sprinkling of water from above will simply not do the job.
That’s it. I’d love to see your basket if you do plant one up, so please post a photo on my Facebook page. Here are my baskets, not fully flowering yet, but I’ll add some more photos when they are.