Hanging Baskets by June Morgan, Master Gardener.
Hanging baskets can add much to the outdoor porch and deck summer decor, but it can be a challenge to keep them looking their best. Proper siting, basket design and proper watering are key elements of good management.
The best setting is a protected area which allows sunlight from above or the sides such as a deck canopy out of the strong winds which will tear the plants apart. In contrast to the ordinary solid plastic container, the larger mesh basket is the most visually effective while also holding the most soil and plants. Also, coco fiber or sphagnum moss looks more natural when viewed from below. Coco fiber is a natural insulator against the heat and helps to keep the soil evenly supported inside the fiber liner. Some ambitious gardeners have their baskets made to order from a metal shop using special ornamental effects.
To set up a basket from scratch, start with a fiber layer, then a plastic sheet with holes in the bottom. Add a soil-free potting mix that includes water holding crystals, then add a slow-release fertilizer. If using sphagnum moss soak it overnight before using. Now, one can get creative with plants. Try an upward growing plant such as coleus and surround it with a vine such as one of the many ivies or trailing pelargoniums. Further plant additions can be made by wrapping roots in paper for protection while slipping them through side slits into the potting mixture.
Watering baskets is more challenging than for ground plants. Quite often, using a hose will simply result in water immediately running out of the bottom. One solution is to soak the whole basket in a container such as a wash tub of water for several hours or even overnight. Another is to fill a large pan of ice and dump it into the basket, ensuring a slow melt of water. To care for your baskets during the season, deadhead the flowers, fertilize once a week and keep watered.
Beyond the run-of-the-mill baskets available in big box stores, check out the uncommon local nurseries, seed catalogs, the internet (google hanging baskets), and wherever herbs and tomatoes are available as possible basket material. So, don’t settle for just the common offerings. Put together your own combinations to bedazzle the eye!