Plant a Summer Hanging Basket

Hanging Baskets are a popular way to bring colour and interest close to the house. A well filled basket overflowing with colour can make a bold statement. They are simple to plant and easy to look after, just follow a few simple steps.

Types of hanging basket:

There are many different types of hanging basket to choose from, they can be wire, which needs to be lined, wicker which are usually already lined with plastic (make your own drainage holes), and can only be planted from the top, or plastic, some come with their own water reservoir. Whichever type you choose, the biggest basket will give the best show, and will not dry out quite as quickly, as they contain more compost.

What you will need:

How to Plant a hanging basket:

First start by preparing your hanging basket for planting, to do this follow these steps:

  1. Sit the basket on top of the bucket or pot to give a stable work area
  2. Line the basket with moss or a pre-formed basket liner. If using a liner push out the pre-cut discs to enable you to plant through the sides of the basket
  3. Cut a disc of plastic from a bin-liner or empty compost bag to sit in the bottom of the basket, this will act as a water reservoir, or you could use a plant saucer instead
  4. If using moss you can line the whole of the inside with plastic, cutting slits in the side to plant through, and a few small holes above the reservoir area for drainage
  5. Mix your compost with the water-retaining gel and slow release fertiliser according to the pack instructions

It is then time to begin planting your hanging basket:

  1. Start by adding compost to the basket until it is about half full, and tap the basket gently to settle
  2. Gently push the root-ball of your young plants from the outside, through the gaps in the side of the basket and settle them gently onto the compost
  3. Take care not to damage the roots, placing the root-ball inside a small plastic bag will help protect it while you do this, remove the bag before adding more compost
  4. Carry on until all the planting spaces are full, resting the necks of the plants gently on the edge of the basket
  5. Cover roots completely with compost, ensuring the neck of the plant is securely against the basket and fill to about an inch below the rim of the basket
  6. Make a depression in the compost and place a plant in the centre, choose a larger one with a slightly upright habit
  7. Add the rest of the plants evenly round the basket, topping up with more compost, make sure they are well bedded into the compost and firm gently around the plants
  8. Do not overfill the basket with compost, allow a little space from the top of the compost to the rim of the basket (about ½ in) to allow for watering, and slope the compost into the centre slightly, this will give a small reservoir and prevent water running over the side.
  9. Water well and place in a greenhouse or conservatory to grow on before placing outside after all danger of frost is past. Keep moist, do not allow to dry out.

The best plants for hanging baskets:

Young plug plants are a cost effective way of planting but will need a bit longer to grow on and fill the basket.

To plant a 14in basket you will need about 6 to 8 plug plants for round the sides, Lobelia or Busy Lizzies are a popular choice, and 5 to 7 plants for the top.

For example, choose an upright Fuchsia or Geranium for the centre of the basket, 1 or 2 trailing Fuchsia, 1 or 2 ivy leaved Geranium, 1 or 2 trailing Verbena to fill the rest of the compost and 1 or 2 foliage plants such as Nepeta or Helicrysum, planted at the edge to trail down over the side. They will look a bit sparse at first but will very quickly grow and spread to fill the basket.

If you do not have a greenhouse you may decide to plant your basket a bit later and use more mature potted plants, planted closer together which will give a more immediate effect.

Baskets planted with a single variety can look very effective, and fast growing plants such as Petunias are probably best planted this way, as they can easily swamp other plants. It is not necessary to plant in the sides of the basket, as trailing Petunias such as Surfinias will hang over the edge to completely cover the basket. You will probably only need 3 larger plants or 5 plug plants to give an excellent show.

Other varieties to use as single subject plantings include Portulaca, Calibrachoa and Butterfly Trailing Impatiens, as well as the usual Geraniums and Fuchsias. Try planting just two contrasting varieties together such as Bidens Pirates Treasure with Anagallis Skylover, or Nasturtium Banana Split with Naturtium Red Wonder. The possibilities are endless!

Caring for hanging basket plants

When your plants have begun to fill the basket and the weather has started to warm up, (about mid-May) place them outside during the day to harden off, but bring them in at night in case of frost.

Once there is no more danger of frost they can go to their permanent position, make sure the bracket is strong enough to take the weight of the full basket, especially when watered.

Never let the plants dry out, they may need watering twice a day in the height of summer.

Hot, dry wind is a major cause of baskets drying out, as it literally sucks all the moisture from the foliage. If your basket has really dried out, it could be very difficult get it to re-wet, the water will often just run straight through the desiccated compost. If this happens and your plants have keeled over and look as though they are only fit for the compost heap, do not despair! They can usually be revived, the best way to do this is to:

  • Immerse the whole basket in a large bucket or bowl (or even the kitchen sink)
  • Leave it submerged to the top of the compost, until no more bubbles are rising to the surface. Remove the basket and let it drain before hanging back in its' position.
  • Baskets treated in this way will usually recover, but if it happens on a regular basis the plants will get very stressed and eventually die
  • After this treatment it is a good idea to give the plants a liquid feed, even if they have slow release fertiliser in the compost. It will give them a quick boost and help them to recover.

Your plants will flower for much longer if they are regularly deadheaded, just go round every now and then and nip off any dead flowers (or seed pods that have developed).

Basket and bedding plants have such an abundance of flowers so they can produce lots of seeds in a short growing season. If they are prevented from doing this, they will simply produce more and more flowers in a desperate attempt to reproduce. They could carry on flowering until the first frost!