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Hanging baskets overflowing with flowers are hard to resist!

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Summer hanging basket for semi-shade.Summer hanging basket for semi-shade.Have you ever admired a lush hanging basket bursting with blooms but simply thought it a bit overpriced? Well, not really,  a well-designed hanging basket in full bloom has probably taken months of care to get it to a sellable size, and this is labour intensive too, so if you can afford one of these ’ready to go’ beauties, spoil yourself, you’re worth it!

However, if your budget is tight and you have the time and patience to allow them to grow, you can duplicate the look of a professional flowering hanging basket at home for a lot less, using high quality materials and dense planting techniques. In fact, once you have purchased the soil, fertiliser, coir, plants etc. you require, you will probably find you have enough left over to plant at least one or two extra baskets - not bad for a gardener on a budget!

Overflowing hanging baskets are hard to resist and will have all your friends and family gushing over them. Strategically placed, they add another dimension to the garden by raising the beauty of the garden to eye level, and bringing the flowering abundance to where their beauty can be admired, sniffed, and touched.  In smaller gardens hanging baskets are becoming the new wall art, breaking the starkness of blank walls and adding that extra special touch to your outdoor space. Even if you have a postage-sized garden or a tiny balcony garden, hanging baskets can deliver a traffic-stopping display of flowers.

Hanging baskets focus on the plants, not the containers, and sometimes one can’t be sure if a container even exists under all of those trailing flowers. They can be made out of virtually anything too, from actual baskets to small wooden crates, or homemade containers of all kinds.  As long as the container has sufficient space for the plants to grow and has adequate drainage holes, it’s good to go.

Lobelias are fantastic in hanging baskets.Lobelias are fantastic in hanging baskets.Lobelias are fantastic in hanging baskets.Store bought wire baskets usually come with a fitted coir liner, but if they don’t you can make your own with loose Coco coir or moss liners. These materials offer excellent drainage and look good too. Even sack cloth, landscaping material, dense shade cloth or a similar material can be used.

Although good drainage is important, you don’t want the soil to dry out too quickly, so once you have the coir liner in place, It’s a good idea to line the inside of the basket with plastic, punched with drainage holes. If you are planting around the sides of the basket you may prefer just to line the bottom of the basket to prevent excess water from rushing out of the bottom during irrigation. You can simply place a plastic drip tray, a piece of plastic garbage bag, or, believe it or not, even a new disposable diaper in the bottom, to increase water retention.

Choose only the best quality potting soil for your basket, which can be mixed with a small quantity of compost. If you don’t want your basket to weigh a ton, add a very generous amount of vermiculite or perlite, which will not only keep your basket light, but will also help to retain moisture. Special water retaining granules are available at garden centres and well worth the money spent, especially if you are planting baskets for full sun.  Peat moss is not essential but always good to use if you have some.  Mix everything together in a bucket or bowl, adding a generous dressing of bone meal and a good flowering plant food. Slow release fertilisers work especially well for hanging baskets because they release slowly and you will not have to fertilise again that season. Fill your basket and press the soil down firmly. By now you will be eager to start planting, but it is important that you water the soil well and allow it to drain thoroughly before starting, as the soil will settle and you will probably have to add more soil. Once the soil has partially dried out you can start planting.

It is critical for your success that your select plants which enjoy the same growing conditions and which require about the same amount of watering, it simply won’t work to plant a sun-loving plant with a shade-loving one, nor will a succulent do well in a basket with other plants which require lots of water.

Start with your focal point, which should stand out above the other plants when fully grown, so it needs to be vigorous with a long blooming season. You could use fuchsia, coleus, angelonia, impatiens, pelargoniums, begonias or salvia - even a single celosia would be an attention-grabber at the centre of your basket.

Fuchsias are perfect in Hanging baskets.Fuchsias are perfect in Hanging baskets.Fuchsias are perfect in Hanging baskets.Surround your focal plant with flowers that have spreading and trailing habits like alyssum, million bells, lobelia, petunias, verbenas and portulaca. These plants will fill in the blank spots quickly, giving you a full look with fewer plants. There are many high performing plants you could use, so pay a visit to your local garden centre to find your personal favourites.

If you’re really feeling adventurous you may try planting a “blooming ball” by planting through the sides of the basket so the entire surface area of your basket is covered with plants. You can plant the same trailing plants you used at the edge of the basket for the sides. Use a utility knife to cut several slits into the sides of your basket, and grasping the small transplants by the root ball, gently insert them into the slit.

Water your newly planted basket thoroughly and place it in a sheltered and shady spot for a day or two before moving it to its permanent position. Even though you have planted correctly with all the right ingredients to help conserve water, it is still most important to check your baskets regularly, and especially those growing in full sun.  Densely planted flowering plants drink more water than you may imagine and once a basket wilts, it may take a long time to recover and look its best again. If you did not use a slow release fertiliser, after the first month you can start feeding with a liquid fertiliser for flowering plants as per the instructions. This, together with regular deadheading of the spent flowers, will keep your basket looking neat and healthy throughout the season.

In the pretty summer hanging baskets for shade pictured here, I found two gorgeous fuchsias growing in small pots, at a good price, so I decided to use them as my central focal points, with impatiens and lobelias around the edges. They have grown beautifully, and if I cover the fuchsia at night in winter, it will hopefully survive and not need replacing next season. For winter I will probably fill in with primulas, and who knows what I will experiment with next season!  

Hanging baskets really are worthwhile and inspiring, so create your own each season and just have fun doing it!

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