Every year I go to nurseries and become a bit of a basket case. Yes, I am that woman blocking the aisle, my gaze transfixed upward. I’m searching for inspiration and killer plant combinations. Just give me a friendly nudge or polite cough and I’ll snap back to reality and move aside with profuse apologies. Some baskets are totally traditional and straight-forward: baskets of petunias or Boston ferns or ivy-leaf geraniums all make beautiful baskets in their own right. But then there are the combination plantings. Many nurseries have a staff member with an eye for plant pairings and their baskets go beyond the basic into the realm of eye-catching and even show-stopping and breath-taking.
Sometimes I’m tempted to just buy the pre-made baskets and be done with it. But beneath those swaying seductive sirens, savvy nurseries lay out a sumptuous spread of trailing plants to mix and match into endless combinations and permutations. And who can resist a good buffet, even if it’s only a feast for the eyes?
I let my eye travel down the rows of plants, and my imagination soars. What about this billowy petunia with that crisp verbena? Or this fuzzy trailing Helichrysum with that spiky dwarf daisy? I mix-and-match, decide what might work well together, occasionally glancing up again and reconsidering snagging some pre-made containers. But eventually I choose to do my own. Because:
1) Not enough identical baskets of my top choice.
2) Getting the “pick of the litter” of healthy plants.
3) Remembering my own wire hanging baskets: transplanting would be risky and those plastic pots would shame me all summer.
4) Most importantly those full-grown plants have already peaked and will flag and falter by mid-summer. A fresh-made container of smaller plants will just keep getting bigger and prettier until frost nips it.
If you’ve always bought ready-made baskets, here’s a quick step-by-step for creating your own baskets. Once I brought home plants and a fresh bag of mix, the entire process took half an hour to plant, water and hang.
I started with these 16-inch wire planters lined with coir liners. If you empty them promptly in the fall and store them out of the weather, the liners will typically hold up for at least two and maybe three seasons; replacement liners are cheap and readily available.
Note: I am a fan of 16 to 18 inch baskets, and here’s why. Sure larger baskets are stunning. But beyond the cost, consider their weight. A 16-inch basket weighs about 15 pounds when filled and moistened; larger baskets will weigh more. Do you have enough structural support? Can you hoist them into place yourself? And how many plants will it take to fill them out?
Conversely, smaller baskets are fine for apartment balconies, but they can seem out of scale on larger porches. There’s only room for only one or two plants per basket with a 10-12 inch diameter and they will dry out fast on hot sunny days.
It’s not organic, but for my ornamental containers, I use moisture-control potting mix with fertilizer mixed in. By mid-summer I will boost the fertilizer with some time-release Osmocote, but this gets things off to a good start.
Creating the growing space for the plants is a lot like putting a crust in a pie plate – you fill up the basket about halfway and press the soil mix up the sides. This ensures the plant roots will have an inch or so of dirt between them and the side of the basket and is really important with the lined baskets because they can quickly dry out on sunny, windy days.
Remove the plants from their containers and arrange them in the basket. I use three, 4-inch plants per basket. This year, I chose chartreuse ornamental sweet potatoes, Cuphea ‘Pink Euphoric’ and ‘Purple Glow’ Calibrachoa (they look like miniature petunias.) The sweet potato vine will need regular trimming to maintain its shape but it’s a great filler plant and the color packs a punch. (And yes, you could use all the same plants, but I like to have some variety in the baskets. )
Once everything is in place, I add more dirt between the plants and press it down firmly – you don’t want to press out all the air, but you also don’t want for the soil to sink down and leave exposed roots after you water them. Check after watering and add more soil if that does happen.
And that’s all there is to it – moisten them, and hang them up. I’ll take more pictures at regular intervals so you can see the plants’ progress. With warm sunny days and plenty of water, they will take off and be lush and full in short order.
So do you become a basket case when it comes to hanging baskets? Do you buy yours ready-made, or make your own?