How to Build a Hanging Basket

In some easy steps

The key is planting the sides as well as the top

by C. Dwayne Jones
Photo/Illustration: Stephanie F**an
A hanging basket can serve a variety of functions, from accenting a front porch to filling an empty wall. No matter what the purpose, they offer an opportunity to play with plant com­binations to create a riot
of color. Today’s ever-shrinking landscapes mean fewer places to
cultivate. Planting a hanging basket may be just the ticket for
expanding your gardening realm. It is also one of the easiest ways to
connect your garden with your home.
Trailing plants are traditionally used in hanging baskets with three plants of the same variety planted in the top. Another way to craft a hanging garden is to use an open-sided basket and plant the
sides as well, a technique that allows me to use three to four times the
number of plants in a traditional basket. I usually use a jumble of
clumpers and trailers to create the illusion of masses of color and
texture. I also mix in a few plants with great foliage to add interest
throughout the growing season.
Click to enlarge image
1. ’The Line’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘The Line’, USDA Hardiness Zone 11)
2. Feather grass (Stipa tenuissima, Zones 7–11)
3. Diascia (Diascia cv., Zones 8–9)
4. Million bells (Calibrachoa cv., annual)
5. ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Heart’, Zone 11)
6. Petunia (Petunia cv., annua)

1. Choose a basket


Click to enlarge image
When it comes to baskets, size—or in this case, volume—does matter. The volume of the basket is directly related to the amount of water your hanging garden can retain; if you select a basket that is too
small, you’ll have to water daily, if not more often. A larger basket
can make taller columns or posts look more in scale with your house or
landscape. I use baskets that have open sides so that I can cut slits in
the liner in a checkerboard pattern for planting

2. Insert a liner


Click to enlarge image
To fully cover large baskets, you may need to overlap two rectangular sections of liner. While the exact lengths depend on the size of your basket, allow enough extra material so that, when the
basket is filled with soil, some will still spill over the edges.
Over­lapping the liner in the bottom of the basket has the added benefit
of slowing water flow out of the basket.

Liner choices abound

All of the popular liner choices have their pros and cons
Sphagnum moss is nice looking but is tedious to work with and offers limited water-holding capacity
Cocoa liners are attractive throughout the growing season, but they are thick, making it difficult to plant through the sides
Burlap liners, treated with copper to slow deg­radation, are thin but can be unattractive and retain almost no water.
Supamoss (pictured) is a relatively new product that combines the best of both worlds. It is made of dyed, recycled cotton fibers that are sewn to thin green plastic sheeting. The tiny
needle holes allow for water to drain, yet the plastic membrane
conserves the majority of the water for the plants. It is easy to poke
holes into this material for planting, and the green, mossy look is
appealing.

3. Build a base layer of potting soil


Click to enlarge image
Start with a base layer of good-quality potting soil in the bottom of your basket. Press it against the bottom and sides of the basket so that you have a firm background to cut against when making the slits for
the first row of plants. The soil level should be about 4 to 6 inches
above the bottom of the basket when you complete this step.

4. Insert a water reservoir


Click to enlarge image
To help with aeration and watering, I insert a vertical 8- to 10-inch section of slotted black drainpipe, available at any hardware store. I adjust the length so that 2 to 3 inches are exposed above the
final soil level; this ensures that the drainpipe does not fill with
potting soil during rainfall or waterings. I place the pipe so that the
end sits about 4 to 5 inches above the bottom of the basket. If the
drainpipe hits the bottom of the basket, water will simply drain right
out of the basket instead of filling the surrounding area. The pipe
directs the water toward the bottom of the basket, which is the first
place to dry out.

Stagger your plants

To ensure maximum coverage while preserving visibility, place plants in a checkerboard pattern. After spacing plants evenly in the bottom row, create the next row so that its plants fall between, not
directly above, those below.

5. Cut the liner and add plants

Using a sharp object, make small incisions in the liner just below the current soil level and carefully poke the root-balls of the plants through from the outside. Small plugs or cell pack–size annuals work
best because they minimize the size of the openings in your liner;
larger holes will let potting soil spill out and may even cause young
plants to wash out during watering. If you must use larger plants,
gently wash most of the potting soil from the root system and carefully
compress the root mass into a torpedo shape and slip it through the
liner.

Click to enlarge image
Click to enlarge image

6. Continue planting to the top


Click to enlarge image
Keep adding layers of potting soil, cutting slits, and inserting rows of plants in a staggered pattern until you reach the top of the basket. Top off your planting with a few upright annuals or perhaps even
some small grasses. Trim the liner to about 1 to 3 inches above the
final soil level so that a small amount peeks over the edge of the
basket. This reduces the chance of potting soil being washed out of the
basket when watering. Then, give the whole basket a good soaking.

Photos, exept where noted: Steve Aitken.
From Fine Gardening 114, pp. 49-51

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