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Create an Elegant Hanging Basket

Tips for making big and beautiful hanging containers

Heather McCain tidies up a basket of "Supertunia" trailing petunias.

The first step toward creating a lush, beautiful hanging basket is in choosing your plants. Long-trailing plants such as trailing petunias require only top planting. For short-trailing plants such as 'Tapien' purple verbena, plant on the sides of the basket as well as the top for a full-looking floral display. Purchasing healthy plants is essential. I look for plants with several stems, since they will produce prolific growth. Plants in 2-1/2-inch containers are easiest to insert through a wire frame.

Most soil mixes for hanging baskets are peat-based, and can be difficult to moisten after they dry out, so I add some loam- or humus-based potting soil, as well as kelp meal for trace elements. Baskets lose water through evaporation, so closely monitor their moisture level–in hot weather, check baskets daily. Water thoroughly but allow baskets to dry out slightly between waterings. Besides a tablespoon of slow-release fertilizer at planting, I feed trailing petunias—those of the "Supertunia," "Surfinia," or "Wave" series—every third watering with a 20-20-20 fertilizer that contains iron. These extra nutrients are needed for voluminous floral displays. In mid-July, I check to see if the slow-release beads have dissolved. If they have, I add one tablespoon more.

To assemble a hanging basket, collect the materials and follow the steps outlined below. For baskets with trailing petunias, skip Steps 3 and 6, and use only six plants.

Materials for a hanging basket

  • Wire-frame basket (16 inches across, 9 to 11 inches deep), plus hanger
  • Wood-fiber liner to fit frame
  • One meter of landscape fabric or burlap (for arid climates only)
  • 8-inch plastic water saucer
  • 51 inches of 1/2-inch clear-vinyl tubing
  • 20 quarts of soil mix (16 quarts of lightweight, hanging-basket soil and 4 quarts of loam- or humus-based potting soil), plus one tablespoon kelp meal
  • 4 quarts of water
  • One tablespoon slow-release, 15-15-15 fertilizer beads
  • Plants in 2-1/2-inch pots: 15 short-trailing plants, such as Bacopa, Brachycome, Fuchsia, Lantana, Lobelia, or Verbena; or six trailing petunias such as "Supertunia," "Surfina," or "Wave"
  • Large container for mixing soil
  • Scissors, felt-tip pen, small plastic bags, and glue (optional)
  • To hang from a wall or post: a sturdy bracket with a horizontal bar measuring 12 inches or more
  • To hang overhead: a 1-1/2-inch screw hook, an S hook, and a length of chain
Step 1: Pad the basket's rim with vinyl tubing to prevent trailing stems from breaking. To do this, cut tubing into lengths to fit between the spaces for the hangers. Slit the tubing lengthwise with scissors, then wrap it around the rim.
Step 2: Place a wood-fiber liner in the basket with the dark side facing out. Fold any excess liner material over the rim. Then, place the water saucer inside the basket. Don't use a saucer for shade baskets in damp climates, since it may keep the basket too wet.
Step 3: Mark the liner for side-planting of short-trailing plants. To designate planting positions, use a felt-tip pen to mark seven dots evenly spaced around the basket about 3 inches from the rim. Cut a cross-shaped slit in the liner about 2 inches by 2 inches at each dot.
Step 4: Prepare 20 quarts of hanging-basket soil mix and moisten it with 4 quarts of water. Add soil mix to the basket, patting it down firmly but gently until it reaches 3 inches below the rim.
Step 5: Thoroughly soak the plants by submerging the pots in water until all air bubbles disappear. This makes them more pliable for planting and helps them get established more quickly.
Step 6: Insert plants through slits in the liner. Remove plants from containers, holding them by the root ball to protect the stems. Wrap root balls in small plastic bags to make insertion easier from outside the basket. From inside, pull root balls through so they rest on top of the soil. Remove the bag and anchor the root ball with a handful of soil.
Step 7: Next, add soil to within an inch of the rim. Place one plant in the center, and then space the other seven around it, an inch or so from the edge. Firm the soil around the base of each plant. Sprinkle one tablespoon of slow-release fertilizer beads over the soil.
Step 8: Attach hangers to the rim and hang the basket outside any time after your region's frost-free date. In hot, dry weather, water it immediately and hang in the shade for a few days. In cool, damp weather, wait until it warms up before watering your basket thoroughly. Firm the soil around the roots of plants on the top layer after the first watering.

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