Fine Gardening Project Guides

Container Gardening

Guide Home

How to Build the Best Hanging Basket

The key is planting the sides as well as the top

Fine Gardening - Issue 114
floral hanging basket in front of house

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 you 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.

1. Choose a basket

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.

long hanging basket
Basket photos: courtesy of BestNest
Medium hanging basket medium hanging basket

2. Insert a liner

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.

adding a liner to a hanging basket

3. Build a base layer of potting soil

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.

building a base layer of soil in a hanging basket

4. Insert a water reservoir

water reservoir inside a hanging basketTo help with aeration and watering, I insert a vertical 8- to 10-inch section of slotted black drainpipe, which is 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.

TIP: 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, then carefully compress the root mass into a torpedo shape and slip it through the liner.

cutting holes in hanging basket liner to add plants planting small annuals in a hanging basket

6. Continue planting to the top

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 you are watering. Then give the whole basket a good soaking.

adding plants to top of hanging basket

Planting plan for a beautiful hanging basket

For a full look, it’s important to plant the sides as well as the top.

floral hanging basket in front of house
Photo: Stephanie Fagan

illustration of the different plants in the hanging basket
Illustration: Steven Cominsky

1. ‘The Line’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘The Line’, Zone 11)

'The Line’ coleus close up


2. Feather grass (Stipa tenuissima, Zones 7–11)

Feather grass plant


3. Flying Colors™ Red diascia (Diascia Flying Colors™ Red, Zones 8–9)

Flying Colors™ Red diascia plant close up


4. Superbells® Pink Kiss calibrachoa (Calibrachoa Superbells® Pink Kiss, annual)

Superbells® Pink Kiss calibrachoa plant


5. ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Heart’, Zones 11)

‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine


6. Supertunia® Royal Velvet petunia (Petunia Supertunia® Royal Velvet, annual)

Supertunia® Royal Velvet petunia

What liner should you use for a hanging basket?

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 above) 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 most of the water for the plants. It is easy to poke holes into this material for planting, and the green, mossy look is appealing.

C. Dwayne Jones is a horticulturist and the superintendent of parks and horticulture in Waynesboro, Virginia.

Photos, except where noted: Steve Aitken


Plants for hanging baskets are best purchased as small cell packs at local nurseries. The following mail-order companies offer a wide selection of the baskets and liners you will need to plant your own hanging basket.


Previous: How to Pick the Right Plants to Accentuate the Container Next: How to Plant an Easy-to-Water Strawberry Jar
View Comments


  1. user-7007514 04/15/2015

    I never would have thought of the drainpipe in the pot. Great idea!

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Container Gardening

Container Gardening

Trustworthy advice on all aspects of gardening in pots

View Project Guide

View All Project Guides »

Become a member and get unlimited site access, including the Container Gardening Project Guide.

Start Free Trial