Creating beautiful hanging baskets

A hanging basket is made up for hot places.

Hanging baskets are the “cherry on top” of nearly any landscape, suspending nature in the spaces above porches, patios and pergolas, effectively drawing the eye upward. They can be as simple as Boston ferns on a shady front porch or riotous creations adorning streetscapes or lampposts in theme parks.

These floating floral orbs are easy to create but do require a bit of know-how to keep them maintained. Once gardeners strike the balance of meeting the light, water and space requirements of the plants chosen for the container, the only limitation is creativity.

Wire, wood and plastic are some of the materials commonly used for hanging baskets. Commercially available wooden baskets are often small square boxes intended for epiphytic plants such as orchids or staghorn ferns. These plants do not need a lot of soil in which to grow since they obtain moisture and nutrients from their environment.

Plastic hanging baskets tend have a low soil volume to plant size ratio. In the greenhouse or nursery where they are grown, these baskets likely receive frequent short bursts of irrigation. The same plant hanging on a sunny porch will dry out quickly unless the gardener is committed to the same watering schedule. Alternatively, gardeners may choose to repot into larger containers with more soil that will need less frequent watering.

Plastic hanging baskets with ample soil volume do not dry out as quickly as other types of baskets made from porous materials, and are becoming increasingly more popular.

Wire baskets are more time consuming to create, but the end results are attractive. With a few extra steps, they will require less water to maintain. One trick that will increase water-holding capacity is to begin with a layer of premade coir, or coco fiber, followed with a piece of black plastic. You will need to poke holes in the plastic prior to filling it with soil to ensure good drainage.

Moistened sphagnum moss also can be used to line hanging baskets. For step-by-step instructions on creating a moss-lined basket, go to Clemson’s Home & Garden Information Center Factsheet “Hanging Baskets & Window Boxes” at http://bit.ly/1ETrWWR.

Hanging baskets can become heavy when filled with wet soil.

Soilless peat-based potting mix is recommended because it is well-drained, lightweight, and retains moisture and nutrients. Unfortunately, if allowed to dry out completely, this product is very difficult to rewet. To avoid this problem, mix potting soil with 1/4 volume of good quality compost or commercially available bagged “garden soil.”

Since I detest hand-watering and am always short on time, we installed an automatic irrigation system on our porch. These systems are available as kits at home improvement stores and landscape supply retailers. With the aid of a manual timer, gardeners can water their hanging baskets without dragging a hose around or getting wet. If you enjoy watering but cannot reach your pots, plant pulleys are available to raise and lower plants without the strain of hoisting heavy plants.

For best results, hanging baskets should be fertilized throughout the growing season. While most growing media contain slow-release fertilizer, frequent watering and crowded growing conditions make regular fertilizing necessary.

The Clemson University Home & Garden Information Center recommends fertilizing hanging baskets every two weeks with a complete, water-soluble fertilizer mixed at half strength. Don’t forget to mulch your hanging baskets. Covering the soil with bark, pebbles or moss in hanging baskets reduces evaporation and moderates soil temperatures, as well as giving the pots a finished look.

It is a lot of fun to plan and then plant your creations. Choose plants with similar light and water requirements. Start with small, healthy plants to create stunning combination baskets or pick larger plants for single specimen showstoppers.

Consider “under planting” baskets by cutting slits in the basket liner and planting trailing, or creeping plants beneath the basket.

Ask your local garden center for help choosing suitable plant material for your site. There are numerous interesting plants available for creating gorgeous hanging baskets. Below are just a few of the many for you to choose from:

Foliage and flowering plants for full-sun hanging baskets:

Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, ‘Tri Color’ or ‘Margarita’)

Million bells (Calibrachoa sp.)

Hybrid petunias (Petunia hybrida)

Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora)

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)

Verbena (Verbena x hybrida)

Sun coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Cupflower (Nierembergia x hybrida)

Twinspur (Diascia x hybrida)

Foliage and flowering plant for shade to partial shade hanging baskets:

Caladium (Caladium x hortulanum)

Dragon wing begonia (Begonia x hybrida)

Angel wing begonia (Begonia coccinea)

Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri)

Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida)

Asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus syn sprengeri)

Pothos vine (Epipremnum aureum)

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)

The next Tri-County Master Gardener Training Course for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties will begin Sept. 10.

The Clemson Extension Master Gardener Training Course is a volunteer training program that requires 12 weeks of intensive instruction in fundamentals of basic horticulture and an additional 40 hours of volunteer service that must be completed over the following nine months.

Learn more and apply at www.clemson.edu/extension/mg/counties/tri_county/.

Amy L. Dabbs is a Clemson Extension Urban Horticulture Extension Agent. Send questions to gardening@postandcourier.com.