11 steps to create ‘perfect hanging baskets’ – ‘gorgeous, full blooms all summer long’

Gardening: Suttons shows how to plant a hanging basket

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When it comes to summer displays you really cannot beat hanging baskets. There are many plants to choose from, some can be more permanent with the use of shrubs and perennials, or why not try and make a houseplant hanging basket, but most of us use summer bedding plants for months of colour. I would stress, however, that to achieve your perfect hanging baskets it‘s good to plan. Try and not be seduced by all the gorgeous photos and descriptions in the catalogues or online. I inevitably end up ordering way too many plants, and often forget about them until they suddenly pop up outside the front door. A welcome surprise or a gardening shock!

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Before I share my 11 steps to the perfect hanging baskets I thought a little history would be of interest.

The idea of hanging baskets and trailing plants in a garden is not a new concept. It dates back as far as 3000 years ago. Queen Semiranis designed the famous Gardens of Babylon on step terraces to remind her of her previous mountainous home.

Some stories indicate the Hanging Gardens towered hundreds of feet into the air, but archaeological explorations indicate a more modest, but still impressive, height. Accounts indicate that the garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled the city for 43 years starting in 605 BC.

According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar’s homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between nations.

The land she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing. The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.

The Hanging Gardens probably did not really ‘hang’ in the sense of being suspended from cables or ropes.

The name comes from the Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis, which mean not just ‘hanging’, but ‘overhanging’ as in the case of a terrace or balcony.

Whatever the history, hanging baskets have adorned gardens for years and while fashions change and different plants appear on the market there are some fundamental steps to creating the perfect baskets.

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11 steps to creating the perfect hanging basket

Step one: Before going to the garden centre and coming away with way too much or not the right plants or materials, it is good to make some notes and a shopping list.

Step two: Think about the type of hanging basket that you want. Will it be a metal-framed basket with a liner, a plastic one with removeable slots for positioning plants? Perhaps you like a natural willow basket, a half basket or a full circular basket, a self-watering basket or one with a water reservoir.

Step three: Think where the hanging basket(s) will be positioned. You need a strong hook, fixed securely, and ideally you want the basket to be away from strong winds, in full sun or partial shade and away from the rain shadow of the house.

Step four: For best results you want the hanging basket to hang at eye level or just below so that you can enjoy the flowers. If you intend to have lots of cascading plants then you might want it higher up, so that you look up at it.

Step five: For all hanging baskets you need the following: a basket, a liner, compost, water-retentive granules, plants and a slow-release fertiliser. In addition, you may need a strong chain, hooks, raw plugs or a metal bracket. Also consider a hi-lo mechanism, which makes watering easier. Going for a basket with a self-watering reservoir as well will mean that you are not out there morning and evening having to water it or worrying about it if you go away for a few days during the summer.

Step six: When it comes to lining the basket there are several options. Traditionally sphagnum moss was used, but ready-made liners are available that sit inside and all you need to do is fill the basket, cut some holes to push some plants through, clip it in and you’re done.

If you are on a budget, then why not cut up a compost bag with the black inside facing outwards. An old woollen jumper works just as well as the moss. Whatever you decide to choose, place a pot saucer in the bottom to stop water running straight through it.

Step seven: Use a good peat-free multi-purpose compost and mix in some water-retentive granules (please follow the instructions – many gardeners put in too much thinking it will save on watering, but it will just add unnecessary weight and moisture) which will swell up, and finally add a slow-release fertiliser. Make up this mix before you start, and not as you go.

Step eight: It’s time to plant it up. Fashions come and go but I think good reliable plants such as Fuchsia, Pelargonium, Petunia, Surfinia, Calibrachoa and trailing plants such as Hedera, Lobelia, Bacopa, Dichondra and Helichrysum work best. Herbs also make excellent specimens in hanging baskets. For a modern twist why not plant up succulents, such as Echeveria, Dischidia and Sedum.

Step 9: Start by adding the hanging plants through slots in the side of the hanging basket. Continue to fill up the basket as you go. The aim is to create a large ball of colour, texture and scent.

Upright plants can go in the middle of the basket at the top, surrounded by more cascading plants. The more you can fit in the better the display. Use small plug plants or 9cm potted plants. Gently flatten and spread the root ball so more plants can be added. Firm compost around the plants as you go. Fill your basket leaving about 3cm from the top of the rim of the basket.

Step 10: Water thoroughly using a fine rose. Hanging baskets can dry out quickly so water at least once a day, either early morning or late evening. Take time to rotate the basket, unless you have a rotating device attached, so that all sides get some sun.

Step 11: Finally, six weeks after planting start a weekly liquid feed such as tomato or seaweed feed and remove dead flowers regularly to prolong flowering.

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