JUST HANG IT UP
Mixed hanging baskets offer design, color in mid-air
August 23, 2007 -
BY JANE STEPHENS - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON

When I was in grade school, I was totally awed when we learned of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. My favorite was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is believed that the gardens were miles long and several hundred feet high.

As it rarely rained in Babylon, hydro engineering was used to keep these imported plants alive. These wondrous gardens contained not only flowers and shrubs, but also trees. I never did figure out exactly how or from what these trees were hung.

When planting my small hanging gardens, I realized little has changed since then. When you change the natural habitat of a plant - from ground to pot or from desert to - say, Victoria, water is the No. 1 problem and placement is the No. 1 consideration.
PHOTOS: CHARLA BORCHERS LEON/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Another partial sun and shade combination is this round basket with strap leaf caladiums, summer wave torenia and cascading English ivy.
This cone-shaped hanging basket is complemented with cascading Marguerite potato vine and variegated Algerian ivy that have both done well this season in partial sun and shade. It requires a separate watering schedule and hangs from a sturdy tree limb.
GETTING STARTED

As a hanging basket is as much of an investment as your new bedding plants, a bit of planning is needed.

How big of a basket are you planning to hang? On what? Hanging baskets are heavy, and you can count on them getting heavier if you are planning to water them in place.

How many plants do you want in your basket? Will your basket be hanging under anything that will limit the amount of sun it receives? Will watering your basket fit into your regular watering or will it need separate consideration?

Do not assume that your automatic sprinkler will reach your basket. Some of your full sun baskets may need daily watering. Will water dripping from your basket be a problem? If you plan to hang your basket on a patio or deck, check what will be under it, as furniture cushions do not like dripping water. Some of your baskets can be easily watered with ice cubes that will control the dripping. But don't forget that proper drainage is vital.

Choosing Your Basket

Once you have decided on the placement of your basket, you are ready to choose it. Most of our nurseries and garden centers offer a large selection of planted baskets as well as ready-to-plant baskets.

I did notice that the locally owned nurseries I visited seemed to offer deeper baskets than I had seen elsewhere. These baskets not only offered more room for the plants, but also better drainage.

An additional advantage to checking out the baskets at the nurseries is that you can get an idea of the weight involved. One basket that I had particularly admired was rejected when I attempted to lift it. This was during our "rainy season" a few weeks back so the basket was wet. I knew the weight would be too much for the tree limb where I had planned to hang it.

Picking The Plants

After seeing the many plant combinations the nurseries offered, I put in more plants than I had originally planned and plants I would not have thought to put together.

The baskets I most admired seemed to all follow the "flip, flop and fill" rule. The flip is to stand tall, the flop is to cascade or drape over the top of your basket and the fill is whatever you choose that will give your basket that professional look.

Some of the baskets were of all one type of plant that provided a color concentration of leaf or bloom for places where you want a splash of color. Many were in a multitude of containers. As long as you provide enough quality potting soil and proper drainage, your choices are endless.

Finishing

If you are planning a basket for shade, choose shade-loving plants, and do the same for full-sun baskets. Considering plants based on the flip, flop and fill rule, dwarf liriope or Aztec grass both made the top of the "flip" list. Some of the nicest "flops" such as asparagus fern, English or Algerian ivy, potato vine and the jasmines seemed to do well in both sun and shade. The begonias and the coleus were the most versatile of the shade/sun bloomers that made beautiful "fill" plants.

Now that we are late into summer, you may want to start planning your fall hanging baskets. Consider plants that will transition from the late August and early September temperatures into the cooler conditions. Use good quality potting soil in the basket and choose plants with similar watering and sunlight requirements. For fall color, consider a croton, various chrysanthemums, a dark leaf or dragon wing begonia, prince of orange philodendron, and even some sun coleus, all take mixed sun and shade, are available now and will survive up to the first frost. If you like cascading greenery, don't forget the plain or variegated ivies for the "flop" to your baskets.

When the freeze warning times approach, hanging baskets are easy to slip into storage or your garage. Or you might consider re-planting with cold-season plants.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR A HANGING BASKET
The two things that matter the most in planning a hanging basket are location ane watering.
SINCE WATERING HANGING BASKETS IS ESSENTIAL, CONSIDER:

Normal watering schedule of your landscape
Potting soil dries quicker in baskets
Possible daily watering required if in the sun
Separate watering from an automatic sprinkler system
Run off or dripping water could stain items under the basket
LOCATION
Where you plan to hang the basket affects:

Size
Weight
Number of plants
Type of plants
Amount of light Watering
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.