The garden centers, variety stores, supermarkets, drugstores and street corner stands are burgeoning with hanging baskets. Should you buy one? Or, should you make your own?
The appeal of arching ferns or spider plant, glowing pendant geraniums, petunias and ivy is a great temptation. We haven't yet had continuously warm weather suitable for leaving baskets outdoors so there's time to think it over. The indoor gardener is somewhat limited in possibilities where these gorgeous flowering baskets are concerned but almost infinite choices are available among foliage plants.
In deciding whether to buy a ready-made garden, you must consider if the plants will have a chance to survive in the place where you want to use it. The location of a hanging garden must ultimately depend on the light, temperature and humidity requirements of the plants. If the basket is to be hung on a balcony, or in a patio or roof garden, the wind must be taken into account. In those spots, baskets are usually most successful in at least partial shade - not exposed directly to hot sun and drying wind.
The container often poses a greater problem than the plants. To suspend a moss-lined wire basket from the ceiling indoors is obviously impractical because of the potentially constant drip of water and shedding of moss. Plastic baskets with drip tray attached or ceramic hanging pots are most practical for indoor use. Commercial displays are most frequently arranged in plastic baskets.
Weight is a prime consideration not to be overlooked in planning to use hanging baskets. Even plants in plastic pots weigh more than you think. The weight of pot, plants and wet soil is considerable. Ceramic containers can be especially heavy. Indoors, gypsum walls and ceilings, or false ceilings, present problems in hanging. Whenever you choose to hand your basket, don't trust nails to hold it. Hook and eye screws with expansion bolts will hold more weight - and look better besides. Some are even decorative. Wall brackets too should be put up with hook and eye screws and expansion bolts.
If you decide to plant your own hanging basket rather than to buy one, you can use your imagination in combining the infinite variety of plants and containers.
The most important requirement for constructing your own hanging garden is a soil mixture that allows for good drainage and is high in organic matter. Ready-made potting mixes are recommended; they are light weight and sterile.
Place gravel or similar drainage material in the bottom of the container before adding soil. If the container has no drainage holes, as much as one-fifth of the depth can be drainage material. A cover of wire screen or old nylon stocking will keep the soil from washing down into the gravel.
After the soil is added, set each plant firmly in place. Combine trailing and upright plants. Place trailing plants around the edge and uprights toward the center. Loosen and spread out the roots of the plants when they are being transplanted from pots to basket. After planting, thoroughly soak the basket with water and hang it.
Baskets hung outdoors may need watering daily. If possible, water in the morning. Air circulation and bright light increase evaporation and loss of water. Always water thoroughly with tepid water and in 15 minutes pour off the excess from water the drip tray.
Indoor containers should be watered when the top layer of soil feels dry. Although many indoor plants suffer from overwatering, plants in hanging baskets indoors often perish from lack of adequate water because they dry out quickly in the hot dry air in the upper reaches of a room.
Feeding should be delayed until the basket is established and growing. Flourishing baskets should be fed at least weekly from about July until frost. Use water-soluble houseplant fertilizer at one-fourth the strength recommended on the label.
Plants in hanging baskets can be kept free of pests and dust by washing in the shower or sink.
Whether you are buying a planted basket or making your own, here are some suggestions for selection of plants.
Plants that do not want or require direct sunlight: asparagus fern, grape, ivy, Boston fern, wandering Jew, heartleaf philidendron, spider plant, English ivy, Scindapsus (pothos).
Flowering plants for baskets in sunny locations: wax begonia, petunias, nasturtum, lantana, ivy geranium 'Sugar Baby,' velvet plant (Gynura), black-eyed, Susan vine.
Avoid direct sun for impatients and fuchsia.
For indoor baskets it is preferable to restrict the choice of plants to foliage rather than flowering types unless you can provide bright light or sunlight. Excellent results can be achieved with flowering Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Episcia in a sunny spot indoors.
In the small containers that are most practical for indoors, three or four plants of one variety planted together make for easier care since all plants need the same amount of water and fertilizer.
On the other hand, a group of compatible plants with variety in foliage produces an interesting basket. Some combinations recently observed in baskets at Longwood Gardens were:
Streptocarpus, English ivy cultivar, peperomia, and miniature nephthytis; wax begonia, English ivy, strawberry geranium (Saxifraga sarmentose); emerald ripple peperomia, Streptocarpus, and Nenatha Bella palm; Streptocarpus Maasen's White, pilea, peperomia.