Have you ever admired a lush hanging basket bursting with blooms at your favorite nursery? A well-designed hanging basket can run between $50 and $75 (or higher), putting a major dent in your gardening budget.
However, you can duplicate the look of a professional flowering hanging basket at home for significantly less money, even while using high-quality materials and dense planting techniques.
When to Plant a Hanging Flower Basket
Hanging baskets are usually planted at roughly the same time as in-ground garden plants. In cold-winter regions, this is in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Hanging baskets can sometimes be planted a bit earlier than other garden plants since the soil in the basket will warm up faster in the sun than ground soil does. And if a frost is threatened, you can simply bring your basket indoors to shelter it from cold nighttime temperatures.
Working With Hanging Baskets
Caring for plants in a hanging basket is largely the same as tending the same plants in the ground or in a patio pot. But rather than garden soil, hanging pots (and patio containers) should be filled with a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil. Potting mixes usually include materials that help hold water better than garden soil. And potting mix is usually sterile, without the soil pathogens that may be found in garden soil.
There are many types of hanging pots and containers that can be used, but one of the most versatile is a wire basket (sometimes called a "hayrack" basket lined on the inside with a coco coir or moss liner. This setup holds quite a lot of potting soil, is fairly light in weight, and makes it easy to saturate the plants with water without waterlogging the roots.
Plants in hanging baskets will be affected by the same pests and diseases that affect in-ground plants, but hanging baskets will require much more frequent watering since exposure to the air on all sides will cause the potting mix to dry out quite quickly. Some plants may even require twice-daily watering during hot spells.
Moisture-retaining products, sometimes marketed as "polymer crystals" or "hydrogels" can be added to potting soil if you find it difficult to stay on top of watering duties. These moisture retaining polymers absorb as much as 600 times their weight in water, gradually releasing it into the potting mix as it dries out. These products are often used for houseplants, but they can also be an option for outdoor container plants.
- Working Time: 1 hour
- Project Cost: $25 to $50 (depending on plant selection)
What You'll Need
- Garden trowel
- Wire "hayrack" basket
- Coco coir or moss basket liner
- General-purpose potting soil
- Seedling plants
Line the Wire Basket
You have several choices for lining a wire planting basket. Coco coir or moss liners are the most common materials, offering excellent drainage and aesthetics. Some retailers offer premium basket liners that increase the water retention of flower baskets, such as the MagniMoist liner. These liners are more expensive than standard coco coir liners but may improve the performance of drought-sensitive plants like fuchsias. For a less-expensive liner, you can create one yourself from layers of burlap that you've cut to fit your planter.
Block the Bottom of the Liner
Most garden centers line the bottom of the coco liner to prevent excess water from rushing out of the bottom of the basket during irrigation. You can place a plastic tray, a piece of a plastic garbage bag, or even a new disposable diaper in the bottom of the liner to increase water retention. If you decide to line the entire piece of coco coir for maximum water retention, cut several holes in the liner to allow for drainage and air circulation, unless you’re growing bog flowers.
Add Potting Soil
The most essential step in creating a healthy hanging basket is selecting a high-quality potting soil to fill it with. Garden soil is too heavy and may carry pathogens that can infect your flowers.
Choose a lightweight bagged soil mix created especially for hanging baskets. It should contain a mix of organic ingredients that will feed your plants, such as compost, humus, earthworm castings, leaf mold, and inorganic ingredients that lighten the soil, like perlite or vermiculite. Moisten the soil and add more as settling occurs before you start planting.
Choose a Focal Plant
The first plant to install in the hanging basket will be a focal point in the design, so choose a specimen with a long blooming time and vigorous performance. Smart choices include angelonia, salvia, or celosia, all of which will grab attention at the center of the basket. These plants have upright growth habits with spiky blooms, and won’t get lost in the jungle as the other plants mature.
Arrange Trailing Flowers
Surround your focal plant with flowers that have spreading and trailing habits. These plants will fill in blank spots quickly, giving you a full look with fewer plants. Petunias, verbenas, portulaca, and million bells are a few high-performing plants to tuck around the edges of your basket. If your basket will be hanging above your reach, ease your maintenance tasks by choosing varieties that don’t require deadheading.
Plant the Sides of the Basket (Optional)
This is an optional step but one that will quickly reward you with the “blooming ball” look. For small baskets, the trailing flowers planted at the basket’s edge will cover the sides within a few weeks, but larger baskets need some trailers planted directly into the liner for extra oomph. You can plant the same trailing plants you used at the edge of the basket for the sides.
Use a utility knife to cut several slits into the sides of your basket. Grasping small transplants by the root ball, insert the root ball into the slit. Don’t worry about damaging the plant, as the root ball can take quite a bit of manhandling. Just be sure not to grasp the transplant by the stem, which can break easily.
Water the newly planted basket until you see runoff. Expect to water your hanging baskets daily—perhaps even twice a day when hot, dry conditions persist.
If you water in the morning, wet the foliage as well, to discourage spider mites. Fertilize your baskets twice a month to keep them looking healthy throughout the season.