Whether planted for summer or winter interest, hanging baskets provide valuable colour at eye level. Choose vibrant bedding plants for a short-term show or herbs, shrubs and evergreens for a long-lasting display.
What to plant
Plants for summer baskets:
Argyranthemum, Lysimachia (creeping jenny), Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, Fuchsia, Pelargonium (geraniums), Lobelia, Viola (pansies), Petunia, Salvia and Nicotiana (tobacco plants).
Plants for winter baskets:
Buxus (Box), Crocus, Gaultheria, Iris reticulata cultivars, Hedera (ivy) – either variegated or plain, Carex (ornamental sedge), Primula (primulas and polyanthus), Cyclamen (small-flowered cyclamen), Viola (winter pansies and viola) and Erica carnea (winter-flowering heathers).
Plants for perennial baskets:
Buxus (Box), Cordyline, Gaultheria, Hedera (ivy), Carex (ornamental sedge) and Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’(purple-leaved sage).
For general ideas on plants in containers for seasonal interest see our pages on summer and winter pots.
When to plant a hanging basket
Plant summer hanging baskets from April onwards, but they will need protection from frost until the middle or end of May. If you do not have a greenhouse, it is usually easier to plant in situ once the frosts have passed.
Plant winter hanging baskets between September and October, and it doesn’t matter if they are frosted as the plants are should be hardy.
You would normally plant up a long-lasting perennial hanging basket from April onwards, depending on the types of plants being used.
How to plant a hanging basket
The basic principals of creating a hanging basket for winter and summer are the same.
First of all, if you are using a standard wire basket, it will need to be lined. You can buy readymade cardboard liners and fibrous materials sold for the purpose, but a thrifty option is to collect moss from the lawn. Aim to cover the inside with about a 1.5cm (½in) thick layer of the material and then half fill the basket with compost.
A multipurpose is fine for a display that only has to last for one year, but John Innes No 2 is better for a longer-lasting arrangement. And if you want to grow plants such as winter flowering heathers, it is best to go for ericaeous compost, although Erica carnea and E. × darleyensis cultivars are tolerant of other composts that contain lime.
Also consider using water-retaining granules to help reduce the chore of watering.
Choosing and arranging the plants
- When you begin to arrange the plants in the basket, it is usually easiest to start with one, central plant. This can be used to create structure and impact, which is particularly important in winter if its other companions fail to flower in cold snaps
- Around this, position some trailing plants to cover the sides of the basket, particularly if it is made from wire. However, using a more decorative basket is best where it will be easily seen
- Along with this selection, it is worth considering carefully the flowering plants. Choose colours that work well together and plants that flower reliably. For example, winter-flowering pansies, petunias, lobelia and geraniums are always winners
Once all the plants are in, fill around the rootballs carefully with more compost, firming gently. You can push in some controlled-release fertiliser pellets or plugs at this stage, and then water well.
Once the basket is planted, what else is needed?
- Check baskets every day in summer, watering always unless the compost is wet. Drying out is an increasing risk as the plants grow and days remain warm
- Although baskets don’t dry out as quickly in winter, they still need regular checking. Aim to keep the compost moist but not soggy, and avoid wetting the foliage and flowers
- In spring, summer and early autumn (April to September), apply a liquid fertiliser
- Deadhead regularly to prevent the plants’ energy going into seed production, rather than more flowers
Hanging baskets rely most on the gardener to ensure they don’t dry out. However, poor flowering can be remedied by trying the following:
- Ensure the baskets stays moist but not soggy
- Feed once a week with a liquid fertiliser
- Winter hanging baskets do greatly benefit from a sheltered, sunny spot. If the position is exposed, consider giving the basket some protection in the coldest weather. Use either a layer of fleece, or sit the basket on a bucket in a cool greenhouse for just the worst days
Watch out for common pests such as aphids, slugs, snails and vine weevil. Diseases that may be troublesome include powdery mildew, pelargonium rust, fuchsia rust and impatiens downy mildew.