Blue skies and sunshine have been a welcome end to spring as the summer season starts. With the long days I find myself in the garden both before work and in the evenings – a dash to the washing line or to feed the chickens can turn into a small weeding expedition or an opportunity to remove some laterals and tie up my tomatoes. It is pleasant to be outside when the weather is nice.
The longer the weather is nice often relates strongly to the amount of beautifying of our properties that tends to happen each year. A great way to offer beauty around the home is with the use of hanging baskets. They are ideal to use where there is not the opportunity to grow something in the ground or where space is limited for a traditional pot. A hanging basket can be hung from the eve of a house, along a patio veranda or off a fence. A well-placed hanging basket will transform a stark or harsh area of architecture into a welcoming area of beauty.
Almost any plant that will grow in a container can be grown in a hanging basket, creating new visual perspectives even in a small courtyard or balcony.
What to grow in
The right container or basket can be found for just about every plant or situation. The choice of a suitable container can be just as important to the decorative effect as the choice of plant and position. Containers are made from materials ranging from plastic and terracotta to wood and wire, and some are easy to make. Timber can be used to make wooden hanging boxes to create a rustic effect. Even an old teapot can be put to such use. Reusing old pallets by converting them to wall gardens is cheap and trendy. One popular method is to simply line a wire basket with sphagnum moss or coconut fibre and fill it with a good quality potting mix such as the Natural Bark Potting Mix brand. There are many ways a garden can be developed without taking up valuable ground or floor space.
An increasingly popular version of hanging baskets is the growing of living walls. The concept has been developed in large cities on the walls of large buildings, offering significant aesthetic value as well as reducing pollution in densely populated cities.
There are lots of variations now available to enable a home garden living wall to be developed. The best home garden system I have seen so far is a series of specially designed troughs. Easy to install and maintain, water is saved by flowing from one module to the next. They can be used for veges, herbs, ferns, flowers and all small plants.
As a general rule, hanging baskets will grow better if they are located away from the prevailing winds and direct harsh early afternoon sun. If this is an issue, then careful selection of suitable plants will ensure success.
Fortunately, there is an almost limitless variety of plants suitable for hanging baskets. Ferns, small spreading shrubs, perennials, annuals, tropical plants, ivy geraniums, succulents and even strawberries and herbs can be grown. In a harsh, windy and hot dry situations, a succulent hanging basket or even lomandra grasses can be used in a basket to offer a space beauty and style. In an outdoor situation, the use of flowering plants such as lobelia and petunia enhances a garden, courtyard, veranda or entrance way, providing a blaze of colour during the summer months and, contrasted with the use of the hanging silver of Dichondra Silver Falls, is spectacular.
Labels on plants in the garden centre can greatly assist in plant choice. Many labels indicate whether the plants tolerate full sun, semi shade or full shade. In Whanganui some of the plants used over the years for summer baskets in Victoria Ave are petunias (especially perennial types), impatiens, begonias both tuberous and fibrous, geranium, verbena, portulaca, dichondra silver falls, succulents, parsley and pyrethrum.
You are only limited by your imagination when selecting plants for hanging baskets. It can be very rewarding to achieve co-ordination of colours and match them with your house rather than just hoping they will work together somehow. Single plant baskets can look stunning using petunias such as Rose Star or Johnny Flame. The vibrant colours of yellow and red can cheer and inspire while blue colours have a calm and cooling effect on hot days. It is important to pinch out the new growth of the plants about three times during the growing season to encourage bushy growth and also to remove the spent blooms (dead heading).
Flowering plants suitable for hanging baskets include impatiens, marigolds, nasturtium, ageratum, begonias, fuchsias, lobelia, nepeta (catmint), pelargonium, petunias, portulaca, zinnias (dwarf) etc. Note that fuchsias are one of the finest flowering shrubs. They have a magnificent affinity with hanging baskets and their branches can weep down over the side of the basket.
Under-watering is the most common cause of failure of hanging baskets. You will find that hanging baskets need more frequent watering than ground plants. This is because they have a continual airflow around them. The frequency of watering depends on the type of plant. As a rule you should wait until the soil surface appears dry and if it is dry for the top 3cm-4cm then the plants need water. Water gently until water drips from the bottom of the basket. In hot, windy conditions shift your baskets to a well-protected area and out of the hot afternoon sun. In strong and extreme winds take your baskets down to prevent damage. A good potting mix will contain a wetting agent and water holding crystals. It will be beneficial to add extra water holding products such as Saturaid.
After about four to six weeks the basket can be fed, say once per fortnight, with a liquid fertiliser such as Ican Fast Food or Yates Thrive Liquid to replace fertiliser that is leached out due to frequent watering. Monitor the appearance of the plants and if they start to turn yellow it is time to supplement with liquid feed at weekly intervals.
Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre.