Containers and Hanging Baskets
|Published: 23rd September 2008 18:37|
There are many advantages to the growing of plants in containers and hanging baskets, not least of which is their portability. There is something of an interesting challenge to growing in a small and otherwise inhospitable space and many examples of skilful planning of the use of containers, hanging baskets and attractive materials come to mind.
Containers and hanging baskets enhance otherwise drab, soulless areas and a classic example of their use to brighten up a small space is a courtyard or a balcony. Many awards for imaginative use of containers have been handed to apartment dwellers wanting to make something of their limited areas.
Most displays using containers and hanging baskets are limited to the summer months but permanent displays from woody and herbaceous perennials are also possible for year-round attraction.
Why use containers and hanging baskets?
- They enhance garden design by providing:
- Focal points
- A framework for a doorway, arch or view
- A softening effect on hard landscaping
- The opportunity to brighten dull areas
- A disguise of unattractive feature
- A year round display
How can containers and hanging baskets best be used?
Plants may be grown in containers and hanging baskets that will not thrive in the garden soil.
*Where the pH of the garden soil is unsuitable for growing certain plants, for example rhododendrons and camellias - which are ‘calcifuges' - where the soil is alkaline.
*Where the soil contains persistent diseases that attack the plants required - for example club root with brassicas, white rot with onions, rust with antirrhinums.
*Why not research your own examples?
Sometimes, as mentioned above, there is no soil available, as in balconies and courtyards.
*We may need to grow tender plants, which require some protection over winter. The plants may then stand outside for full effect in summer and be brought inside for overwintering.
What types of container may we use?
- Pots. This covers all types of free-standing containers, including those which might be termed tubs, bowls, urns or vases. Even old watering cans may come into this category. Materials include: terracotta, plastic, reconstituted stone. *Try researching your own types and listing their respective advantages and limitations.
- Window boxes. These may be used for brightening up areas under windows but may also cover areas of blank wall. They may come in different materials, examples of which include: terracotta-type plastic, wood, metal and black-coated plastic.
- Hanging baskets. These are generally hemispherical, although there are occasional variations on this form. They may be made of metal, coated or otherwise, with open framework of varying opening sizes, or they may be in the form of a bowl, with a ‘saucer' at the bottom to hold water. In some cases, it is possible to obtain wrought iron baskets.
What plants do we use for the containers?
When planting up containers for summer display, it is usual to use annuals but any of the following may be placed into containers:
Alpines, shrubs and conifers would be more commonly used in permanent containers, although other plants may be added to infill and produce seasonal colour. Permanent containers, more often used for winter displays would be more likely to contain a number of evergreen plants.
As with all aspects of gardening, filling the containers is very much a matter of personal choice and taste - whether to have a mixture of plants or to concentrate on just one variety. There are no fixed rules but whatever plants are used, they need to be suitable for the container and the site.
One example of a single type of plant to be used is busy lizzie (impatiens), which has a rounded appearance and fits neatly into a hemisphere. A variation on the hemispherical basket is to tie two hemispherical baskets into a sphere and plant with begonias or busy lizzies, for example into a ball.
Invasive plants need to be chosen with a great deal of care, as they may take over the display.
Do not be afraid to plant containers and hanging baskets densely, as the more plants there are the less bare soil or container will be visible. For hanging baskets, trailing plants such as Surfinia, packed in closely, will soon cover the container.
One colour or several? Again, this is something which relies on personal choice. If one colour is used, this often has a greater impact. If several colours are used, the decision may need to be made as to whether these colours are harmonious or contrasting.
Preparing the Container: We need to look at the actions of preparing the container, planting it up, aftercare and the selection of suitable plants.
Basic principles of planting remain the same, whether it is a pot, a window box or a hanging basket.
- Ensure that all materials, including the container, are clean and free from disease.
- Ensure that the container has adequate drainage holes. If unsure, create further drainage holes.
- Decide on the appropriate compost to be used. This is a basic choice between soilless and soil-based composts. On no account must ordinary garden soil be used. Generally, soilless composts are much more appropriate for hanging baskets, window boxes and temporary displays in pots. For the more permanent plantings in containers, a soil-based compost is generally more suitable, as it retains nutrients and moisture for longer and provide stronger support for larger plants.
- Fertiliser should be applied on a regular basis - either in a solid form or mixed in a solution - to maintain the vigour of the plants.
- Hanging baskets made from wire need some form of a liner to retain the compost and moisture. It helps also to have a plastic lining at the base of the basket. The traditional lining of a basket is moss but several alternatives are now available. These include a form of plastic, plastic netting, fibre or a type of cardboard. If a less porous liner such as plastic is used, it must have several drainage holes incorporated into it.
- If a soil-based compost is used, or if there are few drainage holes, it is a good idea to place a layer of grit or aggregate in the bottom of the container to assist with easier drainage.
- Fill the container with compost. In the case of a hanging basket, fill to the level of the first plants to be incorporated, then gradually fill and plant to the top. For other containers, fill to within 3-5cm from the top, to allow for watering.
- If possible provide some support off the ground for tubs, pots etc., to ensure that the container drains freely.
Planting of containers:
1. As mentioned, plant much more intensively in a container.
- Ensure that the plants are well watered before setting in the container, allowing excess moisture to drain off.
- In a hanging basket, it is important to plant through the sides of the basket to ensure that it is completely covered. If there are no existing holes or gaps in the liner, insert the plants after making suitable holes. Sometimes there needs to be some work done on the plant to ensure that it will enter the gap but do not worry. With correct watering, the plant will recover sufficiently to grow around the container.
- Once plants have been inserted around the basket, the basket may be planted in the top with bush plants such as fuchsia, pelargonium or petunia, for example. * Why nor research your own plants?
- After all the plants have been inserted, ensure that the compost is firmed around the plants but do not make the compost too compacted or the roots will have no air and will wilt.
- Water the plants in well when all have been inserted.
- Sometimes it is necessary to give plants protection initially in their containers, in a greenhouse or conservatory, moving the plants outside when all danger of frost has abated. Good, strong plants may have an extended time of display.
Aftercare of containers:
- Watering regularly is essential, as, during high summer, containers may dry out very quickly. Hanging baskets are the most susceptible to drying, as they are exposed to sun and drying winds and contain the least compost. During periods of greatest exposure to the drying effects, it is advisable to water containers - baskets especially - at least twice a day. Before the sun has risen and after the sun has set are the most effective times. It is possible, in some instances, to fit automatic watering systems that will top up available water without manual intervention. A means of retaining moisture is the addition of water-retaining gel but this should be no substitute for regular watering.
- Feeding is also essential, as the plants are growing constantly and, being tightly packed, soon exhaust all the available nutrients. Fertilisers are detailed above.
- Pinching out the growing tips of young plants will encourage them to become more bushy. (minimises apical dominance ). Dead-heading on a regular basis will keep the container looking tidy.
- Weeding by hand must take place in a regular basis to prevent the weeds taking over.
- Pests and diseases must be controlled on a regular basis. The most common of these are aphids, caterpillars, slugs and snails.
- Plants for containers: Below are some examples:
Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen' Small, evergreen, variegated foliage
Hebe ‘Bowles Hybrid' Attractive, purple flowers May to September
Hedera helix ‘Glacier' Evergreen climber with small, variegated leaves that will trail over the container
Erica carnea ‘Aurea' Golden leaved heather
Crocus ‘Joan of Arc' Large-flowered white crocus
Narcissus ‘Minnow' ‘Tete a tete' Miniature multi-flowered narcissus with yellow blooms
Bellis perennis Multi-flowered daisies
Arabis albida ‘Snowflake' Evergreen with small white flowers.
Summer containerPlant Characteristics
Fuchsia hybrids Many varieties, colours and shapes, including trailing
Impatiens hybrids Busy lizzie, many colours, long flowering, sun or shade
Petunia ‘Surfinia' Prolific trailing plant
Pelargonium hybrids Many forms, inc trailing
* Apical Dominance is a plant's natural inclination to grow upwards. Pinching out or pruning the top growth will encourage the growth of lateral shoots, thus providing a more ‘bushy' plant.
Watering of Hanging Baskets and Containers:
The main thing to remember with hanging baskets and containers is that they are prone to dry out much more quickly than plants in open ground.
In warm, dry conditions, water plants twice a day, first thing in the morning before the sun rises and last thing in the evening after the sun sets.
Watering in the heat of the day may be counterproductive as
7. Plants and soil dry out much more quickly and droplets of water on plants may have a ‘magnifying glass' effect on the foliage and flowers of plants.
Remember that winds have just as much of a drying effect as the sun, so apply water even if the weather is dull.