Hanging baskets add height and colour to a garden, and can be used to cheer up a plain wall or fence. Ready-planted baskets are sold by most garden centres in early summer, but it's more satisfying to design and plant up your own basket at home.
Size and shape
Standard baskets are semi-spherical. Most are made of plastic-coated wire. Heavier, more expensive wrought-iron ones are also available, as are cheap plastic lookalikes. The most popular sizes are 25cm, 30cm, 35cm and 40cm diameter. Our tests in Which? Gardening magazine have shown that a 35cm basket is likely to suit most gardeners' needs. Smaller baskets need frequent watering in summer (twice a day in hot weather). Larger baskets can look very impressive, but are expensive to fill and very heavy when wet. Make sure that you buy a bracket that is going to be strong enough to support the size of basket you choose.
How to plant up a hanging basket
Hanging baskets are quick and easy to plant up. All you need is a basket, a bracket, compost, fertiliser, plants and a liner.
- Baskets need to be fitted with a liner to hold the compost in place and retain moisture. There are many types available in garden centres, including: pre-formed pulp, cardboard, coco-fibre, wool, polystyrene foam and cotton waste. Some have pre-cut holes to slide plants through; others you have to cut yourself. Avoid sphagnum moss, which may have been harvested from natural habitats, though you could use moss raked from your lawn.
- Fill the lined basket with a Best Buy container compost, sitting the basket on top of a pot to stop it rolling around. Add a Best Buy controlled-release fertiliser to the compost. This will save liquid-feeding the basket later in the summer when the compost begins to run low on nutrients.
- Start planting up the sides of the basket with trailing plants. In a 35cm basket you should be able to fit five young trailing plants. It is best to push the plants out 'head first' from the inside of the basket rather than pushing them in, to avoid damaging the roots.
- Then fill the top of the basket with compost and the remaining plants, such as begonias, brachycomes and trailing fuchsias. In a 35cm basket you should have room for four plants of this type.
- Give the basket a thorough soaking with water before hanging it up. Then attach it to your hanging basket bracket.
- A 35cm hanging basket will need watering once a day to keep it looking good during dry weather. Relative to their size, smaller baskets need more watering, larger ones less.
- If you didn’t add a controlled-release fertiliser to the compost when you planted up the basket, use a liquid feed once a week. If you added a controlled-release fertiliser at planting time, start liquid feeding at the end of the summer when plants begin to run out of steam.
Some gardeners add a water-retaining gel to the compost when planting up their baskets. These gels are claimed to keep un-watered baskets looking good for longer in summer. In the Which? Gardening magazine trials we found that using them makes a noticeable difference in smaller baskets and pots. Which? Gardening members say the gels made watering easier and their displays looked good for longer. In our trial we looked at two of the brand-leaders and both performed well.
If you're the type of gardener who forgets to water their baskets, or are away from home a lot, make sure that you choose plants that can cope with droughts. These include bidens, pelargoniums and portulaca. Also try flowers that recover well after wilting, such as fibrous and tuberous rooted begonias, brachyscomes, diascias and petunias.
At the end of the summer, many gardeners simply empty out their hanging baskets onto the compost heap and let their plants die. This is fine if you don’t mind buying new plants each year, but you can save money by taking cuttings from many of the plants in your basket and growing them on in winter for use next year. It is perfectly possible to get as many as 40 cuttings from a single basket; enough to fill several new baskets next year if you look after them through the winter.