May 20, 2012

You, too, can get the hang of this art form

They're high-maintenance, but hanging baskets are well worth it for the splashes of color they bring to your property.


For such sweet-looking things, hanging baskets can be demanding divas.

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It can be hard to keep plants in hanging baskets and pots thriving, as the containers don’t hold much water and hanging in the air causes them to dry out more quickly. But with good planning, and by adopting a bigger-is-better philosophy when choosing basket size, you can have success.

Photos by McClatchy Newspapers

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Restricted to small pots and hung in the drying air, their plants often require far more attention to maintain their looks than flowers planted in the ground.

But Pete Kern and Pamela Crawford believe gorgeous baskets are within anyone's reach, if you start with smart planting.

Kern's Florist and Greenhouse in Springfield Township, Ohio, creates eye-catching baskets. Crawford is a noted container gardening expert from Canton, Ga., who has written a series of books on the subject and designed planters for the garden supplier Kinsman Co.

We asked Kern and Crawford for their best tips on creating hanging baskets. Here's what we learned.


Crawford insists she developed her planting methods by learning from her many mistakes, and one of the earliest of those was using baskets that were too small.

For one thing, small baskets don't hold enough water, she said. For another, they lack room for the roots to grow large, so the plants can't live as long. Flowers in small baskets will peter out before the growing season ends, she said.

The smallest basket in the line she designed for Kinsman is 14 inches in diameter.

Keep in mind, however, that a larger basket can be heavy when it's filled with plants and well-watered soil. Consider whether you're going to have to lift the basket to care for it, and whether the spot where it will hang can handle the load.

Whatever basket you choose, make sure it has a drainage hole. Some also have attached saucers to catch overflow.


Your basket will be only as beautiful as the plants you choose. There's much to consider -- bloom color, foliage color, texture, growth habit and the plants' mature size, among other factors.

Kern and Crawford suggested starting with the most basic question: How much sun will the basket get?

Plant tags tell you whether a plant prefers full sun (more than six hours of sunlight a day), part sun or part shade (three to six hours) or full shade (less than three hours). Narrow the field by considering only plants that meet the sun requirement of the basket's site.

Luckily for gardeners, growers have developed many plants that tolerate both sun and shade, Crawford noted. That's especially helpful in a situation such as a west-facing porch, where the basket is shaded most of the day but blasted by hot sun in the late afternoon.


Next comes the task of choosing plants that create a pleasing arrangement, and that takes a bit of artistic sense.

Crawford said she starts by choosing a taller plant to go in the center of the basket -- "something that completely dazzles me," she said -- and then looks for two or three more types of plants to surround that centerpiece. She holds the plants against one another to see how they look together, just as she would hold a throw pillow against her couch fabric to make sure the colors and textures work.

Plant size matters, too. Read the plant tags to determine how big each one will get. Kern likes creating baskets from plants that all get about the same height, while Crawford is careful to choose plants that don't dwarf the centerpiece plant.


You can give your hanging baskets a full, rounded look through side planting, which is inserting plants horizontally into holes in the basket's sides. It's easiest to do that with a wire basket lined with a material such as coir or sphagnum moss.

Not all flowers tolerate side-planting well, however. Their roots are subjected to more water than top-planted flowers, Crawford said. In her tests, she's had the best success with wax and dragon wing begonias, coleus, creeping Jenny, impatiens, ivy, lamium, variegated ivy, trailing torenia and scaevola.

(Continued on page 2)

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