COLUMBIA — Do you ever look at those beautiful hanging baskets in stores, wishing you could make one yourself? Hanging baskets are beautiful and are not hard to create. As with all works of art, you're only limited by your imagination.
Of course, the first thing you will need is a basket. You can find them at garden stores or search through thrift stores and yard sales. You will probably find a suitable container, if you don't already have one at home. If you use a basket made of straw, be sure to line the basket with plastic so the water will not rot the straw.
Whatever basket you choose, be sure to allow for water drainage. If there are no holes in your basket, place a few pieces of broken crockery or stones in the bottom before putting in the potting soil.
Once you have obtained the basket you wish to use, it is important to balance it on a plant pot or something sturdy to stabilize it while you are working. If you are using a wire basket, it is necessary to line it to keep the potting soil contained. A popular choice for this is sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss can be soaked beforehand to make it easier to use. Then, when lining the basket, be sure to overlap the moss in order to keep the soil from spilling out.
Next, partially fill the basket with potting soil and place the upright plants toward the center, firming the soil around them. Then, add the filler plants and finish with trailers along the rim. For upright plants consider coleus, geraniums and zinnias; for filler plants try begonias, pansies and vinca; and for trailers think of cascading petunias, lantana and kingfisher daisy.
Whatever you decide to plant, be sure you group plants that are compatible and appropriate for the conditions where you will hang the basket. For example, don't mix sun-loving plants with shade-loving plants or plants that need a lot of watering with those that don't.
Some people like to use hanging baskets to plant their herbs. You could try a theme basket and plant spicy plants — hot peppers, basil, lemon thyme and oregano — which could then be used to make salsa. You could also try a summer salad basket using nasturtiums, fernleaf dill, parsley and a cherry tomato.
Be sure to water and fertilize your plants regularly and to check for pests. The most common pests for hanging baskets are spider mites and mealybugs.
Once you have your basket ready, it is important to hang it properly. Hanging gardens can get very heavy, so it is important to use sturdy chains and to hang the basket from solid wood, using a bracket that is rated for the weight of your finished basket. This is why it is also good to use a potting mix without soil, which is lighter than soil from the garden.
After the garden has grown awhile, it will be necessary to trim wilting leaves and dying flowers. When the flowers seem to be deteriorating, it may be time to replant.
Hanging baskets are practical, pretty and can be used in areas where there is not a lot of space. They also give instant color, create visual interest and are a great hobby activity to experiment with different kinds of plants.
Plus, after you've created it, you will have a feeling of accomplishment as well as having other people admire your work of art.
Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993 and serves as the Master Gardeners’ liaison to the Community Garden Coalition, in addition to serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.