When I first started making my own baskets, I wanted ones that billowed with colourful blooms. But they always ended up looking skimpy. Even worse, during hot, dry summer days, the plants looked as though they needed some horticultural CPR. Since then, I've learned my lesson. Here's a primer on how to put together the ultimate hanging basket.
Start by choosing the right growing mix. Hanging baskets are notorious for drying out quickly, leaving plants high and dry, so look for mixes with moisture-retentive additives. One of the best is coir, a finely shredded coconut husk product that sucks up water better than peat moss. And, unlike peat, when it becomes dried out, coir is readily remoistened, which means water is absorbed into the potting mix rather than running off the surface as it often does with standard mixes. Another additive to look for is slow-release fertilizer that will feed your plants for the first few months. To boost flower production later in the season, though, water with a soluble plant food, such as 15-30-15.
Now to the fun part. When selecting plants, keep in mind that there are sun lovers and shade seekers, and rarely do the two meet with joy in the same basket. For sunny locations, group geraniums with petunias, trailing verbenas and clouds of starry white euphorbias, such as the new StarDust SuperFlash. For shade, you can't go wrong with trailing begonias, fuchsias and trailing plectranthus (write down its tongue-twister of a name to avoid embarrassment at the nursery) with its silvery or variegated foliage. Select plants that cascade softly over the sides of a basket, billow outward or mound nicely to fill the basket, and avoid upright ones; they're more suitable for containers. At the nursery, walk right past the annuals sold in cell packs and head for the ones in four-inch pots; the season is too short to wait for plants to fill the basket.
Choose a colour scheme that complements the hues of your porch, deck or patio. Whether you prefer warm or cool colours for a harmonious display, contrasting ones that pack a punch or a soothing monochromatic scheme, group various potted plants at the nursery and play with different combinations until you find the right one.
The classic hanging basket is made of a wire frame lined with sphagnum moss. But shaped coir liners that sit inside the frame help to retain moisture in the basket far better. Plastic or resin-based baskets are good choices too, but avoid black ones because they absorb heat, which can "cook" roots.