Suspended stunners - NZ Herald

Dec 3 2014

Now is a good time to plant hanging baskets for a stunning display this summer. Growing hanging baskets is a wonderful way to garden and were first used as decoration in the famous hanging gardens of ancient Babylon.
In today's full lifestyle, often with emphasis on the full use of limited space has led to the acceptance of any means by which plants can be displayed to their advantage.
Almost any plant that will grow in a container can be grown in a hanging basket, creating new visual perspectives even in a small courtyard, balcony or veranda. Gardens can be developed without taking up valuable ground or floor space. The use of vertical wall gardens is becoming popular and an economical home garden version is available in garden centres. Once filled with plants these offer a spectacular 'living wall' of plants.
Hanging baskets can be an answer to decorating problems inside the home. For example, a basket containing a large green hanging fern such as a Boston fern will soften harsh walls, or a hen and chicken fern can attractively fill an empty corner, while a hanging carnivorous pitcher plant can become an interesting talking point.
In an outdoor situation the use of flowering plants such as impatiens or petunias enhances a garden, courtyard, verandah or entranceway providing a blaze of colour during summer. If possible locate the basket away from the prevailing wind and direct early afternoon sun. Fortunately there is an almost limitless variety of plants suitable for hanging baskets. Ferns, small spreading shrubs, perennials, annuals, tropical plants, ivy geraniums, succulents and even strawberries and herbs can be grown throughout the house from the bedroom to the kitchen as well as outdoors, with some imagination and innovation.
The right container or basket can be found for just about every plant.

The choice of a suitable container can be just as important to the decorative effect as the choice of plant and position. Containers are made from materials ranging from plastic and terracotta to wood and wire, and some are easy to make. Timber can be used to make wooden hanging boxes to create a rustic effect. Even an old teapot can be put to such use.
One popular method is to simply line a wire basket with sphagnum moss or coconut fibre and fill it with a good quality potting mix such as the Yates Professional brand.
Plant for the season Labels on plants in the garden centre can greatly assist in plant choice. Many labels indicate whether the plants tolerate full sun, semi-shade or full shade. In Wanganui the main plants used for summer baskets in Victoria Avenue by Frank and Joy Bristol at Bristol Plants & Seeds, are petunias (especially perennial types), impatiens, begonias both tuberous and fibrous, geranium, verbena, portulaca, Dicondra Silver Falls, succulents, parsley and pyrethrum.
You are only limited by your imagination when selecting plants for hanging baskets. It can be very rewarding to think of what you are trying to achieve with co-ordination of colours against your house rather than just hoping they will work together somehow. Single plant baskets can look stunning like the tuberous begonia Illumination that is used to good effect in Victoria Avenue. The vibrant colours of yellow and red can cheer and inspire while blue colours have a calm and cooling effect on hot days. Joy and Frank advise that it is important to pinch out the new growth of the plants about three times during the growing season to encourage bushy growth, and also to remove the spent blooms (dead heading).
Flowering plants suitable for hanging baskets include impatiens, marigolds, nasturtium, ageratum, begonias, fuchsias, lobelia, nepeta (catmint), pelargonium, petunias, portulaca and zinnias (dwarf). Note that fuchsias are one of the finest flowering shrubs. They have a magnificent affinity with hanging baskets and their branches can be trained to weep down over the side of the basket.
Watering Under-watering is the most common cause of failure of hanging baskets. You will find that hanging baskets need more frequent watering than ground plants. This is because they have a continual airflow around them. The frequency of watering depends on the type of plant. As a rule you should wait until the soil surface appears dry and if it is dry for the top 3-4cm then the plants need water. Water gently until water drips from the bottom of the basket. In hot, windy conditions shift your baskets to a well-protected area and out of the hot afternoon sun. In strong and extreme winds take your baskets down to prevent damage. A good potting mix will contain a wetting agent and water holding crystals. It will be beneficial to add extra water holding products
Feeding After about four to six weeks the basket can be fed, say once per fortnight with a liquid fertiliser such as Phostrogen, Thrive or similar to replace fertiliser that is leached out due to frequent watering.
Monitor the appearance of the plants and if they start to turn yellow it is time to supplement with liquid feed at weekly intervals.
Living wall troughs An increasingly popular version of hanging baskets are "living walls". The concept has been developed in cities on the walls of large buildings, offering significant aesthetic value as well as reducing pollution.
There are lots of variations for a home garden living wall. The best I have seen is a series of specially designed troughs. Easy to install and maintain, water is saved by flowing from one module to the next.