Container Gardens in Baskets
Hanging baskets and pots are charming garden features, whether part of the container garden or simply decoration for an entrance or porch. Suspended at various heights, baskets make it possible to grow plants in midair, where at eye level, or above, they can be enjoyed for their graceful beauty. Fuchsias, with their pendent, jewel-like blossoms, tuberous begonias, lantanas, and star of Bethlehem take on a new look when seen from below. Even a nondescript trailer, weedy at that, creeping jenny or creeping charlie, looks entirely different in a basket. In fact, if you grow it, you will often be asked what it is.
To decorate porches or balconies, plants in baskets are delightful, but they can also be suspended on fences, walls, poles, beams of garden shelters, and from the eaves of a garage, tool shed or garden house. Lampposts, poles, arbors, and pergolas are other appropriate locations, not to mention the branches of trees. Plants in baskets require no special care, and are just as simple to care for as plants in pots or boxes. The easiest way is to purchase planted baskets from florists or garden centers, but it is also fun to make your own baskets and plant them.
Kinds of Baskets A hanging basket may consist of a wire frame lined with moss and filled with soil. Or the effect of a basket may be obtained by suspending a flower pot in a wire holder or by wires drawn through holes made at the pot rim. Glazed and unglazed pottery, wooden baskets or tubs, plastic pots, and slatted wooden frames can also be suspended. On the West Coast, slatted frames of redwood or cedar are recommended because they hold moisture better than wire frames. These frames may be square, octagonal, round, or triangular. For walls, fences, or other vertical surfaces, there are baskets made with one flat side.
To reduce evaporation, clay pots may be painted or shellacked. Keep to soft colors that do not detract from the plants. Open wire baskets are durable and nonbreak-able, but those made of copper are best because they do not rust. Wire baskets are inexpensive, and if you plant your own, the cost is negligible.
Moss Lining for a Basket
The first step in planting a wire or slatted basket is to line the inside with moss. This holds soil in place and also provides a drainage layer. You can gather moss in the woods, selecting large patches that can be rolled off in big pieces. When you line a basket with this, let the green side face out. Sphagnum moss, obtainable from a florist, is a good liner, because, even when wet, it holds a lot of air. If you start with dry moss, before placing it, moisten it well with a solution of weak fertilizer for the benefit of the plant roots. Osmunda fiber, procurable at garden centers, is a good substitute for sphagnum, because it decays slowly, but it has the disadvantage of drying out quickly and is an unattractive dark color. Because Osmunda is springy, pack it firmly so drainage will be adequate. At the base of the wire frame, you can insert a saucer to catch excess water. This will then hold a supply of moisture for roots, and the saucer will prevent a drip-through to porch or terrace. Some types of baskets, among these clay, come with saucers attached.
How to Plant a Basket
To grow plants only in the center of a moss-lined basket, fill with soil and plant with care. For immediate effects, select fairly large plants, all ready to bloom. You can add hanging plants, ivy or vinca, at the edge, with upright growers-wax begonias or zonal geraniums-in the center for height. This is a simple variation from the typical hanging plant of ivy-leaved geranium, lantana, fuchsia, or tuberous begonia. With some kinds, strawberry begonia and star of Bethlehem (called also Italian bell-flower), you will want plants to creep down the sides of the basket for a cascade. For this, first place moss in the basket and spread soil to the halfway mark. Through the wire openings at the sides, insert young plants, laying them carefully on the sides. Then pack soil around the root balls. Repeat higher up, adding more moss, soil and plants until you reach the top center where larger specimens will be planted upright. At the surface, make a central depression to catch water.
Fertilizing Basket Plants
After planting, suspend the basket in a barrel of water, a pail or a garden pool up to the rim until it absorbs enough moisture for the surface to feel wet. Then hang up the basket to dry. Or dip it in a weak fertilizer solution if you did not soak the moss previously. After this treatment, feeding will not be needed for two weeks. Thereafter, dip the basket in a fertilizer solution once a week. This method enables plant food to spread throughout the moss lining. If you prefer, you can feed plants with a solution poured over the soil surface. For baskets, use the soil mixture recommended for window boxes, unless plants require something special. Tuberous begonias and fuchsias, with their fine fibrous roots, should not be allowed to dry out. Generally, they will need watering twice, perhaps three times, a day in very hot weather. If possible, arrange baskets on pulleys so they can be lowered easily for you to touch the soil and determine how much to water. Or keep a small ladder handy for this purpose. For plants exposed to constant sun and wind, the pot-in-basket technique is helpful. This consists of placing a potted plant in a basket and surrounding it with peatmoss, which can be readily kept moist. You can do the same with clay or other solid-type baskets. Plants will remain moist much longer with this method. Trailing house plants can be grown in hanging baskets, but most popular are the hanging types of geraniums, fuchsias, and tuberous begonias, which are discussed here in separate chapters.
The Graceful Achimenes
A favorite basket plant in the South is the delicate achimenes. With attractive, oval-shaped leaves and tubular flowers in violet, blue, pink, scarlet, and white, this relative of the gloxinias and African violets thrives through long, hot, humid summers. Some good varieties are the large-flowering Mauve Queen, the pale blue Adelaide and Cattleya, Pink Beauty, Purple King, and the white Jaureguina Maxima and Margaritae, also called Purity. Achimenes is also well adapted to hanging baskets in the North, where it grows rapidly during the hot days of a shorter summer. Plants need an indoor start to insure early bloom. Start small, scaly, sprouting tubers in large pots or trays in March or April. If no growth is visible, spread the tubers on moist Vermiculite, sawdust, sphagnum moss, or screened peatmoss, and keep at 70 to 90 degrees F. until sprouts appear. For a good starting medium, mix equal thirds of leaf-mold, peatmoss, and sharp sand. Scatter tubers over this and cover with one-quarter-inch of the mixture. Tubers thus started in flats or pots can be moved to permanent quarters when plants are one-half to two inches high. Through this early growing period, keep moist but not wet at 70 to 75 degrees if possible. You can also start achimenes in the baskets in which they will grow. Plant the sprouted tubers in a mixture of two parts leafmold, one part soil, one part peat, one-half part sharp sand and one quarter part sifted sphagnum. For each bushel of mixture, add a three-inch pot of dry manure and half this amount of bonemeal, and be certain you have sufficient drainage material at the bottom of the container. Plant five to six tubers in a six-inch hanging basket and ten to twelve in a twelve-inch basket or twenty to twenty-five in a sixteen-inch basket. A four-inch basket can accommodate three to five bulbs. When planting, keep tips pointed outward and cover with three-quarter-inch of soil.
Achimenes can be taken outdoors when temperatures are likely to remain above 60 degrees F. Growth will be rapid once it starts. When plants are six inches high, top-dress with an inch of peatmoss and a small amount of dry manure. Feed bulbs every ten to fourteen days with a weak solution of liquid fertilizer. The usual amount recommended for pot plants, one teaspoon of a complete chemical fertilizer to a gallon of water, is excellent. At the end of the season, when lower leaves start to wither, plants go into a dormant period. Withhold water gradually, and cut off stems when tops have withered. In cold regions, bring indoors before frost. After foliage is gone, tubers may be left where they are and stored at 50 degrees F. Or they can be taken out of the soil and stored in dry sand or Vermiculite. The same achimenes will grow successfully in the same containers for three seasons. After that they will need separating and replanting in a fresh soil mixture.
Toward the end of the growing season, small growths or tubers will appear at the axils of the leaves. You can gather these before they fall and grow them to flowering size, first sprouting them on a moist medium. These new tubers will take longer to start because they are covered with a waxy substance. Given a humusy soil, warmth and good air circulation, freedom from drafts and shelter from high wind, achimenes will perform magnificently all summer. Since watering with cold water spots the leaves, have it tepid, but avoid wetting the foliage. As shade lovers, achimenes will scorch in hot sun, but the weak sun early or late in the day or filtered sunshine is needed for bloom. During the growing period, keep moist as you do African violets.
SOME EXCELLENT PLANTS FOR HANGING BASKETS
Coleus, Trailing Queen
(C. gloriosa & hirta)
Creeping Jenny Dianthus D
Sedum Dwarf French
(E. chontalensis & fulgida)
English Ivy Felicia
Star of Bethlehem or Italian Bell-Flower (Campanula isophylla)
Philodendrons Poor Man's
Pothos or Scindapsus
Thunbergia or Black-eyed-
Susan-Vine Torenia or
Wishbone Flower Vinca Wandering Jew or
Inch Plant Zebrina