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Container Gardening: 32 Salvias and Companions for Hanging Baskets

Container Gardening: 32 Salvias and Companions for Hanging Baskets

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Synopsis: As summer nears, it's time to prepare hanging baskets for patios, front entries and other locations that lend themselves to an aerial display of lush greenery and colorful blossoms. This year, don't just settle for what is familiar; make room for cascading Salvias and waterwise companion plants. Flowers by the Sea has selected 32 favorite plants that arch, tumble, form globes of bloom and otherwise perform beautifully aloft.

As summer nears, it's time to prepare hanging baskets for patios, front entries and other locations that lend themselves to an aerial display of lush greenery and colorful blossoms. This year, don't just settle for what is familiar; make room for cascading Salvias and waterwise companion plants.

It appears that the idea of container gardening originated in the ancient Middle East where water was limited. However, the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon likely didn't exist in Babylonia. While current research indicates no lavish gardens in that area, it does show evidence of such a garden 300 miles to the north in Nineveh, the capital of the rival Assyrian empire and a location near the modern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Beauty Up Close

The habit of planting outdoors in baskets attached to walls or hanging from posts, rafters or ceilings flourishes today on municipal main streets and other locations where garden space is limited. Hanging baskets now are popular in any setting where gardeners like their look and the way they attract butterflies and hummingbirds up close.

We've selected 32 favorite plants that arch, tumble, form globes of bloom and otherwise perform beautifully aloft. However, before introducing them, here is some helpful information about hanging baskets.

Also, when reading the plant descriptions, remember that width measurements indicate whether certain plants will have longer or shorter trailing branches.

Potting Mixes

Most of the plants listed here are comfortable in general purpose, potting mixes formulated for local conditions. Some require more fertilizer than others. However, to avoid root burn or lanky growth, it is best to purchase a mix that contains a moderate amount of nitrogen.

To avoid compaction, heaviness and unwanted microorganisms, it's best not to use garden soil. Although referred to as soilless, the best potting mixes for containers are sterilized soil-like mediums that contain organic matter and mineral components without pesky microorganisms. They're also lighter than garden soil, compact less and drain well.

Containers

Hanging baskets are primarily plastic pots with a number of drain holes or wire baskets lined with a mat of coconut fiber (coir) or sphagnum peat moss.

Coir can be purchased as a flat material that you cut to fit a basket or as preformed linings in common pot shapes and sizes. Sphagnum moss is a loose material available in bags at garden centers. You wet the moss and pat clumps of it in the wire basket until the bottom and sides are sealed so that soil won't fall out.

Planting A Plastic Basket

To assemble a plastic hanging planter, begin by filling it about half full of potting mix and stirring slow-release fertilizer into the medium.

Then, depending on the size of the basket, you're going to place about three to seven plant sets in the pot with the most vertical plant at the center. But first, dip each plant's root ball in water before placing it on the potting mix. This will give it a head start on hydration.

Fill around the plants with potting mix until the medium is level with the tops of the sets' root balls. Finally, water the planter until moisture dribbles out the bottom holes. Soil dries more quickly in containers that in ground. In some areas, it may be necessary to water hanging baskets twice daily.

Apply a diluted, liquid fertilizer to container plants about once every two weeks for rich soil and less often for species that prefer soil with less enrichment.

Planting a Wire Basket

After lining a wire basket, the planting process is almost the same as for a plastic container.  However, by slitting the fibrous lining at equidistant points on the sides, it's possible to insert root balls of plant sets. This helps to create a fuller, longer, trailing look.

To side plant, cut an "X" in the liner. Next, place a plant's root ball in a plastic baggy and squeeze it gently before sliding it through the cut and into the potting mix.  Remove the plastic bag and repeat the process for all the side plantings.  Cover the side plantings with potting mix. Then place the remaining sets in the top of the basket and fill around them.

Selecting Plant Combinations

It's up to you whether to combine different plants in a hanging basket or to mass a single species. However, when creating a combo, keep in mind that needs for sunshine, moisture and soil fertility should match for greatest success.

Also, consider the relative heights and widths of the plants you put together. For example, if you are combining Arizona Blue Sage with a petite Heuchera, it is the Heuchera that should be situated closest to the edge of the basket or side planted.

Here are some favorite choices for combo or solo plantings.

Nine Select Salvias 

Arizona Blue Sage (Salvia arizonica) Zones 6 to 11

  • Violet-blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Lance-shaped, mid-green foliage
  • Partial shade to full shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Blue Vine Sage (Salvia cacaliifolia) Zones 8 to 11

  • True blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 54 inches tall in bloom, 42 inches wide
  • Triangular, mid-green foliage
  • Partial shade to full sun
  • Water loving
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Silver Germander Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides var. isochroma) Zones 7 to 11

  • Sky-blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 18 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Mint-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Snowflake Sage (Salvia chionophylla) Zones 7b to 11

  • Sky-blue flowers with white bee lines bloom summer to fall
  • 6 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Hairy, whitish-green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Rich soil
  • Average watering, but drought resistant

Peruvian Sage (Salvia discolor) Zones 9 to 11

  • Dark purple flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Fragrant, smooth, mid-green leaves have fuzzy, silvery undersides
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering

Purple Bract Peruvian Sage (Salvia discolor 'Purple Bracts') Zones 9 to 11

  • Dark purple flowers with lavender bracts bloom summer to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Fragrant, smooth, mid-green leaves have fuzzy, silvery undersides
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering

Little Sage (Salvia nana) Zones 8 to 11

  • Small, violet flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Mint-green, heavily veined foliage tinged with purple
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Silver Sabre Sage (Salvia 'Silver Sabre') Zones 5 to 9

  • Purple flowers bloom in summer
  • 8 inches tall in bloom, 23 inches wide
  • Fragrant, lance-shaped foliage in green, cream and pink variegation
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering
  • Culinary herb

Sinaloan Blue Sage (Salvia sinaloensis) Zones 7 to 9

  • True, blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Spear-shaped, deep green-to-purple foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Water loving
  • Rich soil

Three Cute Cupheas

Mexican Loosestrife (Cuphea aff. aequipetala) Zones 8 to 11

  • Purple, bat-face petals on bright green tubes bloom spring to fall
  • 12 inches tall, 48 inches wide
  • Lance-shaped, mid-green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Water loving
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Elk Red Bat Faced Cuphea (Cuphea llavea 'Elk Red') Zones 9 to 11

  • Red and purple, bat-face petals on red tubes bloom summer to fall
  • 18 inches tall and wide
  • Lance-shaped, mid-green leaves
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Water loving
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Minnie Mouse Ears (Cuphea 'Minnie Mouse') Zones 8 to 9

  • Orange-red tubes with tiny, dark purple, bat-face petals bloom spring to fall
  • 18 inches tall and wide
  • Lance-shaped, mid-green leaves
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Water loving
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Five Fancy Heucheras

Canyon Belle Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Belle') Zones 4 to 9

  • Tiny, coral-red flowers bloom spring to summer
  • 12 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Glossy green, scalloped foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Canyon Chimes Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Chimes') Zones 4 to 9

  • Tiny, dark pink flowers bloom spring to summer
  • 12 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Glossy green, scalloped foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Canyon Duet Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Duet') Zones 4 to 9

  • Tiny, pink-to-white flowers bloom spring to summer
  • 12 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Glossy green, scalloped foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Canyon Melody Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Melody') Zones 4 to 9

  • Tiny, medium-pink flowers touched with white bloom spring to summer
  • 12 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Glossy green, scalloped foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Snow Storm Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Snow Storm') Zones 4 to 9

  • Tiny, red flowers bloom spring to summer
  • 20 inches tall in bloom, 12 inches wide
  • Variegated white and green, scalloped foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering
  • Attracts hummingbirds

A Dash of Oreganos

Hopleys Oregano (Origanum laevigatum 'Hopleys') Zones 7 to 10

  • Tiny, purplish-pink flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 24 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Fragrant foliage, mid-green with purplish tone transforming to gray-green
  • Full sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts butterflies

Norton's Gold Oregano (Origanum 'Norton Gold') Zones 6 to 9

  • Tiny, pink flowers bloom in summer
  • 12 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Fragrant, bicolor gold-and-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts butterflies and honeybees

Oregano Rosenkuppel (Origanum x 'Rosenkuppel') Zones 5 to 9

  • Tiny, magenta flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 24 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Smooth, green foliage with purple blush
  • Full sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts butterflies

Five Fine Phygelius

Yellow Trumpet Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius aequalis 'Yellow Trumpet') Zones 7 to 10

  • Long, pendant, lemon-yellow flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Glossy green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Lemon Spritzer Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius 'Lemon Spritzer') Zones 7 to 10

  • Long, pendant, hot pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 40 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Glossy green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Pink Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius 'Trewidden Pink') Zones 7 to 10

  • Long, pendant, peach-pink flowers with red-orange tips bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Glossy green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Sensation Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius x 'Sensation') Zones 7 to 10

  • Long, pendant, fuchsia-pink flowers with dark red tips bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Glossy green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

African Queen Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius x rectus 'African Queen') Zones 7 to 10

  • Long, pendant, coral-pink flowers with dark red-orange tips bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Glossy green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Average watering
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Three Pleasant Plectranthus

Troy's Gold Spur Flower (Plectranthus ciliatus 'Troy's Gold') Zones 9 to 11

  • Tiny, white flowers with lavender spots bloom in summer
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Dramatic, heavily textured foliage with gold and green variegation
  • Partial to full shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering
  • Rich soil

Variegated Mint Leaf (Plectranthus madagascariensis marginatus) Zones 9 to 11

  • White flowers bloom in spring
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches long
  • Bright green, scalloped foliage with irregular white margins
  • Partial to full shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Rich soil
  • Attracts butterflies

Lobster Flower (Plectranthus neochilus) Zones 9 to 11

  • Bicolor blue and violet flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Fragrant, mid-green, scalloped foliage
  • Partial shade to full sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant

Four Other Friendly Companions

Mother Fern (Asplenium bulbiferium) Zones 9 to 11

  • 24 inches tall, 36 inches wide
  • Bright green, lacy, arching foliage
  • Partial to full shade
  • Rich soil
  • Water loving

Evergreen Cranesbill (Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo') Zones 7 to 10

  • Pale pink, open-faced flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Fragrant, fan-shaped, medium-green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering, but drought resistant
  • Attracts honeybees

Black Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry') Zones 5 to 9

  • Purple to brownish-black, foxtail seed plumes blooming summer to fall
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 30 inches wide
  • Long, arching, mid-green blades
  • Full Sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering
  • Warm-season grass

Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale 'Karley Rose') Zones 5 to 9

  • Pink foxtail seed plumes blooming summer to fall
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Long, arching, gray-green blades
  • Full Sun
  • Heat tolerant
  • Average watering
  • Warm-season grass

Questions and Comments

Of course, additional plants in our catalog would thrive in hanging planters. We'd be glad to answer any questions you may have about potential choices.

There are also more considerations we could raise about planting methods. Two techniques that we discourage are the addition of moisture-retaining crystals to potting mix and the lining of coir or sphagnum with plastic to cut down on moisture loss. Either one can create an overly moist environment for many of our plants, including Salvias.

If you have questions about planting hanging baskets or have experiences to share, we'd appreciate hearing from you. Please call or write. We're ready to listen and share ideas.


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