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.
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.
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
Blue Vine Sage (Salvia cacaliifolia) Zones 8 to 11
Silver Germander Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides var. isochroma) Zones 7 to 11
Snowflake Sage (Salvia chionophylla) Zones 7b to 11
Peruvian Sage (Salvia discolor) Zones 9 to 11
Purple Bract Peruvian Sage (Salvia discolor 'Purple Bracts') Zones 9 to 11
Little Sage (Salvia nana) Zones 8 to 11
Silver Sabre Sage (Salvia 'Silver Sabre') Zones 5 to 9
Sinaloan Blue Sage (Salvia sinaloensis) Zones 7 to 9
Three Cute Cupheas
Mexican Loosestrife (Cuphea aff. aequipetala) Zones 8 to 11
Elk Red Bat Faced Cuphea (Cuphea llavea 'Elk Red') Zones 9 to 11
Minnie Mouse Ears (Cuphea 'Minnie Mouse') Zones 8 to 9
Five Fancy Heucheras
Canyon Belle Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Belle') Zones 4 to 9
Canyon Chimes Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Chimes') Zones 4 to 9
Canyon Duet Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Duet') Zones 4 to 9
Canyon Melody Dwarf Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Canyon Melody') Zones 4 to 9
Snow Storm Coral Bells (Heuchera 'Snow Storm') Zones 4 to 9
A Dash of Oreganos
Hopleys Oregano (Origanum laevigatum 'Hopleys') Zones 7 to 10
Norton's Gold Oregano (Origanum 'Norton Gold') Zones 6 to 9
Oregano Rosenkuppel (Origanum x 'Rosenkuppel') Zones 5 to 9
Five Fine Phygelius
Yellow Trumpet Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius aequalis 'Yellow Trumpet') Zones 7 to 10
Lemon Spritzer Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius 'Lemon Spritzer') Zones 7 to 10
Pink Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius 'Trewidden Pink') Zones 7 to 10
Sensation Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius x 'Sensation') Zones 7 to 10
African Queen Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius x rectus 'African Queen') Zones 7 to 10
Three Pleasant Plectranthus
Troy's Gold Spur Flower (Plectranthus ciliatus 'Troy's Gold') Zones 9 to 11
Variegated Mint Leaf (Plectranthus madagascariensis marginatus) Zones 9 to 11
Lobster Flower (Plectranthus neochilus) Zones 9 to 11
Four Other Friendly Companions
Mother Fern (Asplenium bulbiferium) Zones 9 to 11
Evergreen Cranesbill (Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo') Zones 7 to 10
Black Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry') Zones 5 to 9
Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale 'Karley Rose') Zones 5 to 9
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.