Container gardening books often suggest plant combinations for hanging baskets. So do gardening websites, which you can find by Googling “hanging basket plant combinations.”
Crawford’s book, Easy Container Gardens simplifies the selection process even more by identifying what she calls blue- and red-ribbon plants. Blue-ribbon plants require no upkeep other than watering, when planted according to her instructions, she said. Red-ribbon plants take a little more care, but they’re still excellent performers.
Her books can also be found in some libraries, bookstores or ordered online.
Kern said a 10-inch-diameter basket — usually the smallest size you’ll find in a garden center — needs at least three or four plants. Bigger baskets can hold more plants, he said.
Crawford advocates using plenty. The 14-inch basket she designed for Kinsman, for example, holds 17 plants — one centerpiece plant surrounded by eight smaller plants, with another eight planted horizontally in the sides. Her biggest basket, at 20 inches, holds a whopping 38 plants.
Crawford also prefers to start with larger plants than the ones that come in flats, so her baskets fill out faster. She likes plants with 3-inch root balls, which often come in packs of six to nine plants. They’re big enough to create a show right from the start but cheaper than plants sold individually in 4 1/2-inch pots, she said.
A good-quality soilless planting mix is best for hanging baskets, Kern and Crawford said. Soilless mixes drain better than soil, a critical feature for containers.
You can buy mixes that contain slow-release fertilizer, or you can add some when you plant — a step both Crawford and Kern recommend. Water-absorbing crystals can also be added to help keep plants from drying out.
Plant so the planting mix comes to about 1 inch below the top of the container, which leaves enough room to add water. Kern recommended moistening the planting mix before you fill the basket, so is won’t settle too much when the basket is watered.
Then hang and enjoy. Your plants will take a little time to fill out, but with proper care, they should continue to brighten your landscape till fall.
Want to keep your hanging baskets looking great all season? Kern and Crawford offer these tips:
• Water correctly. Overwatering is just killing a plant with kindness. Plants need water, but their roots also need oxygen. They can’t get it when they’re waterlogged.
Both Kern and Crawford say you should make sure the soil is somewhat dry before you add water. Water thoroughly, until the water runs out the bottom of the container. Kern recommended using a container such as a milk jug or a hose without a spray attachment, so you water just the soil, not the leaves. Wet leaves invite sun damage and disease.
It’s best to water in the morning, when it’s still cool, he said.
When heavy rains are forecast for four days or more, he recommended moving the plants to a sheltered spot.
• Water enough. Overwatering is a bad thing, but so is underwatering. Kern said you should never let your plants dry out to the point they wilt. If you do, they’ll take weeks to rebound.
That might mean watering more than once a day during hot spells, particularly if the basket is small or in a windy or sunny spot.
• Fertilize. Besides adding slow-release fertilizer to the soil when he plants, Kern also recommends supplementing with a liquid fertilizer.
Early in the season when the plants are young, fertilize weekly, he said. Once the roots fill the pot, around July or August, he recommends stepping up to two or three fertilizations a week.
Generally, he likes an all-purpose fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, although he suggested switching to a fertilizer with more phosphorus if the plants aren’t blooming well. Don’t overdo, though, or you can burn the plants, he said.
Crawford, on the other hand, thinks once is enough. She’s choosy about the slow-release fertilizer she uses at planting time, Dynamite Premium Fertilizer for flowers and vegetables. That particular product lasts nine months, she maintained, so there’s no need for additional feeding during that time.
• Rotate. Often hanging baskets are hung on a porch or other site where they’re exposed to sunlight on only one side. In that case, Crawford said it’s important to rotate the baskets for even growth.
She suggested hanging the baskets from swivel hooks, which you can buy at a hardware store.
• Deadhead if necessary. Most plants commonly used in hanging baskets don’t need deadheading, which means removing their spent flowers. But some plants, such as daisies and verbena, do.
• Pinch back. It can be hard to bring yourself to pinch back plants when they look good, but doing so will prevent those that need it from getting leggy.