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Summer hanging baskets are a wonderful addition to any outdoor space and can be full of ornamental flowering plants, foliage plants or herbs.

Plant summer baskets from April onwards, but protect them from frosts e.g. in a greenhouse until the end of May. If this is not available wait until late May to plant them up outside.

Hanging baskets need three types of plants: ‘Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers’. The Thriller is the taller plant that features as your centrepiece creating structure and impact. ‘Fillers’ are planted around the central plant, and ‘Spillers’ are planted at the edge of the basket to trail over.

How many plants should make up the basket? A general rule of thumb is one plant per inch of basket diameter, so use 12 plants in a 12 inch (30cm) diameter basket. If you are planting strongly-growing plants e.g. Fuchsias or Geraniums then use only five in a 30cm basket

Plants suitable for summer baskets include:

  • Trailing Begonias
  • Bacopa
  • Calendula
  • Calibrachoa (mini-petunias)
  • Dahlias (dwarf)
  • Fuchsias (upright or trailing)
  • Geraniums (thin-leaved or trailing ivy leaved)
  • Impatiens (Busy Lizzies)
  • Laurentia
  • Lobelia
  • Nasturtium
  • Nemophila
  • Nicotiana (tobacco plants)
  • Pansies
  • Petunias (many varieties are sold e.g. ‘Surfinia’)
  • Salvias
  • Sweet peas (dwarf)
  • Verbenas, Violas

These are all readily available from garden centres, nurseries and online suppliers.

  • Great satisfaction once the plants in the basket grow and flower
  • Brightens up otherwise plant free areas
  • Encourages creativity in choosing plants and deciding on an arrangement
  • Develops fine motor skills and co-ordination
  • Use a bucket to sit the basket in/on when planting it up to raise it higher as you work and so that you can turn it around easily to work from all sides
  • Get a rigid lance to put on the end of your hose to make watering easier once the basket is in position
  • Encourage them to select plants and plan how the basket will look
  • Introduce some edible plants to make an edible basket with tumbling tomatoes and herbs.
  • You could get a retractable/adjustable hanging planter on a pulley hook so that the kids can water and maintain the basket easily
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  • Hanging basket, hanger and bracket to hold the basket (see below)
  • Suitable lining material if needed (see below)
  • Multi-purpose compost (preferably peat-free)
  • Slow-release fertiliser pellets
  • Water-retaining gel
  • A good variety of plants (Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers) to put in a summer hanging basket (see above).

Before you start

Ensure that your basket is the right size for your hanger and bracket. Different hanging baskets and liners are available e.g.

  • Plastic hanging basket at least 20cm diameter (three litre volume) with plastic hanger
  • Rattan basket with waterproof lining
  • Wire basket with lining e.g. Coir (coconut fibre), cardboard, sisal (shredded sacking). Moss lining can be obtained ‘fresh’ or in packs of compacted dry moss that must be soaked before use
  • Easy-fill baskets with ‘new’ solid removable gates. Use coarse compost in these, or the compost may run out when you water the basket.
  1. Line your basket with a suitable lining if it needs one.
  2. Fill the hanging basket with compost to within 7cm of the top.
  3. Measure out the fertiliser pellets carefully and mix them with the compost. The instructions will state the correct amount, e.g. 14g of fertiliser needed for each litre of compost.
  4. Measure the correct amount of water retaining gel and mix it in well with the compost. Make sure it is evenly spread and not clumped together.
  5. Place the main ‘Thriller’ plant in the centre of the compost.
  6. Place the ‘Filler’ plants around this central plant.
  7. Place the ‘Spiller’ plants around the edge of the basket so that they will trail over the top.
  8. ‘In-fill’ between the plants with more compost and firm it down gently, making sure the plant roots are fully covered.
  9. Leave a 1cm ‘lip’ of the hanging basket to stop the compost being washed out of the basket when it is watered.
  10. Water the compost and leave to drain before hanging it up in a suitable place.

Optional – Plant some plants through the sides of the liner. To start, mix the compost, fertiliser and gel together. Put a layer of the compost mix in the basket and insert some plants through the sides of the liner.

With a coir liner, cut ‘cross shapes’ to make it easier to insert the plant roots. Wrap paper or polythene around the roots when inserting the plants to prevent damage. Fill in between the plants with compost mix. Add more plants and build up the compost. Finally, plant ‘on the top’ with a Thriller plant and Fillers and Spillers.

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Add water-retaining gel to the compost which can dry out quickly in warm weather. The gel slows down the drying process.

Check the compost each day (finger test) and keep the compost moist but not soggy. When watering, water the compost and not the foliage or flowers. This helps the water reach the roots where it is needed rather than be wasted as it evaporates from the leaves. Water-drops on leaves in bright sunshine act as tiny mirrors and cause scorch marks.

Deadhead the flowers every week to promote more flowering. Don’t be afraid to give your plants e.g. Petunias a good ‘haircut’ to tidy them up and give them a growth boost, if they become too straggly.

Use slow-release fertiliser pellets (moisture dependent) or controlled-release fertiliser pellets (temperature dependent) in your basket but check how long they last e.g. six weeks. Mark the date in your diary and then re-apply after this time. Alternatively use a weekly liquid fertiliser; feed with a high Nitrogen (N) content in the first weeks to encourage plant growth and then later with a high Potassium (K) content to encourage flowers.

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