Sent in by Susie Pinks (Cambridgeshire) - April 2011
The best time for planting hanging baskets is towards the end of May or early June if you live in a cold area of the UK.
Various types of baskets are available for hanging plants, made from woven materials, plastic or coated metal wire. Whichever type you choose, you will need to line the basket with something to stop the soil from falling out and also to prevent the soil from drying out to quickly.
I can remember the time when the only liner was sphagnum moss but today there are a wide variety of alternative basket linings, such as, artificial moss, coir, coco matting, fibre, compressed cellulose and plastic foam. These can be pierced easily with scissors or a sharp knife where you want to plant trailers such as lobelia through the side of the basket.
The old traditional lining of sphagnum moss is still one of the most versatile and attractive linings, but is too porous to use on its own. If moss is used then you will need to line the inside of the moss with black polythene or even aluminium foil, to help retain moisture. You will also need to make a few slits in the polythene or foil liner to allow moisture through, as the moss is living and will also need a source of water.
Over the years I have found that the major drawback with moss is that the birds love it for nest building and can strip a basket bare before the plants have has a chance to fill-out and cover it. I now prefer to use baskets made from wicker or woven materials as these still look natural and only need a simple plastic liner, so are therefore are much easier to manage.
An alternative to wire or woven baskets is hanging baskets made of solid plastic, complete with a useful saucer underneath to catch any drips. On the minus side, it is not usually possible to plant anywhere but in the top, though trailers will soon go over the edge and hang down. Though they are easy to use, plastic doe not look particularly pretty in the garden, especially green plastic, which, only seems to draw attention to its unnaturalness.
Obviously the soil used in the basket should be as light as possible to keep the weight down but it still needs to be able to retain as much moisture as is can. Baskets can dry-out very quickly as the soil mass is small and they are usually placed in full sun, and high up, where they are more exposed to drying winds. You can either buy ready mixed hanging basket composts or make your own from a mixture of soil and a light compost, to which you can add moisture retaining granules. These granules are gel-like and will expand when wet, keeping moisture in the soil after any water has drained through. Don't use peat (or a peat replacement) on its own, as it dries out extremely quickly, and once dry, it is very hard to moisten it again thoroughly.
If the weather is still cold you will need to harden-off the plants in the basket by gradually exposing them to the cooler outside conditions. If you are keeping the baskets in a greenhouse or coldframe then ventilate well in the day time. If the plants have been raised indoors, put them outside during the day and bringing them back in at night.
Trailing or bush varieties
All trailing varieties