Choosing plants for Hanging baskets

A basket can look extremely attractive hanging in a porch, on a balcony, or under a verandah. Like window-boxes and pot plants, they are a way of compensating for the lack of a garden, so do try to put them where you will enjoy them from indoors – not where they are only visible from outside the house. You can have hanging baskets indoors, but line them with green plastic or buy special watertight baskets which have their own interior draining devices – otherwise you will have drips all over the floor each time you water.

Size, soil and succour The basket itself should be at least 9 inches in diameter, if it is smaller than this it will not really hold enough soil to keep many types of plant healthy. Ideally it should be 1-1+ feet in diameter and have a depth of 6-9 inches. Hanging baskets are planted at the beginning of summer, to be hung up outside when all danger of frost is past. Make sure you hang them from a strong support, they can get very heavy. Line them with moss, this will help to retain as much water as possible, and then fill them with a mixture of peat and potting soil. They must not be allowed to dry out and in the driest weather must be watered twice a day. If possible, it is better occasionally to take the basket down and immerse it in water rather than water it overhead. If you have very leafy plants, Zebrinas for example, clean their leaves occasionally by spraying or wiping them.

Where to hang it

Site the baskets carefully so that they do not cut out any light from the house. They must also be easy to water, but not so low that they thump unwary heads and not where they may drip on the innocent caller.

Which plants to choose

Plants which trail naturally are best: Ivies, Lobelias, pendant Begonias, Petunias, Zebrinas, Chlorophytum (Spider Plant) and Geraniums (particularly the ivy-leaved varieties), with Nasturtiums sown among them to roar away at the end of the summer. Trailing Fuschias can look lovely, too, but they need plenty of space in which to grow and dislike draughts.

Balconies

For town-dwellers a balcony, if you are lucky enough to have one, offers an opportunity to create a miniature garden. Like window-boxes and hanging baskets a balcony can improve the dreariest outlook. It is so much nicer to look at green growing things and colourful groups of flowers than to be forced to stare at the windows of the house opposite.

Even on the smallest balcony (or flat roof) it is possible to use the space to grow decorative plants, and even useful plants like one or two pots of Tomatoes, or a big pot of Green Beans climbing up canes. If space is very limited, and the position is sheltered enough for them, make use of the wall by having climbing plants.

Little box or sink garden in a less sheltered spot Sempervivums (House Leeks) are lovely. They spread and propagate themselves and are as tough as you could wish. Other alpinetype plants such as some of the Saxifrages could be planted with them. On a shady balcony you could grow Begonias, Fuchsias, Ferns, and trailing Vines, in pots and tubs. For a sunnier spot Petunias, Salvias and Geraniums will be happier.

Small conservatories

An attractive and unusual idea is to put shelves across a bay window and have a mixed group of flowering and foliage plants. Outside you could have a window box so that the whole window is a mass of growing things. (Not, of course, if it is a darkish room or a room in which people have to work.) A hall or landing window is ideal for this. On the shelves grow pots of Ferns, Geraniums, Tradescantia, Begonias, Hoyas, Solanum, and trailing Ivies. Alternatively, if your house has a verandah you could have this glassed in and turned into a small conservatory, giving yourself an extension to the house – a garden room. If this room receives a lot of sun you could grow Cacti and other desert plants. If it is warm but shady, receiving little direct sun, create a jungle atmosphere. Grow Begonias, Philodendrons, Monsteras, and some of the tropical Ferns. Keep the humidity up by hosing down a stone floor each day and leaving it to steam-dry.

Watering: When?

Plants don’t need regular watering: they do need regular inspection, to see whether they need watering. In warm weather or the growing and flowering season, they should be examined daily, for water often vanishes fast at such times.

The first thing to observe is the plant itself. If its leaves are drooping and flabby to the touch, water is needed. (If they are yellow and falling off, the trouble is likely to be too much water rather than too little.) A plant that seems to use up its water very fast may have grown too big for its pot: tip it out gently, and if the roots are compacted, give it a larger pot. The look of the soil can be misleading, for you see only the surface. Either press your finger in, or insert a skewer and see whether it comes out clean or with damp soil on it. If no soil clings, the plant is dry and water is needed.

Lifting a pot gives a good clue: light weight means that water is lacking. Tapping the pot (if it is made of clay) provides another test: a ringing sound, rather than a dull one, indicates lack of water. Another method is to keep a pebble on the soil: turn it over, and if its underside is not damp, water the soil. You can also buy a special probe which shows on a dial just how moistthesoilis.

How much water?

A thorough watering occasionally is better than a little frequently. The latter moistens only the top of the soil and causes the roots to come towards the surface in search of it. Most plants can safely be plunged in a bucket of water for half an hour or until bubbles stop, then stood where the surplus water can drain out freely. This ensures that water does not merely run down the sides of the pot and out at the bottom, which is what may happen when using a watering can. Those plants which hate having their leaves splashed can be stood in a saucer of water for hour, then drained. Wick-watering is another alternative: place pots round a large bowl of water and put a length of thick cotton or wool between each pot and the water, so that the plants can continuously absorb some water (a useful device when going on holiday). Use pebbles to anchor the cotton.

Most indoor plants need liquid fertilizer in the water during the growing period, because a pot holds little soil and the nutrients in it are usually exhausted quickly.

If you can collect rain water, this is better for plants than tap water. You can also use water-softening tablets or a handful of peat left in a can of water overnight if the water is very hard. The water you use should be at room temperature.

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