Growing plants in baskets and boxes

Whatever the size of your garden, hanging baskets and window boxes filled with permanent or seasonal plants can provide lively interest and colour round the year.

E ven if you have no garden at all, there’s room for hanging baskets and window boxes. Site the window boxes on sills or on top of a wall, and hang baskets next to a window or door, on porches, trellis arches, pergolas or garden walls.

Sheltered, sunny or semi-shaded spots are best, within easy reach for watering. Allow space for arching or trailing plant growth, which can become substantial surpr18 ingly quickly. This is especially important above a door or path.

Choosing a hanging basket

Baskets can be round or flat-backed, for fixing on walls. Plastic-coated wire baskets in green, white or black, are cheap, light and easy to plant. Wrought iron-style baskets made of white or black plastic-coated steel, have similar advantages. Plastic baskets are cheap and come in many colours, some with built-in drip trays. Those with solid sides are hard to conceal with plants, and plastic can look out of place in a country-style setting. Some have side pockets; others have reservoir systems. Stacking, plastic baskets are composed of three interlocking sections, with perforated sides and a filler tube for watering. Vertical tubular plastic baskets are perforated and have an integral water reservoir.

Terracotta baskets usually have solid sides but some have planting holes. They are heavy and costly but attractive.

Unusual options include wooden buckets, wire salad shakers or china chamber pots, hung in macrame holders.

Choosing a window box

Wooden, plastic and terracotta window boxes are available at most garden centres in a range of colours and finishes. There are also reproduction lead window boxes, made of fibreglass.

Small boxes can look rather lonely in the middle of the ledge and tend to dry out quickly, so choose a box that fits snugly into the space. Whatever their length, window boxes should be at least 15cm (6in) deep and wide to ac-commodate the roots and prevent the potting compost drying out too quickly. Drainage holes reduce the risk of waterlogging.

Preparing hanging baskets

Buy strong metal brackets and secure them with fixing screws and wall plugs. Test them for strength before attaching the basket.

Depending on your choice of basket, you may need to line it with drainage material before planting. A choice of lining material is available:

Pre-formed flexible liners are made from a green, spongelike fibre, brown coco fibre or a wool-based fibre, which is rich in nitrogen and aids water retention. Rigid basket-shaped liners are made from compressed wood pulp. Sphagnum moss, lined with perforated polythene , is a popular choice.

Perforated hanging baskets don’t need drainage material but if you use a solid-sided terracotta or plastic container place a layer of drainage material in the base.

Peat-based potting compost is often used, but you can also use a loam-based potting compost such as John Innes No 2, which dries out less quickly. Water-storing granules, which store several times their weight in water, can be added to the potting compost.

Planting hanging baskets

Depending on the container size, you can plant one ‘specimen’ plant or a group. Plant solid-sided hanging baskets as you would ordinary flowerpots but, if you are using several plants, try to plant trailing varieties round the edge, to break the hard line of the rim.

Plant open-sided hanging baskets in stages, bringing the level of the potting compost up as you plant the sides. Work from the bottom upwards, gently inserting the roots through perforations in the lining, enlarging the perforations as necessary.

Caring for hanging baskets

Hanging baskets dry out quickly, so water regularly, once or even twice a day in hot weather. For high level baskets, consider a self-locking pulley that can be raised or lowered. Mist the plants in the evenings in prolonged heat waves. Feed with diluted liquid fertilizer every two weeks in spring and summer and, when practical, remove faded blooms to extend the flowering period and keep the display attractive. Check that the Hanging basket’s supporting bracket is secure – if it is corroded, replace it.

Caring for window boxes

Window boxes dry out quickly, especially in full sun, so water frequently. Water the potting compost directly – not the leaves and flowers – preferably in the evening or early morning. Water enough to moisten the soil thoroughly, then leave to partially dry out before watering again.

To encourage flowering give regular liquid feed every two weeks, diluted according to instructions. Dense plantings are vulnerable to pests and diseases, so spray regularly with a general purpose insec-ticide and fungicide. Sprinkle slug bait to control slugs and snails and check around the rim of the box for hidden pests.

With permanent window plantings gently scrape off the top 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of potting compost every spring and replace with fresh compost. Deadhead all plants regularly and stake and tie tall species. Check the securing brackets of window boxes at the same time, replacing if necessary.

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