Planted Tropical Baskets
Views from My Tropical Garden – Planted Baskets
Warm climate gardening tips
In northern latitudes, mid winter is a time for dreaming about gardening by pouring over the seed catalogs while watching the snow come down. But for those of us fortunate enough to be living or visiting the tropics, January and February is a season of lush blooms and verdant plant growth. One simple, attractive home gardening strategy is to place hanging baskets on patios or balcony to enjoy a burst of color and fragrance that is easy to maintain. Alas, unlike north of the border, one cannot purchase already planted baskets that contain a pleasing variety of plants. Not to despair- just follow these simple guidelines to create your own mini garden to have an eye-catching display.
Theoretically, any item that will hold dirt can be modified to become a hanging basket. The photo shows a basket I’ve made for the upcoming Cancer de Mama Clinic. Through trial and error, I’ve decided to avoid clay or decorative ceramic containers, no matter how pretty they are, as the weight creates problems during storms- besides such containers retain too much water and often the plants get root rot. It’s best to use plastic, wicker, or wire pots for hanging. I’ve also had better luck using plain wire or metal chain (both readily available at the local fereterias) than the more attractive plastic links. With the intense sun and constant warm temperatures, I found that the plastic chain weakens within a few months, and the next good wind, or even plain old gravity, will have the planter crashing.
- Choose the location for your hanging basket first and then pick flowers based on the amount of sunlight that will be available. Different species of flowers require different levels of sunlight, and if you don’t choose plants correctly they won’t thrive.
- Select flowers with similar growing conditions for large hanging baskets. A variety of color and texture is appealing but will soon become an unsightly mess if the plants don’t all require the same light, water and soil conditions.
- Consider the color of the basket. The flowers should complement the color of the container and things in the surrounding area.
- Plant only one type of flower if the basket is small. If you only have room for two or three plants, the arrangement will be much more attractive if they are similar in size and shape. To add variety to the basket, mix the colors of the same plant.
- Mix trailing or vining types of flowers with an upright type of flower when your container is large enough to accommodate it. Placing the tall flowers in the center and surround them by vines hanging down the outside of the basket. This adds an attractive dimension to the display.
Here’s a concern I’ve heard repeatedly: “What if I don’t know much about plants? What if I don’t know if the plant I would like is a trailing type?” My advice is to go ahead and use it- as long as the plant meets the sun/water/soil conditions of where you will hang the basket. What a normally upright growing plant will do in a hanging basket is mound over the sides of the pot, which will in essence create a downward growth of the flowers. The photo illustrates the point: this plant is naturally a horizontal growing plant, but when put into a hanging basket, it cascades. Another tip for obtaining wall mount hangers in this country- use shelf brackets since it is rare to find decorative brackets made just for hanging plants.
Another modification I have had success with is to use succulents in hanging baskets. Create a virtually no-care container with succulents. I’ve found the biggest challenge of growing beautiful hanging baskets is keeping them from drying out. You can make maintenance a breeze with a planting of drought-tolerant hens and chicks, echeveria, sedum, or other succulents. They’re an unusual choice, but require next to no watering, even in hot, sunny situations. The blooming succulent in the photo I purchased from a street vendor for 5 pesos-it was planted in a used soda can- and look at it a year later!
The key to creating a lush, beautiful hanging basket is to choose healthy plants. Long-trailing plants such as trailing petunias require only center planting. For short-trailing plants such as purple verbena or the common lantana, plant it towards the edges of the pot as well as in the center for a full-looking floral display. I look for plants with several stems, since they will produce prolific growth. Plants in 2-1/2-inch containers are easiest to insert in standard size pots.
If you wish to have a classic, sophisticated look, combine a flowering plant (placed in the center of the pot) with a couple of foliage only trailing plants (placed near the edge of the pot.)
Water and Fertilizer Your hanging flower basket will need to be watered at least once a day. On particularly hot days or breezy days, you will probably need to water twice. If you are using a basket lined with coconut fiber or sphagnum moss, you will lose moisture more rapidly than if you have a plastic container with solid sides. You will probably notice that when you water your plant, excess water drains out the bottom of the container. This excess water flow is essentially washing away nutrients from the soil. For this reason, it’s very important to fertilize your hanging flower baskets more frequently than plants that are in pots or in the ground. You can start at planting by adding some slow release fertilizer granules. Then, once a month, use a liquid fertilizer mixed in with your water, or continue adding slow release granules.
Grooming for best appearance
Every two or three days take a few minutes to deadhead (pick off the spent blossoms) your hanging flower basket to get rid of unsightly dead flower blooms. Pinch back leaves and leggy runners. This will help your basket to grow more compactly and achieve the stunning “ball of color” look.
The payoff for less than 30 minutes work is a lovely blooming hanging basket that will brighten your surroundings for months. Be bold, experiment with a variety of containers and plants that reflect your taste and personality. Gardening is a very mistake forgiving hobby.
Tara got hooked on gardening in college and became an active American Federation of Garden Club participant until retiring. She has exhibited flowers and floral arrangements in juried flower shows; her home gardens have won awards and been showcased in home tours for charity. She had a greenhouse when living in northern latitudes because “four1/2 months growing season wasn’t enough flower time for me.” She moved to the tropics- and year-round outdoor gardening,15 years ago.