Mixed floral hanging containers have become the rage across the country. Thanks to the coconut liner, it is easy to jump on the basket bandwagon.
It wasn't long ago that you only saw such beautiful displays when visiting mild-climate tourist areas, and now everyone can either buy them already made or be like Monet and create a piece of floral art.
From the large box-type store to the progressive independent garden center, everything you need is close at hand. One of the reasons it has become so easy to buy ready-made is that flower producers have started selling mixed species liners for the grower. This means they were hand selected for color scheme or compatibility with regard to habit and light requirements.
Those of you who like the creative process, or want combinations that aren't easily found, should go with the wire basket. This also applies to baskets that are shaped like a window box and can be used as such. They are easily attached to the railing of a deck.
Coconut liners hold potting soil and drain perfectly. They're also a lot more durable than you think and easily replaced when they finally wear out.
I like to use really good, lightweight potting soil that contains slow-release fertilizer to give the plants a quick jump on growing. At the Columbus Botanical Garden, we have had wonderful baskets with geraniums, Swedish ivy and different colors of bacopa for about six weeks. This is a great way to grow geraniums, but surprisingly, the small-flowered bacopas have really stolen the show. The combination of pink with lavender has really been eye-catching and inspiring to visitors.
Flowers should be planted about three-fourths of an inch below the top of the moss. By all means, place a plant in the center of the basket. You may wish to select one that will climb a hanging chain.
At home, I use baskets that are more like window boxes and attach to a deck railing. I use the same type soil but am even more aggressive in my plant combinations. I start in the center and work my way outward in each direction. On one, I planted scarlet milkweed in the center, then added large orange African marigolds, Blue Wave petunias and creeping jenny that will eventually tumble over the edge, providing a nice vertical element.
When it is summer and sweltering hot, we will change out the baskets at the botanical garden. The geraniums and bacopa will give way to plants known for their ability to bloom in triple-digit temperatures. In the middle of the baskets we may use tropical mandevilla to climb the chain. Around the perimeter we will use 'New Gold' lantana, asparagus fern and maybe an ornamental sweet potato like 'Illusion Emerald Lace.' Other choice summer basket plants are the new 'Surdiva' scaevola, 'Summer Wave' torenia and 'Cora Cascade' periwinkle.
We have fern baskets that are great, but those packed with color are the real attention-grabbers. Spring is coming to your region. If we can do it, you can too!
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga. Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.