University of Illinois Extension

Hanging Around in the Garden

Look up. What do you see? Nothing. Now place a hanging basket in a garden space and what do you see? A colorful globe of flowers that will brighten any over head spot for the entire summer, says Greg Stack, a University of Illinois Extension horticulturist.

“Hanging baskets are very popular and a way to enjoy flowers just about anywhere, especially in that unused overhead air space,” said Stack. “But if you think that petunias, geraniums and impatiens are the only plants to use in hanging baskets, it’s time to break out of the mold and expand your choice of plants, or even mixing it up with a collection of plants.

“For something special and added interest, consider using plants you might not normally consider as “basket material.” For example, using a plant like creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia) with its small gold or yellow flowers with dark centers can result in a basket that is an eye-catching mound of color that can trail down 3 feet or more. And better yet, it will be colorful all summer.”

Photo of hanging plantsAnother thing to consider are annual flowering vines. “Things like Thunbergia, Morning Glory, Spanish Flag, Passion Flower, Cardinal climber and many others will not only climb up the wires holding the basket but will also trail down to provide this interesting ball of color that seems suspended by the stems of the plants themselves,” Stack said.

English Ivy is often relegated to the garden to take up residence as a groundcover underfoot. But because it likes the shade it does great in hanging baskets in shaded areas. There are many interesting cultivars of English Ivy available in the garden center. Look for those with ruffled leaves, white or yellow variegated foliage and imagine the possibilities.

Some of the more unusual annuals that are on the market are quite suitable for hanging baskets. These include the small white-flowered, and now pink, bacopa, blue fan-flower (Scaevola), the small flowered and very fine textured Diascias, and the Million Bells or trailing petunia (Callibrachoa). Another possibility are some the new verbena cultivars and the licorice plants (Helichrysum) with its silver, gold or variegated foliage. Both of these are great for sunny, hotter locations in the garden.

“What about lawn grass as a hanging basket plant?” he said. “Many of the southern types of lawn grass actually make great basket plants. There are cultivars of St. Augustine grass that are variegated green and white and are perfect for baskets. This plant loves the heat and once it gets established it can spill 4-5 feet over the edge of the container.

Photo of hanging plants“You have all kinds of choices when it comes to containers with the traditional plastic pot being the most common. But if you want something different, consider a container with openings on the sides. These baskets allow for planting on the sides of the container and will in time result in a globe of flowers totally hiding the container. Wire baskets are also attractive and popular, because they really look quite upscale in the garden. But be careful before buying or making a moss lined wire basket, as they do require special attention to watering and can soon become quite time-consuming. If you want to cheat a bit and have the moss-lined wire basket look, construct the basket as if you were going to plant directly into it, but instead plant the plants in a plastic pot that is simply dropped into the moss lined wire basket. The moss basket hides the pot and the pot helps to reduce the watering frequency.”

If you have a container with trailing plants, nail some type of platform, larger pot or other holder to the top of a suitable stake. Even a large tree limb will do. Place the plant on top of the stake and from a distance, it will look like the plant is sprouting from a tree trunk.

Antique shops, garages, and storage sheds are also gold mines for potential containers. Items such as tin cans, watering cans (that can no longer hold enough water to be considered useful) make interesting containers. Very large tomato cans from the local pizza shop make attractive containers for herbs as they often have colorful graphics on the front of them.

“Where can you find unusual plants for use in hanging baskets?” he asked. “They are probably at your local garden center. All you have to do is look at what might be considered a “garden” plant in a whole new light and see it as a hanging basket plant.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment using tropicals, annuals, perennials or even small woody ornamentals. Combine plants together if they look good even if they might be tropicals with perennials.”

If you have large established flower beds, consider hanging a trailing plant in your garden somewhere to enjoy.

“Even if it’s a grass, perennial, unusual vine, or even a tropical plant, you’re sure to get rave reviews for your efforts,” Stack said.