The basic principles of creating a hanging basket for winter and summer are the same.
First of all, if you are using a standard wire basket, it will need to be lined. You can buy readymade cardboard liners and fibrous materials sold for the purpose, but a thrifty option is to collect moss from the lawn. Avoid sphagnum moss as it may not be harvested from sustainable sources. Aim to cover the inside with about a 1.5cm (½in) thick layer of the material.
Before you fill your basket with compost consider how you will water it. Hanging baskets tend to dry out more quickly than other types of container and water can easily be wasted from them. Plants grow better with rain water, especially if you plan to use soluble feed so avoid using mains tap water if you can.
Tips for watering baskets manually:
- Place a small circle of plastic (cut from a margarine tub or similar) in the bottom of the basket before filling with compost to create a saucer that will help stop water running straight out of the bottom
- Once the basket is filled, place a small empty flowerpot in the centre to take the water and allow it time to to soak in rather than running off the surface of the compost
- Use 'self-watering' baskets. They still need watering but they have a separate reservoir that holds water away from the roots and delivers it back to the rootzone through a wick. Self-watering baskets will need less frequent watering than traditional baskets as they can also collect and store water when it rains. It is best to add water to the reservoir rather than the surface of the compost to keep the plant foliage dry and the water and the wick clean
Things to consider if using automated watering systems:
- Drip irrigation systems deliver water slowly and directly to the roots so there is less risk of wasting water. They can be used with timers but still need to be adjusted as the plants grow bigger and the weather changes
- Most drip irrigation is made from plastic and designed for mains tap water use as they need very clean and pressurised water for the drippers to operate correctly and avoid blockages
A good quality, peat-free multipurpose is fine for a display that only has to last for one year. And if you want to grow plants such as winter flowering heathers, it is best to go for ericaeous compost, although Erica carnea and E. × darleyensis cultivars are tolerant of other composts that contain lime.
Choosing and arranging the plants
- When you begin to arrange the plants in the basket, it is usually easiest to start with one, central plant (or an empty small flower pot if you decide to water it manually that way). This can be used to create structure and impact, which is particularly important in winter if its other companions fail to flower in cold snaps
- Around this, position some trailing plants to cover the sides of the basket, particularly if it is made from wire. However, using a more decorative basket is best where it will be easily seen
- Along with this selection, it is worth considering carefully the flowering plants. Choose colours that work well together and plants that flower reliably. For example, winter-flowering pansies, petunias, lobelia and geraniums are always winners
Once all the plants are in, fill around the rootballs carefully with more compost, firming gently, so that you don't leave any large air gaps. Then water well, but slowly, so that the water doesn't run out of the bottom of the basket. Depending on the type of plants and compost that you have used, the plants may need feeding.