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How to make a great hanging basket display this spring

Want to create an amazing hanging basket display this year? It's not difficult, provided you follow simple advice:

The sight of a tumbling cascade of summer colour, dangling in the air, is a joy to behold. The best thing about hanging baskets is the fact that you can achieve them just about anywhere. All you need is a sunny wall or a strong fence post together with a hanging hook or bracket, a basket, liner, compost – oh, and plants, of course.

So, what’s the secret of a great display?

a great display of flowers in a hanging basket A fine example of the effect that can be achieved when you fill your hanging basket wisely

It’s all down to a bit of planning and organisation. Firstly, choose the largest basket you can accommodate – space is probably the greatest gift you can give your plants. These are annuals that will be tiny when you plant them but will grow into flowering beauties if they have enough space, warmth, feed, water and a sunny spot.

empty wire hanging basket A 14" diameter basket gives lots of planting scope - but 16" is even better!

Secondly, use an adequate number of plants. Hanging baskets that are scantily filled just don’t cut the mustard.

Hanging basket display that isn't very good Well, this isn't exactly spectacular, is it?
What's this about mustard?

Incidentally, mustard was once one of the main crops in East Anglia. It would be cut by  hand, using scythes and because the crop could grow up to two metres high, it represented arduous work. A blunt tool just wouldn’t cut the mustard.

So, back to hanging baskets, rather than a hot crop:

Hanging basket display outside shop These hanging baskets are ones of which to be proud.

The compost is an important factor. There are cheap brands and slightly more expensive types. Generally, the more you pay, the better it should be for your plants because it will contain more nutrients. But provided you are willing to give them some regular feed, it might not matter too much. You can add some water-retaining granules if you like. This makes your job of regularly hydrating your baskets a little easier.

Hanging baskets need to be regularly watered. Even watering cans themselves can be things of beauty.

And now for the plants. The easiest way to arrange your basket is to remember the rhyming words. Thriller, fillers and spillers.

Thriller (or pillar)

This occupies the centre spot. It’s a plant that will grow taller than the rest and will thrill with its summer show. It is a bold focal point, chosen for its flowers, its form or its foliage. You might choose an upright geranium, Salvia, small Dahlia, Argyranthemum, bush Fuchsia or Osteospermum, for example. Or you could select a non-flowering, architectural plant such as Phormium, ornamental grass or Cordyline.

red geranium This upright geranium will make a good centrepiece, or 'thriller' for a hanging basket
Spillers

So these are the hanging, trailing plants that one normally associates with hanging baskets. There are many different opportunities to play around with colour. What you need are plants that will look great from late spring right through to autumn, given the right conditions. Those looking for a subtle effect might choose foliage plants rather than flowering varieties. The spillers soften the appearance of the basket and cover the edges. They help to create a ‘cloud’ effect – as, ideally, you don’t really want to see too much of the basket.

hanging basket arrangement The effect of the spillers in this hanging basket is eye-catching. It's early spring and will continue to fill out as the season progresses.

Good spillers include trailing geraniums, trailing Fuchsias, Bacopa, Bidens, Surfinia, creeping zinnia or Sanvitalia, Lobelia, trailing Verbena and the million bells, or Calibrachoa. Non-flowering spillers include ivy, Coleus, trailing Nepeta and Helichrysum. Plant these around the edges of your basket. In fact, the best and quickest way to achieve a full basket effect is to allow your plants to punctuate the sides of an open basket, rather than needing to trail from the top.

Fillers
filler for hanging basket Helichrysum Helichrysum is a great foliage plant for hanging baskets

These are billowy plants that fill spaces between the thriller and the spillers. Often finely textured plants, they weave their way through the left-over spaces. They add mass and fill out the overall composition. Fillers might echo the colour of the thriller, or the shape of the foliage might be used to contrast. For example, a spikey thriller such as Cordyline might benefit from having rounded foliage fillers such as the Helichrysum in the photo above. Fillers also tend to hide the bare stems of other plants, so they are highly useful in creating the cloud effect.

Hanging basket arrangement is rather sparse. This hanging basket arrangement needs some fillers and a thriller in the centre!

Which plants can you use as fillers? Bacopia is great, then there’s Verbena, Lobelia, Pelargonium and Begonia. In fact, there’s a huge range from which to choose.

Pink Bacopa Bacopa comes in different colours, including pink.

 

Fruiting alternatives

Why not use the hanging space to grow some tomatoes? There are now some superb varieties that react well to planting into a hanging basket. One of the best is ‘Tumbling Tom’ with its naturally cascading habit, available as a yellow or red tomato. ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ is another great cropper, with excellent flavour, and ‘Tumbler’ does exactly as its name suggests. These really do make the most of a small space, but you would be wise to feed them with regular tomato food throughout the growing season.

tomato plant in a hanging basket Tumbling Tom tomato is a great subject for a hanging basket. Grow your own!

Warning:

Don't be tempted to leave your hanging baskets outside until May!

Many different hanging basket plants available from Perfectplants.co.uk