How to Grow Glorious Hanging Baskets

Hanging flower baskets are increasingly popular as a way to add eye-level color to decks and porches – without the fuss of digging, weeding and rabbit-fighting. Ready-made baskets can go from garden center to home hook with little time and effort, making them a trendy choice both for young gardeners with little time to dig gardens and aging gardeners looking for an easy, ready-made, pop of color.

Hanging baskets along a wall

Hanging baskets along a wall. George Weigel

Growing in hanging baskets has several advantages over in-ground gardening:

  1. Baskets solve the problem of poor soil.
  2. Their tight plantings not only offer solid balls of color but virtually eliminate weeding.
  3. Their above-ground placement takes them out of the reach of marauding flower-eaters, such as rabbits, groundhogs, voles and sometimes even deer.

The key to basket success boils down to two main issues: watering and fertilizing. Because baskets have limited soil and are exposed on all sides to drying wind, they need more frequent watering than in-ground plants. The No. 1 cause of basket failure? Plants that wilted from lack of water.

Because all the watering quickly leaches nutrients from the planting medium, more regular fertilizer is needed to resupply the food bank.

Hanging basket with impatiens and sweet potato vine

Hanging basket with impatiens and sweet potato vine. George Weigel

Water Aid

  1. The first way to solve the water challenge is to think bigger. Those bargain-priced 8- or 10-inch plastic hanging pots dry out almost as soon as you turn your back. More soil volume means slower dry-outs, so go with at least a 14-inch basket.
  2. Reduce evaporation loss by lining the inside of your basket with a sheet of thick plastic. Keep the bottom open so water can drain out.
  3. To water plants less frequently, add a small amount of water-absorbing polymer crystals for plants to the container mix before planting. The gels will repeatedly absorb and release water for several years until they naturally biodegrade. You can rest assured, the environmentally-friendly gels are nontoxic and potassium-based. These crystals hold up to 150 times their weight in water and slowly release it to the root zone. Be sure to account for the increase in space within the pot, when they absorb the water and increase in volume, so they don’t push the plants out over the rim.
  4. Water often. In hot weather, if you haven’t used a planting gel, you may need to soak your basket once or even twice a day. Add enough so that water drains out the bottom. If you can’t keep after that regimen, consider hooking up a simple drip-irrigation line connected to a timer.

Fertilizer Helpers

  1. Baskets need to “breathe” well, so the best media are light-weight, excellent-draining components, such as compost, chopped coconut fibers (coir), peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and sometimes finely chopped bark. These soilless mixes are good for texture but low in nutrition, meaning plants benefit from a long-acting, granular fertilizer added before planting.
  2. Daily watering and the close planting in baskets means ongoing nutrition needs are higher than in-ground plantings. Scratch booster doses of plant food into the surface every 4 to 6 weeks to keep plants producing at peak levels throughout the growing season.

Four other pointers for basket beauty

  • Match plants to the site. Pick sun-loving flowers (i.e. petunias, marigolds, geraniums) if the basket is to be hung in a sunny spot, but opt for shade-preferrers (i.e. impatiens, begonias, ivy) for shadier locations.
  • Health watch. Wilting usually means the baskets aren’t being watered enough, but it can also mean disease. Yellowing leaves may mean the plants aren’t getting enough nutrients. And brown spots, chewed leaves, sticky substances and a stippled discoloration are typical signs of bug attack. Treat only after determining the problem and whether it’s one that requires action.
  • How’s the hanger? Cheapo baskets sometimes have skimpy hangers that fail when the weight increases as the plants grow and take on water. Replace these with more durable metal hangers, or a beautiful natural, macramé hanger.
  • Primp. Pinch off dead flowers to keep the basket looking good and to encourage more flowers. Snip back any stems growing too long or taking over other plants’ space.

Originally published on

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