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Baskets provide the hottest accents
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Garden centers all over the state are offering some incredible baskets of plants, often with several species of plants rather than just a few petunias. The baskets might hang and gently swing in the breeze or attach firmly to a fence, wall or balcony.
This look started years ago in the Pacific Northwest and has now exploded all across the South. You see them in cities like Branson, Mo., New Orleans and Birmingham.
These hanging baskets with designer appearances are the hottest thing going in every other part of the country, and it's about time we employed their use in the South. By "designer," I am referring to anything from a single blooming species covering the basket to the use of three to five species, artistically placed with color and texture in mind. Another very important matter to keep in mind is the period of bloom, whether it is spring, summer or fall.
There may be a little difference in how the basket is made from the standpoint of wire and liner, but once it is full of blooming plants, that's all people will notice. You can buy them already blooming or make your own.
To make your own, choose a large wire basket. Next, get sphagnum moss and place it in a bucket of water. Remove the moss, and squeeze out the water. Line the basket by pressing the moss down and around the wires.
You will be surprised that you actually will create a bowl that will hold potting mix and yet drain. Once the basket has been lined, fill the bottom 2 inches with a very good, light and airy potting mix that contains a controlled-release fertilizer.
Use your fingers to poke holes through the wires at the soil level. Insert your first plants through the holes with the rootball lying on the soil surface. Add more soil and work your way to the top. Place the plants about 4 to 6 inches apart. The soil level should be 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 your chain.
Many gardeners and growers alike prefer the new baskets lined with coconut coir. These are less messy, but usually a little more expensive. With these liners, you simply cut a slit or hole in the liner to allow the plant to be placed through to the potting mix. Some of the most beautiful baskets I've seen actually used a product similar to the old fiber pot, which resembles gray cardboard. Don't let this fool you because as the plants grow and cascade over the rim you'll never know the container is a cheapie that will last only a year.
You may be concerned about summer when it's hotter than you-know-where. The Summit Lifestyle Center in Birmingham annually demonstrates that baskets can look good all summer with an adequate water supply and a diluted, water-soluble fertilizer with every other watering.
Plant selection is also critical. The plants were some of my favorites. In the middle of the baskets were mandevillas climbing the chain. Around the perimeter was New Gold lantana, asparagus fern and Marguerite sweet potato. Other choice summer basket plants are New Wonder scaevola, Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida), Dragon Wing red begonia, Mississippi Summer sun coleus, Madagascar periwinkles, Mexican heather, Mexican mint and Escapade blue plumbago.
Fern baskets are great, but those packed with color will give the porch, patio or deck the look of a hanging garden instead.