Life & Style
Round about this time of year I like to pot up my hanging baskets. These mobile containers are one of the best ways to add colour to the winter garden. Annuals such as pansies, polyanthus, primulas, dwarf stock and snapdragons are ideal for miniature hanging gardens – look for them in the potting colour section of your local garden centre – but I'm especially enamoured of the new trailing snapdragons introduced by Egmont Seeds.
The series is called Candy Showers, and the flowers, which trail over the sides of baskets and containers, are available in red, orange, yellow, rose and deep purple. The flowers appear along the whole of the stems, giving the plant a fully bushy look, and one that's packed full of blooms.
There seems to be a focus on trailing plants among growers at the moment because Egmont Seeds has also introduced The Plentifall series of trailing pansies, which has been specifically bred for its spreading habit. These flowers also spill over the sides of pots and baskets, or spread along the ground, creating a quick, high-impact groundcover that may spread up to 60cm. In hanging baskets they may trail a good 75cm.
And one more basket-savvy series is the Fuseables, a new technology where different varieties and/or species are moulded together into one pellet, which resembles a large seed. The result is a fusion of foliage or flowers of three to five different plants. Egmont Seeds has a range of plants to choose from in this series – petunias, with weird and wacky colour combinations, coleus, with neon-bright foliage, and lettuces, with a mix of tasty leaves. The "Alfresco Mix" is a blend of red and green leaf lettuces with rocket, endive and radicchio for a Mediterranean flavour.
They have a `City Garden Mix" too, as well as a "Global Gourmet Mix", with red, green and purple leaf lettuces, including mizuna, mustard and shungiku for an Asian sensation.
Think about coloured foliage plants too. There is a whole raft of heuchera varieties to choose from, with new hybrids being introduced yearly. The new Heuchera "Black Beauty" (available from Parva Plants) has shimmering black-red foliage that's a standout in the garden. These plants grow 30cm high by 40cm and tolerate sun or part shade.
There are the equally loud-coloured heucherellas too. One I really love is "Brass Lantern", a shade-loving perennial with brassy gold and red foliage that turns an olive and brown colour in winter. An evergreen plant, it prefers moist but well drained, humus-rich soils. It does perfectly well in containers too, so long as you provide ample moisture.
Whether creating a hanging basket for winter or summer, the basic principles are the same: choose a decent sized basket with a suitable liner, and use good potting mix with slow-release fertiliser and water crystals added (although these may not be absolutely necessary in winter).
As a rule, the bigger the basket the less quickly it will dry out (although it's not generally a problem in winter unless you position your baskets under the eaves) and the more scope for plant selection. Choose the biggest basket you can lift when filled and watered, one that's at least 30cm in diameter. Wire baskets can be lined with sphagnum moss, black polythene, coconut fibre, underfelt and wool. You can even use old woolly jumpers, or line your basket with a collection of broad leaves, such as puka or fatsia.
I've plaited two different vibrant-coloured flax leaves together and lined my baskets with these, to striking effect, but the colours last only one season before they turn brown. To keep your plants in top condition with a profusion of flowers, you'll need to provide fertiliser. That's where a good quality potting mix, which incorporates slow-release fertiliser, comes in handy. If your potting mix doesn't have the slow-release fertiliser, or it's more than six months old (most potting mixes have a slow-release fertiliser that lasts for six to nine months – check the bag), incorporate your own slow-release fertiliser into the mix.
After planting, water your basket and hang in a sunny, sheltered spot. Although many of the newer hybrids, including the new trailing snapdragons, have stronger stems these days, it's best to avoid windy spots.
Deadhead annuals regularly to keep them flowering, otherwise your plants will put all their energy into seed production rather than more flowers.
If your potting mix has slow-release fertiliser added, a top-up with liquid fertiliser one a month is all that's needed. Otherwise feed every one to two weeks.
After a few months, your hanging basket may need tidying up. Replace the potting mix, making sure you add water-retaining granules for the warmer months. Then plant fresh annuals for a spring or summer display.
- © Fairfax NZ News