HANG IT UP!
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Hanging baskets are a popular, no-fuss way of enjoying flowers without the hassle of planting and maintaining a flower bed or border. But if you think only petunias or geraniums are suitable for hanging pots, it's time to expand your choice of plants and combinations of plants.
For attractiveness and interest, consider using plants you wouldn't normally consider. For example, I use the creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia) with its dime-sized, gold or yellow flowers with black centers in annual flowerbeds. But this past year at a flower show I saw it in a hanging basket, an awesome mound of color draping down about three feet! I usually grow clematis up a trellis, but at this same show I saw a huge hanging wire globe (about five feet across) with clematis trained to grow all over it.
Here in the North, English ivy generally is dismissed as a non-hardy vine. But as it likes shade, it does great indoors in hanging baskets or hanging in shade outdoors in summer. And there are dozens of cultivars to choose from with leaves that are flat or ruffled, white or yellow variegated, and all shapes.
Many of the more unusual annuals are being introduced through full-service garden centers, specialty nurseries, and both mail order and on-line catalogs. Some plants suitable for hanging baskets include the small white-flowered bacopa (several cultivars available), blue fan flower (Scaevola), the dainty pink or lavender Diascias, and Million Bells or trailing petunia (Callibrachoa). Or try some of the new verbena cultivars with red, purple, pink, or white flowers, and the licorice plants (Helichrysum) with silver, gold, variegated, or small leaves.
Growing up in the South, I was familiar with the southern St. Augustine turfgrass. But I recently found a variegated form that's perfect for containers and hanging baskets. Although this plant loves heat, it does grow well in the north, just slower, which is probably not such a bad thing!
You can choose from many types of containers with the traditional plastic pot being the most common. But for something different, consider a container with openings on the sides for plants. Wire frames popular in the 1950s and 1960s that you line with sphagnum moss then plant, are in vogue again.
Or check out what's available from crafters at shows or at specialty garden stores, such as frames of twigs or woven vines. Line these with moss and plant, or simply put a pot that's already planted inside.
If you have a container with trailing plants, nail a platform, larger pot, or other holder to the top of a stake. Then place the plant on top of the stake. Even a stout limb will do. From a distance it will look like the plant is sprouting from a tree trunk!
Another option is to look at antique shops for containers to hang, such as tin cans, watering cans, or other interesting objects. I get used, gallon Italian tomato cans from the local pizza house. They're attractive, and by adding a wire on the top and punching holes in the bottom for drainage, these make great hanging containers.
These cans have a colorful red, yellow, and green design, so I sometimes use parsley and other herbs as my main plants. I've also tried a combination of green parsley in the center, surrounded by red verbena and yellow creeping zinnia trailing down the sides.
Where can you find unusual plants?
Visit any garden store with a wide selection of perennials, annuals, and tropical plants. Or check out nursery catalogs or Websites. Don't be afraid to experiment, combining plants if they look good together, even if it means mixing a tropical with a perennial.
You can do this easily in containers. And if you have established flowerbeds, why not consider hanging a trailing plant in your garden this year whether it's a grass, perennial, unusual annual, or even a tropical plant. You're sure to get some compliments for your creativity.
These are only a few examples of the many plants and types of containers available. Look around. Use your imagination, and don't be afraid to be the first in your neighborhood to try something new and exciting in the way of hanging plants.