Hanging Baskets and why you are better off without them.
We Brits have always had an obsession with hanging baskets and spend millions on these displays every year. Beautiful displays sing out the conquest of one’s horticultural ability over the elements, but more often the displays are lacklustre at best, and at worst they are a basket of dead or dying plants!
But are hanging baskets really worth the effort for the average gardener?
Should we really keep on faithfully spending millions of pounds or is it time for a rethink?
Now you’ve probably guessed, we’re not great fans of hanging baskets and there are several good reasons why we’re not.
Our mantra is to make gardening easier and hanging baskets don’t!
Why? Well how many of you can identify with these issues…
- The compost dries out so quickly you can’t keep up with the watering.
- You don’t see most of the flowers as the basket is above your head.
- The flowers quickly fade and you can never get the same intensity as in the garden centre.
- It’s a right royal pain to water properly, the water just runs straight through.
- After a few days of summer sun – it all seems a bit shrivelled.
- The plants seem to get eaten by bugs really quickly.
- After a few weeks, half the plants seem to have died, apart from the ivy, which has grown over everything else.
- Birds have pecked out the lining for nesting material, so the basket looks a bit tatty
Need we go on?
Gardening is expensive, so why spend money on something that only lasts a few weeks – it does not make sense.
As a society, we are supposed to be trying to reduce, reuse and recycle more – it is better for us and the world at large. The problem though is that hanging baskets are largely disposed of after one season. In fact, garden centres actually would prefer you to throw the plants (and the basket) away because the following year you will purchase another one.
Hanging baskets, although undoubtedly pretty, are a lot of work to keep looking lovely. I just think the whole idea of hanging baskets is over-rated and out-dated.
My advice would be to not buy any in the first place and use the money saved to invest in plants that will last years. But I do accept that many of you love them, and want to grow them well, so here are some tips.
Tips for Hanging..
- Go green; hang them in a shady place and use evergreen foliage instead
- Place them on an upturned pot instead
- Use Wild Flowers – they look after themselves!
- Plant with Alpines (plants that love tough well drained conditions)
- Always use moisture retaining granules (be ecofriendly though)
- Plant your own, don’t buy ready-made ones
- Use a liquid feed not a granular one (it gets absorbed more quickly)
Firstly – Don’t hang them
Most of the problems associated with hanging baskets are created by hanging them up. Where is the gardening rule book does it state that hanging baskets must be above head height!
Why hang them so high? Instead how about placing the baskets on top of pots or in pot stands.
Place them on a log or pot and site them in the border. Placing the basket lower down allows you to water and feed more easily. You can even place the basket on the floor, just take off the hanging loops.
Plant your own – don’t buy readymade baskets.
Plants grow fastest and best if they are not competing for nutrients. Nurseries pack plants in to look good at the point of sale. So by only adding 2-3 plants in a basket yourself, your plants will grow bigger and look better for longer. Because you are not hanging them up, you can also use some soil in the compost which retains moisture more than multipurpose.
Try not to use Bedding plants
Plant in hanging baskets grow in really really tough conditions.
- The baskets hang in the air
- Wind and sun evaporate any moisture so fast, the plants struggle to get enough water
- Hanging baskets are often packed with too many plants for the amount of soil
- Fast-drying (but lighter) compost is used, which shrivels up in the summer sun
- and it is hard to get enough food and water into the basket whilst is hung above your head!
So forgive me for being on a soap box but…why do garden centres sell hanging baskets of plants that will struggle to thrive without constant attention?
If you are choosing to grow floriferous basket displays – you will need an automatic watering and feeding system. If not, you will be feeding, watering and nurturing these basket displays daily (or twice daily in the summer). Which is fine if you enjoy it and are prepared for the work.
It is far better to choose less demanding plants that thrive on a bit of neglect, there are loads to choose from – native wildflowers being one very obvious example.
Perhaps it is time for the fashions to change and we start to grow natural hanging baskets instead. Some of our wildflowers can be very beautiful and all grow without human intervention normally – which makes it sound perfect for a hanging basket!
Try out seed-balls as an alternative to bedding in your hanging baskets instead, the butterflies and bees will love you for it!
Remember, hanging baskets benefit garden centres more than you.
The markup on planted hanging baskets is huge, nurseries and garden centres make a lot of money from selling planted baskets.
However, more importantly, it is not in their financial interest for the baskets to survive. If they looked great all summer, we the consumer, would not need to buy any more. The garden centres would lose out financially.
So here’s what they do:
- Baskets are crammed with plants, too many for the size of the basket.
- The plants all compete for water and available food, the neediest die first. Which are always the biggest and showiest flowers.
- Multipurpose compost is used as it’s lighter, but it also doesn’t retain water very well, so the basket dries out really quickly and the showiest flowers are the first to suffer.
- They do add granular plant food to the compost for you – however, it can only release enough food if the granules are wet and because the baskets drain really quickly, they won’t get time to dissolve.
Now you may think we are simply being overtly cynical and a tad unfair and maybe so. However, ask yourself this – how many times have you had a stunning hanging basket display all summer?
People can and do have the most beautiful displays – most of these use automated watering systems though – or they have an utterly dedicated owner!
So there you have it, hanging baskets are great – if you like that sort of thing. But if you would like a lower maintenance garden – avoid using hanging baskets.
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