Vibrant Hanging Baskets—A Recipe for Success

In Alaska, we make up for our white winter palette with an abundance of vivid, gushing hanging baskets in the summer. How can you get your own colorful basket this summer?

A vibrant hanging basket of purple and pink petunias.

A petunia ball in downtown Fairbanks.

One of my favorite baskets around Fairbanks looks like a ball of petunias. They are planted by Festival Fairbanks; so I asked Julie Jones, the executive director, what her recipe for success was.

She said they start with a 14-inch Cordova basket, which is just a round, plastic hanging basket with drainage holes. This surprised me because when looking at the baskets, they were so full it looks like the flowers were coming out from every which way. So-called flower balls use a wire basket and a liner that allows you to cut holes and plant on the sides and bottom of the basket and even on top. You could also use a hanging plastic bag with holes on it — sometimes called blooming bags or flower pouches. The downside of these methods is that you’ll probably need more plants and they will also likely dry out more readily due to the additional holes throughout the basket.

Jones said they use as many as seven and as few as three plants for each container, but usually five. Two are blue wave petunias, two wave petunias of another color and one other splash of color. In the picture shown, there is also yellow biden, which has been dwarfed by the wave petunias. A huge plus for wave petunias is that they do not need to be deadheaded. Most other annual flowers regularly need the trimming. Volunteers start the baskets in greenhouses about four to five weeks before distributing them downtown in early June for tourists and locals to enjoy.I also like hanging baskets that contain just one type of flower such as the one below which is filled with ivy-leafed geraniums.

hanging basket filled with pink, ivy leaved geraniums

Asymmetric combinations of foliage and flowers varying in texture, size, color and orange and yellow baskets filled with black-eyed susan flowers trailing downgrowth habits offer more variety and visual interest. Consider combining upright, centerpiece flowers like geraniums, begonias, biden or dahlias with lobelia, petunias, creeping jenny, black-eyed Susans (pictured right), vinca vine, fuschia or bacopa, which hang or trail and are planted on the outsides of the basket. Note that some geraniums and begonias do hang rather than grow upright.

One thing you should try hard not to do is to overstuff your basket. This can be tempting in the spring when you want a very full basket right away. If plants are too close together, this can lead to sickly plants and, ultimately, fewer blooms. For medium-sized, wooden, pyramid-shaped hanging baskets, you could place a trailing flower in each corner and an upright flower in the center. For more ideas of what to fill your basket with, look at research on annuals done at the Georgeson Botanical Garden. Plants with an asterisk were planted in hanging baskets.

There are a couple options for getting your hands on a beautiful hanging basket. You can pre-order custom baskets from a greenhouse by mid-March or earlier, simply pick up a basket that strikes your fancy at a store or greenhouse, or plant your own. If you want to start the summer with full looking baskets then start them now, preferably in a heated greenhouse or under lights. Use a high quality potting soil and add water-holding crystals and some slow-release fertilizers.

Getting your basket is just the start. After hardening off your basket (or gradually acclimatizing the basket to the great outdoors), place your basket in sun or shade according to the flowers’ preference. Begonias, fuschias and impatiens prefer shade, while most of the other flowers mentioned prefer a minimum of six hours of full sun. Check the baskets daily and water up to twice daily on the hottest days. Water until it runs out the bottom, and use a soluble fertilizer about once a week. Annual flowers in hanging baskets need sufficient water and fertilizer to keep putting out those beautiful blooms all summer. 

Finally, don’t forget to stop and smell the petunias.

Previously published in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer May 6, 2018.

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