Grandma’s hanging baskets were beautiful — cascades of fuchsias in bright pink and magenta; balls of vivid blue and purple lobelia; fluffy spheres of small flowering petunias in the newest hues of lavender and yellow; white-eyed Bacopa; soft begonias in myriad shades of red, peach and cream; black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata); trailing pelargonium; geraniums; and even mounds of delicate sweet alyssum.
These baskets were hung along the roof overhangs of wicker-furnished porches. They were watered and fed, and groomed and deadheaded daily to keep them vibrant and fresh. I always loved the look of these baskets, but long ago realized that my busy lifestyle does not allow me to care for them in the same way my grandma did. There were so many times when I was gone for a few days and the blooms and vines shriveled from lack of water. More often than not, this inattention would require me to replant the baskets.
I have now discovered the solution: Plant baskets with different, less thirsty breeds of plants — ones that don’t require such frequent care, will stay verdant despite a bit of benign neglect, and will elicit as many “oohs and aahs” and exclamations of pleasure as the most spectacular lobelia-packed globe.
It may take a bit of research to discover the very best plants for your area, but I have found that succulents — senecios, trailing jades, burro’s tails and echeverias, as well as rhipsalis and staghorn ferns — thrive in hanging baskets with minimal effort.
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Most of these varieties flourish with moderate feeding and watering, some judicious pruning and, in the case of the staghorn ferns, a good spray bath every now and then.
When selecting baskets, choose sturdy steel ones with strong chains (avoid any made out of plastic or flimsy wire, which can break), and line them first with beautiful moss, then with coconut coir, which will hold water and won’t rot like straw or wicker will.
Follow the steps below, and soon you, too, will have a low-fuss hanging garden that you can enjoy for years to come.
Experiment with your own combination of plants, or try rhipsalis, sedums, staghorn ferns and senecios, which all do well grown this way.
1. Prepare your space. Place an old towel in the base of a low, wide garden pot. This will help keep the round-bottomed wire basket steady while you’re planting.
2. Line with moss. Begin by filling the basket with sheet or sphagnum moss, green-side facing out. Be careful to cover the space fully, so there are no gaps or holes.
3. Trim the basket liner. Using sharp scissors or pruners, cut a coconut-coir liner to fit neatly inside the basket. You don’t want to see any of the liner over the top.
4. Scoop in soil. Add potting mix, leaving room for the plants (so it’s about two-thirds full). I use a blend especially made for containers that includes perlite, peat moss, vermiculite and sand.
5. Add plants. Pot up the basket with succulents, like this trailing jade (Kleinia petraea, also known as Senecio jacobsenii). Fill in with additional soil, as you would when planting a regular container.
6. Hang. Attach the chain, and place the basket in a bright location. Water thoroughly. When the threat of frost is gone, hang it outside in a sunny spot.
Address questions to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. Or go to www.marthastewart.com/contact-us-form. Please include your name, address and daytime phone number.
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