How to make a beautiful hanging basket

Patricia French asks: My daughter gave me a wire hanging basket, the type that is packed with sphagnum moss. She also provided the moss, soil, soluble fertilizer, but unfortunately, no detailed directions on how to plant an artistically complete hanging basket. She has great faith in my gardening abilities/expertise, but this project is a challenge. Help.

Here goes …

1. Gather all your materials in addition to extra plants. Choose plants that come in jumbo sized six packs. (Smaller plants are easier to manipulate). Strive for plants that complement each other.

2. Decide where you are going to hang the basket, and what type of exposure it will receive. All day sun exposure will require more maintenance, including checking moisture levels, and gently pinching new growth to keep the plant appearing full. Here are some plants that would do well in a shady exposure: coleus, ferns, ivy, lobelia, impatiens. For sun/part-shade exposure try these plants: nasturtium, petunias, verbena, alyssum. Lastly, don’t forget to add some plugs of greenery for added interest.

3. Now you are ready to start forming the hanging basket. Thoroughly soak the sphagnum moss. Pack the soaked moss into and between the basket wires working from the inside out. The lining should be at least an inch thick and extend another inch above the basket’s rim.

4. Fill 1/3 of the basket with potting soil. Push the jumbo plant cell plants from the outside in so the roots sit on top of the soil. Add more soil to cover the roots. (Think lasagne).

5. Continue the process of planting layers and finish by filling the soil to the rim, and then don’t forget to plant the top surface.

6. Water gently and continue to keep the soil moist.

7. Fertilize lightly with a diluted soluble fertilizer once a week.

Tip: Some gardeners like to use potting soil with moisture crystals. If you are unsure if the basket soil is moist enough, then use a moisture meter, or push your finger into the soil to judge soil moistness.

Lydia asks: We live in an apartment with a balcony that receives at least six hours of sun daily. The management allows pots for a few vegetables. Question: How large should the container be for a small tomato plant? Any suggestions you may have for a good type of cherry tomato would be appreciated.

The container should be 18 inches deep and as wide. Lightweight plastic pots are ideal for a patio. Do provide a tray to catch the excess water. If water collects at the base of the pot and it is too heavy to dump try using a turkey baster to collect the water. A rolling plant dolly allows ease of moving the heavy plant from one position to another. ‘Sungold’ is an old favorite that has small yellow/gold tomatoes and will bear heavily the entire season. Sweet 100’s is also good one that is easy to grow.

Hari from Windsor shared with us information on his new Japanese camellia, ‘Holly Bright’. For those gardeners looking for a large mid-season bloomer this may be the perfect selection for you.

It is a beauty with serrated glossy green foliage, deep salmon red petals that are slightly ruffled with large yellow stamens. It can reach a height of eight feet, but Hari is successfully growing his in a large pot. Check with your local nurseries for availability.

Pruning advice: If you haven’t pruned your tall leggy abutilons, do so now! Prune above a new developing bud, fertilize, water, and the plant will surprise you with new healthy vigorous growth. Thanks to Jani Weaver from Emerisa Gardens for the perfect advice!

Nick’s easy tomato seed tip: Last fall I scooped out the tomato seeds from some heirloom tomatoes. Gardening manuals usually state that seeds must go through a complicated cleaning process to get them ready.

But I did not rinse the pulp off of them. I simply layered the seeds on paper towels to dry out. After they were completely dried I put them in a zippered plastic bag to protect and save them for the following year. The seeds were recently planted and new starts are growing vigorously. It was easy with no fussy steps and excellent results.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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