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October: Winter Hanging Baskets

Most of us enjoy the beauty of summer hanging baskets but have you thought of the possibility of enjoying a hanging basket during the winter months?

For many years we have been trialling and testing plants for use in winter hanging baskets. If a ball of colourful flowers is what you require then winter flowering pansies or small flowered violas are the best choice. These plants will flower through all but the bleakest days of winter and prefer a sunny position. For a 14" wire moss lined basket you will need twenty-four plants (4 packs of 6), place five plants around the base of the basket with six in the second layer, six in the third side layer then six around outside on the top of the basket with one in the middle (24 plants).

For those who would like to be more adventurous and experimental, there is a wide choice of suitable evergreen plants available to give winter colour and contrasting texture. Use mini shrubs, these are young plants grown from cuttings in a 9c (3.1/2") pot their root ball taking up less space in the basket. Plants we have had most success with are trailing ivy, carex grass gold, variegated euonymus and skimmia with its beautiful dark brown/purple flower buds that open in the spring in an array of little white stars. The hardy form winter heather (have you seen those white heathers that have been painted green, yellow, red, blue or purple?). Hardy herbs such as variegated sage and thyme will add aroma, mixed with a few winter pansies. It is surprising what can be achieved.

It always amazes me what low temperatures some plants will tolerate. Solanum, often called the winter cherry, with its bright orange berries can survive well outside during a relatively mild winter.

We have had outstanding success using the autumn cyclamen. The lovely flowers in a range of colours and some with a beautiful scent can give colour from September to January/February, yet not quite as hardy as the plants previously mentioned. I plant them in the top of the basket still in their pot, this enables them to be removed when the temperature goes very low and they can be replaced later. But if you forget, the dead plant can quite easily be replaced with another such as a pot of early primroses.

Another dimension can be added to hanging baskets by adding dwarf bulbs such as mini tete-a-tete daffodils, crocus and rockery tulips. A tip here is not to plant under the root balls of the other plants but between them. This is because when the bulbs grow, they may push the plants out of the basket. Always use a good quality compost such as Levington’s multi-purpose and add some Osmocote slow-release fertilizer tablets to keep your plants growing slowly during the occasional warm day in winter.

As the warmer weather arrives in the spring and the plants start to make new growth, they will require feeding occasionally with a high potash liquid feed such as Tomorite or Miracle-Gro incorporated in the water. Cooler weather in the winter means that the hanging baskets do not require the same amount of watering as do summer baskets. However, it must be remembered that the wind and sun will still have a drying effect, so check them regularly, (remember if it dries your washing it will also dry out your basket). As with summer baskets taking off the dead flower heads and seedpods keeps the plants looking fresh and tidy and encourages more flowers.