From the Desk of Ed Hume: Six Top Notch Summer Annuals to Use in Hanging Baskets

June 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

The variegated  vine is Alaska nasturtium, blue is Scaevola - lavender-blue vine,  variegated vine Plexranthus, red Geranium, yellow vine Bidens, blue  Lobelia (trailing), and 'Blackie' sweet potato vine.

Practically every garden has at least one spot where one can effectively use a hanging basket.  At our home, we enjoy growing about thirty-five hanging baskets on our entry deck every year.  Part of our selection of plant material varies yearly as we discover which of the trailing plants perform the best.  So as we near the Summer hanging basket season, I want to share six of our favorites with you.

First though, let’s discuss a couple of really important points.  Are you going to plant-up your own baskets or buy them already started?  We do both.  If we see a particular basket that we really like, we purchase it and add it to our collection.  However, for most of the mixed baskets we like to choose the plants and plant them ourselves.

If you have kept a hanging basket over from last year, you should clean it up before reusing it again this year.  One way to do this is to brush the container with a stiff brush.  If moss or algae has formed on the surface of the container you can use a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water to clean the basket.

Next, what do you do with the old soil?  You can use up to 50% of it, mixing it with 50% new potting soil.  However, I would recommend that you use all new soil.  For the little bit it costs, it certainly is worth starting off with new, fresh, unused potting soil.  Don’t throw the old soil away, as it can be used anywhere in the garden.  Just add it to the soil in your flower and shrub beds.

The new soil you use in the hanging basket can be a top quality potting mix or, if you like to mix your own soil, use a combination of good quality garden soil mixed with some compost, processed manure, and a cup of pumice.  Next, add a little non-burning slow release fertilizer.  The clerk at your local garden store will be happy to recommend the one they use to fertilize their hanging baskets.  Fill your hanging basket with the soil mix so that the finished level is about one inch below the rim of the container.  This then provides enough space for watering throughout the Summer. Now you’re ready to plant-up your basket!  Here are six of the “newer plants” that have really performed nicely in our hanging baskets:

CALIBRACHOA – commonly called “Million Bells.”  This is a winner at our place.  Last year our plants over-wintered outdoors, but it was a mild Winter.  We think this is one of the best foolproof trailing, Summer-flowering plants.  The small petunia-like flowers cover the plants from mid-Spring right up to early Autumn.  We have several colors in our garden but prefer the rose red, pink, white, and violet ones.  They also come in yellow, violet, bluish and brownish-orange, and a few in-between shades.  Flowers standout above the small, narrow bright green leaves.  The new growth on this year’s basket hung about 3 feet long.  I particularly like the fact that it cleans itself, so you do not have to pick off the spent flowers.  Use this plant by itself or in mixed baskets.  Use it in full sun for best color.

BIDENS (ferulifolia)– We grow the trailing form of this prolific yellow flowering plant.  There are several varieties like “Golden Flame,” “Goldie,” and “Gold Marie,” plus others.  The lacy leaves are covered with yellow flowers all Summer.  It can grow a little spindly, so pinching will encourage a bushier growth habit.  Varieties vary in growth from 10 to 18 inches or more.  We find this most effective in mixed baskets.  Ideal for a bright, sunny spot.

SCAEVOLA – this is another great “foolproof” trailing plant.  The fan-shaped lavender-to-purplish half flowers cover the plant all Summer.  This is another plant that is self-cleaning, you do not have to remove the spent flowers.  The two varieties we have grown are “New Wonder” and “Purple Fan.”  However, there are new varieties like “Fancy” that look very promising.  We use this by itself or in mixed baskets.  Ours grow about 12 to 18 inches long.  It does very well in full sun, although we have grown it in part sun and shade.

BACOPA (Sutera)– We have thoroughly enjoyed this trailing plant in our mixed hanging baskets.  We use the white flowering varieties and especially like “Bridal Showers,” although “Bridal Bouquet” is also nice.  Newer varieties like the “Penny Candy Series” (pink, rose, or violet) are worth a try.  The variety “Green-n-Gold” has very attractive variegated yellow and green leaves with white flowers.  Our older plants hang 12 to 18 inches and pretty well clean them selves so there are no spent flowers to pick.  They like full sun, or part sun and shade.  They are best used in mixed basket plantings.   Ours have survived the past two mild Winters, but don’t count on that happening every year.

LICORICE VINE ( Helichrysum petiolare) – The silver gray leaves of this vine are a nice addition to any hanging basket.  I also like Artemisia “Silver Brocade” for its silver gray leaves, but it dies back in late Fall while the licorice vine foliage stays nice weeks later.  There are several varieties that merit a place in any hanging basket.  Our favorite is “Silver Licorice Vine” with its velvety gray leaves, closely followed by “Limelight” which has lime green leaves.  These plants will sometimes hang 2 to 3 feet.  Grows very well in full or part sun and in soil that is well-drained.

TRAILING VERBENA – Of course Verbena’s have been around along time, but the newer trailing Verbenas are great hanging basket plants.  We also use them in containers and cascading over retaining walls.  The “Tapien Series” was probably one of the first trailing types.  Today, the “Babylon,” “Twilight,” “Wildfire,” and “Aztec” strains (plus others) merit a place in any hanging basket planting.  Several will hang 12 to 18 inches or more and will flower almost all Summer.  The spent flowers need to be picked to keep the plants looking at their best.  They are available in a wide range of flower colors, including, pink, rose, red, purple, lavender, and white.  The flower clusters of some varieties have a pleasant soft fragrance.  Although they grow and flower best in full sun, they will also perform well in part sun and shade.

These are six of my favorite newer hanging basket plants.  However, that doesn’t mean the old standards should be overlooked.  In the sun it’s hard to beat ivy geraniums, lotus vine, creeping Charlie, trailing lobelia, ice plant, trailing snapdragons, and all the new wonderful varieties of petunias, just to name a few.  In the shade, fuchsias, hanging basket begonias, New Guinea Impatiens, standard impatiens, creeping Jenny, coleus, and fiberous begonias are superb hanging basket plants.

As the hanging basket season approaches this year, you may want to take a little time in choosing which plants you want to include in your Summer baskets.


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