Enjoy Color Anywhere with Hanging Baskets

By National Gardening Association Editors

A hanging basket filled with lobelia welcomes visitors.

Flower-filled hanging baskets can brighten up decks, greet visitors at entries, and add pizzazz to patios. Best of all, they bring the color and fragrance of the blooms to eye level where you can enjoy them up close. A wide selection of baskets and plants are readily available, letting you mix and match styles and color schemes to fit your landscape. You can create a natural look with cascading vines and moss-covered baskets, or a more formal one with tidy mounds of flowers in symmetrically arranged planters.

Annual Flowers for Color

For color, reliability, and ease of growing, you can't beat annual flowers, and many adapt well to life in hanging baskets. Annual flowers last only one season, but what a glorious season that can be! Once they start blooming, petunias, begonias, geraniums, scaevolas, and zinnias will be covered with flowers right up until the first frost. Then next spring you can choose a new style or color scheme or stick with favorites. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you select plants for your hanging baskets:

Sunlight. Begin the selection process by determining light levels. Will the basket hang in full sun all day? Or will it receive only morning or afternoon sun, or no direct sun at all? Consider how the sunlight varies with the season. Your deck may receive full sun in early spring before the trees leaf out and when the sun is lower in the sky, then by summer it may be shaded all day. (Often a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day is desirable, even for sun-loving plants.)

Season. In warmer regions of the country there are three distinct growing seasons - spring, summer, and fall - and by rotating cool-season plants with heat-lovers you can have flowers in your baskets nearly year-round.

Form. Flowering plants have different shapes. Some are shrubby or mounding, such as impatiens. Others, such as ivy and helichrysum, are vines that will cascade down the sides of a basket. Dracaena and snapdragons have an upright form. Some plants, including verbena, nasturtium, geranium, and petunia, are available in both mounding and cascading forms, so read plant labels carefully.

Fragrance. Heliotrope, nicotiana, and alyssum are particularly fragrant options.

Choosing the Right Baskets

When selecting hanging baskets, the most important feature is good drainage; saturated soil can result in root rot. Ideally, you'll hang them in a place where excess water can drain without damaging the surface below. If not, look for pots with built-in saucers. Size matters, too. The smaller the pot, the more frequently you'll need to water it, but large pots can get too heavy to hang safely. Consider the type of plants you'll use: Cascading plants may hide most of the pot, but it will be visible if you choose mounding or upright plants.

Plastic and glazed ceramic pots retain water so they require less frequent tending. Moss-lined wire baskets and unglazed ceramic (such as terra cotta) are porous and may need daily watering. There are also fiberglass pots that look just like ceramic but weigh far less.

It's Time to Plant

Pre-planted hanging baskets remove the guesswork -- just take them home and hang them! Or you can apply your creativity to selecting specific containers and flowers, and plant them yourself.

Consider the size of the mature plant. A single petunia or scaevola plant will fill an entire 12-inch pot. Smaller plants, such as lobelias and pansies, can be combined in a single pot. You can purchase plants in cell packs or larger pots; the larger the plant you start with, the faster it will fill out the pot.

Set plants at the same height as they were growing in their original pot. If you're placing more than one plant in a basket, you can space them a bit closer than you would in the garden, but leave at least a few inches between plants to accommodate growing roots. Water the plants well and place the basket in a sheltered location for a week or so to let them get established.

Maintaining Your Hanging Baskets

Plants in hanging containers need more water and fertilizer than plants growing in the ground, since their roots are confined to a relatively small space. Rather than trying to water on a schedule, check plants daily and water when the soil is dry to a depth of an inch or so. Water plants thoroughly and allow excess to drain. Before watering again, test soil moisture as mentioned above. If for some reason the soil dries out completely, soak the entire pot in a basin of warm water to rehydrate the soil, then allow it to drain.

To perform their best, annual flowers need regular fertilizing, and this is especially true when they're growing in pots. You can add time-release fertilizer pellets at planting time or feed plants with a water-soluble fertilizer. Follow fertilizer label instructions carefully to avoid damaging plants.
Most annuals benefit from regular deadheading - removal of old, faded flowers - to encourage continuous bloom. Pinch back stems occasionally on shrubby plants to promote bushy, compact growth. If plants get leggy, prune stems back to half their length.


  • Use sturdy, decorative chains to hang baskets so you can easily raise or lower them to suit your needs. For example, you may want to start with the pots at eye level, then raise them as flowers begin to cascade.
  • Choose plants with similar light and water requirements for each container.
  • Use a combination of potting soil and seed-starting mix in the pot. Seed-starting mix is lightweight but dries out quickly. Potting soil is heavier but holds moisture longer.
  • Make herb basket to hang outside kitchen door. Fill with cascading oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Fill another with a "container" tomato plant and a nasturtium or two.
  • Hang baskets from tree limbs and fill with shade-tolerant plants like ferns, impatiens, begonias, or torenias.

The following chart will help you choose plants for your hanging baskets.

  cool-season warm-season form sunlight notes
alyssum x   low mound full sun to part shade fragrant
begonia   x mound part shade  
coleus   x mound full sun to part shade  
dahlia   x mound full sun  
fuchsia   x mouding and trailing part shade  
geranium (zonal)   x mound or trailing full sun  
heliotrope   x mounding full sun to part shade fragrant
impatiens   x mounding part shade to shade  
ivy     trailing varies many types
lobelia x        
nasturtium x   mounding or trailing full sun  
nicotiana   x mounding full sun to part shade fragrant
pansy x     full sun to part shade  
petunia x   mounding or trailing sun  
scaevola   x mounding full sun to part shade  
snapdragon x   upright full sun to part shade  
torenia x x x full sun to part shade  
verbena   x mounding or trailing full sun  
zinnia   x mounding full sun  

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