In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Ferns planted in sphagnum will last many years. Violas and alyssum add color until the ferns fill in.
I did a segment recently for Henry's Garden about planting in sphagnum moss. When I was working at Sunset we planted gorgeous baskets of primrose and pansies every spring. It took a long time to put a basket together, but when they were finished, they were magnificent! I remember using 3 or 4 flats of plants for each basket. They were not only time-consuming but expensive too!
The purpose of planting with moss in wire baskets is to have plants growing on all sides of the container. Balls, pillars, and wreaths are common forms of sphagnum moss plantings. Succulents are very popular to grow in moss because they don't mind drying out between waterings.
To create your own hanging basket, first you need the plants. The basket I put together for Henry wasn't that elaborate. It had several 4-inch ferns, a cell pack of violas and one of alyssum, some lobelia for color, and some cuttings of a rabbits paw fern (Polypodium aureum) that a friend had given me. Actually, the rabbits paw was the reason I wanted to put the basket together in the first place. Years ago I had an old bird cage filled with moss where a rabbits paw fern grew happily, until somebody snagged it off my patio. The plants you select should have the same growing requirements. Impatiens work very well for this project.
Second, you need moss. Sphagnum moss is actually the living top layer of a sphagnum bog. Peat moss is dead residue beneath the live layer and is harvested and used as a soil amendment. Sphagnum is expensive! It is available in small bales, if you can find them. The bales will expand into quite a lot of moss and are more economical than buying bags of loose moss. I had to purchase the moss in bags this time and they were bloody expensive! My project took two bags at $7.99 each.
Third, you need a basket. A dumpster diver by nature, I found a cute little wire basket several months ago that I had saved for this very purpose. Of course Henry wanted to use a topiary frame instead, and since the show is called Henry's Garden, the topiary frame took precedence. The wire was spaced too far apart to use as a planter, but some creative wiring on my part made it work. Wire baskets cost between $4 and $15, depending on size.
Planting the Basket
I soaked the moss in a bucket, set the plants around my work area, opened a new bag of potting soil and went to work. Henry isn't much help, but he sure is fun! We alternated layers of moss, plants, soil, and moss again and again until we reached the top of the wire basket, finishing with an alyssum and moss.
One tip when planting in wire baskets: The instructions on the bag of moss say to insert your plants from the outside in, root first, through the wire opening. I have found it much easier to bundle up the foliage and insert the leaves through the wire, from the inside out. This way you don't have to disturb the roots to squeeze them through those little holes. It is much less damaging if leaves poke through several openings, especially ferns and other plants with tender foliage.
Henry and I got filthy dirty and soaking wet, but the project was a smashing success! Since we rushed though the planting in about 10 minutes, I fully expect some of the plants to crash. It will be simple to either pull them out and replace them with something else, or to wait until the other plants cover the gap. However, you are going to take your time and do a good job, so you won't have that problem, will you?
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