Winter Hanging Baskets

Winter Hanging Baskets with Louise Burks, from Castle Gardens, Sherbone

• This was a talk on how to prepare and plant winter-flowering hanging baskets, balls and tubs.
 • Louise feels these are a bit more horticultural than summer baskets and provide a lot of ongoing interest through a very long season.
• Louise started by showing how to plant up hanging baskets but most of the principles apply to all three forms of planting.


• Choose the biggest basket you can – the more compost it can hold, the more water it will retain and the better the plants will do. 10” diameter baskets are too small, try and go for 14” upwards.
• Castle Gardens use wire baskets, which they line, but wicker baskets are often nicely deep and they tend to look ‘finished’ as soon as they are planted.
• Choose nice deep baskets too, but don’t forget to check that any plastic linings (if present) are pierced to allow for drainage – if not the plants could become waterlogged.  Tip – don’t pierce the very bottom as a small reservoir can be beneficial.

If you have an open sided basket, for example wire frame, various linings are available:
o Papier mache – this can be hard to fit exactly to the basket’s shape o Coir – this will last for several years, but the brown colour can look like dead moss
o Fibre – this can be more flexible to fit a variety of shapes and has the benefit of being green
o Flat moss – this should be sourced sustainably. Castle Gardens source theirs from a man who collects it from Forestry Commission plantations. Lawn moss can be used too, but can be a bit bitty and is not ideal for all applications. • For the purposes of this demonstration flat moss was used.

• If you are using bitty moss or planting a manger with very wide spaced struts then line the basket with green garden netting to hold it all in. Tip – if you’re planting up a manger then don’t waste your moss on the back, use plastic on the unseen side.
• Fit your moss into your basket like a jigsaw puzzle and avoid overlapping the pieces too much – you want a basket full of compost, not moss.
• If you are making a summer basket then put a disc of plastic in the bottom to help retain some water.
• Put a little bit of compost in the bottom, then start planting up the sides of the basket.
• Castle Gardens use their own reduced peat compost with expanded fibre, which the plants love. Planting up the sides
• Work out which side will be facing the wall from the way the basket hangs from its ring – only plant up the front and sides.
• Winter-flowering pansies and violas (which have a longer season) are the mainstay of their plantings.
• Yellows and whites show up better on dull January days than reds and oranges.
• Although actively flowering and growing in the autumn and spring they will stop flowering in December and January. Tip – for the best performance make sure you buy plants that are in full flower and bud in the autumn, so they don’t go into dormancy before flowering.
• Feeding with dilute Tomorite (or other high potash feed) once a week in January will stimulate them into flower again.
• Always plant from the inside out, pushing the leaves through to the outside while leaving the roots on the inside – roots take longer to recover from damage than leaves. If you feel the need you can protect the leaves and shoots with a wrap of newspaper as you push them through.
• Close in the moss around the plants to fix them in place.
• Ivies are very effective in baskets especially as ‘tails’ growing out from the bottom. Tip – split up the plants you buy – you make get three, four or more individual plants from them. But don’t plant them too sparsely – group them in clumps.
• You can also raid your rockery for suitable plants – dig up roots of Lamiums, Vincas, Sedums, Thymes and Ajugas.
• They always put a couple of Aubretias in the sides of their baskets – they grow throughout the season and provide a great show of flowers in the spring.
• Primroses can also look spectacular in the sides of spring baskets. • After planting the sides add more compost to the basket and move on to the rim. Planting up the rim
• Lamiums are good around the rim – they give good foliage and don’t go scrappy as they can in the garden.
• Prostrate thymes also look good up here.
• Now add some slow release fertiliser like Osmocote – either a small handful of loose or three of the tablets about 2” down. This will provide a background feed the basket for six months. The compost itself will only provide food for the first seven weeks. Planting above the rim
• To maximise the flowering potential and water retention of the basket Castle Gardens ‘mound’ theirs up above the rim, but still keep this additional collar of moss and planting within the hanging chains.
• Here the plants are actually planted on their sides into the collar but will sort their orientation out after a few days.
• White Arabis, Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, Ajuga (try ‘Chocolate Chip’), Vinca, Pansies and Violas all work well here.
• Trap them in position with more moss as you work this collar up from the rim, tapering in as you go.
• Then fill in with compost. Planting up the top
• Plant the centrepiece with bulbs – dwarf narcissi are a favourite. Tip – bulbs will grow taller in these conditions than the official height, so don’t go for anything over 10”. Favourites are ‘Tete a Tete’, ‘February Gold’ and ‘Topolino’. Use just one variety, or else the flowering and cutting back gets out of sync. Plant 5 or 6 bulbs 3-4” down, a couple of inches apart.
• Tulips could also be used for a later flowering display.
• Chinodoxas also work well but aren’t as tall.
• The bulbs can be overplanted with more pansies and violas.
• Try a Heuchera for a centrepiece, though these may work better in pots.
• Dwarf conifers can work in a sheltered position.
• Cyclamen also can work in a sheltered position – down to -3 degrees. Finishing off
• Dot in some more ivies.
• Push groups of five crocus in the side (they can’t be seen in the top). • Overall you will probably be using around 24 plants – this builds into a great show of flower and interest.
• Water gently and generously and allow to settle. Hanging and maintenance
• Ideally leave it to sit for ten days before hanging.
• If you can hang it in a place where it will get some sun – it makes all the difference to the flowering of the plants.
• Hang at eye level so you can see what’s going on – there is always something of interest in a winter basket, more so than a summer one. • Initially water once or twice a week, after October only once a week.
• Watch out in very cold weather as the compost may be frozen and the plants aren’t getting any water.
• As mentioned above, give a weekly feed of dilute Tomorite (or other high potash feed) in January to stimulate spring flowering.
• If any foliage is going pale/yellow then alternate this with a regular feed like Miracle Gro.
• At the end of the season all these plants can be reused in the garden – the pansies and violas will love a shady spot. They might flop over at the start but they will recover with watering.

• These are built from wire baskets in exactly the same way as above except that the collar mound is built up and over until it creates a ball. • Ivy balls can look spectacular, especially with long ‘tails’.
• Work the moss into the wire basket as before and plant up every section with ivy cuttings.
• Stick with one variety per ball but you can use different varieties for different effects – variegated, gold etc.
• To keep the ball shape tidy pin in the ivy strands with ‘hairpins’ made of garden wire. Where the stems touch the moss they will root in. POTS Choosing a pot
• Any glazed pot is frost-proof, but ‘Frost Resistant’ terracotta can still crack.
• Use Yorkshire Flowerpots if you want to use terracotta as it has a concrete middle and is completely frost proof.
• Fibre clay also works well for winter plantings. Planting up the pot
• Put some crocks in the bottom for drainage.
• Use reduced peat compost for a temporary/seasonal display or John Innes No. 3 if you have a permanent planting in the feature.
• If you are using a huge pot only the top 10-12” needs to be replaced each year, as the plants’ roots won’t get down below this.
• As with the hanging baskets do not waste your plants around the back of the pot if it is against a wall.
• Start with trailing plants around the front.
• For the centrepiece add bulbs in clumps.
• Plant pansies and violas for colour.
• For height you can use dwarf conifers like Cupressus ‘Goldcrest’, which has good colour, or ‘Summer Snow’, which is very fluffy and soft. • In an exposed position try Junipers.
• Other evergreen plants that work well are Pittisporums, Euonymous, Osmanthus.
• Heucheras also give a good splash of colour and height.
• Plant these centrepieces towards the back of the pot, not in the middle – it will leave more space for the other plants.
• Other flowering plants that work well are compact Wallflowers ‘Sugar Rush’, which will flower from autumn to spring, and dwarf Stocks, scented though they not fully hardy. The same goes for Cyclamen.
• Chrysanthemums give fantastic colour in the autumn but will not flower through the winter into the spring. However they can be planted in the garden and will come back next year as a compact plant.

Notes by Dominic Weston