One of the biggest challenges for polytunnel gardeners is a lack of space. No matter how large a polytunnel you choose, you will always want more space once you get started! Hanging baskets in domestic polytunnels can be a fantastic way to make the most of the space you have available – one of many vertical gardening techniques that can allow you to make the most of the height of your polytunnel as well as the ground space available for growing. Crop bars open up your options and allow you to plant hanging baskets to increase the diversity and yield of your polytunnel.
How To Choose Hanging Baskets
When choosing hanging baskets for your polytunnel, it is important to consider which plants you wish to grow. It is also important to consider the weight limitations imposed by the polytunnel structure, though most polytunnels will easily be able to accommodate most hanging baskets available on the market.
There are many different hanging baskets on the market, from the traditional wire baskets right through to more contemporary designs which allow for more of a downward-facing display. Aesthetics are, of course, a consideration. But is is more important to consider the limitations of a design with regard to watering and the needs of your plants.
How To Make Hanging Baskets
Of course, you do not need to go out and buy hanging baskets. You could also consider making your own. You could make your own hanging baskets by suspending almost any container on a wire, chain or strong piece of string. Those on a budget (or those who wish to be more eco-friendly) could consider piercing holes in plastic food packaging and using these to make basic hanging containers. Those of a practical bent could also go a little further and construct their own beautiful hanging baskets from willow or other wood.
Whether you make or buy your hanging baskets, you will have to consider how they are to be lined. Plastic linings and fibrous linings are common, and can help to retain water. A more eco-friendly choice, however, is natural moss.
Choosing the Right Growing Medium for Hanging Baskets
Before you plant up your hanging baskets, make sure you have chosen (or created) a good quality compost. Growing plants in this way makes them very reliant on you to meet their nutritional and water requirements, so it is important that you give them as good a start as possible. The better quality the compost, the better it will be able to feed your plants and retain water for their use. Still, no matter how good your growing medium, it will usually be necessary to feed your hanging basket plants with a good organic feed later in the summer to keep displays looking their best.
Best Plants For Hanging Baskets
Once you have your hanging baskets or other hanging containers and have lined and filled them, it is time to choose and place your plants. Choosing the right plants is largely a matter of personal circumstances and preference. Think carefully about what your priorities are. Are you more interested in growing food, or in the aesthetics? Do you want very seasonal, or longer lasting displays?
Edible Plants for Hanging Baskets
If your primary concern is growing as much food as possible, you will be glad to hear that a wide range of edible produce can be grown in hanging baskets. Some of the best edible plants to grow in hanging baskets are:
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Chilli Peppers or Compact Bell Pepper Varieties
- Strawberries (Training varieties are also available.)
- Pea Shoots or Trailing Peas
- Mixed Salad Leaves (Lettuce, mustard, pack choi, mizuna, mibuna etc..)
- Spring onions
- Mediterranean herbs (Such as thyme, marjoram, rosemary etc..)
Even over the winter months, you can grow a wide range of edible plants in hanging baskets. For example, you could consider winter lettuces and other hardy salad leaves, as well as hardy perennial vegetables and herbs.
Of course, when you grow food in your hanging baskets, you will harvest some of the plants as you go along, thereby altering the display. Harvesting little and often, and filling gaps with successional planting can help ensure that the basket continues to look good.
Flowers for Hanging Baskets
If you are more interested in aesthetics than in growing more food, beautiful flowers will largely form the main structure of your hanging basket displays. (Note, however, it is not either-or. You could consider growing beautiful blooms in amongst and alongside edible plants in your hanging baskets.)
There are a huge range of flowers that will do well in hanging baskets. However, to inspire you to create your own hanging displays, here are some of the best flowers for summer hanging baskets, and some of the best flowers for a winter display.
– Summer Hanging Basket
Summer hanging baskets should be planted up in the spring, after the last frost date in your area, or perhaps a little earlier under cover in your polytunnel. The flowers above are some of the best options for a summer basket because they bloom over a reasonably long period and create long-lasting displays.
– Winter Hanging Baskets
- Erica carnea
- Hedera (Ivy)
- Viola (Winter pansies and viola)
- Winter heath
Winter hanging baskets should be planted up in September or October. The plants above will have no problem surviving (especially inside a polytunnel) over the long winter months. Note, however, that these are not the only options. A polytunnel will dramatically increase the number of plants that it is possible to grow in the coldest part of the year, especially if you consider providing some form of heating for the structure.
How To Plant Hanging Baskets
Part of creating successful hanging baskets is understanding how many plants to place within each one. As a general rule of thumb, you can place the same number of plants as there are inches in the diameter of the container. For example, if your basket is 10 inches across, you can often place 10 plants within it. Of course, how many plants each basket can hold will depend on which plants you have chosen to include within it.
When creating your hanging basket, it is important to make sure that you are aware of needs of the different plants that you are considering including within it. It is best to group plants with consideration for their nutritional and water needs, placing like with like. If you place plants that require lots of water with drought tolerant plants, for example, you are likely to run into difficulties when caring for and maintaining your hanging baskets.
Tips For Beautiful Hanging Baskets
There are a number of different criteria that you might use when designing your displays. When deciding how to plant hanging baskets, it is important to think about how you can reconcile practicalities with aesthetics. Whether you are growing food or flowers in your hanging baskets, here are some tips for beautiful hanging baskets:
- Combine plants of different heights and trailing plants and think in three dimensions.
- Consider the view of your hanging baskets from different angles.
- Think about colour, combining shades in pleasing combinations.
- Think about plant and leaf shape, combining different shapes in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
- Consider how the textures of different plants can be combined to enhance the visual effect.
In addition to the above, you may also like to consider how your hanging baskets will smell. Fragrant flowers that are great for hanging baskets include:
- Viola ‘Allspice mixed’
- Trailing or dwarf sweet peas
Creating a Year-Round Hanging Basket Display
Once you have created your hanging basket, don’t just forget about it. You will have to make sure that you maintain your displays throughout the year in order to keep it productive and looking good.
Here are some tips for maintaining your hanging baskets:
- Choose appropriate plants for each season and your location.
- Water your hanging baskets well and often. (You could consider an overhead irrigation system.)
- Feed plants in baskets with good quality organic plant feeds.
- Practice successional planting of edible crops to ensure a continued display.
- Deadhead and trim flowers to encourage more blooms.
Hanging baskets can increase the amount of growing space in your polytunnel by a surprising degree. Learning how to plant hanging baskets can increase your options and allow you to grow more than ever in your undercover growing area.
Do you have hanging baskets in your polytunnel? What do you grow in them, and how are you getting on? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.