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Skaggs: Brighten a garden with some baskets
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Hanging baskets full of flowers or foliage plants give a color boost to your house and garden. They can be used effectively even in a very small space. And if you choose carefully, you can change the plantings to suit every season — even winter!

A lightweight potting mix is needed for container gardening. Soil-less planting mixes provide excellent drainage, aeration and water-holding capacity that ordinary garden soil can not supply.

Be sure that your basket has drainage holes. Drainage is essential so that the planting mix will not become water-logged. Do not place pebbles or other material at the bottom of the container. They will not provide better drainage.

Plastic or wire baskets are available. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Plastic is inexpensive, easy to plant and is slower to dry out. Wire baskets allow more choices in size and planting arrangements. Many people find them more attractive.

Liners are used in wire hanging baskets to hold the soil and plants in position. Liners can be made of dried sphagnum moss or coconut fiber known as coir. Remember that the containers will be much heavier when watered.

Choose small, healthy young plants for planting. They will adapt to new surroundings much faster than older plants.

Plant much closer in a box or basket than you would in a flowerbed. Include plants with a variety of colors, shapes and textures. Trailing plants should be planted at the edges and bushy or upright plants will go at the center or back. Be sure that the taller plants will not block your windows or interfere with hanging the basket.

Site selection is as important for baskets as it is for any other plant. Remember that most of the time the hanging basket will be viewed from below. Hang the basket so that it will be close to eye level so that it can be admired and watered easily. Window boxes should extend the entire width of the window for best appearance.

Winter hanging baskets shouldn’t be seen as the poor relation to summer displays. Winter displays can be equally alluring although often subtler. Winter baskets are relatively low maintenance. They often require less water. If placed in an area that receives cold, drying winds, you may need to give the plants a weekly drink periodically with reuse water from the kitchen.

Ideally, winter baskets should be planted in the fall — when you would normally plant pansies — in order to get the plants off to a good start before freezing temperatures arrive. Try to have them planted by mid-October if possible.

Popular plants used for winter baskets are pansies, heathers, violas, primroses, ivy, dwarf conifers, ornamental kale, cyclamen, winter creeper euonymus, polyanthus and even herbs like thyme and rosemary. Crocus, Iris, miniature daffodils and tulips can add spring color. Of course, some of these will need to be transplanted into the garden later.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.