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Skaggs: Hanging baskets can brighten a space
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Just a few years ago, most hanging baskets contained only one type of plant. But in recent years, mixed baskets have become popular.

This "instant garden" look appeals to beginning and longtime gardeners alike.

Some examples of trailing plants that are beautiful in hanging baskets are petunias, million bells, geraniums, torenias, verbenas, portulacas, English ivy, German ivy, potato vines, scaevolas, angel wing begonias and vinca vines.

Plastic hanging baskets are inexpensive. But you may want to use moss and coco fiber to get that natural look. Plants in moss and coco baskets can dry out fast, though. You may need to water often, especially if the plants are large and in a drafty place.

If you're making your own moss or coco basket, insert a piece of plastic with holes in it for drainage. This will allow water to stay longer in the container. To retain a natural effect while helping hold moisture, you can put black plastic liner inside the moss liner and poke holes in it.

Recently, "grow bags" have become a popular alternative to the oft used plastic pot. These bags come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Many are somewhat elongated with a planting area in the top and multiple holes down the sides. When the plants have fully grown in, the pot is not visible at all. Grow bags are great for a single trailing plant or can be planted with multiple species providing color and variety all season long.

Often called "potting soil," the best potting mix doesn't contain any soil. Regular topsoil doesn't have the qualities necessary to support good plant growth in containers, and it may contain diseases and weed seeds.

A good potting mix is well-drained and aerated and holds moisture and nutrients well. Such mixes may contain peat, bark, perlite and vermiculite in various proportions.

For places that get four to 12 hours of sun per day, select plants for full sun to partial shade. For those that get two to four hours of early or late sun per day, select plants for partial to full shade.

Also, remember all plants combined in one basket must have similar requirements.

Select healthy, high-quality plants. Inspect the foliage and flowers for any signs of pests or diseases. Take the plant from the pot and examine the root system, which should be white and well-developed. Avoid root-bound plants.

To keep your hanging plants growing and flowering, you have to supply plenty of water and nutrition all season. Container-grown plants need fertilizing about once every other week. When using a liquid plant food, make sure the potting mix is moist. If it's dry, the fertilizer salts could damage the plant roots.

Regular deadheading (removing spent flowers) encourages new flowers to develop. Pruning and trimming stimulates new growth.

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