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Just hanging around.

It's time to prepare for a riot of summer colour - in a basket IT'S almost time to dust off the patio furniture, spruce up those outdoor pots and get ahead with your hanging baskets to give you a riot of colour this summer.

If you have enough space in a frost-free greenhouse or a porch to house your hanging baskets until all danger of frost has passed, you can plant them now to encourage more mature plants earlier on in the season, giving you a much-needed burst of colour against your outside walls and fences.

If you plant your baskets now when plants are smaller, it makes the job less fiddly as you can tease young plants through the sides of the basket linings more easily.

On fine days, the young plants can be put outside to harden off, but make sure you bring them under cover at night to protect them from frost.

Traditional summer hanging basket displays include petunias, verbena, bacopa, diascia, lobelia, trailing fuchsia and geranium, but if you don't want the effect to be too overpowering, select a few foliage plants such as red-leaved coleus or silvery festuca to act as foils.

Some gardeners go for sizzling combinations, planting clashing colours of reds and oranges together to bring the wow factor to bright, sunny spots, while others prefer cool blue and white pairings to create a sense of calm in shadier areas.

The choice of styles and textures of baskets and linings can be overwhelming. There are some with solid sides, which are straightforward to plant up, or open mesh varieties which benefit from plantings at the sides as well as in the top.

Those who are short of time may have to go for easy-care solutions such as baskets of trailing pelargoniums, simply because they need less watering and generally less looking after than other thirsty specimens such as fuchsias.

But more ambitious gardeners with automatic irrigation systems and plenty of time can produce a wealth of innovative hanging baskets.

Stylish ornamental grasses and sedges can waft over the side of a wicker basket to create an air of calm and look good in a contemporary setting.

Try the sedge Carex comans Frosted Curls, which has slender, silvery green leaves and is a good companion to more upright grasses such as Festuca glauca Elijah Blue, which has narrow blue-grey leaves. They need regular watering and some liquid feed every couple of weeks, but you only need to tidy them up occasionally by pulling out leaves that have gone brown.

Evergreen succulents such as echeverias can also provide an alternative display, forming a tight globe for an unusual effect, while lusciousleaved hostas can also happily fill a basket.

The grow your own brigade should be heartened to know that it is possible to grow fruit, veg and herbs in hanging baskets, so you can eat the fruits of your labour as well as admire them.

Dwarf bush tomatoes, for instance, will tumble wonderfully from pots. Plant them with French marigolds to help deter whitefly. Cut-and-comeagain lettuces also do well, while nasturtiums not only look great but you can eat the leaves, flowers and seeds.

Strawberries also do well in hanging baskets, as they avoid predators such as slugs. Plant four or five plants in a basket in spring, keep them well watered and fed with a product which is high in potassium - such as tomato feed - and you should be picking strawberries from your basket from June.

With any hanging basket it is important to deadhead regularly, water the compost daily in summer and feed as required. With a little luck, your patio baskets should be blooming long after you've put the barbecue away for the year.

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Plantings for baskets can be as bold or as subtle as the gardener's temperament
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Apr 26, 2010
Words:637
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