A Walt Disney World expert shows us the secrets to beautiful hanging baskets.
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Melissa Shepherd isn’t a basket case, but if she were, you couldn’t blame her. Each year, she and a team of gardening specialists at Walt Disney World in Orlando assemble “an outrageous number” of new hanging baskets―more than 6,000―to decorate its parks and resorts with petunias, geraniums, and other flowers. Follow her tips to create inexpensive, colorful displays that even your wicked stepsisters will like.
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Why Grow Hanging Baskets
These containers suspended by chains or wire offer distinct advantages, says Melissa. First, they elevate color to eye level instead of relegating it to the ground. Second, many trailing plants (such as ivy geraniums (pictured), million bells, and bacopa) do better in baskets than they do in the ground.
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Melissa starts with a wire-frame basket into which she presses moist sphagnum moss to make a shell. Nearly invisible strands of monofilament line attached to the sides of the frame help keep the moss in place. Next, she fills the basket with commercial potting soil and mixes in a tablespoon or so of slow-release fertilizer. Finally, she plants flowers she knows will make a splash.
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Million bells (Calibrachoa sp.)―trailing plants that resemble miniature petunias; come in almost every color; bloom nonstop; don’t need deadheading (removing of old flowers); plant in sun.
Mini Cascade Hybrid ivy geraniums―showy clusters of red, pink, salmon, or lavender flowers on cascading stems; take summer heat from the Lower South northward; need some deadheading; plant in sun.
Wave Series and Ramblin’ Hybrid petunias (pictured)―hundreds of nonstop blooms in blue, purple, lavender, pink, and rose on heat-tolerant, wide-spreading plants; don’t need deadheading; plant in sun.
‘Dragon Wing’ begonias―upright, mounding growers with glossy, green leaves and red flowers; good as anchor plants for center of pot; prefer light shade.
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Single Color vs. Mixed Baskets
Use plants in one color, such as all pink geraniums, when aiming for simplicity or mass impact. Mixed baskets act more like flower arrangements that you appreciate close-up. “Doing a basket with three or four different plants adds color and texture and enhances the story you’re trying to tell,” Melissa explains.
The key to successful mixed baskets is adding filler plants―spreading plants with attractive foliage that fill in gaps between anchor plants. Favorites include spider plant, variegated pothos, sweet potato vine, purple heart, and asparagus fern.
Mixed baskets also benefit from some white flowers and foliage. “White really draws the eye,” Melissa notes. “It gives that sparkle factor. If the location is shady or tucked away, having a little white brings out the color of the whole basket.”
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Hanging Basket How-To
Begin by inserting small spider plants into the sides. They will fill out and cover up the moss.
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Fill the basket with moistened commercial potting soil.
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Add begonias, a sweet potato vine, and chenille plants for color. Hang the finished basket, and watch it grow.
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Tips for Success
Make sure all the plants in the basket like the same growing conditions.
Plant so the weight is balanced and the basket doesn’t pull to one side when the plants fill out.
Because these containers are focal points, remember to deadhead or pinch the plants if they require it.
Feed once a week with a water-soluble 10-10-10, 13-13-13, or 20-20-20 product to keep blooms coming.
It’s okay to copy plant combinations you see in garden centers.
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Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
You'll find beautiful hanging baskets and more than 30 million blooms at the 16th annual Epcot International Flower & Festival running March 18- May 31, 2009. This year, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip, and Belle and Beast from "Beauty and the Beast" debut as the grand front entrance topiary. Disney's gardeners display extraordinary skill in using flowers, mosses, grasses, and other plants to craft these figures.