BASKETS AND HANGING POTS

  • This chapter, growing fuchsias in baskets and hanging pots, will also include half baskets.   Probably more than 65% of all fuchsias currently available are suitable for growing this way.  It is a superb and easy way to appreciate the true beauty, grace and charm of the fuchsia.  They will compliment any greenhouse, conservatory, garden, patio or even a small paved back yard.  The versatility of the fuchsia is unsurpassed. The reason fuchsias grown in baskets are so appealing is quite simply you are able to look up at the flowers and appreciated their intricate beauty, whereas with a bush grown fuchsia it is mainly the tube and sepals that are visual unless the sepals fly back.When to start preparing and building your baskets and hanging pots will totally depend on the facilities you have available.  A greenhouse, preferably heated, is a great asset.  This will almost certainly guarantee an early start.   A cold greenhouse, conservatory or even garden shed will be very useful if frost protection can be assured. If you are not able to propagate your own cuttings purchase your cuttings from a reputable specialist nursery.  I shall deal with both methods in great detail which will help you grow, what can best be described as a living structure that will change daily and be the envy of your friends and neighbours.Growing fuchsias in baskets or hanging pots is slightly different from growing them in pots or patio containers.   Forward planning is essential for success. I shall describe the methods I have used for exhibiting at National level.  Whether or not you wish to exhibit your baskets matters not so long as you enjoy what you are doing.  Albeit, if you are successful in producing a beautiful well balanced basket, then why not take it along to your local show so that others can admire and enjoy the fruits of your labour.      Firstly, decide on the size and type of basket and/or hanging pot needed to suit your requirements.   If these are intended for exhibition at a local or a specialist British Fuchsia Society or an Affiliated Society Show then read the show schedule very carefully and acquaint yourself with the rules.   Adhere to the rules and don't cut corners.    Any contravention will invoke disqualification and your exhibit will receive an N.A.S card,  ( Not as Schedule.)   All the months of hard work will have been for nothing.   I have been awarded several N.A.S cards during my showing career, quite simply, for not reading the schedule correctly.     The result is obvious, your exhibit is disqualified and probably an inferior plant takes the award and the standard of the show drops.        The next step is to carefully select the varieties best suited to achieve your aim whether for exhibition or  your own enjoyment.     It is always prudent, especially for the novice or beginner, to choose varieties they know and have grown previously.  In addition, try something new, that is something new to you.   This adds another dimension.     Most nurseries list a selection of proven basket fuchsias, both single and double varieties in a wide range of colour combinations.  Select and try one or two varieties which will have a novelty factor and test your expertise and increase your knowledge.Next consideration is when to start.  This will be determined by several factors, the facilities you have available and what you wish to achieve.     Initially, I shall deal with the sequence I used when growing for exhibition.  My first consideration is choosing the varieties I wish to exhibit.    This is dictated initially by the varieties I have available, proven basket varieties, which I have tested previously.  It is worth noting that double flowered varieties are inherently more difficult to grow to perfection than single flowered varieties and take slightly longer to bloom. For more detailed information refer to the chapter on 'Stopping and Timing' which will be invaluable.My selection would include some of my own varieties bred especially for this purpose.   These would include Lillian Annetts, a white and blue double.   Frank Unsworth, a white fluffy medium sized double, acclaimed to be the best white basket double available. Lady Patricia Mountbatten, pink and lilac true single.   University of Liverpool, a prolific bloomer with white and scarlet flowers, always first to bloom.   All proven show winning varieties.  There are of course hundreds of varieties available which are admirably suitable for baskets, the choice is yours.  Be adventurous try something new for next season.    It is amazing what you can learn about a variety in just twelve months. If buying your plants from a nursery, always place your order very early.     It is always the first cuttings taken from stock plants that make the plants.  Late cuttings always seem to be weak and a little spindly. This is gleaned from years of experience.

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    Lillian Annette

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    Lady Patricia Mountbatten

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    Frank Unsworth

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    University of Liverpool

  • Suitable baskets can range in size from 10 inches to 16 inches.    Hanging pots from 6 to 10 inches, although I am sure there are sizes outside these parameters but they become unwieldy for the average grower.  If your baskets or hanging pots are for exhibition then they must conform to the schedule.    The sizes and shapes will all be outlined in the rules for exhibiting.     Do not confuse a plastic 'Hanging Pot' with a 'Pot Hanging'.   There is a difference.   A Hanging Pot is one that has been specifically designed and manufactured for the purpose complete with hangers.    A 'Pot Hanging" is an ordinary plastic pot with hangers, not having been manufactured as a unit and therefore not suitable for supporting a fully grown plant.   If used, these will be disqualified.Baskets are available in many sizes and shapes and manufactured from many differing materials such as wire, wicker and plastic.   For home use, I have found what I consider the perfect hanging basket manufactured in plastic.     It has a flat bottom for ease of planting and  six removable/replaceable side lattice inserts for ease of inserting plants grown in pots up to 3.5 inches without causing damage to the plant or root ball.    The inserts are of a lattice design allowing the compost to breathe, unlike other plastic baskets and hanging pots.    An excellent design, a little more expensive perhaps but well worth the extra cost.      (See photos)

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    Lattice inserts removed

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    Lattice inserts inserted

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    Hanging Pot

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    Pot Hanging

    These new hanging baskets, illustrated above, are manufactured by Plantophia and will soon be readily available in most Garden Centres.  Prices will almost certainly vary so shop around.       These baskets are far superior to the wicker type of basket, which I have found go shabby very quickly.    The plastic Hanging pot, also illustrated, is admirably suited for growing fuchsias unlike the Pot hanging which is a standard plant pot with plastic hangers.  Avoid using this type of hanging pot, it is not designed to support the weight of a fully grown fuchsia. When to start propagating?     The facilities available coupled with your expertise and enthusiasm determine when to start propagating material for your baskets.    I start late October and select only the best and healthiest plants from which to propagate.     At this time of the year most plants are past their best and in need of attention.        Briefly, I gently prune each plant and give them the hot water treatment, described in detail under 'Pest & Diseases',  to completely eradicate any problems.       Next, ease down on watering and as early as possible pot each plant down into a smaller  pot or container using fresh fortified compost.    These are then housed ready for the onset of winter and if cared for correctly will produce some early cutting material.   Each of the actions described above are discussed in great detail in earlier chapters.  I like to start looking for cuttings about the middle of December, soon after the shortest day.      From this moment on, the plants quickly sense the lengthening daylight and increase in light intensity.     These factors coupled with a frost-free cool temperature induce the production of new short jointed compact growth.       The growth rate of new side shoots (cutting material) is governed by temperature and available light.   The highest possible natural light penetration must be achieved in your greenhouse or growing area.   Clean off any dust, dirt or old shading from the glass both inside and out.      Using an extra layer of polythene inside the greenhouse to conserve heat is always a compromise.       Using too much heat in an attempt to increase growth is misguided and expensive unless it is supplemented by artificial light .  Excess heat  is costly and will lead to unwanted elongation of the internodal length of the side shoots.      Your cuttings will be weak, leggy and more susceptible to fungal and insect attacks.      It will also affect the flowering potential of the ultimate plant.  Unwanted elongation of the side shoots will eventually have to be cut back to sustain manageable growth.       This is explained in more detail a little further on.        A point worth remembering which will illustrate the heat/light requirement of plants is in the knowledge that the only place where these two factors are always uniquely balanced is outside in your garden, never in the confines of a greenhouse or other covered area.  To plants a greenhouse is an alien environment.     As light intensity increases so does the temperature and vice versa.       Plants of whatever species, are all uniquely adapted to detect these variables and will react accordingly.      If the growing area is warmer than the ambient light factor then the plants will start to stretch increasing the internodal length in their quest to reach a higher light intensity.    They probably assume they are growing under a leaf canopy or other shade and strive to reach more light.      In addition to elongation, excessive heat leads to lush, large leafed weak growth.   It is far more prudent to grow your plants  in a cool, light, frost-free area rather than a warm dark environment.     The cool conditions are ideal for producing cutting material for good strong compact plants.  If you intend propagating your own cuttings use only the best materials available.    Selection and propagation of material for your baskets is identical to propagating for pot plants.      It is only when the cuttings are nicely rooted that the growing techniques change.      Knowledge gleaned from my chapter on 'Propagation' will help tremendously, especially the use of the illusive three leafed cuttings, which are excellent for baskets and standards.   Having decided on the number of baskets/hanging pots to be filled the next consideration is how many plants are needed for each.  This is a personal preference and must be decided on the size and number of the baskets/hanging pots to be planted.       Once you have decided on the number of plants required increase it by 20%.     This strategy will pay dividends later.   If you are complacent and only propagate or purchase the requisite number of plants then you will most certainly be disappointed.       Your cuttings have a long way to go and inevitably disasters will happen.   If a plant in your basket succumbs you will need a replacement otherwise your masterpiece will be ruined..      Having spares for each basket/pot is prudent more especially if growing for exhibition.    Grow these spares along with your baskets and remember to treat them identical to your baskets.Once your cuttings are rooted or have been acquired from a nursery, pot them up into 2.5" pots in any suitable compost.    Allow the cuttings to establish themselves for at least a week then carefully remove the growing tips.    Under no circumstances attempt to feed them as any excess nutrients will quickly make the compost too acid  and your cuttings will suffer.     Keep your cuttings in dry cool airy conditions and in full light to prevent unwanted lush elongated growth.  A circulation fan is a great asset to keep the air moving and preventing a cold pockets.   After a few weeks, you will notice side shoots starting to develop.    At this time start to turn your little plants a quarter turn every four/five days to ensure the side shoots develop equally.      Once two pair of leaves have developed on each side shoot pinch out the growing tips with a pair of fine tweezers.    Keep checking the root ball inside the pot and as soon as the roots have developed and start to grow around the inside of the pot, it is time to consider planting up your baskets.   Again, don't be tempted to feed them in the mistaken belief that it will hasten growth, just leave them alone and keep checking for problems such as insect or fungal attacks.    Botrytis is the biggest problem.    Try to keep the compost surface as dry as possible until the stem of the cuttings start to ripen.       Be patient and don't hasten to plant up your baskets too early, allow your plants to develop.     Only when the roots start to show signs of running around the inside of the pot should you consider building your basket.   I use the following sequence.Using a new or cleaned basket or hanging pot place about 1and a half inches/ 4cm of course material mixed with perlite to aid drainage and aeration. I also add a little 'Growmore' at this stage.    Next, fill the basket/pot with fortified compost.   Explained in my chapter 'Compost Formula'.          Once your basket/pot is filled with compost check the number of plants needed to  fill it.      Below is a set of nine young plants especially prepared for one hanging pot.      I shall use probably seven or eight  keeping one or two in reserve in case any unforeseen problems or accidents happen later.

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    In readiness for planting, prepare your compost early allowing it to degas.         You will need an enriched, fortified compost for baskets in order to sustain your plants over a long growing period of maybe up to nine months.     See the chapters on 'Plant Nutrition' and 'Composts'.   If you decide to use ordinary soilless potting compost then you will have to resort to supplementary feeding after several weeks once the soluble nutrients have been depleted.     This is variable and totally depends on the weather.   The warmer the weather the more watering is required, consequently,  the soluble nutrients will either be used or washed out very quickly.     This is a haphazard method of growing and it is all too easy to poison your plants by making the compost too acid by over feeding which in turn burns the microscopic feeding roots.    This will become more apparent in warm weather when the leaves of the plants start to wilt and take on a dull appearance instead of a healthy green lustre.      Unfortunately, the novice interprets wilting and lack of lustre to either lack of water or feeding.     An attempt to remedy this only makes matters worse.         It is far better to fortify your compost where possible, with good quality finely sieved organic and mineral fertilizers.   Only resort to supplementary liquid feeding when your baskets are fully developed and almost ready to flower.     Then and only then use a high nitrogen or balance feed.   Never use high potash feeds, as mistakenly advised by inexperienced and ill informed growers.     High potash feeding is too late and will only reduce the size and colour of the leaves which in turn inhibits flowering.   This can be seen very often at shows where the leaf and flowers ate under sized.   This also over ripens the wood and can cause dehydration .     This renders the plant almost useless for balanced growth and cuttings for the following year.          Dehydration is the loss of moisture from ripe wood which causes the wood to shrink thus killing the dormant buds in the old leaf axils.     Dehydration can continue right down to soil level and beyond killing the plant completely.        Most inexperienced growers attribute this anomaly to other factors calling it  'Die Back' not understanding the cause and continue to make the same mistake year after year which could well have been excellent stock plants.    Remember the leaf is the plants stomach.  These use a complex system called photosynthesis, the process of using sunlight to process the soluble nutrients ingested by the plant, into sugars and starches needed  for cell division and balanced healthy growth.    It is far more complex than this but suffice to say, maintain good healthy clean foliage and this will produce good foliage and a continuous profusion of beautiful flowers throughout the summer with the minimum of attention.The next sequence, having planted up your baskets, is shaping.        This involves stopping the side shoots at regular intervals.    If this is done correctly, every time you pinch out the growing tip of each side shoot, it effectively doubles the size of the plant and number of flowers it will produce.        Bear in mind there are only a limited number of stops possible in the growing season and these will be determined by the date  you wish to have your basket in full bloom.   If it is for exhibition, this will be determined by the date of the show, otherwise pick a suitable date for the final stop and watch it develop and cascade in flowers.    The stopping sequence.     If your basket was planted up with prepared cuttings they will already have been stopped at least once as illustrated in the basket below. 

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  • Allow two pair of leaves to develop on each of the side shoots and when the growing tips are sufficiently developed pinch them out.    As mentioned previously, there are only a limited number of times you will be able to do this which will be determined by the date you wish  your basket to flower.         I would suggest you read and acquaint yourself with my chapter on "Stopping and Timing".     There any many tips and suggestions here that will help you produce a specimen basket provided you follow the sequences described.  Once you have decided on the final stopping date e.g. say the 28th May, then pinch out every possible side shoot and the same day.    However, if your basket is for exhibition, I suggest you make the final stop two weeks earlier.     There are several reasons for this advice. Firstly, in the event of a bad summer with low light levels, you will have two weeks grace.  A bad summer with low light and temperature levels inhibits growth and delays flowering.   If the summer is good and bright then you basket will start to produce blooms that little bit earlier.     This is the bonus you need to produce a beautifully balanced basket with all the blooms at their best.   Naturally, nature and plants being what they are, don't naturally conform to your requirements you need to give them a little help to perform as you would wish.  Once flowering starts, not all the side shoots will produce flower buds at the same time even though you stopped them on the same date.    This is where stopping the side shoots two weeks earlier comes into play.      Watch the development of your basket virtually on a daily basis and start to remove any premature buds as soon as possible.  Keep doing this until you can see that all the developing buds on all the side shoots are the same size.   Once this occurs, just let your basket  flower naturally.    This is an extremely difficult decision to make, but is the difference between winning and losing.  This needs an explanation.       If you allow your basket to develop and open premature buds then this will unbalance the whole flowering sequence.      All the flowers on your specimen will be of different sizes.     Some new flowers, some old and lots of different size buds. It will not be the spectacular exhibit you had in mind.   If you learn and follow these golden rules then you will be the envy of all who view you basket.        One essential ingredient that I cannot give you is my enthusiasm, dedication and attention to detail.  Don't trust your brain to remember, it will play cruel tricks on you.   Keep a note of everything including weather patterns. It is also very prudent to record the varieties used and any observations regarding the pattern of growth, stopping and flowering times.   Recording of this information will prove invaluable for the future.       The golden rule here is  not to divulge your secrets to you competitors, otherwise they will be as wise as you.   It was long after I had finished exhibiting that  I allowed others to share my knowledge.   Don't be fooled by bad advice from inexperienced growers into high potash feeding, the biggest single cause of failure.The art of disbudding is well illustrated below, nearly every prime bud opened within five days of each other.     For exhibition, every open flower more than ten days old must be removed.  Old flowers are easily identified by a judge and detract from perfection.     These imperfections will be counted as rubbish, and penalised accordingly.   The anthers and stigma of aged flowers degenerate and turn brown with age which is a good indication of the age of the flower.  These again detract from perfection and will be penalised.    

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    Anne H Tripp

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    Nellie Nutall

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    Lady Isobel Barnett

    The sequence described above applies to all types and sizes of baskets, hanging pots and half baskets. If you get it right you will be envy of your friends, neighbours and competitors.  I have to admit that at times I was very naughty. I freely gave advice to my friends and competitors on what I had done wrong during my learning curve.  Shameful I know, I did blush at the time!!!! My next chapter will delve into the art of growing spectacular standards------

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