Best Flowers for Hanging Baskets in Sun or Shade | Almanac.com

Best Flowers for Hanging Baskets in Sun or Shade

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When it comes to hanging baskets for flowers, choose wisely. Here are the most reliable trailing flowers for sun and shade. Plus, we’ll explain how to create your own hanging baskets for half the amount—or less—and how to keep birds out of baskets!

This time of year the garden centers are loaded with expensive hanging baskets just begging to be taken home and enjoyed but the price can be daunting. Don’t despair! If you simply make your own hanging basket the first year, the following years simply require updating the plants. This is a worthy project as you’ll save a lot of money over the years.

Image: Cruise your local garden center for some ideas

Hanging baskets are perfect for those trailing flowers that spill over the edge of the basket for that carefree, lush look. They especially look welcoming on a front porch or near the front door. The thing is: You can spend a lot of money replacing hanging baskets if you don’t select the right plants. 

Selecting the Right Basket

Before we get into the types of flowers, let’s start with an appropriate basket.

  • Plastic pots aren’t fancy but they are inexpensive and readily available; you may even have some squirreled away in the shed from previous years. 
  • Wire baskets come in a wide range of sizes and shapes and enable you to plant into the sides of the basket to create a fuller effect. Visually, the wire practically disappears. However, they can be tricky to plant and since they dry out fast, they are harder to maintain. They need to be lined with either coir or long-fiber sphagnum moss which adds to the cost. Try using burlap instead.

Here’s a tip: Placing a piece of plastic with holes punched in it for drainage over the liner before adding soil will help keep the soil moist for a longer period of time.

Image: Wire baskets need a liner to hold the soil. This one is made from coconut coir.

Picking Plants for Hanging Baskets

Think about the amount of light your basket will get before shopping for plants—all day sun, shade, or half and half. Also, try to match up water requirements before you delve into colors and heights. It is easy to fall in love with a combination of plants that won’t make good partners.

When planning your basket keep in mind the rule of 3:

  1. a thriller (a tall dramatic plant),
  2. a filler (a round full plant),
  3. and a spiller (a low cascading plant). 

Don’t limit yourself to just annuals, some tender perennials are perfect for use in hanging baskets. It doesn’t have to be all flowers; foliage plants offer season-long color and texture and can be the star of the show.

Trailing Hanging Plants for Sunny Locations

Here are some good plants for a sunny location:

  • Calibrachoa ‘Million Bells’ look like tiny petunias. They are the backbone of many pre-planted hanging baskets because they are so reliable and come in so many colors.

Image: Million bells blossoms all summer long and offers a multitude of colors

  • Wave petunias will give you a larger flower than the calibrachoa and will cascade more. One of our local nurseries grows purple wave baskets on their front porch that cascade from ceiling to floor. Very impressive!

Image: Pink Wave is a favorite for hanging baskets

  • Scaevola or fan flower is my fave. It is a low-growing survivor that keeps on pushing out the blossoms all season long. I like the true blue one but there are also white and pink varieties.
  • Zinnia ‘Double Profusion’ form neat mounds covered with long-lasting blossoms that stand up to the heat. It is a good filler plant.
  • Bidens are another reliable season-long bloomer with bright daisy-like flowers. Along with classic yellow there are bicolored varieties too.
  • Verbena is a colorful drought-tolerant annual that blooms in colors ranging from pinks and purples to peach and lime green. I have wintered them over in the house to use again the next summer.
  • Lantana is a sun-lover than can take the heat and will bloom all season long.

Sun-Loving Foliage Plants for Hanging Baskets

  • Helichrysum petiolare has velvety silver, chartreuse, or variegated cascading foliage and tolerates poor soil, heat, and dry conditions. It is also known as the licorice plant since some varieties smell like anise. A word of caution – if allowed to seed out this plant can go rogue and is considered invasive in some parts of the country.

  • Artemisia ‘Silver Brocade’ has fuzzy silver leaves and is a great, drought tolerant, filler plant.

  • Lysimachia (aka Creeping Jenny) is a spreading perennial that is often used as a spiller in hanging baskets. ‘Aurea’ has golden foliage that shines in sun to part shade.

  • Sweet potato vine has colorful chartreuse, bronze, and dark maroon, almost black, foliage. The colors develop best in full sun to part shade otherwise it will just be green.

Trailing Hanging Plants for Shady Locations

There are lots of plants that perform great with less than 4 hours of sun a day:

  • Caladiums are spectacular for any shady location and their multi-colored leaves will add a touch of drama to your hanging basket. They grow from a bulb but for instant color use already started plants.
  • Coleus are known as a classic shade plant though now there are sun-loving varieties too. They offer lots of color and texture to any basket.
  • Impatiens are the go-to plant for shade because there are so many bright colors to choose from and they are in constant bloom. Double-flowering varieties have blossoms that resemble tiny roses.
  • New Guinea impatiens can take more light than regular impatiens but still appreciate protection from hot afternoon sun. They do best where they get morning sun and afternoon shade and offer handsome glossy green or maroon foliage along with season-long blossoms.
  • Browallia will give you true blue blossoms for your patriotic red, white, and blue basket.
  • Begonias – B. semperflorens called wax begonias will bloom all summer. The flowers are usually red, white, or pink, and the waxy foliage can be a glossy green or bronze. Tuberous begonias have beautiful camellia-like flowers and stunning green or dark, almost black foliage. They can cascade 1 to 2 feet. Tip: Save the tubers to replant next year.

Image: Save the tuber of this begonia to reuse next year.

  • Strobilanthes also known as Persian Shield is an upright plant with beautiful metallic looking purple foliage. It stands up to hot dry locations and makes a great thriller!
  •  Torenia, the wishbone flower, has both trailing and upright types so it can serve as a filler or a spiller. It blooms constantly in light shade but can handle some direct sun if kept moist.
  • Fuchsia are stunning in a hanging basket but a bit finicky to care for. Since they are heavy feeders, give them half-strength fertilizer at every watering. Keep the soil evenly moist and protect them from hot afternoon sunshine. They are a hummingbird magnet!

How to Make a Hanging Basket

Ready to pot ‘em up! Creating a handsome hanger is as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Fill your pot to about 4 to 5 inches of the rim with a lightweight potting soil. 
  2. Arrange the plants while still in their pots until you like the look. Floral industry standards suggest 3 to 5 plants per 10 to 12 inch wide container.
  3. Knock them out of their pots and plant rootball to rootball. Pack soil around the roots to fill any gaps. Water well to settle the soil and hang it up!

If you like you can add time-release fertilizer and a small amount of polymer gel crystals at planting time. Don’t overdo the gel crystals, 1 tablespoon is plenty for a 10-12 inch pot. It absorbs 200 to 400 times its weight in water and slowly releases it when the soil dries out but also takes up room in the pot when saturated. In a rainy summer it can lead to rotten roots.

Taking Care of Your Hanging Baskets

Watering is critical to the success of your hanging basket. Check the soil daily or even twice a day on hot dry days to see if it needs water. Wilted plants take a long time to recover.

If necessary dunk the whole pot in a bucket of water to revive it.

Remove spent blossoms and fertilize regularly to keep your plant in flower. Adding liquid fertilizer to your watering can every week gets the job done!

Use a swivel connector so you can turn the pot to keep it growing evenly. 

Some plants are more aggressive growers than others and may take over your container. Don’t hesitate to revamp midseason if necessary. Pull out the offender or let it take over the pot and remove the others. 

Deter the Birds

If birds like making their home in your hangers make it less comfy for them by shoving some sticks in the center, drape a plastic snake or a strip of fake fur to scare them, or stick in a colorful plastic pinwheel that will spin in the wind. 

As well as hanging baskets, consider flower pots or containers! See our list of best flowers for containers as well as flower container ideas.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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