Posted on Apr 15, 2019 | by Kerry Kelley
Hayracks and Baskets:
Spring Beyond the Usual!
we planted last fall (or maybe even early summer) are a jarring reminder of the season we’ve hopefully left behind. Anxious for a spring pick-me-up, we trot off to the garden center to gather our usual early spring plants: pansies and probably some ivy for the trailing effect.
But hold it a minute--why go for the same thing Mrs. Jones down the street is planting? Instead of just following the crowd, be a trendsetter this year and plant something inspirational, and edible, too! Spring is the season for many of our healthiest vegetables, and they can easily be grown in your hayracks or baskets, alone or added to other cool-weather flowers.
One of the easiest vegetables to grow is leaf lettuce, and it’s perfect for planting in containers. It doesn’t require full sun, and in warmer climates it’s actually better off with some shade in the afternoon to keep it cool. (Lettuce, like many of the spring vegetables, will bolt--flower and go to seed-- if it’s too warm, which will also make it taste bitter.) Leaf lettuces tend to be “cut and come again” crops, so you can harvest more than once. Once the outer leaves are 4-6 inches, cut them 1 inch above the crown, and they’ll regrow. Pair chartreuse “Simpson Elite” lettuce with deep blue pansies, or frilly burgundy red “Merlot” with pink pansies and primrose yellow violas. Devil’s Ear green and red lettuce is slow to bolt and looks good in any combo. And don’t forget that pansies and violas are edible, too, so deadhead a little early and add to your salad.
For an even more tempting dish, how about adding some radishes? Radishes can be harvested in 4 weeks from seed and are easily grown in your hayracks. Thin seedlings to 2 inches apart when they’re 1 inch high, then toss those thinnings right in the salad. In a hayrack, plant a row of radishes in the front with a few pansies in the back for more visual appeal. If you’re really adventurous and you’re not obsessed with aesthetics, don't harvest a few radishes and let them grow a while. They’ll get fairly tall before they fall over, and look a little messy, but you will be rewarded with pretty flowers and tasty edible pods. Although there are pod radishes that don’t make edible roots, any radish will eventually form pods. The pods are crunchy, spicy, and can be used just like the traditional radish, and you'll greatly extend your harvest.
In larger racks or baskets, plant Swiss chard or mizuna. Chard is more heat and cold tolerant than lettuce, grows larger, and has stems so brightly colored they’re almost fluorescent. “Bright Lights” makes a stunning thriller in mixed shades of magenta, yellow, red, orange and white. Mizuna is often found in mesclun lettuce mixes. With its long, highly serrated bright green leaves, it too will be the center of attention. Both can be eaten raw or cooked.
Peas can be grown as a trailing plant with your other spring veggies. Plant the regular climbing varieties and let them flow over the sides. Whether shelling, snap, or snow peas, just pinch the tips of the vines when they’re about 6 inches from the ground, unless you don’t mind walking on them!
Like vegetables, but need a little something for dessert? Well, look no further than the delectable and popular strawberry. These succulent little fruits are terrifically easy to grow in a container and will provide a trailing foliage element as well as pretty white or pink flowers.
Strawberries are perennial, and depending on your climate, may live for many years in your basket or hayrack. In commercial row production, mother plants are traditionally annually replaced with the new plants on the runners, so pull a few runners into your basket to root later in the season . A zone 7 friend of mine has had their basket of strawberries for 3 years, still producing, and all they do is store the basket close to the house for winter, then pruning off the old foliage in the spring.
Strawberries differ in the amount of daylight they need to fruit. June-bearing types need short days, so stop producing in summer as days lengthen, and produce one crop of typically larger fruit that is actually initiated on the plants in the fall. Ever-bearing types are referred to as day-length neutral, although they tend to produce more as days grow longer, and will produce somewhat smaller fruit all season. Try pairing compact white-flowering "Montana" with pink-flowering "Toscana" for a basket that's pretty enough to eat, well, literally!
Alpine strawberries produce fruit that is smaller still (best suited for jams or fruit toppings), but don't require full sun to produce. Many of the alpines are runnerless, so will stay bushy, and can also be found with flowers in white, yellow, red, or pink.
Strawberries prefer acidic soil--at a ph of under 6.5 for best fruit production. Keep the soil moist but never wet, and as they are also heavy feeders, fertilize with AlgoFlash Fertilizer for Acid Loving Plants. The root systems are shallow, so be sure to plant with the crown just at soil level. 3 plants per square foot of surface growing area should give them enough room. Pruning back some of the runners will turn the plant's energy toward fruit rather than foliage production, and keep your containers more attractive.
If you desire a more aesthetically pleasing planting, swap out one or two of the strawberries for a flowing acid-loving annual like red, yellow or cream nasturtiums, or for hotter climates, white or blue scaevola.
Herbs are a great choice for your baskets, too. I've seen some absolutely gorgeous hanging baskets that were nothing but herb plants. The key is to choose plants with varying textures, hues, and habits. Try these:
- For color: purple, tri-color, or golden sage, variegated or golden oregano, variegated lemon thyme, variegated pineapple mint
- For upright accent: chives, rosemary, or lemon grass
- For mounding: parsley or English thymeFor flowers: nasturtiums or calendula (all herb plants will flower, but removing them from culinary types will preserve the best flavor in the leaves).
Mints are generally too aggressive, tarragon and cilantro will not compete well, and basil should not be planted until later in the year when temperatures are a solid 60 degrees F.
If you'd like something different this year, but the idea of edibles is not for you, consider some of these lesser used spring annuals that will take you through the cooler months:
Snapdragons: Most of what you’ll find will be compact varieties like Snapshot™, Montego™, or Floral Showers, ranging from 6 to 10 inches tall. Available in myriad colors and bi-colors except blues, many are now quite heat tolerant and will bloom into the summer. My favorite is the Twinny™ series, a double-flowered snapdragon—simply exquisite, especially the peach! New trailing varieties are also on the market, like Candy Showers. They are all deer resistant and require a well-draining soil.
Osteospermum: We just call them “Osteos,” or Cape Daisies. Half-hardy annuals in an ever-increasing range of colors, they are bushy plants that flower best in cooler temperatures. If they stop blooming in summer heat, just cut them back and keep them fertilized, and they should rebound for a fabulous fall color show. Unique varieties include the spoon-tipped Flower Power™ Spider series and the two-toned 3D and 4D series. The Voltage™series, especially Voltage™Yellow, is reliably heat tolerant and has bloomed well through summer in my zone 7 garden. They are deer resistant and relatively drought tolerant.
Diascia and nemesia: The two are relatively similar mounding plants with small snapdragon-like flowers. Diascias tend to be more heat tolerant, and lack blue shades. Nemesias are generally more cold tolerant (some, like Aromatica™ Royal Blue, pictured, withstand frost), have a wider color range, and are often fragrant. Both make fantastic filler plants, their delicate blossoms offering a burst of color and terrific texture to mixed plantings.
Ranunculus: Pronunciation is akin to “ridiculous,” but if it’s still too intimidating, just say “Persian Buttercup.” With flowers reminiscent of English roses or peonies, in both pastel and vivid shades, these are true showstoppers. I love the orange ones with the blue nemesia pictured, tucking in a bit of golden oregano or creeping jenny as a trailer. Gorgeous, I promise you.
So spring beyond the usual this year with something new and different. Stretch your gardening wings and let your imagination take flight!
See our upcoming website blogs for edible and unique plants for summer racks and baskets: Mexican sour gherkins, New Zealand and Malabar spinach, Crystal Apple cucumbers, toothache plant, silver falls, mezoo and more.
Just a couple quick and simple ideas with Easter hopping on its way soon! Pictured is our large Wooden Rabbit Bowl and small Chickadee Cage. It took literally minutes for me to pop in some artificial succulents and eggs and surround them with coco moss. The coco moss is great for making spring "nest" decorations. You could substitute sphagnum moss, reindeer moss, orfloral moss if you prefer that look with the plants.
Either of these would make a lovely Easter basket for a special person, filled with pretty foil-wrapped candies. The Chickadee Cage would be adorable with the addition of a gold foil-wrapped chocolate bunny! Cages have a hanging loop, door, and also open from the top to make designing convenient, and for easy access to the houseplants you can place inside later. (And by the way, the cages are on sale while they last.)
A fluffy bow on the end of Mr. Bunny might be cute, too!
For you Charlotte's Webfans, spring means pigs, so you might also enjoy the charming Mr. Pig--our Wooden Pig Bowl. He'd definitely win first prize!
So let your creative juices flow, and get springy inside the house, too!