In late winter and early spring, it is still too soon to race out and plant outdoor containers but there is a happy compromise; florists begin to flood us with spring bulbs, azaleas, primroses and an early selection of herbs. These can be transformed into colorful centerpieces, containers, and spring baskets. Here are a few tips and ideas to get you started.
Baskets made of willow, lacquered rattan and bamboo make excellent displays for plants both indoors and outdoors.
Line baskets with a plastic shopping bag or a small garbage bag. Pick a gray, black, brown or clear bag for the liner - use a natural color since the liner will be visible through the basket.
Fit the bag loosely into the basket and attach to the rim with large sewing stitches. Otherwise, use florist wire to secure the liner to the basket, staggered in six to eight places, underneath the rim.
If you are are going to display the basket outdoors, make a few holes in the base of the liner for drainage. Place the basket on several blocks of wood to keep it off the ground.
If you are keeping the basket inside, do not make drainage holes. To keep the plants healthy, do not over water. This is just a temporary display for the indoors so you can get away, for a short time, with no drainage as long as you do not over water.
For indoor baskets, damp sphagnum moss makes a good potting medium. It is much lighter than potting soil and retains water well.
For outdoor baskets, use potting soil. Plant ivy to spill over the edges of the basket - it fills empty spaces and adds a nice decorative touch. Decorate the soil surface with pebbles mulch or moss.
Keep baskets away from direct sunlight and heat sources to prolong bloom. You can mist the petals of your flowering bulbs with water once a day to keep the flowers looking fresh.
For indoor herbal containers always start with a clean pot. Wash the pot with hot water and soap or soak in a dilute bleach solution (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) for 15 to 30 minutes. Rinse well.
Place a few pieces of broken terracotta or a piece of screen on the bottom of the pot to ensure that soil doesn't clog the drainage holes.
Many herbs are Mediterranean plants that like good drainage. It's easiest to plant your herbs in potting soil. To improve the drainage, add gravel or sharp sand (not builder's sand that compacts). Use 3 parts potting soil to 1 part sand or gravel.
Mediterranean herbs grow naturally in poor soils and do not require heavy fertilizing. Many of these are herbs with silver or hairy leaves or tiny foliage. Fertilize once a month or every two weeks using a 1/2 strength dilution.
Mints tend to be invasive. If you are planting them in a mixed container, keep them in a plastic pot and simply plant the pot in the container. Bury the rim of the pot, slightly, to hide it.
Trim herbs regularly and check to see when they need water. Do not over-water but also do not allow herbs to become bone-dry. During hot weather, occasionally spraying with tepid water from a mister is good for soft-leaved herbs.