As autumn creeps in and those temperatures drop, it might seem like a fool's errand to think you can bring some live and colour to your garden or outdoor space during the colder months.
However, hanging baskets are the perfect way to keep some colour running through the garden in those darker autumn and winter months. Portable, easy to protect and elevated, hanging baskets allow you to create small bursts of colour and structure around the garden as other plants drop their leaves or lose their verve to hibernate for the winter.
Anything planted this season must be hardy, so getting your autumn hanging baskets right takes a bit of planning. You need to think about keeping the roots warm, whilst not suffocating them; ensure good drainage, so the plants don’t become inundated with rain and moisture; and you need to think about adding structure and colour, as these may well be the main focal point of the garden.
DIY autumn hanging basket ideas
We’ve written lots in our spring and summer hanging basket blogs about using different items to create your hanging baskets. This time we’re going to think about how you can use materials to support your plants through the colder, wetter period.
Hessian bags for drainage
Whilst they’re called bags for life, we all know that even the strongest shopping bags give way eventually. If you happen to have any hessian versions that have seen better days, don’t throw them away. The hessian acts as a perfect duvet for root systems whilst allowing good drainage, so if you’re using traditional baskets, consider using the hessian as the liner. You can either cut the bag into strips, overlaying each other to create a thick but breathable layer, or you can simply use the bag almost ‘as is’ and plant into it, allowing its shape to fill the basket.
Protect autumn plants from the rain
To create an 'umbrella' for your hanging baskets to help protect the plants from the rain, we like to use saucepan lids! Whether you’ve got a couple sitting in a cupboard at home or you can pick some up at a car boot or charity shop, they offer a nifty and cheap solution. Simply unscrew the handle – they’re normally held in place with a machine screw - and feed the hook of your hanging basket chain through the hole. If the hole is too small, or it does not sit correctly on the chain, some garden wire through the hole will hold the lid in place between the chains. This will control the amount of water that gets in, offer some protection against frost and when the sun shines for those precious few hours a day, help warm the plants and soil underneath.
Use your head
So, we’ve found a use for your old bags and saucepan lids but what else could you possibly find around the home to support and promote autumn hanging baskets? How about some hair…? That’s right, human hair has been found to be great at providing slow-release nitrogen and other nutrients and is therefore a great growing medium to mix with your compost. Scrape out those hairbrushes and combs and mix it in to feed the plants through the winter. Because it will rain more during the autumn and winter, nutrient levels in baskets are often depleted faster. Adding human hair to the mix will gradually release nutrients as it decomposes. It also helps with drainage and structure of the compost.
Plants to use in autumn hanging baskets
Because we’ve enjoyed something of an Indian Summer in 2023, you may find that many of your summer hanging basket plants are still going strong. There’s no reason to clear these out just because it’s a different season, so if there’s life left in them, dead head, trim them up and use them as the base for your new season, adding some fresh planting alongside.
Once you’ve freshened up your baskets with some new soil, tidied up plants to reuse and made sure the liners are good for another season, you can start to think about colour and structure. With the best will in the world, even using our brilliant compost products and plenty of feed (or hair!) you’re unlikely to get the same voluminous blooms as you would see in the warmer months.
So, autumn hanging baskets need a little more thought. Perhaps your colours need to be more tonal and reflective of the season - rusty, deeper, darker colours and strong use of accent colours like reds and oranges set against lots of green foliage will make for a striking statement. Variegated leaves, different leaf shapes and patterns will also help to break up the palette and provide some contrast against fences and walls and the muted tones of an autumn garden.
Plants for structure, colour and scent in autumn hanging baskets
Here are our top three plants for structure, colour and scent:
Autumn hanging basket plants for Structure
Your structural plants need to add height, drop and shape and these options do that admirably. From the conical fir mirroring the basket’s chains to the tumbling foliage plants like ivy, you can create beautifully graceful shapes with:
- Ivy - this is a great foliage plant that hangs down to give your hanging basket a bit of depth.
- Heathers - these hardy plants grow upwards to give your basket some height.
- Miniature firs - these are another perfect plant to give your basket some green height.
Autumn hanging basket plants for colour
We’re not breaking ground here, but these hardy plants are solid options for providing brilliant splashes of seasonal colour to your autumn hanging baskets:
- Winter pansies - yellow, purple, white, whichever colour you go for, winter pansies will help to make your autumn hanging basket pop with colour.
- Viola - these beautiful purple flowers will stand out well amongst the other plants you pick.
- Cyclamen - these are another perfect plant that offers bursts of colour when other plants are not flowering in the colder months.
- Ornamental cabbage - the preferred time to plant ornamental cabbages is in September, October & November, so these make the perfect colourful plant to add to your basket.
Autumn hanging basket plants for scent
Using hardy herbs in hanging baskets provides a beautiful range of scents for anyone passing by. These are perfect options for adding a gentle aroma, with structure and a range of colours from silver to deep, dark green:
- Thyme - this small evergreen shrub has small fragrant leaves and needs little maintenance.
- Sage - sage is a member of the mint family but has a sweet earthy smell.
- Rosemary - rosemary has a wonderful aroma and also can grow some white, purple, or blue flowers - perfect to add even more colour to your basket!
These herbs could also be used for emergency cooking ingredients if you forgot to pick some up from the shop! Don't use them all though, or you'll lose that wonderful smell!
What soil should I use for an autumn hanging basket?
Using compost that is specifically design for container plants is your best option. You can use topsoil supreme which is fantastic for water retention as well as a mix of our winter mulch that can help protect plants roots from the cold weather.
How often should I water my autumn hanging basket?
Generally, hanging baskets dry out faster than other types of plant containers. But with extra rain, the risk of frost and less heat and sun to dry them out means you run the risk of waterlogging your basket. Autumn and winter plants need less water – they’re designed that way, so you might only need to water your baskets once a week.
Top 5 tips for autumn hanging baskets
Here are our top 5 tips for your autumn hanging baskets that will keep them going and looking healthy for as long as possible:
Winter hanging baskets
We're getting ahead of ourselves here, but you can always extend the life of your autumn hanging basket by making some adjustments. To keep your beautiful and colourful basket going, remove any plants that seem to be struggling in the cold and replace them with winter-loving plants!
If you like the sound of all these handy autumn hanging basket tips, then have a look at everything Earth Cycle has to offer to help you make your perfect baskets. Take a look at our topsoils, composts, mulches, and we also have some helpful tools and accessories too.