With few exceptions, plants dislike confinement of their roots. They prefer to be in the ground where they can disperse roots freely. Houseplants stay potted because of a lack of other soil inside. Some plants live in pots for portability. Some plants just happen to look good in pots. Plants in hanging planters conform to any combination of these and other reasons. They serve their purpose.
Most hanging planters are simple pots suspended by three wires, chains or strands of plastic, jointed at a hook or loop. The hook or loop hangs from a hook affixed to a ceiling, eave, rafter, beam or tree limb. Hanging baskets are pot-shaped mesh or metallic baskets outfitted with fibrous lining to contain the medium within. Small plants or cuttings can grow from holes cut through the lining.
Of course, hanging planters for houseplants are generally pots instead of baskets, which are too messy for inside. They are likely also outfitted with big saucers for drainage. Hanging planters just happen fit well into spaces that are not useful for much else, such as up near a ceiling in a corner. Many of the most popular houseplants just happen to cascade splendidly from hanging planters.
Portability is another advantage of potted plants. Hanging planters that contain frost sensitive plants outside can spend winter in sheltered situations. Orchids and epiphylums that are prominently displayed during bloom can return to less prominent spots when finished.
Hanging planters are popular mostly because some plants simply look better in them. Cascading houseplants like Boston fern, pothos and spider plant, might look a bit mundane on flat surfaces. Many low growing bedding plants are more impressive if suspended at eye level than they are in the ground. Some bedding plants and small perennials excel at cascading from hanging planters.
However, hanging planters are very different from the ground. Because of limited root dispersion, potted plants rely more on regular watering than those in the ground. Because they are exposed to open air, they dry out fast, so crave more water.
Container gardening is overrated. Perhaps not so much now as it had been while it was more of a fad a decade or so ago, but it is still overrated nonetheless. Most plants are happier in the ground than they are in confinement. They want to disperse their roots freely to where the goodies are, and not contend with the unnatural temperature fluctuations of contained medium.
There are only a few exceptions for which containment of potted plants is an advantage. Houseplants are the most obvious exceptions. Also, plants that are sensitive to frost can be relocated to sheltered situations for winter if contained. Potted orchids and other flashy bloomers can be prominently displayed while blooming, and then returned to utilitarian locations as they finish.
The justification for the hanging potted plants in the picture above escapes me. Does anyone besides me even notice that they are there? They are hung too high for anyone on the sidewalk to appreciate them, or actually see the flowers that are visible from above. Those on the opposite sidewalk can see them, but only at a great distance across all those lanes of El Camino Real.
Those in cars on the road see less of them than pedestrians. Even those who happen to look up while riding past in convertibles with the tops down will see only the undersides, and only at significant speed. These potted plants would be in the way of the sidewalks if they were lowered to be more visible. No matter where they are, they are not proportionate to the broad road.
Maintenance of the flowers in these many hanging pots was quite a bit of work. The annual flowers needed to be replaced a few times a year, or more if ruined by the weather. Without automated irrigation, someone needed to manually water them, which left puddles on the sidewalks that were more noticeable than the highly hung pots above.
As if all these hanging pots were not already tacky enough, the flowers within were eventually replaced with . . . fake flowers, as seen in the picture below.
This is one of the more traditional perennials for old fashioned window boxes, not only because it cascades downward to avoid obstructing associated windows, but also because, back before window screens were commonly available, the aromatic foliage was purported to repel mosquitoes. Ivy geranium, Pelargonium peltatum, is splendid for hanging pots and retaining walls as well.
The best bloom is usually later in summer or in early autumn, but sporadic bloom can continue almost throughout the year. The flowers are very similar to those of more common zonal geranium, but perhaps more abundant. The slightly more extensive color range goes beyond hues of white, pink, red and peach, to include rich burgundy, pinkish lavender and candy striped red with white.
The rounded and lobed light green leaves are rather succulent, so are easily damaged. Some cultivars have slight foliar halos (semicircular zones of darker color around the centers of the leaves) almost like those of zonal geraniums, but not quite as prominent. The thin and nearly succulent stems are easy to root as cuttings. Although fragile, they can sprawl or cascade as much as six feet.
No one seems to know what ever happened to old fashioned dichondra lawns. Everyone seemed to like them, especially those of us who dislike turf grasses. Somehow, they became passe and very rare. The formerly common dichondra that such lawns were made of is now merely a resilient weed in turf lawns. But wait! We have not heard the last of this resilient and appealing perennial.
Silver Falls dichondra, Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, has the same tiny rounded leaves, dense growth and fine texture as old fashioned dichondra lawns, but instead of rich deep green, it is strikingly silvery gray. It does not tolerate traffic well enough to work as lawn, but is a distinctive small scale groundcover, and cascades exquisitely from urns of mixed perennials or hanging pots.
The trailing growth spreads indefinitely over the surface of the soil, but is not very fast about it. As ground cover, individual plants should therefore be planted only two or three feet apart. They get two to four inches deep. Hanging growth (that can not root into the soil) can cascade more than three feet downward. Silver Falls dichondra prefers regular watering and full sun or a bit of shade.
The Latin name is easy to confuse with the sacred flowers of an aquatic perennial from tropical regions of Asia, or a funny looking British sport coupe. Lotus berthelotii is a diminutive terrestrial perennial known as parrot’s beak. It gets only about a foot high, and spreads to only two or three feet wide. It cascades nicely from hanging pots, and is actually rarely planted out in the garden.
The bright reddish orange flowers bloom mostly in the warmth of spring and summer, but can bloom any time they are neither too hot nor too cool. They are about an inch long and ‘pea-shaped’, but they really look like parrot beaks. The finely textured gray foliage is comprised of small compound leaves that are divided into three or five very narrow leaflets that look like hemlock needles.
Parrot’s beak likes full sun and good drainage. It rots easily if soil is always damp. In hanging pots, it is usually sheltered from frost through winter, or can at least be moved to shelter prior to frost. Parrot’s beak can cascade nicely over the rims of urns of mixed perennials or annuals, but dies back through winter where such urns are too exposed. It is often grown as a warm season annual.