Nothing flatters a hanging basket like a “spiller” – a plant that cascades from its container in waves of foliage and flowers. Vines might seem an odd choice to fill the bill; after all, they’re geared to grow up, not down. Yet, many make first-rate “spillers” in the absence of anything on which to climb. Rather than draping directly down in bead-curtain fashion, most hanging-basket vines form a knitted skirt of undulating stems that repeatedly dip and ascend as they try to find their direction, sans support. Add one of the following annual vines to your hanging basket planting, and you’ll have a spiller that doubles as a thriller.
Sow seed for your vine indoors in Fafard® Ultra Container Mix several weeks before the final spring frost date, or buy seedlings in spring. Transplant seedlings to hanging baskets and move them outdoors after danger of frost. Be sure to prune any growth that gets out of bounds.
(Asarina scandens, now known as Maurandya scandens)
The blue to purple flowers do indeed resemble little snapdragons, on twining vines that prosper in sun or light shade. The cultivar ‘Joan Lorraine’ has velvety deep purple-blue flowers that are several degrees darker than those of the aptly named ‘Sky Blue’. Trumpet-shaped flowers in the pink to rosy-purple range deck the stems of another former Asarina, creeping gloxinia (Lophospermum erubescens). White forms such as ‘Bridal Bouquet’ are also occasionally available.
Malabar spinach (Basella alba)
A highly ornamental vine that doubles as a vegetable, Malabar spinach clothes its twining stems with heavy-textured, heart-shaped, rich-green leaves that make a tasty addition to salads, stir-fries, and other dishes. What’s more, the leaves maintain their toothsomeness in hot humid weather, unlike those of many other leaf vegetables. The foliage is beautifully complemented by summer clusters of pearly white flowers, and in the variety ‘Rubra’ by burgundy stems and veining.
Moonflower (Ipomaea alba)
Large, saucer-shaped white flowers unfurl in the afternoon and remain open at night, adding mystery (and an intoxicating fragrance) to the evening garden. Moonflower loves warm, humid weather, rapidly extending its twining stems during the dog days of summer.
Sweetpotato vine (Ipomaea batatus)
The purple- and chartreuse-leaved forms of this rambling annual vine are rightfully popular as container plants. Leaf shape varies from heart-like to hand-like, with some cultivars (such as ‘Midnight Lace’) possessing strikingly narrow-lobed leaves. Thriving in many garden habitats including hot sunny sites, sweetpotato vines are effective as solo subjects or in combination with fiery-flowered annuals such as zinnias, Mexican daisies (Tithonia spp.), and dahlias. Store the tuberous roots in a dry cool place over winter, for replanting in spring. The tubers of ornamental varieties lack the appealing flavor of culinary forms of the species.
Lablab vine (Lablab purpureus)
Purple summer pea-flowers give rise to large showy maroon seedpods that glow in the sun. The white-flowered variety ‘Silver Moon’ produces white flowers and ghostly chalky-green seedpods. Hummingbirds find both forms irresistible. This large twiner typically needs some pruning to keep it in scale with a container.
Mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.)
Compact, “mounding” forms of this typically large, showy-flowered twiner make splendid hanging basket subjects. Plants in the Rio™ Series, for example, develop into 2-foot-wide hummocks with lax cascading stems. They come in several shades of pink and red, as well as white. Tropic Escape® mandevillas offer a similar range of colors, in an even more compact size.
Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata)
Spectacular tumbling from a container, this vigorous vine covers itself with yellow, black-centered saucer-flowers as long as warm weather continues. As with mandevilla and lablab, it’s a favorite of hummingbirds. Varieties include ‘Suzie Orange’, white-flowered ‘Angel Wings’, and peachy-hued ‘African Sunset’.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Although best known in its compact, nonsprawling forms, Tropaeolum majus is typically a climber or scrambler. Such forms are natural candidates for hanging baskets. The variety ‘Jewel of Africa’ decks its 8-foot stems with cream-splashed variegated leaves and red, yellow, or orange flowers, in bright to pastel shades. Other trailing nasturtiums include orange-red ‘Indian Chief’ and pale yellow ‘Moonlight’. Canary vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum) – a close relative of nasturtium – is also a worthy hanging basket plant, bearing feathered bright yellow flowers on twining 10-foot vines with fingered foliage.
Greater periwinkle (Vinca major)
Last but certainly not least-known, this semi-hardy woody perennial (to USDA Zone 6b) is usually grown in its variegated form, with white-edged leaves. It’s best kept to the container, as it can become a rampant nuisance in the ground. It sends forth both trailing and upright stems, with the latter producing sky-blue flowers.