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Success with Moss and Coco-Fiber Baskets

Learn how to plant and create moss or coco-fiber hanging baskets, a how-to guide.

Learn how to plant and create moss or coco-fiber hanging baskets, a how-to guide.

Our house has a wrap-around porch and every year I plant and hang seven baskets around it.   Four years ago, shortly after we bought our house, I was on a mission to find hanging baskets for the porch.  I didn't want to buy finished baskets, I wanted to plant my own.  I also didn't want Plain Jane plastic baskets.  I wanted something that was decorative.  It took me a while, but I finally found coco-fiber baskets that I really liked.  They look nice, are 14 inches in diameter and are also fairly deep.  I wanted larger baskets because they will dry-out less quickly.  Learn more about choosing and caring for hanging baskets here.

The first year, I simply added soil to the baskets, planted them up and away I went.  Before long, I began to hate watering my hanging baskets for two reasons. First, they dried out really fast so I was watering a lot, sometimes more than once a day.  Coco-fiber and moss baskets dry out more quickly because they evaporate water through the sides of the basket.  Plastic pots do not evaporate water through the sides of the pot.  Wind is able to pass through the porous sides of moss and coco-fiber baskets, which also increases water evaporation from the soil. 

The second reason I hated watering was that water would come pouring out of the sides of the basket.  I was trying to completely soak the entire root ball of the basket, but that was difficult when water was always escaping through the sides of the pot.  I felt like I had to pour on a ton of water to adequately water each basket and most of that water was falling on the porch.  I vowed to find a better way to do things the next year.  My solution is lining the pot with plastic.

I started out searching for a plastic liner I could simply insert inside the basket.  I wasn't able to find liners, finding one to fit my baskets was impossible and I'm not certain they existed back then.  You can now buy coco-fiber pots that have plastic or fiberglass liners (Hooks and Lattice is one company with liners - there are others) and even pots with water reservoirs to cut down on watering.  However, you can get the effect of a liner while recycling plastic bags.

How To Guide

Step 1: Choose your hanging basket and buy your potting soil.  Make sure you are buying a nice light potting soil, look for something made up largely of peat and perlite.  These mixes are light and fluffy and contain enough air space for good root growth.  Most potting soil will come in bags and will be pre-moistened.  If you buy a bagged soil you can skip to Step 3.  I use a lot of potting soil each year and if you can find it, bales of potting mix can be a better deal than the bagged version.

Step 2: If you are using a baled version of potting mix, you will need to moisten the soil before you use it.  The easiest way I have found to moisten baled potting soil is with a wheelbarrow.  Open the bale of soil and scoop or pour some of the potting mix into the wheelbarrow.  It is compressed and dry - you may be breaking off chunks from the bale.  Using a shovel with a rounded edge, break up the chunks of dry soil by smacking them with the back of the shovel.  Then take a water hose with a nozzle that has a "shower" setting or use a watering can to moisten the soil.  Using the shovel, turn the soil over - mixing it together to distribute the water.  Alternate adding more water and mixing the soil until you get nice moist soil.  It should be damp, but if you grab a handful you should not be able to squeeze out much water.

Step 3: Once you have the soil moist, it is time to line your baskets with plastic.  I have been using plastic bags to line my baskets for several years.  I first tried a grocery bag, but it was a bit small and didn't quite fit my baskets.  I have been successful using black garbage bags and Target bags for liners.  I plan on continuing to use Target bags in the future.  To use them, I first cut off the handles.  Then I find the center of the bottom of the bag and cut out a large circle (at least 6 inches across) - it doesn' t need to be perfect.  Then place the bag inside the basket, make sure to spread out the bottom of the bag so that the circle (drainage hole) is open.  The bag is going to have a tendency to want to blow around.  Once you get a scoop or two of soil in the basket, it will anchor the bag. As you add the soil be sure the hole stays open - this is for drainage.  If the bag isn't quite large enough, you can cut a slit in the bag so it lies flat along the coco-fiber liner.

Step 4: Once the bag is anchored finish filling the basket with soil.  Then trim off the excess plastic.  I like to leave at least half an inch sticking up above the soil.  This extra material works as an edge to help keep the water in the basket.  The basket second from the left, in the photo below, is trimmed and ready to go.

Step 5: Mix some controlled release fertilizer into the top layer of soil, according to package directions.  This will ensure your plants have food for growth. 

Step 6: Place the plants in the top of the basket.  There is no need to plant in the sides of a basket, not even with a large basket.  Choose strongly trailing plants and they will quickly grow to cover the basket.  For a 10 or 12-inch basket, I would use three 4-inch plants.  For my 14-inch baskets, I still use 3 plants, although 4 would be fine too.  When planting, you want to space the plants evenly - leaving some room between the plant and the edge of the basket.  I used very small plants for these rather than 4-inch plants.  I prefer to use 4-inch, they fill out much quicker.  I also usually give my plants a light trim right after I plant them.  This encourages additional branching and helps the basket look really full.  It isn't necessary, but it will probably give you a better final product.


Step 7: Using a watering can or the "shower" setting on your hose nozzle, lightly water the plants to settle them into the soil.  They are now ready to hang.  Right now you can see the white plastic - eventually the plants will cover this and you will no longer see it.  If you don't like this look, black plastic will blend more with the soil.  The photo on the left, below, is right after I planted the basket.  The one on the right was taken a month later, you can no longer see the plastic bag at all.


All that is left, is to keep your basket looking good for the rest of the season.  To read more on taking care of your hanging basket, click here.

518 Readers Rated This: 12345 (3.1)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 07/10/2018 - 9:58am

Tried this and for the first month it went GREAT! Then, after a week of 90°+ weather, a couple of our plants (million bells) were looking a little stressed; continued watering as usual and they seemed to be turning around. However, the water seemed to be draining almost immediately (almost worse than without plastic lining - I checked, they are still in place). Another week or so later, plants not looking good; I thought we might be overwatering (husband said the dirt felt damp to wet yesterday) so we skipped a day. Today they are worse than before! Dirt is dry a fingertip down, but water runs out as fast as we pour it in. Help! Ideas on what I did wrong? We have done hangings with plain coir for a number of years with no lost plants; this experiment started out SO well.... ☹

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Fri, 08/03/2018 - 9:29am

Well, that is a bit of a mystery.  I don't think it the plastic liner, since you have water draining from the pots.  If the water wasn't draining out then I would worry that the plastic has blocked the drainage holes.  That would have been problematic, but doesn't appear to be the case. 

If soil is already wet then that would cause water to drain fromt the pot quickly after watering. Calibrachoa do hate to have soil that is always wet.  They just don't tolerate that well. So overwatring is possibly an issue if you weren't regularly checking each time before you watered. Another way to check whether a hanging basket needs water is to place a hand under it and lift up slightly until the weight of the basket rests on your hand. When it is dry it will be much lighter then when it is wet.  To get a feel for how heavy the basket is when it needs water you'll simply need to check with the finger test, and then lift the basket to get a feel for how heavy the basket is at different levels of dry vs wet.  I find it the easiest way to check hanging baskets to see if they need to be watered.

The opposite of the water draining out because the soil is already pretty moist, is it draining out immeidately because the container is really dry. Often if potting soil gets very dry, it has a hard time taking up water. It really seems to almost repel water.  If you think your soil is very dry and might be having issues taking up water, then the answer is to rehydrate the soil. 

There are two ways to do this. First, if you have a large tub that your basket can sit inside, then the easeieset way it to put the basket in the tub and water the plant.  Then add water to the tub until there are a couple of inches in the tub.  Let the basket sit in the tub for an hour or so. The water will suck up out of the tub into the soil and get it rehydrated enough to hang on to water going forward.

If you don't have a tub that your basket will fit in, the other way to try to do this is to water the basket a bit (it's fine if some water drains from the pot), then wait 15 minutes and water again.  Repeat as necessary until  the basket seems to be well watered.

Overwatering is the most common issue with Calibrachoa.  I 'm not certain if that is what is going on here or not, but it is always the first thing to consider with Calbrachoa.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 04/30/2018 - 4:57pm

Great article and links!! Thank you! I have learned a lot. I would like to understand though the reason for choosing the cocoa and plastic liner versus a plastic hanging basket. I am guessing the weight is the biggest factor, but wanted to know for sure. Thank you.

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Fri, 08/03/2018 - 9:32am

Some people like the looks of a cocoa fiber or moss basket better than plalstic. That is the only reason to choose that type of planter over plastic.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 08/11/2017 - 9:42am

I have Christmas cactuses in alot of hanging coco liner baskets. I would like to hang them inside my house during winter in order to enjoy their Christmas blooms. Am trying to figure out how to do that and still be able to water them and not get water everywhere when leaking through. Any suggestions?

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Fri, 08/03/2018 - 9:39am

That is a good question. Maybe try finding clear plastic bags and cover the basket with that, which would then cathch the water?  You'd need to empty the water out afterwaterds though. It might be possible to find upright containers where your baskets would either fit perfectly where the top of the basket is just large enough that the basket would be suspended in the upright planter and the planter would catch the water. If you can't find the right fit, you could also look for something like an upside bowl or wide PVC pipe or place a smaller put upside down inside the upright container and sit the basket on top of that?  That way the upright planter could catch the water, your plant would have a decorative container and would like nice while it is inside?

That is what I can think of now...


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 04/09/2017 - 11:25am

I was wondering if anyone has ever tried making slits in the liners farther down to put more plants in for a larger and fuller basket?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 11/19/2017 - 9:49am

Yes, summer impatients will grow easily out of the slits and create a large ball of blooms. Beautiful!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 05/25/2016 - 1:04pm

I followed this method in 2 of my 4 hanging baskets a few weeks ago. These 2 baskets do not seem to growing as fierce as the others. After re-reading your instructions I realized I forgot to cut a hole in the bottom of the bag! I did, however, take a pen and punch TONS of hole through the coco liner & bag after everything was potted. I don't want to have to redo these 2 baskets but am beginning to think that might be my only solution. Before I undergo that endeavor, do you have any suggestions?

Kerry Meyer's picture
Kerry Meyer Thu, 05/26/2016 - 10:33am

Cutting the hole in the bag was to create drainage, so my question is:  When you water does the extra water drain out of hte container well?  I guess, more to the point, does it drain as well as the unlined baskets do?  If water isn't draining as well out of the lined baskets as it does out of the unlines baskets, then I think, despite the holes you punched, that the baskets aren't draining well enough.  You could try punching even more holes to see if that helps.  I do think that as it gets warmer the baskets that hold a bit more water might end up being better off, but the poor drainage might well more than offset the benefits...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 03/21/2016 - 6:52am

Lining with plastic works great. Started this 4 years ago when i added baskets to my deck and the water ran out as you described upon watering them. Recycled what shopping bags i had available. Cutting a clear drop cloth from the dollar tree store was next best idea.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 03/11/2016 - 8:07pm

Thank you for this article. I can't tell you how many years I've worked with baskets being frustrated with many of the same problems you mentioned at the start. This is a wonderful help to me and will be put to use this spring/summer. Thanks.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 04/28/2015 - 10:48am

I put 5-10 ice cubes in the baskets first thing in the morning. The slow melting does not run out and gives the plants a nice, cool drink!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 03/13/2015 - 2:26pm

SoilMoist is a great product to use in coco baskets. Soil Moist polymer granular is a soil amendment designed to reduce plant waterings by 50%**, reduce transplant shock and soil compaction, and will remain effective in the soil for 3-5 years.** It is an inexpensive form of insurance for the plant and is environmentally friendly. Soil Moist saves time, labor and plant loss.

I have used this for years and it is great!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 02/23/2014 - 1:38pm

I purchased several of these planters last year for my 7th flr balcony. I had to water them constanly in the hot Texas sun and it made having an urban garden a huge chore. My neighbor had the plastic boxes and his flowers thrived while mine constanly needed water. This year I was going to purchase all new boxes, but now i'm going to redo all of my coco planters with plastic liners as you suggested and replant. I hope it works!!! :)

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 04/24/2012 - 3:33am

Replace plastic inserts with plastic lined baby diapers. They retain the moisture and watering is no longer a chore!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 04/20/2012 - 9:30pm

I was going to try something like this, this year because I too found that my hanging baskets were drying out too quick. Thank you for this information. I will make sure to cut the hole in bottom a I hadn't thought about doing that. I probably would have drowned all my plants as I live in the North West.

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