HOW many times did you eye the neighbour's sumptuous hanging baskets last year and mutter those immortal words: "Next year, mine are going to be like that"?

If you really want to be "Best of the Baskets" now's the time to start things moving and prepare the greenhouse to see some action.

Plug plants are now in stock in the garden centres, and among them are some superb candidates that will fill your baskets and get the neighbours glancing over to your side of the fence for a change.

Starting with plug plants in March has many advantages. First cost; the smaller the plants you buy, the smaller the cost.

Second comes choice; you are pretty much guaranteed a full selection this time of year before the crowds snap up their favourites in May.

Finally, the most significant advantage of all is time; planting early will ensure a well-formed plant which is more tolerant of the extremes of the summer and will be providing you with blooms when your neighbour is still scratching her head down at the nursery.

Fuchsias are without a doubt my favourite plants for hanging baskets and they particularly enjoy an early start which if employed will form good strong sturdy plants with lots of staying power.

Rather than plant the plugs directly into large baskets at this stage I always find plants develop much quicker if grown on in small pots, say 3.5in diameter for a while.

Use a good quality potting compost and be certain to keep your plants carefully labelled.

The best displays of fuchsia baskets come from plants that have been "pinched", and start by removing the growing tip after three pairs of leaves have been formed.

You will now have at least doubled the amount of flowers to be produced, and after another three pairs of leaves have been formed from the subsequent side shoots it's time to pinch once more.

Two or three "pinchings" will provide a full and balanced plant, which will soon be loaded with bud.

As soon as your fuchsias have become established in their pots (when the roots have reached the outer edge of the compost) it's time to move them on, either into larger pots again or this time directly into hanging baskets.

Don't skimp on the quantities (you'll regret it later if you do!) and as a guide use five plants to a standard 14in basket, with no need to worry about planting through the sides.

And who could ignore those other beauties of the baskets, the Surfinia? While these need little encouragement to get their skates on they too will benefit from an early start and are widely available as plugs.

Again, plant the plugs into some small pots, in this case 4in, and just watch them grow before your eyes.

Don't worry about pinching as these plants will naturally produce many shoots, but don't keep them too warm in order to avoid rivalling Jack's Beanstalk.