With the gardening season here, many people will soon be selecting hanging baskets to decorate their porches, decks, and other outdoor areas of the home. Hanging baskets, like other potted plants require special attention to perform their best.
Hanging baskets purchased from garden centers are usually planted in soilless planting mixes. These provide excellent drainage, aeration, and water holding capacity that ordinary garden soil can't supply. These mixes are also weed, disease, and insect free. In these mixes, the organic portion consists of combinations of peat moss, fir, pine, or hardwood bark, and/or redwood sawdust or shavings. The mineral portion consists of vermiculite, perlite, sand, or various combinations of these. Soilless mixes are lightweight which makes moving the basket easier. If you plant your own containers, soilless mixes are highly recommended and widely available.
Because the root systems of containerized plants are confined to a small area, it is necessary to pay close attention to watering. During a warm, sunny period some plants will require watering 2 or 3 times daily. The same plant during a cloudy, cool period may not require water for 2 or 3 days. Don't allow the plant to wilt. Some plants can come back from severe water stress with no problem, but the majority of plants will not. When watering, water thoroughly so that water drains from the bottom of the basket. If the plant has been allowed to dry excessively, place the basket in a bucket of water for an hour or so to return the moisture supply to the potting mix.
Fertilization is also very important. The root systems of container grown plants cannot go out in search of food so it must be provided on a regular basis. Several fertilizer forms are available. Water-soluble fertilizers work well, as do timed- release forms. Select the fertilizer form that works best for you and follow label directions for application rate. Fertilizers that are higher in nitrogen will produce vegetative growth rather than flowers. Fertilizers with a 1:2:1 ratio will keep plants growing and flowering well.
Deadheading is necessary to help flowering baskets blooming well. Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers as soon as they begin to decline. Once an annual flower blooms and sets seed, it has completed its lifecycle. By deadheading, the plant is unable to set seed and thus continues to produce flowers. Removal of spent flowers also improves the appearance of the plant. Periodic pruning or pinching back may also be necessary for some flowers to encourage branching and keep them full.
Site selection is as important for hanging baskets as it is for any other plant. For shade to part-shade locations select Impatiens, Begonia (both tuberous and wax), Sweet Alyssum, Lobelia, New Guinea Impatiens, Fuchsia, Pansy, Swan River Daisy, Nierembergia, and Bougainvillea for best results. For a bright sunny spot Black-eyed Susan, Geranium, Petunia, Nasturtium, Portulaca, Verbena, Dahlberg Daisy, and Annual Vinca work well.
These are just a few suggestions to help you and your hanging baskets through the upcoming summer. Experiment with some you've never tried before, the results may surprise you.
This article originally appeared in the April 8, 1992 issue, p. 50.