Maintaining Gorgeous Hanging Baskets

hanging basket, petunias
Image by mschiffm from Pixabay.
Question: I buy beautiful petunia or impatiens for hanging baskets and planters and like clockwork they have all thinned out. What am I doing wrong? Thank you!

--Janeenee

Answer: Hi Janeenee! I’m not quite sure what you mean by “thinning out,” but I’ve certainly had the experience of buying a hanging basket with lovely blooms that just doesn’t last long.

Fortunately, I am married to an expert on hanging baskets . Seriously, my husband Phil keeps our hanging baskets in great shape, so I asked him for a few tips.

Water Water Water

According to Phil, “most people underwater their hanging or container plants.” He explained that the planting mixture for these plants often includes peat or sphagnum moss, both of which dry out incredibly quickly. Add to that the fact that a hanging basket is, well, hanging, and therefore “isolated in the air,” and the basket dries out even faster.

Phil suggests watering baskets or containers several times a week. “In hot weather, they should be watered at least once a day, if not twice (in the morning and evening).”

Feed Feed Feed

But watering’s not all. “The lush, full foliage and bountiful bloomage we see on the plants in newly purchased baskets is also due to the fact that those plants have been regularly fertilized,” said Phil. Compounding the problem, Phil finds that the planting mixture itself is often extraordinarily unfertile.

An easy way to add nutrients is simply to douse with Miracle Gro, or some other water-soluble fertilizer, about twice a week. But BE CAREFUL to follow package directions, especially for plants in baskets or containers. A little fertilizer goes a long way, and too much can be worse than nothing at all.

Example: This year I grew a lovely flat of leek seedlings that were slowly coming along. Suddenly I noticed that several of the little guys had died, practically overnight. I mentioned this to Phil, who told me that…yep…he’d just fertilized the flat. The mixture was simply too strong for my babies. (This anecdote not only points to the dangers of over-fertilizing, but also shows that even “experts” make mistakes. And that’s ok! That’s how you learn.)

Phil notes that a slightly more challenging way to fertilize is by creating compost tea. Personally, I find this yucky, but it is effective. Simply fill the toe of an old nylon stocking with manure, then hang the stocking inside a water barrel or other large container. Let it sit for a bit, and you’ve got a great fertilizer. Note from Phil: don’t use this particular fertilizer indoors. It smells.

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