Hanging Basket Care
With wonderful, warm weather in the forecast and Father’s Day around the corner, summer hanging baskets are in their glory. While they look fantastic when they are first set out, it will take some diligent care to keep them looking as glorious in the weeks to come.
The problem is that many folks aren’t really sure how to care for their baskets. They don’t realize that a little bit of soil in a small basket swinging in the breeze will need a lot of help to support all kinds of wonderful plants! So, here’s how to care for them in order to keep them in top shape:
The first step in proper hanging basket care is to ensure they are in the right location. Should they be full of sun lovers, like geraniums, petunias, scaevola, and verbenas, they need to be in a spot where they get at least 6 hours of sunshine, with the majority of that between 11am-3pm. Do they include fuchsias, non-stop begonias, impatiens, and torenias? Then they need to be in a shady spot, and especially out of the sun between that 11am-3pm window.
It’s incredibly important to water your baskets properly. The secret is simple: water thoroughly when you water but don’t water again until the soil has dried slightly (but not dried out to the point that it has pulled away from the sides of the container). How do you tell? Feel the weight of the basket by putting your hand underneath and pushing it upward. If it is heavy, hold off on the water. If it’s light, give it a good drink.
Once you’ve learned the art of watering, you’ve mastered 60% of the technique of growing a good basket. If you use a hose for watering, use a good watering wand with a soft-rain nozzle. Most soft-rain nozzles have 400 water holes, but if you can get hold of a 1000 hole nozzle, it will be even better. Not only will the wand make it easier to reach those difficult areas, but you’ll also do a much better job, as this special nozzle prevents soil compaction. Try to water in the morning when the temperature is on the rise, and make sure the foliage is dry in the evening.
We’re often asked how long drip irrigation systems should run for, but we cannot give an answer as everyone’s system, baskets and situation are different! What we suggest is to set up your system, run it for a small time increment (say 10 minutes), check to see how deeply the water has penetrated the basket, and then determine if you need to run it more or less. Remember to do this test as weather patterns change. The water needs of a new basket during a cool June will be different from a mature basket in the blazing heat of August.
Another key to a spectacular basket is feeding and, like watering, it is an art. In such little soil, hanging basket plants need lots of food and lots of organic matter.
When you first start out, it’s important to get some strong vegetative growth. Fast-acting soluble liquid fertilizers, like 20-20-20, are ideal. They’ve got lots of the three primary nutrients and a good dose of micro-nutrients, as well.
The best time to feed is immediately after watering. Get into the habit of watering first, then feeding right after.
During periods of wet, cool weather avoid both watering and feeding for fear of drowning the plants’ roots. As the weather becomes warmer and the soil dries out more quickly, you can increase the frequency of feeding.
In spite of your best intentions, we would venture to bet that your plants are still going to be hungry. That’s why it’s important to supplement all basket feedings with a slow-release fertilizer. There are many formulations, but a well-balanced 14-14-14 fertilizer will do just fine. One or two tablespoons are all you’ll really need for continuous feeding the rest of the summer—it’s amazing stuff!
All this fertilization will get those plants moving, but don’t forget that you planted those baskets for some colour. Once your baskets are on their way and really growing, switch to a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen but high in phosphorus and potash, like the fish-based fertilizer formulation of Morbloom 0-10-10. It holds the vegetative growth back while allowing lots of blossoms to form.
The size of your basket, proper watering, and the timing and choice of fertilizer are the secrets to success with baskets. Sure, you must dead-head, prune back, and be on the watch for pests and fungal diseases, but those three areas are the keys to great-looking baskets. Until the baskets acclimatize to outside conditions, it’s also important to keep your baskets out of the wind and in the warmest, most sheltered spot you have. But by taking this little extra care, all your baskets and containers should look fabulous and be even bigger and better as the summer goes on!