There’s something so charming about hanging flower baskets! A single one can brighten an otherwise sad shed or usher guests to a welcoming front door. Several can transform a porch overhang, and many — of the enormous, stop-and-gasp variety — can boast the warm personality of a town as they line a street.
One of my favorite spring rituals is digging out my coir-lined metal baskets. One trip to the nursery is devoted to purchasing flowers for the hanging baskets, and one delightful afternoon is set aside for planting them. Hanging them means that the summer season has begun!
Until last year, though, my hanging baskets didn’t quite last through the summer season. Around mid-summer, in fact, they’d lose their lush green color, get scraggly, and even stop blooming. How disappointing it was when they tired of summer long before I did! I knew it was possible to keep hanging flower baskets pretty until fall — the evidence was all around me at other people’s homes and even in city spaces. So I did some research and came up with a regimen. Guess what? It worked. Last year I had the prettiest, longest-lasting flowers to date. Right up until fall’s first frost!
Here’s what you need to know to keep your baskets pretty through the season, too:
Hanging baskets don’t take a lot of tending. They hardly need weeding, for example, and few pests will be bothersome (though I’ve routinely had birds build sweet nests in mine). What they do need is frequent watering. That’s because they dry out more quickly than plants in the ground, especially on a sunny or windy day. While you might get away with every couple of days in cool spring weather, most hanging plants need daily watering throughout the summer. On a hot day, you may even need to water your hanging pot two or three times.
A few watering tips:
• If the pot feels light, it’s probably dry.
• Each time you give your plant a drink, water it until the water runs out the holes in the bottom of the pot.
• Keep in mind that as the plant gets bigger it’ll need more water.
• The best time to water is early in the morning. That way the water won’t evaporate too quickly (this goes for garden watering, too).
Try not to let your hanging basket get completely dried out, but if it does — because you were away, or preoccupied, or a heat wave took you by surprise — there’s hope. Take the basket down and soak the entire thing in a bucket of water for a half hour or so. Then hang it back up, and remember to water it before it’s bone dry again. Not many hanging baskets will give you a third chance!
Of course, you don’t want to overwater, either. If the leaves start turning yellow or the soil feels soggy, turn off the hose for a while!
If you’re planting your own basket, consider what kind of pot you want. Plastic pots are lightweight and usually have good drainage. Coir baskets are pretty, but they dry out quickly. Some people like to line coir pots with plastic, to hold some of the moisture. (If you do this, poke some holes in the plastic so that water can drain out.) Others use the natural fiber as an outside liner to a plastic pot they put inside. I place my potting soil directly in the coir liner and, while I do need to water often, the plants do just fine.
Whatever kind of pot you go with, make sure it has good drainage. Otherwise your plants can quickly die of root rot. If you have a hanging pot that you love but it’s sans drainage, place another pot (with drainage ) inside it. It’s a little more work to lift the inside pot to pour the water out of the outer pot (which is what you’ll have to do now and then), but if you love the pot it’s worth it!
Make sure you replace your soil each year (don’t reuse last year’s potting soil). Choose a good quality, lightweight soil (you don’t want the hanger to get too heavy). Keep in mind when placing plants that they’ll need some room to grow. And they’ll grow quickly, if you take good care of them!
Deadheading and pruning your plants — at the right time — can keep them from getting too scraggly and sad mid-summer.
To deadhead: Whenever you water your hanging basket, pinch off any flowers that are past their prime. This is called deadheading. (Macabre, right?) Deadheading allows your plant to put its energy into new blooms instead of the spent ones. Pinch or cut them off where they meet the stem. Some flowers (like begonias, lantana, New Guinea impatiens, and some newer-vanity petunias) don’t need deadheading, which I admit is a timesaver when it comes to petunias!
To prune: Just before midsummer, use sharp shears to give your hanging plants a good haircut. Not just the spent flowers, now, but a few inches off all the stems. This is painfully hard for me to do, especially if the stems are full of flowers, but I made myself do it last year, and it extended my hanging basket season for at least a month. (When I don’t do it, the plants get straggly and brown and tired looking well before the summer is over.)
If your plant is getting rootbound later in the summer, repot it into a bigger pot (or into the ground). This can extend the life of the flowers for several weeks.
If your hanging plant has some flowers that have died or are done blooming for the summer, carefully remove the entire plant from the soil. The other plants in the pot will likely be happy to take over the space. If you prefer, you can tuck in a new little plant instead.
Rotate baskets so that different sides face the sun at different times. Rotate baskets with each other, too, if they don’t seem happy with their locations. Experiment!
Flowering plants get hungry, and if you want them to perform well you need to feed them. Because frequent watering rinses the nutrients out of the soil, hanging baskets, especially, need regular feeding. Fertilizing your hanging pots will keep the foliage nice and green and the flowers blooming throughout the season.
Fertilize when the soil is moist, not dry, and don’t overfertilize or the plant will get rootbound or burn. If you’ve had a heavy rain, give your hanging plants some fertilizer, because the rain probably rinsed away any fertilizer that was in the pot.
You have several options when it comes to fertilizer. You can:
• Use a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks in the summer months. Some people like to water it down and use it more often, say once a week. Follow the directions on the package.
• Use a slow-release dry fertilizer as directed (if you potted your own plant, you can include some in the soil from the get-go).
• Top-dress the soil every week or so with a fertilizer. Just spread about ¼ cup of the fertilizer on top of the soil. When you water, the nutrients will leach down through the soil and be absorbed by the roots.
• Use a combination. For example, plant with a slow-release fertilizer and then, later in the season (when it’s washed away), start using liquid fertilizer or top dress with a fertilizer.
Experts recommend starting with a high nitrogen fertilizer when you first plant, to promote growth, and then using a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer to encourage the established plant to bloom. (The three numbers on purchased fertilizers represent Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium. Equal amounts of each would be equal numbers, such as 10-10-10.
You can find organic fertilizers now in most garden centers or plant shops or online. And you can make your own using ingredients you may have at home. Here’s a good article on how to make your own flower food and plant fertilizers.
My daughter gave me a beautiful little garden notebook, which inspired me to start keeping notes about what I’ve planted, what worked and didn’t work in a particular season, what I’d like to try next year, etc. Of course, you don’t need a fancy notebook to jot down that your impatiens did well hanging on the west side of the porch or that your flowers took off after you top dressed them with coffee grounds. Unless you have a spectacular memory, taking good garden notes is a valuable habit!
Are you hanging flower baskets this year? What kind? What kind of pots do you like?