May 20, 2012

You, too, can get the hang of this art form

They're high-maintenance, but hanging baskets are well worth it for the splashes of color they bring to your property.


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It can be hard to keep plants in hanging baskets and pots thriving, as the containers don’t hold much water and hanging in the air causes them to dry out more quickly. But with good planning, and by adopting a bigger-is-better philosophy when choosing basket size, you can have success.

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Does all that plant-choice information sound like too much effort? Then just copy the pros' designs.

Container gardening books often suggest plant combinations for hanging baskets. So do gardening websites, which you can find by Googling "hanging basket plant combinations."

Crawford's book, "Easy Container Gardens" simplifies the selection process even more by identifying what she calls blue- and red-ribbon plants. Blue-ribbon plants require no upkeep other than watering, when planted according to her instructions, she said. Red-ribbon plants take a little more care, but they're still excellent performers.

Her books can also be found in some libraries, bookstores or ordered online.


Kern said a 10-inch-diameter basket -- usually the smallest size you'll find in a garden center -- needs at least three or four plants. Bigger baskets can hold more plants, he said.

Crawford advocates using plenty. The 14-inch basket she designed for Kinsman, for example, holds 17 plants -- one centerpiece plant surrounded by eight smaller plants, with another eight planted horizontally in the sides. Her biggest basket, at 20 inches, holds a whopping 38 plants.

Crawford also prefers to start with larger plants than the ones that come in flats, so her baskets fill out faster. She likes plants with 3-inch root balls, which often come in packs of six to nine plants. They're big enough to create a show right from the start but cheaper than plants sold individually in 4½-inch pots, she said.


A good-quality soilless planting mix is best for hanging baskets, Kern and Crawford said. Soilless mixes drain better than soil, a critical feature for containers.

You can buy mixes that contain slow-release fertilizer, or you can add some when you plant -- a step both Crawford and Kern recommend. Water-absorbing crystals can also be added to help keep plants from drying out.

Plant so the planting mix comes to about 1 inch below the top of the container, which leaves enough room to add water. Kern recommended moistening the planting mix before you fill the basket, so is won't settle too much when the basket is watered.

Then hang and enjoy. Your plants will take a little time to fill out, but with proper care, they should continue to brighten your landscape till fall.


Want to keep your hanging baskets looking great all season? Pete Kern and Pamela Crawford offer these tips:

Water correctly. Overwatering is just killing a plant with kindness. Plants need water, but their roots also need oxygen. They can't get it when they're waterlogged.

Both Kern and Crawford say you should make sure the soil is somewhat dry before you add water. Crawford does it by sticking her finger into the soil. Kern judges by feeling the weight of the pot.

Water thoroughly, until the water runs out the bottom of the container. Kern recommended using a container such as a milk jug or a hose without a spray attachment, so you water just the soil, not the leaves. Wet leaves invite sun damage and disease.

It's best to water in the morning, when it's still cool, he said.

When heavy rains are forecast for four days or more, he recommended moving the plants to a sheltered spot.

Water enough. Overwatering is a bad thing, but so is underwatering. Kern said you should never let your plants dry out to the point they wilt. If you do, they'll take weeks to rebound.

That might mean watering more than once a day during hot spells, particularly if the basket is small or in a windy or sunny spot.

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