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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If water runs right out the bottom of the pot just seconds after you start to water, it's a sign the soil is too dry, Kern said. Dried-out soil shrinks, creating a gap between the soil and the container. Water just flows down through that gap and out of the pot instead of reaching the plant roots.

Should that happen, Kern recommended watering the basket repeatedly until the soil has expanded and the basket becomes heavy.

Fertilize. Kern is a big believer in frequent fertilization for hanging baskets. Besides adding slow-release fertilizer to the soil when he plants, he also recommends supplementing with a liquid fertilizer.

Early in the season when the plants are young, fertilize weekly, he said. Once the roots fill the pot, around July or August, he recommends stepping up to two or three fertilizations a week.

Generally, he likes an all-purpose fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, although he suggested switching to a fertilizer with more phosphorus if the plants aren't blooming well. Don't overdo, though, or you can burn the plants, he said.

Crawford, on the other hand, thinks once is enough. She's choosy about the slow-release fertilizer she uses at planting time, Dynamite Premium Fertilizer for flowers and vegetables. That particular product lasts nine months, she maintained, so there's no need for additional feeding during that time.

Rotate. Often hanging baskets are hung on a porch or other site where they're exposed to sunlight on only one side. In that case, Crawford said it's important to rotate the baskets for even growth.

She suggested hanging the baskets from swivel hooks, which you can buy at a hardware store.

Deadhead if necessary. Most plants commonly used in hanging baskets don't need deadheading, which means removing their spent flowers. But some plants, such as daisies and verbena, do. Deadhead those plants regularly to ensure they'll keep blooming, Kern said.

Pinch back. It can be hard to bring yourself to pinch back plants when they look good, but doing so will prevent those that need it from getting leggy.

Plants are just like hair, Crawford said. Just as you wouldn't wait till your hair is shaggy and unmanageable before getting it trimmed, neither should you wait till your plants look straggly before pinching them back.

Kern said July 4 is a good target date for cutting plants back a couple of inches. Crawford is guided more by appearance. When plants get leggy or uneven, she trims off the unwanted portions with her fingers or pruning shears.


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