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How to Care for Hanging Baskets

hanging basket
Hanging baskets, they’re not just for hanging anymore. By all means, do hang them, but consider that basically, it’s a big pot full of colorful flowers or tropical foliage. You can remove the hanger, and set it on a pedestal for an instant “container” plant, or if it happens to be upright instead of trailing, you can set in on a table for a centerpiece.

Another option: take it out of the basket and plant it in a decorative container, or even in the ground for an instant specimen plant. For most basket plants, this will be fine. This works for anything I can think of except for fuchsia. Basket fuchsias are trailers; upright fuchsias, sold in standard pots, are better for planting out.

Basket care: Light: shade plants will flower better with a couple of hours of early morning sun. Sun plants will do better if they get some shade in the hot afternoon. This is more to keep the pot cooler than for any aversion to sunlight. Hot pots dry out faster and the roots on the sunny side of the pot may heat to the point of partial dieback.

Water: Big plant, small pot. Your basket will be fine initially, and your primary responsibility is to check daily for water needs. Just lift the pot; if it’s heavy, it’s good for a day. If it’s light, water it. Remember that with any container, that if the plant gets very dry (very light) the potting soil will shrink away from the side of the pot, and most of the water you are applying is just running down the side. In that case, set it on the ground and water it thoroughly several times, 10 minutes apart. Or, set it in a pan of water for an hour.

Baskets that typically need less frequent water include geraniums, trailing geraniums, portulaca, fuchsia, petunias (when the basket is new). Lantana and impatiens dry out pretty quickly.

As the weeks pass, and the plant grows, something funny happens. The roots slowly replace the soil. Some of the potting soil decays further, and some gets washed from the pot with the frequent watering. The plant’s roots don’t hold water like soil does. The result is that you will find yourself watering more frequently.

At that point, say mid-summer, you should either repot it to a larger container, or plant it in the ground. Or, go on vacation and blame the neighbor who was supposed to water your plants while you were gone. [To make life easier for the helpful neighbor, take the baskets down and place them on the ground in light shade, preferably near a water source. That way, the baskets won’t need water as frequently.]

Pruning/Pinching: As it gets straggly, cutting it back selectively will make the plant more attractive. What I mean by “selectively” is cut back the shoots to different lengths, not straight across like bangs. That way, when it starts to grow again it will look more natural. If you cut back a couple of shoots every two weeks or so you should be able to maintain it without it ever looking like it has been trimmed.

With the frequent watering, your plant’s foliage will yellow after a couple of weeks if you don’t fertilize. I would use Jack’s Classic or ClassiCote. Follow label instructions but better to err on the low side. You want to keep the plant green, but it’s not the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The more growth you push with fertilizer, the sooner you will confront the “too big for the pot” problem discussed above.

by Horticulturist Larry Hurley


Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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