Here's how to take care of your hanging baskets

Susan Richards unknown / jpg, SH

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A few weeks ago, I talked about fertilizing plants in gardens. It is now time to make sure you also feed the plants you have growing in containers and especially hanging baskets.
When weather gets as hot as it has been over the last week, you end up having to water containers and baskets frequently to keep plants thriving. Nutrients that are in your potting soil can get depleted or even leached out with repeated watering.
We expect a lot from our hanging baskets. Those flowers definitely need a steady supply of fertilizer to live up to our expectations. Just think of the stress they have been under since Mother’s Day if they were purchased early.
Baskets left nice warm greenhouses and ended up being out in cold weather or kept in less than stellar conditions in homes or garages until the weather warmed up. That was certainly a shock and most likely stunned growth of new flower buds. Baskets purchased later might actually be outperforming those bought early in the season. They may have seen less stress.
July-like heat hit in late May. Then extremely cold winds drove temperatures down to near freezing. What an up and down spring we have had. Now that it is officially summer and it was ushered in with another bought of extreme heat, you really need to give you baskets some TLC.
Start by inspecting them for any branches that were bent of broken by high winds. Trim those off and then inspect the shape of the basket. If it’s a bit lop-sided, prune up the remaining branches to ensure the basket looks nice.
Don’t ever be afraid to trim up plants, especially petunias and Million Bells. A nip here or there every week or two encourages new growth, which will keep your basket looking nice and bushy.
Next, remove spent flower heads if your basket type requires this. Geraniums and fuchsias always need this done on a regular basis to keep new flowers coming. Million Bells, Supertunias and Wave petunias don’t need spent flowers removed to keep them blooming but a tidy up may keep the basket looking better.
If you have a mixed basket, be sure to pay attention to each flower type and treat it according to that flower’s needs.
Now it’s time to set up a regular fertilizing plan to keep baskets blooming right through the summer. You might recall that I talked about different fertilizer formulations. One of the easiest ways to feed them is to apply slow release fertilizer pellets at the rate recommended on the package. Each time you water, a bit of fertilizer dissolves, becoming available to the plant.
This usually only needs to be applied once per season, but keep an eye on your baskets by mid-August. If it’s been a hot July and baskets have been watered daily, that type of food may peter out, requiring you to either add more to the basket or start to apply another type of fertilizer.
Food for flowering plants is also available in a water-soluble powder or liquid concentrate. This is added to your watering can or hose-end sprayer at a rate recommended on the package.
Don’t think twice as much fertilizer will give you double the blooms. Mixing the solution too strong may burn plant tissue and damage the flowers. I like to mix my fertilizer ? strength and apply it every week instead of using it full strength once a month. This gives plants a steadier supply of food and keeps those flowers blooming.
Another trick for keeping baskets preforming well all summer is to transplant them into a bigger container. Vigorous varieties can out-grow smaller baskets if weather conditions favour lots of growth. With more room to stretch their roots, plants will reward you with lots of healthy growth and abundant flowers.
I have also been known to take plants out of hanging baskets and pop them into containers. You get an instantly full pot and the plants get really big and bushy.

Columnist Susan Richards is Garden Centre manager of New North Greenhouses at 719 Airport Rd., in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

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