This is Hanging basket weekend.
While this is likely news to you, the garden retailers in your community are keenly aware that they will sell more flowering hanging baskets this weekend than any other. It is Mother’s Day. What mother would not be delighted by your gift of a hanging basket dripping with colour and fragrance?
The thing is, you want your Mom to think as highly of you months from now, as she casts a gaze in the direction of your gift, as she will when you present it to her.
Once again, we are here to help:
- Heft is everything. The larger the hanging basket, the fewer times you water it. The mass of soil at the root zone dries out directly in proportion to the amount of soil in the container (this is true of all potted plants). That, and the thirst of the plants growing in it will determine the frequency of watering. We recommend you purchase a hanging basket that is at least 12 inches in diameter, measured across the top. Anything smaller will dry out and decline quickly.
- Buy young and vigorous, not mature. Sure, you want the basket to look great the day you give it but remember that the plants in it will grow. Truth is, many hanging baskets are sold with such an abundance of roots in the soil that there is nowhere for the plants to go but downhill. A root-bound plant is a stressed plant. Buy young plants.
- Plastic or moss-lined?Most hanging baskets are plastic, as they are cheap. The best plant performance occurs in a moss-lined or fiber material pot or basket. Both allow for a healthy exchange of air and water. The result is better plant performance.
- Some plants don’t cut it in the long run. A nasturtium basket is an amazing thing to behold, at its peak of performance. Then it declines. Fast. Better to look for geraniums, bacopa, trailing petunias, calibracoa and verbena for lasting and colourful results all season long.
- Avoid sunshine impatiens. A host of Sunshine impatiens varieties look good in containers but beware: they are water pigs. Look at the main stem of the plant and you will see that it is a vessel for H2O. They dry out so fast that you would have to quit your day job to keep ahead of the watering, if placed in a sunny position. These plants look good in a hanging basket when you buy them because they have just arrived from a greenhouse grower with a drip-irrigation system. Your mom will not likely have that. If you are planting up a hanging basket be sure to use a quality container mix, like Pro Mix, not garden soil or triple mix. A professional quality soilless mix is light, open, often contains nutrients and will produce superior results. Fertilize container grown plants. Either use a once-a-season plant food like Plant-Prod 16-16-16 or use water soluble 20-20-20 every two weeks. We recommend that you use rain water from your rain barrel as it is warm, chemical free and oxygen-charged.
To crock or not?
When planting up a hanging basket or any container we have a habit of putting broken pottery over the drainage holes.
While good drainage is important for overall plant performance a recent report in The Garden magazine, official publication of the Royal Horticultural Society in the U.K., indicates that crockery is a crock. “Whether crocked or not, there will be a saturated zone at the bottom of a pot or container. So, by crocking the water table will be higher and the volume of growing medium available to plant roots is reduced.”
There you have it. No need to crock this spring! But do make sure that there are adequate drainage holes at the bottom of plant containers for water to move through.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.