Keeping flowerpots and hanging baskets looking fresh and floriferous all season is something many gardeners struggle with. “Hang” in there—we’ve got you covered all summer long!
Once weather begins to be consistently sunny and dry, plantings will need to be watered regularly. The amount and frequency of watering depends on how much sun the plants get, the type and size of container, and the planting medium (type of soil) used.
- Hanging baskets and very small pots tend to dry out faster than larger containers or pots on the ground, and may need to be watered more than once per day during the peak of summer. Take hanging baskets down and set them on the ground in the shade (or in a shallow saucer of water) if you plan to be gone for a few days.
- Baskets and containers should receive enough water so that it runs out the bottom drainage hole and the soil has become fully saturated. Sometimes a very dry plant must be watered several times or even placed into a bucket of water in which to soak before it rehydrates.
- Containers in deep shade may not need to be watered as frequently as those in sun.
- Watering in the morning is ideal and hand watering is best so you can keep on top of deadheading and monitor plant health at the same time.
- If your container or hanging basket only receives sun from one direction, consider rotating or turning it every other week to keep it balanced and growing well on all sides.
Most potting soils only have a basic nutrient package to get plants started. Annuals are generally considered heavy-feeders, so a slow-release, granular fertilizer should be added at planting time and reapplied as directed during the growing season.
- Granular fertilizer provides consistent feeding over a long period of time (4-6 weeks or more, depending on the product). Liquid fertilizer can also be used, but is considered a more immediate, short-term source of nutrition. Its nutrients are water soluble and should be applied regularly and consistently to be most effective.
- To support strong flowering, use a fertilizer with a high middle number (phosphorus), often labeled for roses, flowers, or vegetables (e.g. G&B Bud and Bloom 3-7-4).
Deadheading is the regular practice of removing spent flowers before they form seeds to promote re-blooming.
- Some plants need more regular deadheading than others. Plant breeders are working on making plant varieties that are “self-cleaning” with flowers that drop off by themselves! Regular, old-fashioned petunias must be constantly deadheaded (they make your hands very sticky), but a newer relative called Calibrachoa or Million Bells is self-cleaning. Bacopa is another self-cleaning annual.
- Proper deadheading is done by removing the old flower and stem by cutting or pinching it back completely, not by simply removing the faded flower petals.
- Learn/observe how your plant forms flowers to avoid accidentally pruning off flower buds and to recognize new flowers versus old ones.
Pinching & Trimming
These pruning techniques can be used to help plants become fuller and more lush, to rejuvenate after a pest or problem, or to prevent a rambunctious grower from taking things over.
- Certain plant combinations look great together, but may not all grow at the same pace, leaving one to potentially overtake the others. Trimming back tall plants (like Coleus) may help them become bushier and more appropriately sized. Fast growing vines (Sweet Potato Vine) may trail beyond the container or begin to smother nearby plants if not pruned to control.
- If plants grow long and leggy due to lack of sunlight or other reason, cut back by about half, fertilize, and place in more sunlight. Plants should rebound in 2-4 weeks. Follow these same steps to revive a sunburned or slightly crispy plant, but provide light shade during recovery.
Pest & Disease Control
Healthy, well-watered, and properly fed plantings have fewer pest problems, however, some things may be out of your hands. Here are a few things to watch for.
- Aphids: Occasional outbreaks of aphids may come during times of rapid growth; control by hosing off with strong spray of water or apply insecticidal soap or Neem oil as the label directs.
- Slugs: Slugs and snails are more than capable of slithering up and into your containers and I don’t know how they get into hanging baskets, but they can! Slug baits such as Sluggo or Slug Magic can be used in pots and hanging baskets; just make sure to read the directions and don’t scatter it too heavily or the bait will mold (not harmful, but not exactly attractive either).
- Budworm: This one is a doozy! Budworms specialize in eating the flowers of geraniums, petunias, calibrachoa, and nicotiana plants and can be difficult to spot unless you know what to look for. You can usually expect them to begin showing up in early July; in anticipation, you may begin treatment around that time. The pest is actually a caterpillar that comes from a small tan moth. It can be controlled by using Bt spray (Bacillus thuringiensis) or a product called Captain Jack’s Dead Bug with the active ingredient Spinosad. Both products should be applied regularly to be effective and worms should be hand-picked when visible. Although the pest may be difficult to spot, signs of the budworm may include reduced flowering or buds that don’t open to flowers, ragged-looking petals, and small piles of dark debris (caterpillar poop) on foliage.
- Powdery mildew: Fungal disease that is common during certain humid weather conditions or times of year (cool days and humid nights); can be identified by its classic white, powdery appearance, especially found on new foliage. Not considered fatal to plants, this disease will gradually weaken them and make them less attractive. Some plants are more prone to mildew than others; dahlias, zinnias, snapdragons are all very susceptible. In addition to using a fungicide for treatment (copper fungicide or neem oil), improving air circulation and selecting mildew-resistant varieties are also good practices.