Backyard Gardener, By Patti Sharpe
Tips for keeping your containers, hanging baskets looking their best
© Patti Sharpe photo
This hanging basket was recently sheared to the edge of its pot, but in a few weeks it will start to resemble its beautiful, shapely neighbour.
How many of you have purchased beautiful container gardens or hanging petunia baskets in May, only to find them looking tired and lanky by the end of June? We’ve all been there.
You think you’re watering them regularly, fertilising often and giving them the conditions they need to thrive, but they certainly don’t look like they did at the garden centre.
Last week, I got some answers to these problems and good advice on caring for containers and hanging baskets when Gerrie van den Hoek of Lowland Gardens in Great Village visited our garden club.
To begin with, selecting the right container is important. The larger the pot, the better and bigger your plants will grow — not unlike the goldfish scenario. It’s better to put fewer plants in a large container than pack a small one with sizable plants.
The problem most of us run into is we want instant gratification — a lush, full planter at the start of the growing season — so we pack as many plants as we can into that pot. Few of us have the patience to wait for our plants to size up on their own. Also, we tend to select the ones that are blooming profusely as opposed to the ones that have lots of buds and maybe just a few blooms. The latter choice is often the better one if we want to prolong the time we have to enjoy the plant.
There’s also a right and wrong way to water your planters or containers. We know containers tend to dry out quickly, but a splash of water every day isn’t as beneficial as a thorough and less frequent watering. Apply water until it comes out the drainage holes and the pot is heavy and then allow the soil to dry out before repeating the thorough watering. Don’t just glance at the surface of the soil, stick your finger in it to gauge that it has actually dried out and isn’t merely dry to look at.
Heavy feeders, such as spreading petunias (the Wave petunia is just one variety of these), need weekly or even twice weekly feeding with an all-purpose fertiliser (check the label if you’re uncertain what the numbers mean — most will say all-purpose if that’s what it is). Other common container plants — begonias, million bells, etc. — will do well with weekly or bi-weekly feeding. Water-soluble fertilisers are easy to apply. I tend to fertilise my containers weekly on Sunday.
The last bit of advice I have to share is probably the most difficult to practice. Prune your planters and containers harshly early in the season. Many of you will shudder at the thought of removing blooming stems and shearing your plants, but this is important for maintaining a healthy, well-shaped planter.
And it would seem it’s most beneficial if the most rigorous pruning takes place before the end of June when the plants are at their peak. This helps to avoid stringy plants and containers with burned out centres come mid-summer.
Petunia baskets can be pruned/cut back to the edges of the pot if they’re starting to lose their appealing shape. Aim for a rounded look and in two to three weeks you’ll see a surge of new growth that will carry you through the summer.
All planters, at any point in the growing season, will benefit from removing growth or branches that have gotten too long, too tall and too spindly. Prune from the underside of stems and branches, if you’re hesitant about what you’re doing, and remove spent blossoms regularly to promote new blooms.
Plants that are more compact by nature — begonias, geraniums, etc. — can be pruned by removing the tops of stems. Just pinch off new growth that has grown out of bounds.
Practice these pointers this summer and see what a difference it will make in the appearance of your planters and hanging baskets.
Patti Sharpe is a long-time resident of Great Village and actively involved in various organizations within her community. Send your news to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.