Hanging Baskets: Keep ‘em Looking Great
By Neil Moran

     Every year people spend good money buying hanging baskets to add a little color to a patio area or other living space. By mid-summer I hear many complaints that their hanging baskets, once so pretty, are now looking like a wig on a scarecrow.
     Fortunately, there is a way to keep those hanging baskets looking good all summer long. First, you have to choose the right varieties. Petunias, popular for the last couple decades, hold their beautiful blooms all summer long. However, as you probably know, they’re not exactly maintenance-free. They require regular deadheading and constant watering. Wouldn’t you rather be at the beach or lounging in a chair than sweating over a hanging basket as you pluck every last spent bloom?
     So, let’s cool it on the petunias. Maintaining three or four baskets of petunias instead of a dozen will save you a lot of deadheading time. Placing them in a protected area in partial shade or dappled sunlight will further reduce the time spent maintaining these baskets. Another thing folks may not know about petunias is you can cut them right back to the rim of the container about midsummer. Then, place them in full sun, water and feed well, and they’ll come back better than ever.
     Mix it up. There are other plants that make for great-looking hanging baskets. In recent years, my wife, Sherri, has come to favor tuberous and fibrous begonias. I always thought these did best in the shade. Not so. They actually can stand full sun for at least part of the day (six to eight hours around the Bay area). They also require very little deadheading. What’s more, they’ll flower right up until the threat of frost comes in the fall.
Geraniums are another good choice. They require much less deadheading, and when you do, there are fewer blooms to deadhead. Besides less deadheading, geraniums don’t mind a little neglect during the summer, especially in the watering department. Actually, they flower better when they’re a little on the dry side. And don’t forget, there is a beautiful trailing type of geranium that comes in white, pink and deep red.
Here are some more tips for maintaining beautiful hanging baskets while (hopefully) getting more R & R this summer:
   1. Water regularly. Hanging baskets will require almost daily watering during hot weather. Rain doesn’t count as a watering, unless there is a flood warning that goes with it.
   2. Water well with a large watering can, or better yet, one of those water wands. Water should be streaming out the bottom of the container when you’re done watering.
   3. Feed regularly. Plants in a hanging basket require lots of fertilizer. However, for the sake of sparing the lakes and streams of harmful fertilizer runoff, I suggest you use an organic or slow-release fertilizer, along with occasional feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer, to keep them fed all summer.
   4. To keep your plants from drying out and looking ragged, hang the baskets in a spot near your home that is protected from strong winds.
     “It really depends on the variety in the hanging basket, but keeping them well watered and fertilized is key to having successful hanging baskets all summer,” says Danielle Ernest, public relations and brand development coordinator for
Proven Winners. “ If they get a bit leggy, go ahead and give them a haircut.”
Here are some other good choices for hanging baskets:
  • Calibrachoa (million bells). This petunia-like plant comes in many different colors. Ones to look for at area garden centers are Superbells Blackberry Punch Calibrachoa, and Superbells Coralberry Punch Calibrachoa, both from Proven Winners. Calibracoa requires a little less maintenance than petunias, but is nearly as showy. Hang this one in a protected, partial shade area to keep it looking good all summer.
  • Scaevola. This is another common plant used in hanging baskets. It’s a leafy plant with medium -sized flowers that come in white and deep lavender.
  • Bacopa. With its petite white flowers, bacopa complements the baskets of large flowering begonias we have around our living area in the backyard. “Bridal Showers,” a variety that is loaded with little white flowers, is a common variety. Bacopa demands a little break from the sun or it, too, will fizzle out before the season ends.
  • Petunias. OK, for you petunia devotees, there are some irresistible varieties out there, including Proven Winner’s Pretty Much Picasso, a “supertunia” with violet purple flowers edged in lime green.
  • And don’t forget vines and foliage plants. These are no-fuss and often mixed in with flowering plants in a hanging basket. Look for trailing plants like vinca vine, licorice vine, English ivy and Boston ivy.

Neil Moran is a horticulturist and garden writer. Visit his blog at www.northcountrygardening.blogspot.com

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