By DEAN FOSDICK
Want to add instant color and texture to your deck, balcony, entryway, or other small space around your yard? Consider hanging baskets.
If they’re in the right location and are maintained regularly, container plants will bloom from early spring until the first killing frost in autumn — longer if you load them with perennials and over-winter them indoors.
“Perennials make fantastic partner plants in containers,” said Rebecca Finneran, a horticulture educator with Michigan State University Extension. “Shady containers look great with a fern or hosta right out of your garden, and sunny containers may benefit from re-blooming plants like nepeta or fall-blooming plants such as hyssop.”
And don’t forget the pollinators, Finneran said.
“Great pollinator plants can be worked into containers, too: butterfly bush, globe thistle, swamp milkweed — all great examples,” she said.
Hanging baskets have limited rooting space, so they need extra care once they become full and lush. “Daily watering is often necessary, and fertilizer should be routinely applied to keep the plants blooming well,” Finneran said.
That would mean using a time-release fertilizer when planting, and adding a water-soluble fertilizer about once a week beginning at the height of the growing season.
If that sounds like too much work, consider using drought-resistant plants to reduce watering.
“But the soil mixture and soil depth must be adjusted for the plants you are growing,” said Amy Dabbs, a Clemson University area horticulture agent. “For succulents and cacti, a shallow basket with a well draining, soilless media mix made for cacti should be used.
“These plants require bright light but not direct sun, as the plants will scorch, especially in the sunny South,” Dabbs said.
More tips on landscaping with hanging planters:
— Use “no-brainer” containers, or lightweight pots lined with moss or coconut fiber that are easy to handle. Avoid ceramic, cast concrete or terra cotta.
— Soak rather than simply water. “Once the media becomes really dry, it is difficult to re-wet it,” Finneran said. “Just take the basket down once a week and soak for one hour in a wheelbarrow to be sure the center of the container is fully moistened.”
— Pinch back dead blooms, and remove brown or leggy foliage to keep the basket looking fresh. “Don’t forget that pruning plants in the basket, such as petunias, will cause them to flush out new growth resulting in fresh blooms,” Finneran said.
— Use potting soil with time-release fertilizer rather than dirt taken straight from the garden. It drains better, so roots won’t rot if overwatered.
— When designing a hanging pot, Dabbs said one old rule is to include “a thriller, spiller and filler.” But she advises just going with what you like. “When in doubt, go to a local garden center or nursery for inspiration, and let plant availability be your guide,” she said.