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Horticulture and Home Pest News
Horticulture & Home Pest News is filled with articles on current horticulture, plant care, pest management, and common household pests written by Iowa State University Extension specialists in the Departments of Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

Care for Blooming Hanging Baskets

This article was published originally on 6/3/2009

Did you receive a hanging basket for Mother's Day? Many mothers (and others) will decorate their porches, decks, and other outdoor areas with hanging baskets this gardening season.Whether your hanging basket has just one or many blooming plants, care is required for best blooms throughout the growing season. Below are some tips for growing and maintaining hanging baskets. Watering Hanging baskets often contain several closely spaced small plants and their roots grow quickly in the potting mix. Typical potting mixes are light and well-drained. With a well drained soil mix and an abundance of crowded and thirsty roots, frequent watering is necessary, especially during the summer. When the small plants have grown and established roots, check baskets daily for water needs On hot sunny days it may be necessary to water more than once a day. When watering hanging baskets, be sure to water them until water runs out the bottom of the container. This ensures that all the roots have access to plenty of moisture. Try not to let the soil dry out completely. Not only will this cause the plant to wilt, it makes it more difficult to water. If the soil becomes too dry, it will separate from the side of the container. In this instance, remove the basket from its location so that you can place the basket in a tub of water for a couple of hours. This forces water to be absorbed slowly from the bottom of the container. Do not keep the basket in the tub of water for long periods as this practice may increase root rot. Fertilization Plants in hanging baskets often require frequent fertilization. Water soluble fertilizers or slow release granular fertilizers may be used. Ideally, complete fertilizers with a 1:2:1 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will keep plants healthy and blooming well. Fertilizers that are high in nitrogen should be avoided as they cause excessive vegetative growth at the expense of flowers. Always remember to read and follow the label directions carefully to apply appropriate amounts of fertilizer. Deadheading Many annual species require regular deadheading to keep plants in bloom throughout the season. Deadheading is the removal of dead or dying flowers. This prevents seed from forming, and can ultimately lead to more flowers. Generally speaking, larger blooming plants like petunia and geranium require deadheading for continual blooms. Smaller blooming plants like lobelia and sweet alyssum are generally "self-cleaning" – meaning deadheading is not necessary. Regardless, inspect plants as you water and remove spent flowers, if possible. This will keep plants fresh looking and blooming throughout summer. Tips for Starting Your Own Hanging Baskets First, start with a good, well-drained, potting mix. The best mixes for hanging baskets do not contain garden soil. Instead, these soilless mixes are made up of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Slow release fertilizers may be included in a purchased mix or can be added to the mix prior to planting. This will insure that the plants receive regular – low-doses of nutrients throughout the summer. Water-absorbing crystals are another additive that may be present in a purchased mix or that can be purchased and added separately. These crystals, while expensive, will absorb large quantities of water and help keep the soil moist between watering.Plants for Hanging Baskets Plants with full or trailing habits tend to be preferred for hanging baskets. Yet, don't let that stop you from trying something else in a hanging basket – you might be surprised at how well it will perform! Like any plant, matching the right plant with the site is essential. Shade loving plants will suffer in full sun, and sun-loving plants bloom poorly in shade. Below is a brief listing of commonly available plant species suitable for hanging baskets in sunny or shady sites.

Sun-loving Plants Part Shade/Shade-loving Plants
Common Name Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name
Periwinkle Catharanthus roseus Bacopa Bacopa sutera
Trailing Petunia Calibrachoa x hybrida Tuberous Begonia Begonia tuberosa
Heliotrope Heliotrope arborescens Silver Bells Browallia speciosa
Licorice Vine Helichrysum petiolare Ferns …many species…
Sweet Potato Vine Ipomea batatas Fuschia Fuschia hybrids
Lantana Lantana camara English Ivy Hedera helix
Swan River Daisy Osteospermum hybrids Impatiens Impatiens walleriana
Geranium Pelargonium x hortorum New Guinea Impatiens Impatiens hybrids
Ivy Geranium Pelargonium peltatum Lobelia Lobelia erinus
Petunia Petunia x hybrida Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima
Moss Rose Portulaca grandiflora Nasturtiums Tropaeolum majus
Fanflower Scaevola aemula Nierembergia Nierembergia hippomanica
Signet Marigold Tagetes tenuifolia Periwinkle/Vinca vine Vinca minor and V. major
Verbena Verbena x hybrida Pansy Viola x wittrockiana