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Let a rainbow or single color flow from baskets

By Mary Collister, Gardening
Published February 22, 2008


Is it possible that our winter is already over? I don't feel like we have had enough cool weather to warrant the beginning of spring, but that won't stop the longer days, shorter nights, and warmer temperatures fromentering our area.

If you have any labor intensive projects to complete, delay no longer. The temperatures will only continue to rise.

This is such a perfect time to add color to your landscape it is difficult not to buy flat after colorful flat of the annuals now available in the garden centers. Before you venture out to the nursery, have a plan in mind. Take a walk around your yard and see where you have the space to tuck in color. Make the decision about what "look" you are going for; perhaps monochromatic with all the flowers of one color; or more of the English garden look with flowers of almost every color or maybe something in between. Then decide how many flowers you want to add. Of course my philosophy is "you can't have too many flowers."

On a more practical note, with our restrictions and the cost of water, you may want to limit the number of flowers since they require more water than established landscape plants. If you are looking for impact, you can add flowers near the front door, in containers or those areas highly visible from the street.

Hanging baskets can add spots of color. But remember if hanging under an eave and protected from the rains, they will probably need water every day once it warms up.

If you want to use hanging baskets, here are a few tips to make their care easier. First choose an appropriate container. Weight of the container can be a factor. By the time you add soil, water and plant material the basket can get very heavy. Plastic or wire baskets lined with sphagnum moss or coconut fiber known as coir are good choices. The container must also have drainage so the planting mix does not become waterlogged.

A lightweight potting mix is essential for hanging baskets. Soilless planting mixes provide necessary drainage, water-holding capacity and aeration that ordinary garden soil does not supply. Buy it at garden centers. You can also get it with slow- release fertilizer in the mix.

When choosing plants, small and healthy ones are best. They adapt to new surroundings much faster than larger plants. Plants will be spaced much closer together in a basket than they would be in the garden. You want the basket to be over flowing with blooms. Choose a variety of colors, shapes and textures to add interest. Also, be aware whether the basket will be hanging in sun or shade. This will affect the choice of the plant material.

Choose trailing plants for the perimeter of the container so they spill over the edges. The bushy or upright plants will go in the middle or toward the back depending on the angle from which the basket will be viewed. Be careful the plants do not get so tall that they interfere with hanging the basket or a view from a window.

Site selection is also important. The basket will mainly be viewed from below. It is best if the baskets are hung close to eye level so they can be admired and more easily watered. Turn the basket every few days because the plants will grow toward the sunlight and may end up growing at odd angles.

Containers dry out very quickly and will need water daily or perhaps twice a day if they don't receive rainwater. Feel the soil to determine whether it is damp or in need of water. Apply water so that it runs from the drainage holes. If the soil dries out too much, it will pull away from the sides of the container and may need to be immersed in a bucket of water to rehydrate. If your baskets are hanging out of reach, a watering wand will extend your reach and produce a gentle shower.

This frequent watering will quickly leach nutrients from the soil, so fertilization is usually necessary to keep the plants looking their best. Liquid or time-release fertilizers are the easiest to apply. If you decide to use time-release fertilizer, and it isn't in the soil you purchase, work it into the soil at planting. Whichever type of fertilizer you use, it is best if the soil is moist when you add the fertilizer. Feed the baskets every two weeks to ensure consistent growth. It's best to use the fertilizer at half-strength.

To keep the basket looking good, remove faded flowers and yellow foliage. If a plant looks bad, pull it out and replace it. You may also want to pinch back some plants to rejuvenate them.

If you are planting in the sun you might try ornamental kale, ornamental pepper, coleus, dusty miller, wallflower, marigold, geranium, sweet pea, petunia or verbena. To trail around the perimeter of the basket, look at tailing lantana, moss rose, sweet alyssum, ivy-leafed geranium, variegated ivy, or creeping zinnia. These flowering plants will shine in a shady location: Pansy, impatiens, begonias, caladium, coleus, or marigold.

Hanging baskets are perfect for the gardener who wants to cut down on both the labor and the water use but still have a few spots of color. Give at least one a try this season.

[Last modified February 21, 2008, 22:56:56]

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