Hanging Basket Hacks: Hydration

A two year old planting, ready for rejuvenation

~

Considering I’d originally planted the basket a couple of years ago, and that the ‘annual’ Verbena survived two Williamsburg winters to return and bloom the following spring,  I can’t complain.

Add to that poor soil (compost I found on-site at the garden) and those daffodil bulbs I planted in there for spring interest.  By early summer 2020, the basket was struggling.   It hung in full sun at the botanical garden where it got irregular, but loving attention.  The Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, had grown in lushly.  But the basket was no longer beautiful, and the Verbena was fading.  We just couldn’t keep the plants properly watered in July’s unrelenting heat.

Do you have a hanging basket that is struggling in summer’s heat?  Do you have plants under-performing because you can’t keep their container sufficiently watered?

The ongoing challenge with any container planting, especially baskets and window boxes, is to keep the plants supplied with nutrients and enough water that they don’t frequently wilt.  Some climates make container gardening easier than others.  Many municipal plantings get daily, professional attention from a team of horticulturalists.  Some plants adapt better to growing crowded into baskets with just a few inches of soil, than others.

~

~

When you think about it, a hanging basket is a pretty extreme environment for many plants.  That said, there are some reasonably simple and inexpensive hacks that anyone can use to make that basket more comfortable for living, blooming plants.

It is smart to begin with the largest basket your space, and the support it will hang from, can accommodate.  Larger baskets mean more soil to hold moisture, and more space for roots to grow.  A 14″-16″ basket is a good size to work with.  If you are working with a window box rather than a basket, look for ones at minimum 6″ deep.

Next, use good, fresh potting soil.  You might add additional perlite to equal a quarter of the total soil volume, which improves drainage and makes the finished basket much lighter.  Mix this in well, along with some slow release fertilizer like Epsoma’s Plant Tone or Osmocote.  To keep plants actively growing and blooming, they need nutrients.  Most potting mixes are sterile, without the nutrients commonly found in garden soil (which is too dense and heavy for a hanging basket or container).  Adding slow release fertilizer helps bring out the best performance in your chosen plants.

Mix up enough amended soil to fill the basket in a separate container, and then use a scoop to transfer a little at a time to fill in around each plant as you place it.

~

This wire basket has a fresh coir liner and an inner liner of a plastic bag. A sponge cut into small bits will help conserve water.

~

I generally prefer wire baskets with a coco or coir liner.   Baskets will dry out exceptionally fast when the heat index is over 100F and there isn’t a cloud in the sky for hour after hour on a summer day.  Even baskets watered generously before 8 AM may be dry again by mid-afternoon.  Coir makes a better liner than the traditional sphagnum moss, but is still exceptionally porous.

My first hack is to line the basket with an additional plastic liner to aid water retention.  You might use a large plastic shopping bag, a dry cleaner bag, or similar light-weight sheet of plastic.  If there aren’t holes in the plastic already, use the point of your scissors to poke a few holes so the basket will drain in heavy rain.   I used a shopping bag disqualified from cat-litter duty due to a few large holes already poked in the bottom.  The bag probably won’t fit into your basket perfectly, and you’ll likely need to cut some vertical darts to allow it to open wide enough to lie smoothly against the sides of your liner.

~

~

My second hack involves a cellulose kitchen sponge.  I have a bag of new, dehydrated and pressed Trader Joe’s brand sponges and am giving this brainstorm a trial to see how well it works.  If you don’t have dried pressed sponges available, try any cellulose sponge that doesn’t have any chemical or soap products pre-loaded on it.  Just cut the sponge up into small pieces.  Use most of them in the bottom of the basket between the plastic liner and the soil.  I partially filled the liner with soil, and then added a few more fragments of sponge around the outside edge of the basket.

The sponges will serves as little reservoirs to soak up excess water when it is available and release it later to the soil and roots when it is needed.  I placed several sponge fragments around those holes in the bag to soak up water before it drains out.

~

Use fresh potting mix amended with slow release fertilizer like Osmocote (here). If the mix is dense, add additional perlite, up to a quarter of the total volume.  Here additional pieces of sponge are added around the edges of the basket.  These will plump up once the basket is watered for the first time.

~

Fill your container about 1/2 full of fresh potting soil and then begin placing plants, and filling back around each one with prepared potting soil.

I placed the entire soil ball from my old basket planting in a plastic box before using my hori hori knife to begin prying the various plants apart.  I saved and re-used all of the pieces of the Verbena that I could find and the rooted bits of Dichondra,which had filled the basket last summer.  Only a few bits of it survived the winter and have been competing with the Lysimachia for resources.

A lot of cleaning up may be needed to remove old, withered leaves and stems.  A pair of sharp scissors is my favorite gardening tool.

~

Break apart the individual plants into smaller hunks, discarding most of the old soil.  Clean out old and withered stems and leaves as you re-plant each division.

~

I settled the divisions with Verbena in the center and added a few chunks of Lysimachia around the edges.  Creeping Jenny grows quickly and will fill in within a few weeks.  I want the Dichondra to have a chance here to re-establish itself.  I’ll reserve the remaining parts of the old planting, including those dormant bulbs, for another use.

~

Settle the divisions you want to re-use into fresh soil

~

Finally, I still had a few rooted cuttings of Portulaca on hand.  I brought home a generous portion of cuttings from my favorite grower a few weeks ago and have had them rooting on the deck in a box of vermiculite and potting soil.  I’ve been planting them out in various places for the last few weeks,  but had enough still on hand to add seven or eight rooted stems to empty spots in this new planting.

Rooted cuttings can be worked in to established basket arrangements to refresh and update them.  They are easier to work in than nursery plants since they have a smaller root ball.  Keep well watered as they grow in.

~

Rooted Portulaca cuttings ready to transplant

~

Using very drought tolerant plants is the next hack for planting drought tolerant basket arrangements.  Succulents, like Portulaca or Sedums, have the ability to absorb and store water when it is available and then go for long periods of time without additional watering.  They have a waxy coating on the epidermis of each leaf and stem to reduce evaporation.  They can remain plump and vital when other plants are crisping up in the sun.

When selecting plants for baskets, pay attention to their water needs and their resilience to drought.  As more beautiful succulents come to market, choosing appropriate succulent and drought tolerant plants for container arrangements becomes easier.

~

Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny, is a drought tolerant vine that tolerates full sun. It roots at every node and can take over a planting. Here, I’ve used a few divisions and left the remainder for another use later.

~

The final hack for hanging baskets involves applying a mulch.  Bare soil loses moisture much faster than does mulched soil.  The best mulch in our climate is fine gravel, like aquarium gravel.  Pea gravel is another choice.  Both choices do add some weight to the basket, but they reduce evaporation, keep the plants clean and healthy without soil splashing up on them, cool the soil, and provide some protection to roots and geophytes you may plant in the basket.  We have curious squirrels who sometimes dig in pots and baskets if not discouraged by a gravel mulch.  Other choices include larger stones, small seashells, flat glass beads, marbles or glass chips, moss, and vines that fill in as a ground cover, like the Lysimachia.

~

I have used a few rocks, glass beads and shells to anchor rooted cuttings in this new arrangement and have sprinkled additional Osmocote on top of the planting.  use rocks or shells to hide the raw, trimmed edges of the plastic liner.  I still need to apply some fine, gravel mulch before this basket is ready to return to the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

~

Once the basket is planted, and potting soil worked in firmly around all of the roots, add your mulch, and then water the basket well.  I like to water the basket with plain water first to wet everything, and then come back a short time later with a foliar feed of fish and seaweed emulsion to help the plants adjust and to provide trace minerals to the soil.

In spring, you can get by with hanging that basket into its permanent place right away.  In summer, I like to give a day or two for the plants to settle in and adjust in the shade before moving the basket to its permanent spot.  A stretch of cloudy, wet weather is best for a new basket.  But when there is a lot of sun, I like to give the plants a head start on settling their roots into their new home in a shady spot before putting them under stress in full sun.

~

A Portulaca cutting has been growing in the edge of this basket for a few weeks now. Once established, they grow quickly and bloom prolifically in full or partial sun.

~

Each gardener has to understand their own micro climate and preferred plants to come up with solutions that work for them.  If I were gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I might not need to line my basket with plastic or add cut up sponges to the soil.  The more realistic we are about our own growing conditions, the better job we can do with our plantings for lasting beauty.

If your hanging baskets have been less than spectacular, you might try some of these hacks to see how they work for you.  Don’t be afraid to re-work an established basket with an eye to improving it.  Changing out some of the plants, removing some of the more agressive plants, fertilizing and refreshing the soil may make all the difference in how well your planting performs.

~

The basket rests in a shady spot before being returned to its place at the garden.  The Portulaca and Verbena will fill in and begin to bloom again by the end of July.

~

Woodland Gnome 2020

Blossom XLIII: Verbena

~

A winning combination:  Dependable, easy to grow,  attracts butterflies and other pollinators, and grows well with others.  Verbena bonariensis endears itself to my gardener’s heart a little more with each passing summer.

~

~

I bought my first few on a whim as little plugs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs several years ago.  I had admired this Verbena growing in their display garden both for the clear lovely color of the flower, and for its obvious popularity with the winged nectar loving set.  I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I planted the plugs into slightly raised, full sun beds with confidence that something interesting would grow.

I had grown other Verbenas, of course, before trying this very tall, perennial variety.  I still pick up a few annual Verbenas for my pots and baskets each year.  They produce non-stop flowers all summer, take full sun, shrug off July and August heat, and keep on blooming up until frost.  All they ask is that you don’t let them dry out completely, and perhaps offer a snack when you water from time to time.

~

Annual Verbena grows in a sunny pot with Lantana.

~

I’ve also grown Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple,’ which makes a beautiful ground cover and often returns the following year.  It prefers somewhat dry soil, and though hardy to Zone 6, may not make it through a particularly wet or late winter.

~

Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

~

It was introduced in the 1990s, and is very commonly available throughout our region, alongside the many colorful annual Verbenas each spring.  The flowers are a very intense purple, and the foliage a rich dark green.

~

Eastern Swallowtail butterfly on Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ at the Heath family’s garden in Gloucester.

~

All of the Verbena flowers prolifically attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Verbena bonariensis, native in South America, mixes lightly among other perennials in the garden.  Its long airy stems, sparse foliage and small flowers allow it to appear to float in mid-air, like some magical oasis for pollinators.

~

~

It can grow to 5′ or more tall in full sun and steady moisture.  It forms expanding clumps, and also spreads its seeds around easily.  It isn’t considered invasive in Virginia, and though it will send up nearby seedlings, they are almost always welcome.  Any falling in a path can be easily moved or shared.

And now I’m adding still another native Verbena to our garden:  Verbena hastata, which is a North American native perennial.  I’ve admired it at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, but found it potted and offered for sale on Saturday at the Sassafras Farm display at our local Farmer’s Market.

~

Verbena hastata at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

~

Verbena hastata, commonly called Blue Vervain, is native to our region and feeds both pollinators and birds.  It grows in moist, disturbed soil in full sun to partial shade and is frequently found near swamps, ditches, and ponds.  It is a larval host for the Verbena moth and the Buckeye butterfly.

I was first attracted by the wonderful violet color of its unusual flowers.  Like V. bonariensis, this is another very tall, airy plant, which blends well into a meadow planting or mixed border.  The plant itself is nearly invisible allowing its flowers to attract all of one’s attention.

~

~

Verbena has a coarse, somewhat bitter foliage that is unappealing to deer.  While rabbits have been known to nibble at Verbena hastata, especially new and tender growth, the plant survives.

I am always interested to learn by growing out a new plant.  One can read multiple descriptions and still not really know a plant, unless it has lived in one’s own garden for a season.  I want to watch it grow and see how it responds to the challenges of the passing seasons and the wandering herbivores, before I feel any confidence in recommending it to others.  But the next best thing to growing a plant myself is to watch it in a public garden, or listen to another gardener describe their experience growing it.

~

~

After talking with Sassafras Farm owner Denise Greene on Saturday, I left with pots of three new perennials to trial here in our Forest Garden.  In addition to Verbena hastata, I also came away with Eryngium yuccifolium and horsemint, our native Monarda punctata.  I’ve been looking for this Monarda for a few seasons now, and it caught my attention first with its huge, delicately tinted very architectural flowers.

I parked all three pots near the hose when we got home from the market on Saturday, watered them, and headed back out on more errands.  Yesterday I was away, and when I checked the new pots in the early evening, I was delighted to find a cloud of bees surrounding the still potted Monarda!  I’m still plotting where each of these interesting new perennials will grow in our garden.  But know that once they are settled in, photos will follow!

~

Monarda grows well in the conditions of our garden, even in partial shade. Here, Monarda fistulosa grows with purple coneflowers.

~

Most of us want to invest in plants we believe will grow well for us.  Who wants to invest, only to watch a plant decline and fail; or worse, feed some vagrant deer?

My search for deer resistant, tough, drought tolerant and beautiful perennial plants continues.  If you are considering additions to your garden, I hope you will take a closer look at the native American Verbenas.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018
*
And, another one: 
Have you grown Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum muticum?
~

Mountain mint is another tough, native perennial for pollinators, that deer will leave strictly alone.

~
Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom
Blossom XLI: Tradescantia

 

 

Garden Magic

~

“They were full of mysteries and secrets,

like… like poems turned into landscapes.”

.

Jaclyn Dolamore

~

~

“Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.”

.

F.T. McKinstry

~

~

“Entering a garden like Bomarzo

was like succumbing to a dream.

Every detail was intended

to produce a specific effect on the mind and body,

to excite and soothe the senses like a drug.

To awaken the unconscious self.”

.

Linda Lappin

~

~

“Gardens and chocolate

both have mystical qualities.”

.

Edward Flaherty

~

~

“Magic exists. Who can doubt it,

when there are rainbows and wildflowers,

the music of the wind

and the silence of the stars?

Anyone who has loved has been touched by magic.

It is such a simple

and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live.”

.

Nora Roberts

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

~

“The older a wizard grows, the more silent he becomes,

like a woody vine growing over time

to choke a garden path, deep

and full of moss and snakes,

running everywhere, impenetrable.”

.

F.T. McKinstry,

Switching It Up

This planting needs

This planting needs some  ‘switching up’ to renew it for summer.  I went to work last night removing all of the plants and finding new spots for them to grow.

~

When the weather finally warms up, late April or early May, those winter and early spring pots we planted so lovingly last autumn just don’t look so good anymore.

Between plants which never quite recovered from winter’s bite, and early season annuals gasping in the heat; there comes a day when you really look at a pot and say to yourself, “Enough! Time for a change.”

~

"Enough!"  Monday afternoon this poor planting looked ragged enough I was determined to change it out.

“Enough!” Monday afternoon this poor planting looked so ragged I was determined to switch it out for something fresh.

~

That day was yesterday for the large hypertufa tub installed on the ‘pedastal’ in our ‘stump garden’ last spring.

I like the idea of ‘four season’ pots which drift from season to season in the garden with only minor adjustments.  While that is an nice idea, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

The original Dusty Miller planted in this pot last spring lived, but was seriously burned by the cold.  I’ve moved it out of the pot now to a less conspicuous place in the garden where it can continue growing.

The Violas, still blooming, will not last much longer in full sun.  They have been moved to a bed in partial shade.  The snaps could have grown on here for quite a while.  Planted a few months ago in earliest spring, they often make it through our winters.  I’ve moved them to a bed in full sun where they should perform well this summer.

After a full year of watching this pot, I decided to populate it with plants which thrive in hot and often dry conditions.  I want a large and showy display which won’t need regular care of any sort to continue looking great.  Mission impossible?

~

May 25, 2013, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

May 25, 2014, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

~

The original planting last summer included Coleus, Dusty Miller, a Brugmansia, some golden Sedum and Creeping Jenny.  I expected the Brugmansia to grow several feet and bloom with huge pendulous flowers in late summer.

~

July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

~

Although it grew, it never performed as expected.  Everything else in the pot looked great all summer, but required nearly daily watering to avoid the late afternoon wilts.

So I’ve chosen a new group of plants this summer in hopes of an even more vibrant display, even on those days when I don’t have the opportunity to water this trough.

~

May 5, 2015 garden 002

~

The headliner is a pink Mulla Mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey,’ which will grow to 15″ in full sun.  This tender perennial (Zone 9) loves neutral to chalky soil with sharp drainage.  Beside the Mulla Mulla grows a very large leaved variety of culinary Sage.  Sage thrives in full sun and well drained, even rocky soil.

There is a very subdued palette of color in the pot this year, moderated by two fresh new Dusty Miller plants.  Only a recent fan of Dusty Miller, I like the lacy texture of their leaves and their ability to withstand drought and sun.  I expect texture and scale to make this planting interesting as the season unfolds.

~

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

~

The only concession to soft trailing flowers comes from the Lanai Twister Purple Improved Verbena draping over one end of the pot.  I hope it will spread to soften the entire top of the ‘pedestal.’

Finally, I added several clumps of the golden Sedum back into the pot since it obviously thrives here year round and makes a nice pop of chartreuse against the silvery foliage and lavender flowers.  The entire pot is mulched in fine, light colored pea gravel.

~

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset.  All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset. All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

~

The Creeping Jenny and remaining Sedum removed from the pot is already earmarked for use in a new bed I’m ready to construct tomorrow.  It will grow alongside Oxalis triangularis in the back garden.

This is my first experience growing Ptilotus exaltatus and the Lanai Twister hybrids of Verbena.  It is good to try new things each year, and the Mulla Mulla is known as a good flower for cutting and for drying.  I am looking forward to growing them on and seeing how these varieties grow together over the coming months.

~

I plant to "switch up" this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil.  The tiny plant on the far right is a "Kent's Beauty" Oregano which survived the winter.

I plant to “switch up” this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil. The tiny plant on the far right is a “Kent’s Beauty” Oregano, which survived the winter.  The bare stump is from the Brugmansia I tried to over-winter outside.

~

There are still lots of pots with actively growing Violas around the garden.  I’ll be moving them to shady spots this week as I continue re-planting containers for summer.  I purposely waited this long both to enjoy them, and to give time for some of the dormant plants in the same pots to awaken.  While patience is a virtue, at some point patience creeps into procrastination.

~

May 5, 2015 garden 012

~

I’ve collected several trays of new plants this week, and I’m ready to work with them over the next few days.  There are lots of geraniums this year, a fair lot of Salvias, a good assortment of fragrant Basils, a few more Dusty Miller plants, now a half-dozen large white Marigold plants I’ve been waiting for the Patton family to offer for sale at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  They grow the marigolds, and many other annuals, organically in their own greenhouse each spring. If one has patience to wait for them; healthier, more affordable plants simply cannot be found in this area.

Planting pots for the coming season, or switching up established pots, requires the vision, energy and creativity needed for all of the other art forms.  Like painting a canvas, all of the elements have to come together harmoniously.  But as in music, time is the essential element.  Only as plants grow and weave themselves together does the gardener’s vision materialize.

Whether it takes weeks or years, our gardens remain works in progress.

~

May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 728 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest