Keeping Your Flowers Happy through the Heat of the Summer
So, you’ve adopted a collection of gorgeous flower baskets bursting with color and arranged them on your front porch. The neighbors are shooting you envious looks as they stroll by. Babies point in amazement; dogs strain at their leashes, aching to anoint your lovely floral arrangements.
Now, how do you keep those baskets and containers looking like April show-stoppers well into October? (You don’t want the neighbors smirking with schadenfreude at your crunchy brown baskets, do you?)
Here is a list of simple dos and don’ts for baskets/containers:
1. Choose the right plant for its intended location.
Place sun baskets in sunny spots, and be sure shade baskets get plenty of afternoon shade. Remember that few plants really love unrelenting afternoon Southern sunshine in August, but the most drought-tolerant ones may tolerate it.
2. Put like-minded plants together.
If you are planting your own container, never mix sun plants with shade lovers, no matter how beautiful they are together.
3. Water regularly and deeply.
Ideally, water about four or five times a week—the hotter the temperatures and the more direct the sunlight, the more water your baskets will need. Add water until it begins to drip from the bottom of the pots. Give plants the forefinger-in-the-soil test. Know your plants and their water requirements.
4. Monitor root growth.
Remember that roots constantly grow, so your baskets could become pot-bound. The best indication is that when you pick up the basket, it has relatively little weight. In this situation, it is a good idea to get a larger container for repotting. Add new soil to the bottom, tease the plants’ roots, and settle the plant(s) into the new home. Note: This is seldom necessary for most hanging baskets.
5. Fertilize every two weeks.
Watering leaches out nutrition in the soil, so replace it with a soluble plant fertilizer every two weeks. (Note: I use this only for pots, not the garden.) The fertilizer should be thoroughly dissolved at the recommended strength to avoid burning your plants. Use a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20, 14-14-14), but remember that the middle number is the bloom booster (15-30-15).
6. Check drainage.
If your plants seem to melt in spite of your watering/feeding regimen, check to make sure that the container is draining. If not, your babies are drowning and rotting from the roots up. Remove the drip tray, and use a sharp implement like an ink pen or sharpened pencil. Insert it in the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. If the pot isn’t draining, a dark, brackish water will flow out.
7. If a plant isn’t thriving, try something different.
Refresh your pots on occasion by removing fading plants and replacing them with new ones. Move your baskets or pots if they tend to be unhappy where they are.
Keep small shears nearby so that you can deadhead often. Remove spent blooms, but also remove branches that have already been denuded by previous deadheading. If the center of the pot looks beaten down, prune those looong stems. Prune a little at a time to prevent the necessity of drastic butchering. Yes, you will hate discarding beautiful blooms, but clench your teeth and do it. Be brutal.
While this regimen may seem onerous, I do not find it so. Daily plant care can be therapeutic, especially first thing in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. Pour yourself a cup of coffee at sunrise and see to your baskets! It’s my morning meditation.
Posted by Faye Green, retired Nashville English teacher, Shakespeare fan, and master gardener extraordinaire.
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