2012-07-19 / News

The Island Garden

Do your potted plants hate summer?
BY ROGER MARSHALL

You spent a ton of money buying new hanging baskets and have them all around your house. Yesterday it rained and they looked fine. Today, it is sunny and every plant has drooped. You rush out with a watering can and soak the baskets but the plants do not recover until it gets dark and the sun’s heat has gone from the day. In the morning they look fine when you go off to work, but when you come home they are droopy again.

Well, you are learning that high numbers of plants in small amounts of soil quickly dry out. The hotter the day, the faster they dry. So by the time you get home the plants have been dry for half of the day – their leaves have shriveled to conserve what little moisture they do have.

If you are not going to be a slave to the watering can or hose, you need to begin by planning your hanging baskets carefully. So let’s go back to the beginning of the season and look at what should have been done.

First, the hanging basket material. Black, green or white plastic is the usual material. That’s fine except that it degrades under UV light and the plastic ties that hold the basket to the hook break. However, plastic has the advantage that the small reservoir in the bottom can hold water. It might not be more than half a cupful, but it is often enough to help the plant survive each day. Frankly, I’m not a fan of plastic even though it has advantages. To me it just looks tacky.

You can also buy a sphagnum peat moss basket. These are usually more expensive and may be wrapped with fine fishing line to deter the wrens from stealing all the moss. They’ll do it anyway and you end up with fishing line pennants hanging from your flower basket. Peat moss is also one of those resources that we should be conserving, but it is being harvested with ever increasing speed.

A better basket from a resource depletion angle is made of coconut coir. These can be purchased for a few dollars, do not need to be wrapped with fish line, and do not fall apart very fast. These are my choice of liner. After installing the liner in the bottom of your wire cage, put a foil pie plate – like those you get when you buy a graham cracker crust – in the bottom. This will be your water reservoir for the summer.

The next step is potting soil. But before you put your potting soil in the basket, mix in some water gel. There are several manufacturers and Jamestown Hardware and Secret Garden generally both carry it. The gel holds water when you water your plants and releases it slowly to keep the basket moist. (Do not put the soil mix containing water gel in your garden at the end of the season.) Now fill your baskets and plant up your plants. During the heat of summer you will only have to water every morning instead of twice or three times a day.

Remember to deadhead your flowers and fertilize with a high potash fertilizer to promote flowers rather than green growth. Check the hanging baskets regularly for bird nests. I’ve had wrens, mourning doves and robins nesting in my hanging baskets, plus wrens and chickadees have stolen much of the peat moss to line their nests with.

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