Hanging baskets and containers, such as these beauties seen at the Agnew Grocery and Feed Store, add such charm to any home or business. (Andrew May/For Peninsula Daily News)

Hanging baskets and containers, such as these beauties seen at the Agnew Grocery and Feed Store, add such charm to any home or business. (Andrew May/For Peninsula Daily News)

A GROWING CONCERN: A task list for your baskets

IT’S MOTHER’S DAY, so let’s talk about an ideal gift for any mom — the bounty of the basket!

We have all seen them by now, hanging around town at people’s homes and businesses. Out there on lamp posts and doorways, hanging in trees and porches, adorning doorways and entrances.

They’re gorgeous!

We need to start by having one (two or three are perfectly acceptable) at your place.

Now, I’ve harped about the importance of these beauties, and their cousin the flower box, and how you as an individual can add to the overall aesthetic value of the Peninsula by owning a few.

So let’s make a deal — I’ll get off the subject (for this year), not to write again on the importance of these items. You folks will go out and get a couple flowering containers this week, which by the way is prime time at all the local plant vendors. And I will finish this column writing on the tips and techniques to ensure beauty until October.

Not only that, but as a bonus, I will include the three things that kill 95 percent of all baskets, along with the remedies.

Do we have a deal here?

The beauty of the basket really is in the form and presentation.

Notice them, look for them as you drive around. See how a basket is more than a container of flowers.

There is something in the form, suspended and flowing in the breeze, that beckons to the artistic nature of humans.

It is the combination of color, texture, pendulous display, free flowing in space that gives these items their intrinsic value. It is this reason I implore you to own at least one, please.

Forget your fears. But I do realize that for many, the experience of having containerized plants has been less than enjoyable.

Many folks struggle to keep them in perfect condition. Fear not!

The reasons baskets and boxes die are all related to one phenomenon — water. Well, actually it is all related to the lack of water, so rule No. 1, and the only one that truly matters, is water every day.

If it is raining now, water anyway! Rain rarely, if ever, waters a basket enough.

Baskets also tend to be hung in areas that deflect the rain or are covered completely from rainfall.

Baskets drain well, very well, so even watering two or three times a day could not cause over-watering problems. The key is to flood these babies everyday.

So let’s go over the three reasons baskets die: lack of water, lack of water, lack of water.

Realize that it is the wind and air movement that tend to dry out containers more than the sun.

Then realize that when soil becomes very dry, it shrinks. Dry soil actually contracts and forms an air space between the pot and the shrunken soil ball.

This air gap is the No. 1 reason why baskets die.

If the plant gets dry, the homeowner comes along and waters. Everyone knows that you water until it drains out the bottom. But if an air gap has been formed at the outside edge, water flows freely to the edge, down the side and out the bottom. Even flowing fast out of the bottom of the pot, the plant has received little if any moisture.

The air gap becomes even larger, water tomorrow and it flows out the bottom faster, and we start a march to death.

Keep soaking containers. So, if your containers appear dry, soak them numerous times.

Even take them down and place them in a container of water for an hour to absorb thoroughly the moisture, then re-hang and soak daily — even in the rain.

The No. 2 reason baskets do poorly is the weekend absence.

You have to love your neighbors, friends and family, but you also have to realize the daily watering agreement is seldom fulfilled.

If you are leaving for a few days (even a day and a half), remove your baskets and pots, soak the heck out of them, group them together on the ground out of the wind, under a tree or bush in the shade.

This trick alone will now allow a soaked basket to survive for 2 or 3 days in perfect condition.

These few days are usually the amount of time someone needs to realize they are supposed to be watering your plants. With this trick, all is well.

And finally, reason No. 3 baskets do poorly is that vast amounts of water leak out the nutrients in the soil, leaving many concentrated roots with little fertilizer to feed such vigorous foliage and flower.

Here the solution is simple also.

To begin with, foliar feed your containers weekly. Send it through the hose, or better yet mix up a gallon in a can and pour generously over the plant once a week.

Then every 5 to 6 weeks get a good fertilizer and add a teaspoon to the soil. Let me stress teaspoon — too much fertilizer is a poison.

With this, stand back and perform the last task every week or two — pinch and deadhead.

With all that water and fertilizer, your plant is growing like a weed. It is trying to get noticed by every camera in a hundred yard radius, so keep it trimmed.

Removing dead flowers keeps the tips lush and vegetative, producing more and more blooms.

No fungal problems. Removing dead flowers also eliminates 95 percent of all potential fungal problems in your basket.

That’s it — the last time I’ll bug you.

Buy a basket, water daily, move to ground level and shade when gone, pinch deadhead and fertilize, then take credit for helping in a huge way to beautify the Peninsula.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone and please … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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