Pots in the Garden, Part Two: Tips for Maintaining Hanging Flower Baskets…

July 27th, 2012 § 3

A Tumbling Cascade of Grape & Cherry Hues: Hanging Basket by Walker Farm

Ah, the seductive power of summertime annuals! With all of the lush foliage, boldly colored flowers and twisting, trailing vines tumbling from covered porches, it’s hard to deny the romance of flowering baskets. And now that we are in late July, those container-grown annuals should be at their vibrant best. But this has been a tough growing season in North America, with long dry spells and scorching heat testing a gardener’s skill and stamina. How are those annual containers looking these days? Things seem a little worse for the wear?

More than any other type of plant, basket-grown annuals truly rely upon the gardener for life-sustaining water and nutrients; and during the hottest part of summer, they are particularly demanding. Left untended during a week-long vacation, a lush hanging basket will quickly shrivel to a crispy, brown mass. But even when hanging baskets are regularly and properly watered, unless they are given regular TLC, they can begin to look a bit straggly by late July; losing some of their early season pizazz. So how does a gardener keep those baskets beautiful all season long? Follow the checklist below for a few helpful tips…

Baskets of Promise: Colorful, Trailing Annuals on Display at Walker Farm

1) Water, water, water: In summer, it’s usually necessary to water hanging baskets daily; particularly when rain is scarce or when pots are hanging beneath covered porches. During hot spells, sometimes plants will need water twice a day. The ideal time to water plants is in early morning. Check moisture levels in the center of the plant and around the side of the container. I like to use a hose with a wand attachment for watering; positioning the rose at soil level in order to avoid wetting foliage. Dry foliage is less susceptible to fungal infection. I use a two-step approach to watering baskets; soaking the pot until water drains from the base —waiting a few minutes— and then soaking again.

2) Assure good drainage: As the season progresses, annuals have a tendency to form dense root balls. Sometimes, root balls become so congested, that water can no longer penetrate and instead rolls off the top of the basket. Last year during her seminar on container gardening at Walker Farm, my friend Daisy shared a great tip for solving this problem. Using a simple wooden dowel or skewer, push down through the root ball in several places to allow the free passage of water. It’s amazing how well this works to revitalize a hanging plant!

To Keep Annual Baskets Flowering All Season Long, It’s Necessary to Fertilize Every 7-10 Days

3) Feed me Seymour: During the growing season, it’s important to fertilize plants once a week.  I like to feed annual plants with a water-soluble plant food, in the early morning, before the heat of the day. I water the basket first, and then water again with the fertilizer-mixture. In addition, I find that a once-monthly application of Epsom Salts solution (see recipe below) makes for a particularly enthusiastic floral display.

4) Right Plant, Right Place: Hanging basket not blooming? Most annuals require full sun to produce flowers, but of course there are some exceptions to this rule. Most fuchsia and begonia plants prefer partial shade, but lobelia and petunias demand full sun. When selecting a hanging basket, it’s best to make a note of how much light the chosen spot will receive, in order to select the right plant for the location. Check the plant’s tag if you are unsure of the species you are growing, and if care instructions aren’t given, Google that plant to find out what it needs!

5) A snip, snip here & a snip, snip there: Pruning and deadheading hanging baskets can do wonders for improving their mid-season appearance. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears (a rag soaked with rubbing alcohol works well for cleaning garden tools) and cut away any straggly vines, withered, broken or dead stems and spent flowers. Some annual plants will actually go to seed and stop flowering if they aren’t deadheaded, so I like to pinch off withered blossoms daily, just below the pod.

6) Emergency Rx: Even the best gardeners sometimes forget their plants. Unplanned absence from home? Bring your withered basket indoors and set it in a tub of tepid water; letting it soak until it begins to revive. Drain water and bring the plant back outdoors to a shady spot while it continues to recover.

By Mid-Summer, Dense Root Systems and Shallow Containers Make for a Thirsty Basket. Loosen Dense Roots by Pushing a Dowel Through the Plant in Several Places; Allowing Water to Pass Through, Rather than Roll Off the Top of the Basket

Epsom Salts Super-Flower Solution

1/2 cup Epsom Salts

1 Gallon Sun-Warmed Water

Fill a gallon sized watering can with tepid water (or warm a can of water in the sun) and mix in 1/2 cup of Epsom Salts until dissolved. After watering as usual for the first round, return to each basket with the Epsom Salt solution. Avoiding the foliage, pour about a half a quart of solution into each hanging basket. Repeat monthly throughout the growing season.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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A Visual Feast: Beautiful, Edible Flowers

May 23rd, 2011 § 1

Pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) are lovely atop cakes, in salads and especially when floating in cocktails…

Or Cocktails, Like this Sunset Mangotini (click here for recipe)

(Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix Purple’)

Candied rose petals, lavender ice cream, hibiscus tea, chocolate cupcakes laced with violets; some flowers are more than a visual feast, they’re actually good enough to eat. It’s fun to decorate food with colorful blossoms, and it always feels a bit naughty too —eating something so pretty— when I pull the tiny flowers off a slice of cake and gobble them down. “Don’t eat the daisies“, they say… But that’s part of the fun, now isn’t it?

I grow flowers in my potager for a wide variety of reasons —to support pollinators, provide fresh bouquets for the table, and add beauty to the vegetable patch— but one of the best reasons to grow flowers in the kitchen garden, is to eat them! I enjoy spicy nasturtium and chive blossoms in salads, scarlet runner bean and rosemary flowers in soup, and many other blooming beauties as both ingredient and garnish to dishes from spring to fall…

Bright Orange Calendula Brightens this Garlic Scape Pesto (click here for recipe)

Nasturtiums Add Bold Color and Spicy Flavor to Salads

Fresh From the Potager: Nasturtium, Lettuce and Radishes Make a Colorful Salad with Zing

Never tried eating a flower? Think again. Broccoli and cauliflower are two of the most popular edible buds! Some other, commonly consumed edible flowers include nasturtium, dandelion, violets and pansies, geranium (Pelargonium spp), daylily, squash blossoms, calendula, chamomile, lavender, chive, mint, sage blossoms and of course rose petals. But many other flowers can be grown and used in a wide variety of dishes. Try citrusy bee balm (Monarda didyma), fruity red bud (Cercis canadensis) and apple blossoms, spicy anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), fresh red clover and scarlet runner beans.

Thinking of adding a row of potager posies to your backyard garden? If you’ve never grown edible flowers before, I’d recommend stopping at an organic nursery or farm stand in your area to shop for plants. Do a bit of research before you collect your six packs and ask a knowledgable staff member at your local garden center for a bit of guidance. Two of my favorite edible flower gardening resources in print —by Cathy Wilkinson Barash and Rosalind Creasy— are listed below. Both books contain great cultural and culinary information; including recipes and tips for storage!

Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash

The Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

And although it should be common sense, I must emphasize that not all blossoms and buds should be consumed. In fact, some flowers —and many berries, leaves, roots and sometimes entire plants— are quite toxic. So, never eat a flower or any plant unless you can positively identify —with 100% certainty— that it’s safe for human consumption. If you have very small children frequenting your garden, or as members of your family or household, never grow anything toxic in your potager. In fact, I recommend  that all gardening adults keep a copy of the Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants in an easy to locate place. If you are growing your own food, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with both edible and inedible plants, and it’s never wise to grow anything poisonous around small children.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Don’t Break My Heart: A Love Story Written in Old Fashioned Flowers…

February 13th, 2010 § 3

Sweet Peas, from Johnny’s Seeds

One fine day in early spring, a ravishing young lady named Poppy was out tending her flowers when, without warning, a smooth-talking fella named Sweet William appeared at the garden gate. Poppy was immediately smitten, and she leaned toward him as he drew nearer the fence. He was charming and handsome, and as he approached, Poppy detected an old-spicy scent, reminiscent of clove. Oh my – but he was flirtatious – and before Poppy knew what was happening, Cupid’s Dart struck her heart. Both of their cheeks flushed; hers crimson red and his Cupid Pink. Sweet Peas they soon were…

Crimson Poppies, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Sweet William Seed, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid’s Dart, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid Pink Sweet Pea, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Love-in-a-Mist filled the air, and Poppy began to swoon. Before she knew quite what she was doing, she whispered Kiss-me-over-the-Garden-Gate into her lover’s ear. Sweet William was more than willing, and he smiled mischeviously , tossing his Bachelor Buttons to the ground….

Love-in-a-Mist, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Blue Boy, Bachelor Buttons, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And so Poppy and Sweet William spent many hot summer days, intertwined in the Exotic Love Vine, with the birds and the bees. It was a heady affair, filled with dew-kissing and silky petals. They swore their summer love would never end. Poppy dropped her guard, and soon she confessed to Sweet William that she was dreaming of White Bishop’s Lace and Cathedral Bells…

Exotic Love Vine, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

White Bishop’s Lace, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Cathedral Bells, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

But as some summer love stories go, autumn neared, and Sweet William began to fade away. (Well, OK, it’s also possible that he just wasn’t that into her, and that maybe he did run off with a certain Painted Lady – but I won’t tell if you won’t).

“Oh, my Sweet William, I know you must go”, Poppy sniffed. “But please, please promise to Forget-Me-Not“. And as the bright color faded from her cheeks, Sweet William disappeared. Poppy grew pale, and shadows appeared on the horizon. Poor Poppy - sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we plan, and our Love-Lies-Bleeding on the ground…

Painted Lady, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Forget-Me-Not, from Johnny’s Seeds

Love-Lies-Bleeding, from Johnny’s Seeds

The months of late fall soon arrived, with Poppy all alone in the withering garden. But by the holidays, Poppy realized she wouldn’t be alone for long. Come spring there was a new arrival in the garden, and Poppy found, much to her great joy, that the warmth of her delicate new Baby’s Breath made up for her heartbreak all around…

Baby’s Breath, from Baker Creek Seeds

HAPPY  VALENTINE’S  DAY    XO    MICHAELA

** All names in this story have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent** ***Please spread your seed responsibly***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All images here come via the respective links. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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