Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson Seed and Garden

We all love to have beautiful hanging baskets and planters decorating our homes and businesses. The color and variety they provide during the summer enhances the exterior of whatever structure you decide to beautify (shepherd’s hook, trellis, garage, house, storefront, etc.). Everything starts to get a little bit tricky when the heat of summer kicks in, you have to water them every day and, no matter what you do, it seems like they just up and die around the first of July.

With a few tricks and a little persistence, you can keep hanging baskets and planters looking amazing all summer and even into fall.

The biggest mistake gardeners make with their hanging baskets is with water. Usually we will give them a drink every day, but how effective is that water? In many cases, we give them water until the excess starts to flow out the bottom of the basket or planter. Unfortunately, if the soil has desiccated because of the heat, it pulls away from the sides of the container, and when we add water, it finds the path of least resistance: the gap between the pot and the soil, and almost immediately runs out the bottom of the pot. I suggest using a water-holding surfactant, like Hydretain or Aqueduct once a month, and thoroughly saturating the soil with it multiple times in an hour or so, until you are convinced that the soil is completely moist. These types of products attract water to the center (where it is hardest to hydrate) and hold moisture there for the plants to absorb. Every time you water it pulls that moisture deeper into the soil so it can maintain it longer, allowing the plants to better withstand the heat of the day.

The second mistake we make is thinking that, since we fertilized the plants when we planted them, they have plenty of nutrients to thrive all summer. Every time you water hanging baskets or planters (which is every day during the hot part of the summer), it leaches and washes most — or all — of the fertilizer and nutrients in the container out the bottom. Of course, some types of fertilizers last longer than others, but in most cases, the liquid or watersoluble fertilizers that work best on flowers have a short lifespan.

The real key to success is to fertilize frequently and consistently: a minimum of two times a week, and, in some cases, a little fertilizer every day is what keeps them looking great all summer. Use a balanced fertilizer to get plants to cascade and grow (like a 20-20-20), and a high phosphorus fertilizer to keep them blooming (like a 9-58- 8 blend). I highly recommend a dose of compost tea every week or two to keep the natural microbes and micro-organisms alive and thriving in the soil; they free up nutrients, energize soil and make plants perform miracles.

Avoiding these common mistakes will help you maintain your flowers, vegetables and whatever else you decide to grow in pots or hanging baskets better than you ever imagined.

Truly, the keys to success with planters are effective watering and maintaining a constant flow of nutrients for the plants to feed. Without this, plants will struggle and you’ll end up throwing them.