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The Bay Gardener
by Dr. Frank Gouin

Spring Arrives in a Basket: Part 3

Thirsty hanging baskets don’t need to empty a reservoir

Hanging baskets let you enjoy plants in the most unlikely places. The arrangements are easy to care for — during the first month or two after you purchase them. Then keeping the soil moist becomes a hydrological challenge. By mid-July, the plants have most likely doubled in size, and unless you water them at least twice daily, they begin to wilt. By mid-August, you’ll be watering them three times daily — if they have survived that long.

How often you must water hanging baskets depends on the rooting medium your plants are growing in. Most commercial greenhouses use a soil-less mix such as Pro Mix or Metro Mix to fill their pots. Since these soil-less mixes shrink rapidly, they lose their ability to retain water. Rooting media additives such as Super Slurp and Terrasorb — which manufacturers claim increase the water holding capacity of soil-less mixes — are not dependable after a two- to three-month period because they deteriorate.

Here’s a more effective way to irrigate less: Blend 10 percent, by volume, of sterile garden loam to the soil-less rooting medium of your hanging basket.

To do this and cut back your hanging basket’s irrigation needs this summer, remove the plants from the hanging basket as soon as you bring them home. Mix the remaining growing medium with about 10 percent by volume of sterile garden soil.

You can sterilize your own soils by placing the required amount of moist garden soil in a microwaveable container. Heat the soil in the microwave to 180 degrees. It takes approximately 10 to 12 minutes to sterilize a gallon of soil at full power. As soon as the soil cools, blend it with the remaining rooting medium and repot your plants in their baskets.

After you have replaced the plants, water well. A good rich garden soil will not only reduce your need to water frequently, but it will also improve the nutrient retention of the rooting medium.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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