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Garden Docs: How to care for hanging planters over the winter

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DEDE Q. WRITES: I read your column religiously. How do I handle the perennial plants that are in hanging baskets? I have an investment of many hundreds of dollars in these baskets. Do I just leave them be until spring, or should I dig them out of the baskets, put them in gallons, care for them over the winter and replant them in spring in fresh soil? Here are some examples of the different perennials planted: fuchsias, tuberous begonias, Jacobs ladder, weeping hydrangea, euphorbia, million bells, lysmachias, sutera, Goldilocks, nemesia, helichrysum, gaura, cordyline, hypericum and heuchera.

Wow, you really have a variety of plants! Hopefully, you have selectively combined those plants in the same hanging basket with similar cultural requirements such as water, sun/shade exposure and frost tolerance.

Yes, it’s a challenge to keep a variety of plants looking good from season to season without replacing some and adding new specimens as needed. After spring and summer, by the end of fall, the soil in the baskets will be packed with roots, making it more difficult to maintain the appearance and health of the tightly planted specimens. Plants will dry out faster because of the root competition, requiring daily irrigation. Fertilizing on a set schedule is a must.

Fuchsias can remain in the same container for a few seasons with adequate pruning, watering and fertilizing. Begonias will look their best if removed, stored in a dry, dark place and replanted. They are susceptible to low temperatures, especially when left in exposed hanging baskets.

Overwintering may mean adding some seasonal color to baskets that include deciduous perennials such as hydrangeas and fuchsia. Heuchera, with its colorful foliage, can remain a standout. Colder weather may require covering the baskets with frost cloth for protection or relocating the baskets under eaves.

Now, to answer your question, I say remove healthy plants that are appearing a little shabby, repot them in gallons and, when the weather warms in the early spring, replant them in baskets filled with fresh soil. Hanging baskets replanted each season always display the best color and continue to be showpieces.

Here are some other tips for creating hanging baskets and keeping them healthy:

Use good-quality potting medium in containers 6 to 24 inches high to prevent soil from drying out. You also can line each basket with sphagnum moss to prevent the soil from drying out.

Position heavy containers before filling.

Soiless mixtures are excellent for bulbs. Most bulbs left in hanging baskets do not survive winter, so remove them and store in net bags indoors (except for tuberous begonias).

Baskets should be watered every other day to keep the growing medium damp. Some baskets may require daily water during windy and hot weather. Know your individual plant’s water requirements. Bulbs are watered sparingly until new growth appears.

Always combine plants with similar growing requirements for water, sun, shade exposures and fertilizer (acidic, all purpose or timed release).

When the first color shows, start feeding a liquid fertilizer every two weeks.

Baskets that have not been replanted, such as fuchsias, still need some moisture over the winter months. Check other baskets too; don’t allow them to dry out! Do not fertilize during dormant periods.

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BRIAN C. ASKS: What can you tell me about Anisodontea sp. Strybing Beauty? A neighbor of mine tells me it is the perfect plant for attracting bees.

Your neighbor is correct. It is the perfect plant for attracting bees, along with many others. It blooms consistently all year long with deep pink hollyhock-like flowers and fig-shaped leaves. The truly beautiful masses of blooms are covered with bees and butterflies.

The flowering shrub is very large, at least 6 feet by 6 feet. Under perfect conditions, it can be even taller. Anisodontea will take heavy pruning to help maintain a shorter stature. Just know that it does require room to grow and is attractive when positioned in the rear of the garden, where the bees will not be disturbed.

It does best in full sun. It’s happy with applications of low to moderate water and planted in soil that drains adequately. Side dress the base of the shrub with large amounts of compost, and no additional fertilizer is required.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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