You've just purchased a beautiful hanging basket or planter. Here's how to make sure that it continues to look beautiful for the entire season.

In a modern world of instant gratification, there surfaces this misconception with plants that purchasing something beautiful now will continue to be the same forever without a care in the world. Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth. Growers like ourselves pride ourselves on growing lovely planters and baskets and the level of detail and care we put into creating such a plant is often grossly underrated. Plants, like all living things, need the proper conditions to survive and continue to need our care to thrive.

Luckily, the hardest part which is dealing with the young and baby plants is already completely and you, more than likely, have more mature grown planter and basket in your care. These older plants become much more resilient and tolerant making them far easier to care for than the small seedlings they start out as. Being in a basket or planter means they are in a contained growing environment that still needs more attention to plants in the ground that get good and moisture from the Earth.

The first step is selecting the correct location for your planter or basket. Generally speaking sun loving plants really want to have six or more hours of direct sunlight. More shade tolerant plants fall under six hours of direct sunlight which includes filtered light from trees, or bright areas without the direct sun. Many sun planters and baskets can tolerate some shade in the morning, but prefer a number of hours of that hot direct afternoon sun. Plants that really need shade should never get that hot afternoon. Luckily, most modern planters and baskets are made up of combinations that tolerate part shade and can lean to various degrees of sun and shade in there and only a few, like Fuchsias, cannot tolerate that hot afternoon sun. Even planters and baskets that do prefer more shade can often be in more sun if you give them enough moisture.

Once you have the location down-pat, let's move on to watering. Watering is the single aspect a plant parent has the most control over and is also the most critical. It's also the most difficult to master. In a planter or basket, there's no natural buffer to stabilize the water like the huge mass of Earth in the ground. High vigour plants in hot and windy locations can dry out very quickly and need water multiple times a day, while a collection in the same planter in deep shade could need water only once or twice a week. Mother Nature never rains on a schedule so you can't just water on a schedule. The best thing to do is stick your finger in the pot, down at least 1-2", and feel the moisture. If it's wet, don't water it. If it's dry, water it. The longer you care for your plants the more you will learn how wet and how dry to make it as plants remain happy. The best roots grow on plants that have wet-dry cycles, but care needs to be taken not to hit either extreme. Needless to say, plants shouldn't be allowed to get so dry they wilt, but sitting in water will also cause problems. The worst condition for a plant is to allow it completely dry to the point it wilts, and then try to recover it with LOTS of water by drowning it. Even the most resilient plants can succumb to such an extreme. When you do water, make sure the entire soil mass gets moist. In the greenhouse, we water our planters in baskets in cycles giving them water bit by bit with a few minutes between to allow the water to spread in the soil since too much all at once can just run out the bottom. I suggest checking your plants for water at least twice a day, every day to get your "plant synergy" going.

We can't survive on water alone in our lives and neither can plants. Especially when in a self-contained pot, plants can run out of food and nutrients quite quickly. You need to be the one to feed your plants to keep them happy and healthy all summer. There are a number of ways to feed your plants from slow-release type fertilizer to a high dose of water soluble food once every week or two. To be sure your plant is happy, the primary rule is not to give your plant a lot of food when it's really dry (mind you, it should never get really dry, right?). Always be sure the soil is moist before giving it some food. In the greenhouse, we prefer to keep a small amount of water-soluble fertilizer in the water all the time so they get continuous food at a low dose rather than a larger dose on a schedule. It's easier on the plant and harder to forget when you fed your plant last. You can usually take the package directions and divide the rate by about 10 to create your own low dose of food. If you notice the leaves getting pale, it most often means the plant is hungry and needs an extra little boost.

There's one other optional step you may want to take during the season. Sometimes one plant is happier than others and starts to grow more vigorously. Eventually it can take over the entire planter. Giving those plants a light trim will help keep things under control and let the others catch up. The same holds true if one plant starts to get long and skinny without branching - give it a trim and that will stimulate it to branch out and get bushier. Just be sure that you always leave some green on the plant you cut back so it has something to recover from. Remember too that giving a planter or basket a hard mid-season trim to flush it will often reduce the water it uses which is why the finger test is of utmost importance.

With those tips, your planter and basket will be beautiful all season.