Getting the Hang of Watering Hanging Baskets

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Hanging baskets come with insanely small saucers: you simply can’t water your plants adequately using them! Source: beldenplastics.com

If there is one group of houseplants that is truly mistreated, it’s plants in hanging baskets. They almost always look like they’re about to croak … and indeed they are usually just barely hanging on to life. The problem is quite simple: they spend their lives drought stressed. While other plants get a thorough watering each time, enough to soak the entire root ball and keep them happy, hanging plants just get a perfunctory dribble and that leaves them in a sorry state.

And why is that? Well, while it’s true that plants hanging from the ceiling, being more exposed to air currents, tend to dry out more quickly than plants in pots set on a windowsill or table, that’s not the real problem. You can instead put all the blame on pot design.

Pot designers obviously have never tried growing plants in the hanging pots they produce. They’re inevitably sold with a tiny incorporated saucer that may look just great, but doesn’t do the job. They’re smaller in diameter than the pot and shallower than any legitimate plant saucer ought to be, yet their role is to catch excess water so it doesn’t end up dripping on the floor.

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Two very drought-stressed spider plants: a typical situation with hanging baskets. Source: jamesmissier.blogspot.com.

But since they’re small and shallow, holding almost no water, that leaves you, the gardener, in a quandary. If you add enough water to satisfy the plant, knowing that water often travels through the soil without really moistening it at first, there’ll be a mess to contend with, as much of it will simply pour out onto the floor. So, we tend to just add a quick splash of water and move on to the next plant, hoping for the best. And thus the poor hanging plant is in a constant state of drought!

Plunge and Soak

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To keep your hanging basket plants happy, soak them! Source: laidbackgardener.com

The only logical way to water these ridiculously designed pots is to carry them to the sink (or a bathtub) and soak them. Yes, let them sit in water up to their mid-height for 10, 20, 30 minutes or so and soak up the water they really need. Then you can lift the pot up, turn it to a 45-degree angle and let any excess water drain away. Only then can you hang the plant in its usual spot, knowing it got the water it needed, yet won’t drip onto the floor.

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You thought your asparagus fern was growing in soil? Think again! You’ll probably discover the pot almost take over by its tuberous roots! Source: www.plantsrescue.com

Some hanging plants so fill their pot with roots that soaking them is really the only way to go. I’m thinking of the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and the various asparagus ferns (Asparagus densiflorus, A. setaceus, etc.), both of which produce abundant, soil-compressing, tuberous roots. Water just flows right over them without sinking in … unless you soak them. If yours are not looking so great, try giving them a solid soak each time you water. Within two months, their appearance will have so improved you’ll scarcely recognize them!

What About Multiple Baskets?

Now, soaking’s fine if you only have one hanging pot to water, but what if you have dozens? Taking them one by one to the sink each time you water can become a bit tiresome. Yet if you don’t do it, they won’t be happy. So, here’s another solution.

Discovering the Drip Pan

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A clear plastic drip pan designed to hook onto hanging baskets. Source: cwplastics.com

A decade or so ago, I discovered a very handy product for watering hanging baskets: the drip pan.

The ones I see are made by Curtis Wagner Plastics and fit around the hanging basket, fixing on to it via 4 built-in hooks you simply clip over the basket lip. They’re transparent and come in sizes adapted to 8 in (20 cm), 10 in (25 cm) and 12 in (30 cm) baskets. I have them on all my hanging baskets now, at least indoors. Just take off the inefficient saucer and add the drip pan instead.

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With the drip pan installed, you can finally water as much as needed. Source: Amazon.com

Now, when I water my hanging baskets, I pour on the water abundantly, let the surplus drip down into the pan, then allow the plants soak. I find that if I leave about 1 to 1 ½ inches (2.5 to 4 cm) of water in the bottom, the plant will soak it up quickly, leaving the pan empty an hour later.

They’re transparent, but I won’t say they don’t look a bit awkward (they often do!) … and after a number of years (I’d say 5 or 6), they tend to yellow and stain, but even so, they still work. Mine just last and last! And now that my hanging plants are happy, so I’m happy!

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Ten-Pack of drip pans. Source: Amazon.com

Drip pans are usually sold 5 or 10 per pack. Some local garden centers carry them; if not, you can easily find them on Amazon or eBay.

I can no longer garden indoors without them!

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