I hope that you can help me with a gardening problem that bedeviled me last year. I bought a couple of fiber-lined hanging baskets of Angel Wing begonias last spring to hang near the back door. They looked really great for a several months and then started dropping leaves. The result was long stalks with a few flowers and leaves at the ends. I was careful about watering and fertilizing them regularly, but the water seemed to run right through the basket by the time we got to August. They did not get hot afternoon sun nor did I see insect damage on either of these plants. What do you think went wrong? Margie C., HHI
I believe the problem was caused by the container. The flowers in those containers may have been growing for several months before being delivered to retailers. In addition, growers will often put multiple plants in a container in order to create a fuller appearance, enhancing the marketability of the basket. Add a few months of strong growth, and decline can set in. The plant begins to starve because of the lack of available soil for root growth. Summer heat wicks moisture quickly from fiber-lined containers, and this adds more stress to plants which have already begun to falter. Water runs quickly through the fiber and the plants become dehydrated.
The best way to avoid this problem is to repot the flowers into a larger fiber-lined container when you get them home from the retailer. A 14” diameter basket is ideal for three or four Angel Wings. Turn the wire container upside-down onto a black plastic trash bag. Use a pair of scissors and cut the trash bag four inches larger than the perimeter of the basket’s outer edge. You now have two types of basket liners. Invert the basket shell and place it inside any flowerpot or other container large enough to keep the basket stable as you fill it with materials. Put the fiber liner inside the wire basket and the black plastic liner on top of the fiber. The latter will overlap the sides of the wire hanger by several inches. Add and firm appropriate amounts of soil to the new basket as you replant the Angel Wings. If you have a solid-looking root ball, be sure to make cuts into it in order to encourage roots to move into the new growing medium. Make single cuts about one half inch deep from top to bottom on each side and an ‘X’ cut across the bottom. Water to settle the soil and hang the planter in its designated spot. To permit drainage after watering, use your knife a second time and cut four slits about two inches long around the base of the basket. Make certain that you are cutting through the new black plastic liner. Leave about a two-inch overlap of black plastic around the perimeter of the metal edge at the top of the basket to allow for further settling of the plants and soil. Let a couple of weeks pass and trim the overlap until it is one inch above the rim. Fertilize every two weeks with a liquid feed and your hanging baskets will be spectacular through the fall and, perhaps, well into winter.
We had pink dwarf hibiscus in pots by the front door last year and they were beautiful. They have survived the winter and we were wondering if they would perform as well if we planted them somewhere in the yard. I want to buy red ones this year. Bridget and Donald R., Beaufort.
Hibiscus prefer six hours of sun a day and need regular watering in a soil which drains quickly. This plant also needs regular fertilizing (low in phosphorus) in order to bloom well. You can use a diluted liquid fertilizer every ten days or add a slow release fertilizer on a monthly basis. Once transferred to the open ground, your “dwarf” plants are likely to grow much taller. These are standard-size hibiscus plants that have been treated with plant-growth regulators. This treatment causes them to grow much smaller than normal. Eventually, the treatment will wear off (it generally lasts about one growing season), and the plants will begin to grow at their normal rate.
Frank Edgerton is a Hilton Head Island resident, garden consultant and plantsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.