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GARDENING

Water Worries Hanging Over Your Head?

March 08, 1997|From Associated Press

The mention of "hanging gardens of Babylon" brings up an image of lush greenery.

"Hanging basket plant" conjures up a similar image--a plant dripping from above, so luxuriant, so thick with leaves that even the basket itself is hidden. Pure plant, suspended in air.

The problem with growing hanging basket plants is maintaining that lushness. Lushness usually is the result of abundant water. Yet, hanging baskets are suspended near ceilings, where temperatures are warmer and leaves are so freely exposed to air that they dry out faster than plants at floor or windowsill level.

Maintaining that lushness is no problem with a plant growing in a greenhouse, where water can be sloshed into the pot daily, letting excess drip to the floor. But you can't let water drip all over your home.

Hanging planters are typically plastic baskets with saucer bottoms to catch excess water, but these saucers hold very little. So when you water, you must do so very slowly, adding just a little more than is needed to wet the soil but not so much as to overflow the saucer onto the floor below. Alternatively, carry the pot over to the kitchen sink and water it there.

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The ideal hanging basket would be a pot that was not too heavy and had a single drainage hole in its bottom. That drainage hole could be plugged with a cork. Then you could water the plant liberally with the drainage hole plugged. After waiting a few minutes for the soil to absorb water, you would pull out the cork, catch the water in a jar, then plug up the hole again. No drips.

This ideal pot does not exist, but another way to make watering hanging baskets easier is to grow plants that are not finicky about their watering needs.

Spider plants, for instance, have swollen roots that can store water. The plants do look a bit weedy. Asparagus ferns also survive periodic draught but have the bad habit of littering with their dried, needlelike leaves.

A burro's tail plant can go for months without water, although its pale leaves are hardly lush.

Ferns look wonderfully lush in hanging baskets, but most need constantly moist soil.

Exceptions are the "foot ferns"--rabbit's foot, squirrel's foot and deer's foot. No foot fern ever fills a basket with the mass of foliage that a Boston fern will, though.

There are two plants that are ideal for creating lush, easy-to-care-for plants for hanging baskets: wandering Jew and Tahitian bridal veil. Both these vines will trail leafy stems well below the bottoms of their pots. Both also will remain plump with water even in bone-dry soil, and even then appear lush because of the rich purple coloration in their leaves.

Determine if these plants need water by lifting the baskets. If they seem weightless, they need water.

Then go through the routine of carefully adding water, with a bowl in hand to catch excess that inevitably drips over the rim of the saucer.

The process is especially slow because water tends to run through cracks in bone-dry soil rather than soak in. But at least wandering Jew and Tahitian bridal veil are plants that need watering only infrequently.

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