by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
A hanging basket of petunias is sure to reward you with a bounty of colorful blooms all summer, that is, if you take care of it properly.
Watering and fertilizing is critical when it comes to caring for petunias in a hanging basket. Keep in mind that a basket is limited to how much soil and roots it can hold and this soil is where the roots obtain the plants food and water.
One of the most asked questions is how often to water. The answer is simple: water when the top inch of the soil feels dry when you stick your finger in it. Hanging petunia plants will most likely need to be watered daily during the summer, and maybe even twice, when the weather is extremely hot and/or there is a strong wind. Water well enough that the excess water will drip out of the drain hole. Never allow the soil to remain continually wet. Your petunia roots are likely to rot in in such a soggy condition. If it is possible, water the soil, not the leaves. Wet leaves can lead to fungal infection.
Feed petunias every week using a water soluble fertilizer for flowering annuals. Petunias are heavy feeders because they grow at a fast rate and produce many blooms. I like to use a diluted fertilizer solution every day since I water my basket until the water drips out the drain hole. Because I water this way, I am not flushing nutrients out as I would be if I used plain water.
Adequate sun is an important requirement for successfully growing petunias. They need at least five to six hours of sunlight, but they will perform even better if they are located in full sunlight all day long. The more shade they are in, the less blooms they will produce. If your basket is hanging under a porch eve, be sure to rotate your basket of flowers every week so the dark side can get some sun.
Remove wilted flowers as soon as they fade, otherwise the plant will go to seed and stop blooming early. Besides that, the plant will just look much nicer.
Can you prune your petunia? Yes you can. Petunias produce blooms at the tip of each branch. Since branches continually get longer, as summer progresses they have more and more flowerless greenery. You need to provide them new tips where more flowers can grow. Cut back each stem by about one-third to one-half when they start looking scraggly and tired in midsummer. This will rejuvenate them and you will soon see a burst of new blooms.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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