The hanging basket portion of the market continues to expand, and the trend seems to be to complex mixed arrangements of flowering and foliage plants, similar to the expansion of the market for 14-inch and larger patio containers. Mono-culture containers still remain popular, but larger pot sizes and a preference for lifestyle purchasing are demanding that responsive retailers and growers learn how to put together mixed containers and hanging baskets that are both high quality and artistic. This market can be the cornerstone of a strong independent retail program or a high profit local market if it is done right.
Complex mixes of plants and larger hanging basket sizes put local producers at a definite advantage because they have less concern with shipability of the plants in the mix and don’t have the freight charges that a larger producer would have to incorporate for long-distance delivery.
Growing hanging baskets can actually be a bit easier than succeeding on the bench for many growers. Early season is traditionally a lower light time of the year, but hanging baskets are usually getting the best light available in the upper levels of the greenhouse. However, it is easy to lose track of the condition of these plants because they are not directly in your line of sight like crops on the bench.
Watering, high-intensity light levels and temperature management are keys to success of basket hanging in the greenhouse throughout the season. The upper reaches of your greenhouse are at much different temperatures from plants on the bench. You need to keep a good eye on ventilation and upper temperatures to avoid cooking your hanging baskets.
Succeed With Hanging Baskets
You can succeed with a hanging basket program both by being a good grower and by using the information out there to help in the design and planning stages of putting together your orders. Almost every major supplier is now offering recipes for mixed containers; you don’t have to be an artist anymore. You can use the information provided by suppliers to put your designs together. A quick conversation with your supplier can also help refine the designs for early-, mid- and late-season crops. So, in general, you already have the tools you need to succeed in the information department.
The main consideration with plant material is matching vigor of the plants you use. Work with your salesperson or supplier to make sure your recipes consist of plants that “play nice” together. As an example, ornamental sweet potato will make short work of most slow-growing crops in a mixed basket. Once it overgrows its companions, they rarely see the light of day again. Learn to match the vigor of the plants. In some cases, you can do this with the first pinch before your baskets start to grow out.
Focus on how you grow and how you manage crops. In the end, this is what will really determine the quality of crop you grow. Here are some simple “do’s and don’ts” to help you increase your chances of success, but don’t forget to keep records of what works and what doesn’t work for you. You’ll want to have a list of successful and fast-selling combinations, as well as a list of the losers so you don’t repeat any mistakes next year.
1. DO start with a good, well-drained mix and keep a close eye on pH and EC levels as you move through the crop. Selecting a good media for your containers is essential for a good crop. Also, heavier mixes tend to make it harder to get good root development early in the season, as well as make transporting the plants more difficult and expensive when the crop finishes.
2. DO start the crop as warm as possible to get a good root system established quickly. The average hanging basket contains a lot of media. In early season, if this soil mass becomes chilled, it will limit root development and affect later growth. Shoot for day temperatures of day 68ËšF to 72ËšF and night temperatures of 65ËšF to 68ËšF. If you are trying to run a cooler greenhouse, see if you can provide under-bench heat so the soil remains warm enough for good root development.
3. DO apply ethephon to any crops such as petunia, calibrachoa or verbena once liners are rooted in. This will help avoid flowering too early and also increase branching and speed a uniform fill-in of the basket.
4. DO pinch all plants as you move them to hanging positions. This will also help increase branching and give the grower a last chance to knock extremely vigorous cultivars back a bit and let slower-growing types have a few more weeks of light to balance out development in the basket.
5. DO apply systemic insecticides, such as imidacloprid, when you move planted baskets from bench to hanging positions. Once the baskets are hanging, it is much harder to monitor insect issues. Scout for pests regularly. Things happen fast in the upper reaches of the greenhouse. Do not be caught by surprise.
6. DO use slow-release fertilizers, as well, when you hang baskets for production. The slow-release fertilizer helps account for increased growth at the higher light and temperature the plants will be under once hung. It also gives you a little bit of a buffer in case there are problems with pH or EC later in the crop.
7. DO apply a drench of plant growth regulators, such as paclobutrazol, when baskets of very vigorous plants (vegetative petunia, verbena and calibrachoa) reach about three-quarters their finished size. This not only tones the plants in the container, but also makes it easier to manage scheduling of deliveries without plants overgrowing their containers and becoming difficult to ship.
8. DO try to finish all your hanging baskets under cool temperature conditions. This helps with toning the baskets, but also sharpens up the colors of all the plant materials. The key is to start the plants warm for good root development but then grow them cool, as it gives you more flexibility in timing and less risk of disease and insect problems.
9. DON’T assume all plants like the same temperatures. Work with your supplier to make sure you are growing cool preference plants in the early season and shifting to warm preference crops as the season goes on.
10. DON’T forget that you usually have less control of temperatures in the upper portions of the greenhouse. They are going to be hotter during the day and stay warmer during the night. This means you can expect to see more stretch on these plants, and they may need more plant growth regulators as a result.
11. DON’T overfeed, especially crops that are sensitive to fertility levels like New Guinea impatiens. You want to provide the right amount of fertilizer, but more is rarely better once you get beyond what is required. Too much fertilizer increases stretch, encourages baskets to become overgrown and can also weaken plants and make them more susceptible to insects and disease. It is also money wasted in the long run.
12. DON’T forget the importance of air movement. Hanging baskets need good air circulation. It helps in every aspect of plant growth, prevents disease issues and helps equalize relative humidity levels within the greenhouse. The closer you grow your plants, the more you need to focus on making sure you provide good air circulation. What you spend on fans you will save on chemicals, hand labor cutting plants back and overall frustration.