It’s time to wake up your hanging-basket plants that have been hibernating

For the first time in ages, many gardeners were not able to commercially store their hanging baskets last fall. As a result, there are plenty of last year’s baskets that ended up in garages, crawl spaces and other cool locations to winter over. An equal number of baskets were probably left to die, leaving an empty container or three. What to do this year to have baskets?

Well, let’s start with the baskets that are being stored. Now is the time to take them out of storage and check to make sure their resident plants are still viable. Basically, we are talking fuchsia and tuberous begonias, though roses and pelargoniums may also be the centerpiece in these baskets.

Are your plants alive? To tell if a fuchsia or pelargonium is a live, scratch a tiny bit of the bark off a limb to see if it is “green” underneath. Start at the very top of a branch and work your way down until you confirm that the plant is still alive or that it died over the winter. Trim live fuchsia back, making a six- to eight-inch pyramid of each. Pelargoniums should be shaped to evenly fit the container.

Next, check tuberous begonias. Again, a small scratch on the side will help, but unless you really had a lot of heat in the storage area, yours should still be alive. New growth appears inside the concave portion of the tuber where you will see tiny pink stems starting. To get these to grow, give yours some water and place the basket or lifted tuber into light. It can take a couple of weeks if you don’t see growth already. Let the stems grow. You can prick out all but one if you want a single begonia stem.

Pelargoniums stored in paper bags also need to be checked and potted up if alive. Take the plants out of their bags and again scratch down from the top until you find green growth. Cut back the dead material, pot in good potting soil and shape the plants.

Rhodochiton, aka the Alaska Fair plant, should also be scratched a la fuchsias. Be careful, as these have very small-diameter stems. You should also be able to find seeds in spent flowers. These can be started now to grow new plants, but you really need to do so under lights.

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Listen to the ‘Teaming with Microbes’ podcast with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White:

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You can always buy new baskets this spring if you lost any of your plants. A much cheaper and easy option is to build new baskets. Now is the time to do so as plants are available. It will take six weeks to get yours into decent, blooming shape. Buy plants and grow them under lights. If you make a basket, put it under lights, too, unless you delay and start after April 1 and skip the lights.

The general rule is that baskets should hold four plants. The main plant would be fuchsia, begonia or pelargonium. This would be supplemented with lobelia, hanging petunias or other trailing plants. Of course, you can use any annuals you want to make baskets and use more than four. Yours don’t have to look just like everyone else’s. Maybe there is a silver lining in not being able to winter over baskets in nursery greenhouses.

Jeff’s Alaskan Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference: The conference is March 23 and March 24 on the second floor of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. This is an important conference for Alaskan gardeners, a veritable must-attend event. Registration required.

Corms to start: Gladiola

Vegetables to start: Leeks and celery

Flowers to start: Hollyhocks, rhodochiton, fibrous begonias, snapdragons, carnations verbena, malva, dusty miller, petunia, lavatera, linaria, pansies, violets and pelargoniums

Herbs to start: Thyme, oregano

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.