Plastic will preserve hanging baskets
Hanging baskets made of brown moss in a black wire frame look very attractive and natural with plants mounding and trailing down over their edges. However, unless they are lined with plastic of some kind they will not hold moisture for the plants and will dry out quickly.
The purpose of the plastic bag is to hold the potting mixture and keep it from drying out. Any plastic bag will do as long as it is large enough to fill the brown moss liner. The plastic bag should extend an inch or so above the brown moss and wire frame so the potting mixture does not fall over the edges, and when you water the basket it does not run over the top and leave a trailing dirty mess. This is the height that you should cut the plastic bag. When you have fitted the bag to the moss liner, cut one small hole in the bottom of the plastic bag for drainage. The potting mixture should come to an inch below the top of the moss liner or wire frame. This will give you a couple inches of plastic that you can tuck down so that it can't be seen as you view the basket. However, if the plastic liner does show, it will soon be covered by the foliage of the plants.
The other important factor in making a hanging basket is the potting mixture. If you use garden dirt or commercial potting soil it will become compacted and hard and will not absorb water. When you water the basket, all the water will run down the sides and out the bottom. A good potting mixture is two parts peat moss, one part perlite or vermiculite, and one part potting soil. The peat moss and perlite are much lighter than soil, so the basket will not be so heavy. The peat moss absorbs water quickly and holds it so the roots of the plants have an opportunity to take in the moisture and nutrients. Perlite or vermiculite are also very light weight and aerate the soil to help keep the potting mixture from compacting. If you like you can mix a 10-10-10 fertilizer with the potting mixture. However if you fertilize each week with a half-strength fertilizer solution when you water the baskets, it is not necessary to add fertilizer to the potting mixture.
Time to tie up plants
If you have not already done so, now is the time to stake peonies, delphiniums, tall sedum, or any other plant that you know will topple with wind or rain. Rather than buying special flower ring stakes, use bamboo stakes, electric fence wire posts, or any post that is sturdy. Place a green twine or string near the top of the plant now, and in a couple weeks you will need to place an additional second twine for support, as the plant grows.
Options for peonies
If you desire large specimen flowers on your peonies, you may want to disbud your plants. You will produce a larger more perfectly shaped bloom by removing all the lateral flower buds and allowing only the main terminal bud on each stem to remain. Remove the lateral (side) buds by rolling them sideways when they are just large enough to distinguish. The earlier they are removed, the better the results. If you prefer your peony plant to appear as a mound of bloom, you may remove the terminal bud and allow all the lateral buds to develop and bloom. You will have many flowers, but individually they will be smaller in size. The earlier you remove the terminal bud, the larger the lateral flowers will be. The third option is to not disbud anything and let nature take it course. Whatever you choose, once your peonies have bloomed, make sure you deadhead the spent blossoms, so that the roots do not use energy to produce seed. Deadheading allows all the stem and leave energy to go back down into the roots for the winter and years ahead.
Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.