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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

I have a special attraction to cupheas. They are not readily available in my area of South Carolina so I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 leftovers at a big home improvement center garden shop. One is lavender and one is red. Both came in hanging baskets. They weren’t home long before the lavender (Cuphea vienco Lavender) had wilted.

I imagine many of you have brought home some beautiful hanging baskets only to have them wilt more than once a day. Within a few days they are looking very tired, and watering them has worn you out. What is going on with these plants? To get to the bottom of the problem, you will have to get to the bottom of the container.

Most likely, your plants came potted in straight peat and perlite. This mixture is great for growers who have drip systems leading to all of their containers, and staff to keep things watered and fed. Although peat is touted as a great water-holding agent, I find it dries out too quickly and then pulls water away from the roots of the plants, leaving them very dry and droopy. Once it dries out, peat is very difficult to get wet again. It repels water when dry.

If you don’t have paid or unpaid help to do the watering, consider pulling the plants out of the pots, emptying out the unsuitable peat mixture, and rinsing off some of the offending peat from the roots. Then repot the plants into a good quality potting mix with some mushroom compost mixed in for good measure. This should cut down considerably on how many times a day you have to add water. It all depends on how strong the sun and drying winds are in your potteds’ locations.

Let them languish in the shade for a couple of days to recover, being sure to keep them watered but not wet. On annuals, use fertilizer throughout the summer to keep them blooming. The watering schedule depends on the plants in the baskets and containers. Use your index finger as a guide as to when to add water. Poke into the soil, if it is still damp one knuckle down, no need to water.

Something else could be going on with your roots. Ants like to take up residence inside pots. When they do, they will work at keeping the soil dry around their nest. Their activity can eventually dry out the roots, killing the plants. Whenever the soil in containers dries out more often than you think possible, gently knock or dig the plants out of the container, preserving as much soil around the root ball as you can. Look for ants rushing around carrying white eggs. To help keep ants from occupying your containers, raise them up off the ground on pot feet, bricks, or pavers; anything to keep space between the ground, patio, or deck and the pot.

Some plants are meant to droop gracefully over the side. Single leaves should not curl and droop. Catch the dry plant early, and you can save it with plenty of water. Once it is revived, look for the cause and correct it, for happier plants and the happiest of gardeners.

Posted May 31, 2013.

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