You know summer’s arrived when well-dressed porches everywhere begin sporting colorful hanging baskets and fantastic mixed containers. Even if the homeowner’s budget only allows a single 10-inch pot, chances are there’ll be brilliant color spilling from it. Stately urns, pots and planter boxes appear like runway markers down steps or walks. No matter the style, one thing’s for sure: We all agree that summer’s the time for dressing up our porches.

Hanging basket

Moss baskets are lovely containers for displaying plants – even veggies – but you have to water them diligently for healthy, amazing results.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Balcony of hanging baskets

With the proper plant care, your balcony or porch can become an incredible hanging-basket oasis!

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Petunia container

Greenhouse workers dedicate their days to keeping their hanging baskets lovely, lush and full – this isn’t always easy to do at home.

Photo Credit: Tammy Clayton

Geraniums

At first glance, this planting looks very nice, but there are some yellowing leaves at the soil line, indicating it’s missed a few waterings.

Photo Credit: Tammy Clayton

Greenhouse growers know this, too, and they do a fabulous job turning out beautiful annual plants and containers to suit just about anyone’s tastes. Selecting the perfect ones can be difficult for any homeowner, with such an array to choose from. But once we’ve got what we’re looking for, we head home with big smiles on our faces.

Some of us merely hang our pots just as they are from the hooks at the roofline. Others remove the hangers and slide the pots into ornamental containers and urns strategically placed for visual effect. And by Memorial Day, moss baskets, plastic pots and terra-cotta containers – all filled with a garden of earthly delights – festoon porches, decks and patios from coast to coast.

There’s a downside to this instant beauty, however. While consumers like the fact huge 15-inch moss baskets are light as a feather and easy to tote around, we often don’t realize that the plants we’ve just adopted are rooted in a mixture that’s not designed to hold moisture – so they drain (and dry) very rapidly. Since their infancy, these beauties have been addicted to the drip-line water and food that growers had conscientiously provided, as well as the warm greenhouse environment they grew up in. While your containerized lovelies will adjust to a once-a-month fertilizer feeding and the great outdoors, they won’t survive without enough moisture. Often sited in hot, dry areas under relentless sun all summer long, your plants will simply curl up and die if you don’t keep them well-watered.

So what’s a gardener to do? If you’re not one to water regularly (if not constantly) – or your area’s under watering restrictions – choose plastic containers instead of those moss- or coir-lined baskets. They’ll simply hold in moisture much longer. Breezes blow right through the moss, drying the potting medium at a rapid pace. Add heat to that air, and the potting medium will dry out even faster!

If you’re up to the task of having moss- or coir-lined hanging baskets, be prepared to water – a lot. On a hot day, you can bet that those gorgeous fuchsias will begin to droop by mid-afternoon, even if you gave them a good drink before work. And if you forget to water those ivy geraniums just one evening, they’re sure to show signs of damage by the next morning. Sure, an occasional slip up is usually repairable with time and diligence, but if you let it happen too often, you’ll have a hanging basket full of toast-colored has-beens.

Of course, there are a few tricks you can use to get a little more water-life out of these quick-drying containers. You’ll get the best outcome by simply repotting your basket in a larger container. (Sure, it’ll be less full and lush than when you bought it, but the plants will grow into the extra space.)

The real key here is to add some real soil mixed with a bit of sphagnum moss and perlite for drainage to the new planting. A simple inch of actual soil mix around and under the existing quick-dry core with a slight covering over the top will help hold moisture in a bit longer until you return home at the end of the day. Whatever you do, don’t use just soil in a moss basket – it’ll simply wash out with draining water and leave an ugly pile of mud beneath it.

Another option is to create your own drip-line irrigation system for your containers. All the parts and pieces needed are available at your local home supply store – including inexpensive timers you can put on your faucet and set to go on and off at intervals throughout the day. Just ask the experts at the store for help. Not only is a drip system great for just covering your watering bases when you’re away at work, it’ll serve your plants well if you’re gone on summer vacation.

If you prefer to pot up your own annual containers, I find that I’ve got far better luck if I buy the plants small and pot them into baskets using my own mix of 45 percent topsoil, 45 percent potting soil and 10 percent perlite or vermiculite. This mix has good moisture retention but still allows for good drainage. No, your pots won’t be overflowing with annual beauty until the end of June, but if you forget to water them one night, they’ll be fine until morning.

The bottom line is, if you just have to have those pretty moss-lined hanging baskets, be prepared to water – or at least take some extra precautions to keep the potting media from drying out so quickly. With a little extra work on your summer-flowering pots, you’ll be able to enjoy them all season long!