Most people enjoy buying hanging baskets because they feature colorful blooms to help brighten their backyards and patios. Unfortunately, by late summer, the plants in these baskets often show signs of exhaustion. What should you do with your hanging baskets after summer?
After summer, you should stop fertilizing hanging basket plants. Instead, keep watering, prune them, and consider repotting them to a larger pot. Empty pots with dying annuals, compost them and recharge the used potting mix in the compost. You should also prepare to overwinter perennials.
By the end of summer, the flowers in your hanging baskets are nearing the end of their life. However, you can still get more blooms and color from them before winter rolls in. In this article, I’ll discuss how you can revive worn-out hanging baskets after summer.
What To Do With Hanging Baskets in the Fall
What you do with hanging baskets after summer depends on the state of the plants. Some baskets bloom through fall, but others start declining at the end of their growing cycle. However, the hanging basket may still have some life left, so you shouldn’t get rid of them after summer.
Here’s what you should do:
1. Stop Fertilizing
Summer was the season when you saw the plants in your hanging baskets at their best. You likely watered them regularly and fertilized them. However, after summer, growth slows. This is partly because the plants in a hanging basket are root bound. Fertilizing will, therefore, have little to no benefit at this point.
Additionally, annuals are approaching the end of their growth cycle. Some start showing signs of decline mid-summer. They no longer need fertilizer, so even if you continue feeding them, they may not use it as well as they did in summer.
If you have perennials, you must also stop fertilizing them in the fall because they will be dormant in winter. They need to start slowing their growth to prepare for winter.
2. Prune the Plants
Now that you aren’t fertilizing your hanging baskets, you should cut them back. Pruning also helps eliminate leggy stems. A smaller hanging basket is more manageable after summer because of the limited nutrients. At this time, hanging basket plants produce fewer flowers than they did during the summer.
However, before pruning perennials, you must confirm if you should do it in the fall. For example, coral bells are perennials that shouldn’t be cut back in fall because the foliage protects the crown in winter. If you have fuchsias, you shouldn’t prune them if you want to overwinter them in a bright room.
3. Empty, Clean, and Store Your Hanging Pots
Annuals, evidently at the end of their growth cycle, cannot be revived, and if you try, it may not be worth the effort. If you have been watering and fertilizing your hanging baskets but are yet to see significant change, you might as well give up.
Your plants are probably so root-bound that they no longer absorb water or nutrients. If they are wilting, you should empty, clean, and store the pots until the next growing season.
Below are some helpful tips:
- Check the plants for pests or diseases. If the plant is disease and pest free, you should remove them and add them to your compost pile. If they have pests or diseases, discard them away from the compost.
- Add the soil to the compost. Used potting mix will only be beneficial if you recharge the soil with more organic material.
- Wash the hanging baskets in hot, soapy water. Add bleach to kill pests and microorganisms, and remember to rinse them well afterward.
- Store plastic pots outdoors if you don’t have space indoors. Plastic pots can withstand extreme temperature changes better than other materials. However, it’s best to cover them because the winter sun may cause them to change color or make the plastic brittle.
- Avoid leaving terracotta hanging baskets outside because they retain a lot of moisture and may freeze and crack during winter. Instead, you should store them in your garage or cellar. If possible, wrap each pot with newspaper to keep them from chipping.
4. Transfer Plants to the Garden
If you have a large hanging basket with healthy blooms, you can still enjoy them for a while longer. Unfortunately, by the end of summer, the roots are longer and more entangled, and root-bound hanging baskets don’t absorb water and nutrients efficiently, resulting in stunted and slow growth.
In the fall, the plants start to die. It can be tempting to throw away the hanging basket when it starts to wilt towards the end of summer. However, you can still enjoy the radiant colors if you transfer the hanging basket to the ground. Here’s how to do it:
- Gently remove the flowers from the pot. If the plant is severely root-bound, some of the roots may be brittle, so you must be careful not to snap them.
- If the roots are too dry, soak them in water before you loosen them. The roots will also rehydrate the plant, especially if it has gone without water for some time.
- As the roots absorb water, ensure your flower garden is ready. Dig a hole more than twice the size of the root ball.
- Add compost to the soil and ensure it’s loose enough to allow the roots to grow easily.
- Gently detangle the roots. The roots will grow out through the soil more easily and absorb nutrients to revive the plant when they are not root-bound.
- Transfer the flowers to the ground.
- Add liquid fertilizer to the water you intend to use on the flowers because it is readily available for the plant to use immediately.
- Water daily in the first week for the roots to be firmly established in the new soil. If it is too hot, water them twice a day. Over time, you can develop a good watering routine since plants in the flower bed don’t need as much water as hanging baskets.
- Apply diluted liquid fertilizer weekly to keep the flowers blooming. Alternatively, you can use slow-release fertilizer every fortnight.
The fresh soil and space will rejuvenate the plant to start getting new blooms and add color to your garden through the fall season. The seeds will also fall into the ground, so even if the parent plant dies in winter, new plants will grow in the next growing season.
5. Repot to a Larger Hanging Pot
If you’ve been watering and fertilizing the hanging baskets throughout summer, they may be rootbound by the end of summer. The size of the hanging basket is a reflection of how much the roots have grown.
Even though most hanging baskets cannot survive the harsh winter, especially if you cannot take them indoors, you can still enjoy the blooms in fall. You can either repot the hanging basket in a larger pot or divide the current hanging basket and repot them in multiple pots.
Unfortunately, the roots may be so tangled that separating the plants will be difficult. However, with patience and a little care, you can do it. Soak in water to soften the roots and soil, and then gently separate the roots.
Repotting to a larger pot also has its downsides. It may be costly and difficult to get a large pot to hold the hanging basket in its current state and still have enough room for the roots to keep growing. Additionally, you may only want to keep the hanging baskets until winter. Reviving and maintaining them may, therefore, not be worth the effort and cost.
However, if you want to do this with your hanging basket after summer, it will be worthwhile since you’ll enjoy the blooms for a few more weeks.
6. Recharge and Recycle the Potting Soil
Once you decide what to do with the hanging baskets, you still need to decide what to do with the soil. Even though the nutrients in the soil are depleted, the soil can still be revived for the next growing season. Recycling will save you some money.
Here’s how to recycle the hanging basket soil:
- Collect all the soil from the hanging basket and pour it into a soil recharging or composting bin.
- Check for roots in the soil, and cut them into small pieces so they can decompose quickly.
- Use organic material from your hanging basket and garden, such as shredded leaves, green grass, and dried plants.
- Add compost to recharge the soil. Compost contains healthy bacteria and other valuable microorganisms that will break down the organic material. The ideal ratio is 1 part compost to 6 parts used potting soil. If you have more potting mix to recycle, make small batches of compost in multiple compost bins if you want the soil ready for use in spring.
- Continue adding shredded leaves through fall.
- Ensure you keep turning the pile as you add material so that it decomposes evenly.
- When winter rolls in, stop adding material. However, keep turning the compost when the opportunity arises.
- When the compost is ready to use in spring, add warm castings to help aerate it. This will also help provide nutrients to the plants for use immediately.
Do Hanging Basket Plants Come Back Every Year?
The price of hanging baskets may appear negligible, but maintenance can be costly. The cost can go into hundreds of dollars if you have multiple hanging baskets. Before disposing of your hanging basket, it’s helpful to know if it can be preserved for the next growing season.
Hanging basket plants come back yearly if they are perennials, such as geraniums, fuchsias, or calibrachoa. Unfortunately, most hanging basket plants have annual flowers because they have colorful blooms that last longer than perennials. They only last one growing season.
Undoubtedly, the colorful blooms of hanging baskets make them a worthwhile investment, especially if they last through the summer and fall. If you have perennials, you can overwinter and revive them in spring.
How To Overwinter Perennials
One key consideration when buying or preparing hanging baskets is whether to get annuals or perennials. Some nurseries use both to take advantage of the lasting colorful blooms in annuals and the extended life cycle of the perennials.
Annuals have only lasted one growing season, so zone hardiness doesn’t matter much in this case. On the other hand, you should opt for perennials with a hardiness that is at least a zone or two below your zone.
For example, if you live in zone 4, you should go for perennials with hardiness for zones 3 and 2. Each zone has a 10 °F (-12 °C) temperature difference, so choosing perennials that survive at lower temperatures gives you greater leeway when overwintering your hanging baskets.
Here is a useful table explaining how to prepare perennials for winter:
|Verbena||Zones 4 – 11|
|Geraniums||Zone 9 – 12 |
(If protected, they can survive in zone 7).
|Fuchsias||Zones 9 – 11|
|Calibrachoa (million bells)||Zones 9 – 11|
|Lobelia||Zones 9 – 11|
This video offers additional tips on how to overwinter perennials, specifically fuchsias baskets:
Alternative Overwintering Options
Taking hanging baskets indoors is only viable if you have space for them. If you have perennials in hanging baskets but are looking for multiple overwintering options, you can do the following to protect the plant roots during winter:
Sink the Hanging Planter in Your Garden
Overwintering hanging baskets in your garden is an option if you have no space indoors. You may even be more successful overwintering perennials in the garden because it’s easier to keep the roots warmer in the soil than in pots.
Additionally, perennials in the garden are not exposed to alternate freezing and thawing, which often stimulates growth because the plants assume it’s spring. So, they start growing new shoots, yet they are supposed to be dormant.
Dig a hole in the garden, large enough to hold the hanging basket. Place the basket in the hole and cover it. Sinking the hanging basket in your garden and covering it with soil insulates your plants during winter. You can protect the plant roots further by mulching with straw and leaves.
Place in an Unheated Room
You can also keep it simple by storing the hanging basket indoors in your basement, garage, or shed. However, you need to ensure the room you choose to overwinter your hanging baskets is dark and unheated. Light encourages photosynthesis, which is unnecessary when plants are dormant.
Keep checking the soil to ensure it doesn’t dry out completely. Only water the plants when necessary. Don’t overwater them because the roots will rot or accidentally cause the plants to break the dormancy.
What you do with hanging baskets in summer depends on the state of the basket after summer and how you want to overwinter them. Annuals may still produce blooms if the pot has space for the roots to grow and if they are well-fertilized and watered throughout summer.
Even as you enjoy the remaining blooms, you should make plans for your annuals and perennials. Prepare the compost for the annuals, and find space to overwinter your perennials.