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LOW HUMIDITY? WELL, HANG IN THERE.

Byline: JOSHUA SISKIN

One of the greatest challenges Valley gardeners face is growing plants in hanging baskets.

Low relative humidity, which we experience year-round, is the problem. A plant in a hanging basket dries out on all four sides, as well as from above and from below. There is little moisture in the air to keep plants fresh and, short of installing an automatic misting system that would moisten plants several times a day, maintenance becomes a real struggle.

Imagine my delight, just the other day, to see scads of spidery white flowers spilling out of several wire baskets hanging from the front porch of a house in Reseda. Upon closer examination, the plants were revealed to be a type of jade plant (Crassula multicava) I had seen growing as a ground cover in partial sun on several previous occasions.

You can make relatively care-free horticultural hanging baskets from a number of noteworthy succulents. Actually, the first succulent plants that come to mind as hanging basket subjects are not grown for their flowers but for their pronounced pendulous growth habit. The most famous member of this group is burro's tail (Sedum morganianum).

A slow-growing plant, burro's tail consists of porcelain pale blue jelly- bean leaves that will eventually produce geotropic chains 3 feet (or longer) in length. A mature burro's tail is formidable in appearance, looking more like an exotic ornament from the palace of a Chinese emperor than any plant, and will inevitably achieve the status of a family heirloom.

Next to burro's tail, string of hearts and string of beads stand out among the pantheon of succulent plants for hanging baskets. String of hearts (Ceropegia linearis woodii) consists of delicate heart-shaped leaves connected by thin, dental-flosslike strands. String of hearts is clearly the gift of choice for a gardening spouse or significant other. String of beads (Senecio rowleyanus), laid among other baubles in a jewelry box, could easily pass for a string of pearl-sized, polished globes cut from pale green semi-precious stones.

Perhaps the most-prized flowering succulent for hanging baskets is the gray-leafed, pink-blossomed Kalanchoe pumila. In the Getty Center garden in Brentwood, Kalanchoe pumila has been planted en masse as a full-sun ground cover. However, in the hotter climate of the Valley, this plant must be grown in partial sun in order to flower reliably.

Hanging baskets made from wood or wire are easily enough prepared for use. The only ``soil'' or growing medium required is green sphagnum moss, available in bags or bales at any well-stocked nursery or garden center. Soak the sphagnum moss in water to the point of saturation, wring it out, and then start to line the basket with it. When your moss lining is several inches thick, you will have created the proper mossy bed in which your plants of choice can now be placed.

If you have brought home containerized plants for your hanging garden, simply remove the plants from their containers and place them directly into the basket.

To see these and other succulent hanging plants on display, visit David Bernstein's cactus garden, known as California Nursery Specialties (19420 Saticoy Blvd.). The nursery is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Of course, you can utilize any favorite plant with trailing tendencies as a subject for a hanging basket. One of the most famous in this regard is coleus, long cherished as a house plant with multicolored foliage but also highly popular in patio hanging baskets. New varieties of brilliantly colored coleus, often with scalloped leaves and more sun tolerant than the traditional varieties, are now available.

TIP OF THE WEEK: A favorite practice of hanging-basket devotees this time of year is to plant annuals from six packs. You simply extract the small plants from their plastic cells and place them cheek-by-jowl in a hanging basket. Trailing annuals such as petunia, impatiens, alyssum and lobelia are eminently suited to this task. Planted now, they will grow out in a riot of color within a few weeks' time. To eliminate worry about fertilization, sprinkle slow-release fertilizer pellets around your young plants. Formulations that last for up to six months and longer are available. Just be aware that you may have to fertilize one more time over the life of your annuals since the frequent watering that hanging baskets require will dissolve the fertilizer more quickly than if it were being used in an earthbound container.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 30, 2002
Words:742
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