If there is well a category of indoor plants which we mistreat, it is the plants cultivated in hanging basket, or the plants in height more generally. They almost always look like they are about to die… and in fact, it’s true that they often barely cling to life. The problem is quite simple: they constantly suffer from water stress (lack of water).
While other plants receive a thorough watering every time you moisten them, enough to soak the entire root ball (and keep them happy!), plants at higher elevations receive only superficial watering… and not enough.
The problem of saucers in height
While it is true that plants that are higher up, more exposed to drafts, tend to dry out more quickly than plants grown in pots on a windowsill, the floor or a table, this is not the real problem. Instead, blame it on the design of the pot.
Pot designers have obviously never tried to grow plants in the hanging baskets they produce. They inevitably come with a tiny built-in saucer that may look very well integrated, but doesn’t do the job.
It is much smaller in diameter than the pot (although to be functional it should be wider!) and its depth is minimal. However, theoretically its role is to capture excess water so that it does not run on the floor.
But, since the saucer is small and shallow and holds almost no water, it leaves you, as a sprinkler, in a fine sheet. If you add enough water to satisfy the plant – because we know that water often passes through the potting soil without really moistening it at first – the water will cascade over the floor.
To avoid this damage, we then tend to give only a small amount of water, not enough to moisten the whole root ball, and move on to the next plant, hoping that this will be enough. And so the poor hanging plant is in a constant state of drought!
How to water plants in height?
Dip and soak
The only logical way to water these ridiculously designed pots is to carry them to the sink (or bathtub) and soak them. Yes, let them sit in the water up to halfway up for 10, 20, 30 minutes or more so that the plant and the potting soil absorb all the water they really need.
Then lift the pot, turn it at a 45-degree angle and let any excess water drain out of the saucer. Only then can you hang the plant in its usual place, knowing that it really has the water it needs, but without worrying that the excess will run off onto the floor.
Some tall plants fill their pots so full of roots that a good soaking is really the only way to water them properly. I’m thinking in particular of the phalanx or spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and various indoor asparagus plants (Asparagus densiflorus, A. setaceus, etc.), because they produce tuberous roots that compress the potting soil to the maximum, making it unable to retain water.
When watering these root-filled pots, the water flows straight to the drainage holes and the plants don’t really benefit from it… unless you soak them.
If your phalanxes and asparagus are not as beautiful as you would like them to be, try soaking them each time you water. In less than two months, they will look so much better that you won’t recognize them!
When you have several plants in height
If you only have one tall plant to water, you now have the right method to water it, but what if you have dozens?
Bringing them one by one to the sink each time you water can be very tedious! But if you don’t, they won’t be happy. So you need another solution… and I have one for you.
Trays for hanging baskets
About ten years ago, I discovered a very practical product for watering hanging baskets: the drip pan.
The one I see most often is made by the American company Curtis Wagner Plastics and fits round hanging baskets. It attaches to the round hanging baskets with 4 integrated hooks that you simply attach to the rim of the basket.
The tray is transparent and comes in sizes to fit classic 8, 10 and 12 inch baskets. Simply remove the small, ineffective saucer and attach the tray in its place. I now put some on all my hanging baskets, at least for indoor growing.
Now, when I water my hanging baskets, I pour the water liberally so that any excess water flows into the tray and then let the plants soak. I have found that if I leave about 1 to 2 inches of water in the bottom, the plant will absorb it quickly, leaving a well empty tray only an hour later.
Okay, the tray is transparent, but I admit that the effect when the tray is placed on the hanging basket is not always the most aesthetic. Also, after a certain number of years (I would say 5 or 6), the basket will eventually turn yellow.
However, mine remain functional, even after 10 years. But appearance is of lesser importance to me. The important thing is that my tall plants are happy and now, thanks to these special trays, they are!
The soil of plants in height is generally rather small: it dries out therefore rather quickly! It is therefore necessary to water it much more regularly. If your hanger is easy to remove, you can remove it from its holder, water it in the kitchen or bathroom sink, let it drain and then put it back in place.
For plants that are more difficult to reach (at the top of a piece of furniture, hanging high up, well installed on a shelf or with large cascading leaves), we recommend you use a water pipette that allows you to adapt to the plant without moving it.
You can also count on a small water tank or dispenser so that your plant can drink by itself. There are even funny little models in the form of birds or frogs for example.