Question: I got a trailing petunia basket for Mother’s Day. It’s looked really nice until a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s looking a little worn out and there aren’t as many flowers. Is there something I can do to make it look nice again instead of tossing it out?

Answer: There are several things you can do to rehabilitate your hanging basket.

Check carefully at least once a week for insects and other pests. Look along the stems, in the flower buds, on the underside of leaves and on the soil around the base of the plants.

Supplement fertilizer if it’s needed. The warmer the weather, the more quickly a slow-release fertilizer will be released. A fertilizer that claims it will feed your plants for four months won’t last that long in our hot summer weather. If you started out with a slow-release fertilizer in the potting soil, it might be time to either refresh the fertilizer or to start supplementing with ¼-strength fertilizer when you water.

Trim or pinch back overgrown stems, clean out faded leaves and remove spent flowers. Not every flowering plant drops its spent blooms quickly. Deadheading (removing old flowers) is very important in keeping those plants looking good. Petunias bloom on newer growth — basically on the ends of their trailing stems. Little by little a petunia basket can look like a green skirt with a floral ruffle around the hem. Deadheading trailing plants like petunias is a little different than just snipping off old flowers. Every week cut back one or two of the longest trailing stems by two-thirds or more and you’ll always have some fresh green growth and flowers up near the basket, plus some longer, flowering stems, too.

Replace underperforming plants in mixed containers. Container garden plants that haven’t been doing well — never really filled out, look sickly — can be removed and replaced. Carefully scoop out the root ball of the plant, gently loosen the soil at the edges of the hole and tuck in a new plant. Backfill with a little more soil if needed and then water the container really well.

Water completely whenever you water. Thoroughly soak the potting soil when you water. You want to see some water drain out the bottom of the container each time. A deep soak a little less often is better than a light sprinkle two or three times a day. Make sure the water is going onto the soil, not washing over the foliage and past the sides of the container.

Elm seed bugs

They’re back!! Now that it’s gotten hot, elm seed bugs are on the move and making a real nuisance of themselves in local homes and landscapes. We’ve had so many calls and emails about this pest that it seems like a good time to review the basics of elm seed bug management.

Elm seed bugs are small, about one-third inch in size with rusty-brown and dark brown coloring. They can emit a strong odor when they are disturbed.

Just like their name suggests, elm seed bugs prefer to feed on elm seeds. Homes near Siberian elm trees seem to have the worst problems with this nuisance pest because those elms produce seeds so prolifically, but you’ll also see them crawling on other trees and shrubs as well as on exterior walls and around windows and doors as they look for ways to escape the summer heat. The bugs are harmless to people, pets and landscape plants, but they can really make a nuisance of themselves when they get into homes.

Good exclusion is the recommended solution for elm seed bug problems indoors. Seal up any openings that may provide an entrance to your home. Window frames should fit into walls tightly and windows should fit into the frame tightly. Screens should be in good condition and fit tightly as well. Weather stripping, door sweeps, good thresholds and caulk in cracks and crevasses also are helpful.

How can you reduce elm seed bug problems outdoors? Clean up and dispose of accumulating elm seeds. Doing a thorough fall cleanup — no weeds, plant debris, clutter or leaf litter — which will reduce overwintering sites where the bugs could shelter. Spraying your landscape with insecticides isn’t usually recommended because elm seed bugs occur in such high numbers that there are always more bugs to take the place of the ones you spray.

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