Questions and answers about trends in plants, hanging baskets

Chartreuse “Margarita” sweet potato vine makes an eye-catching “spiller” for containers, window boxes and garden walls.

Chartreuse “Margarita” sweet potato vine makes an eye-catching “spiller” for containers, window boxes and garden walls.

Courtesy photo

October is when many tender summer annuals end up in the compost heap as a first frost nips them into a hasty death. But if you have hardy annuals, they can handle a bit of frost — especially if grown close to the house or under cover.

Geraniums are one example of a hardy annual plant that might be seen flowering into December if kept fertilized and watered and the spent blossoms are removed.

The annuals that are the first to go with a light frost include tender annuals such as coleus and begonias. Be quick to uproot the weary and replace them with some spring bulbs or winter hardy pansies and violas.

The end of the growing season is the time to take stock of what bedding plants and annuals did well and what new varieties you want to try next year.

This week we go right to the root of the company that supplies many of our local nurseries and home center stores with annual and bedding plants. Here is a recent interview with Chris DeSanto of Descant Greenhouses, a family-run business on the Enumclaw plateau. This second-generation growing operation is wholesale only, but we can all learn from the professional growers that know our climate and the new plants available for Western Washington gardeners.

Q. What trends do you see in plant sales?

Chris DeSanto: More and more people want flowers that are blooming. Remember most bedding packs for large areas (petunias, impatiens, lobelia) are best bought and planted small not blooming.

Cypress grass has been a hit for containers the last few years. As the Proven Winner varieties have been around for a long time, there are other breeders starting to breed similar colors, so customers can look for those to save money. (Example: the Tik Tok calibrachoa.)

Coleus keeps getting more popular as well as potato vine. Keep in mind there are bushier varieties (Bright Ideas) and more trailing varieties (Marguerite) of the potato vine. It all depends on what you are looking for.

Q. You use the Wave petunias in the Enumclaw street baskets, and some gardeners said this petunia was hard to find in stores. Is there a shortage?

Chris DeSanto: No. We use the purple wave petunias in the city baskets but not finding it at garden centers goes back to customers wanting/buying plants with color. That original Wave Purple Classic is the last color in that series to bloom, so store buyers stay away from it if it is not flowering as customers are less likely to buy it. In the large street baskets the Wave petunias make a great display and it is worth waiting for them to bloom.

Q. What is the lime green foliage plant that hangs down from the baskets?

Chris DeSanto: Margarite potato vine has the lime green foliage in the street baskets.

Q. What do you see selling for summer color in the ground?

Chris DeSanto: Zinnias are becoming very popular, especially the Magellon Mix Zinnia. It is a hybrid with more hardiness and abundant blooms. Also dahlias and calla lilies are popular and for hot and sunny sites the celosia.

Q. Do you grow all year in your greenhouses?

Chris DeSanto: We start in the fall growing perennials and ground cover plants, and fuchsia starts get planted in October and are put into baskets in December for spring sales. In January, calibrachoa and combo baskets get transplanted into baskets. By mid February, 75% of our greenhouses are full of crops.

Q. What mistakes to you see the consumer or home gardener making after they take home hanging baskets?

Chris DeSanto: The most common mistake is not fertilizing hanging baskets often enough. It is almost impossible to feed these heavy bloomers too much. We fertilize a few times a week.

Q. What about watering hanging baskets?

Chris DeSanto: As they grow and summer heats up, baskets need more water. Most baskets need water once a day but if the temperature goes above 80 degrees water twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Meet Marianne

11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7: Marianne will be at Walraths Nursery at 4521 56th St., Gig Harbor, to talk about “Fall Magic with Container Garden Ideas, Trees and Shrubs.” There will be a free planting demonstration, fall garden tips, and a nursery stock sale.

10 a.m. Saturday, Oct 14: Marianne will be at Squak Mt. Greenhouses & Nursery at 7600 Renton Issaquah Road SE, Issaquah, to talk about “Binetti’s Favorite Fall Plants and Tips.” The presentation is free and sponsored by the Water Saving Partnership. Register at brownpapertickets.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at

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