How To Care For Calibrachoa (Million Bells) Hanging Baskets
A cute little trumpet shaped flower called Calibrachoa (pronounced Cal-i-brack-O-a), or Million Bells has taken gardens by storm. They have become immensely popular and they make great, easy to care for hanging baskets. Million Bells look like miniature petunias but they come without the baggage of sticky stems and they don’t have to be deadheaded!
This trailing plant, which means that it likes to grow down over the side of a pot, boasts of bright, neon shades as well as subtle, soft colours; offering the opportunity to make each spring colourful adventure.
Where to Plant Million Bells (Calibrachoa)
Being a native of South America and Mexico, Million Bells are sun lovers. They thrive in any area that gets a minimum of 6-8 hours of daily sunshine, so that means that they will do well in a gardening space that faces east, south, or west.
The thing that Million Bells hate is wind. Their smooth branches tend to snap if they are in too much wind.
Once you have determined the sun exposure of your gardening space, you can then think creatively about how to use them. Million Bells are an excellent hanging baskets plant and work well as a basket stuffer cascading over the edge of a planter in combination with other plants and flowers.
How many Million Bells (Calibrachoa) in a Hanging Basket?
If you were to plant your own hanging basket rather that buy a ready made one, the answer to this question is: it depends. It depends on the size of your hanging basket and it depends the size of the plants.
As a general guideline, if you are buying Million Bells (Calibrachoa) in 4” pots, plant 3 in a 12” pot. Try to make it a nice & even equilateral triangle toward the center of the pot. Planting in threes make a nice circle.
When placing the Million Bell plants in a basket, set them back a bit from the edge so that the roots can grow well in to the middle of the pot. This will help keeping them moist, If you plant too close to the edge of any container, Million Bells tend to flop straight over the edge of the pot rather than grow a little upward and then flow over the pot.
Let’s say your hanging basket was even bigger, like a 14” or 16” pot. Then consider planting one plant in the middle of the pot and place the others around that one like this:
You’re all set up to get those gorgeous calibrachoa going, but now you’re stuck wondering…. so, exactly how do I care for my new hanging baskets?
How to Care for Million Bell (Calibrachoa) Hanging Baskets
Million Bell Hanging baskets are a low maintenance, easy to care for flower. They just need consistency. By caring for them daily, you will see them thrive.
We use the acronym C-A-R-E to describe the steps involved in caring for Million Bells (Calibroachoa) hanging baskets.
- C stands for Check Regularly
- A is for Ensure Adequate Hydration
- R stands for Replenish Nutrients
- E is for Encourage Growth
Read on for more details.
1. Check Million Bells (Calibrachoa) Regularly
This first step is about keeping a watchful eye on your hanging basket.
Each day do a general top to bottom overall check of your Million Bells hanging basket – this step shouldn’t take a long time – just do a quick check. Make it a point to note leaf colour & flower health first. Then check for curling, wilting, spotted or yellowing leaves, and old or deformed flowers.
If you notice anything suspicious, like yellowed or curling leaves, do a deeper inspection. Turn the leaves over to look underneath for bugs, and take a look at the top of the soil.
We want you know to first up here that that Million Bells are a favourite food for aphids – particularly flowers that are yellow or purple. To be on the lookout for aphids, check the undersides of the leaves – aphids love to hand out there.
Once we get into the middle or end of July, a regular application of safer soap every 10 days or so can really help keep them at bay. You may also make homemade aphid spray from recipes found on the internet. As a last resort you may need to use insecticides specifically formulated for aphids.
One other thing to note – aphids love Maple trees too. Keep your Calibrachoa basket a generous distance from and avoid hanging them in Maple trees to minimize their transfer from the trees to the hanging basket.
2. Ensure That Million Bells (Calibrachoa) Have Adequate Moisture
This step is all about watering.
Watering is a critical step to successfully grow Calibrachoa (Million Bells) Hanging Baskets. At our greenhouse, call Calibrachoa hanging baskets the ‘three times and you’re out plant”. When people ask why their Calibrachoa Hanging Basket is dying – this is most likely the problem.
If they do dry out, their leaves will eventually get brown and crispy and the branches will start losing their leaves. Million Bells will usually let you dry them out twice but the third time will be their death.
A good way to check Million Bell hanging baskets for adequate hydration is to feel how heavy they are. Lift the hanging basket slightly by pushing up on the bottom as they are hanging and check the weight. As you get more familiar with how heavy a fully watered hanging basket is, you will be able to tell when it is time to water. During hot days, it will likely need to be watered be everyday or maybe even twice a day.
Water hanging baskets at the soil level – tuck the end of the hose or watering can into the basket so that you avoid making the entire plant wet. Keeping flower leaves & foliage dry prevents the spread of fungus and other infections.
When watering hanging baskets, water thoroughly until you see it beginning to drip out of the bottom of the pot. If you don’t let water flow out of the bottom of the pot, salts from fertilizer can accumulate causing the leaves and flowers to burn.
Noticing the water circulating between the edge of the soil & the pot and running out without hydrating the soil? Place the base of the hanging basket in 3’-4” of water in a pail of water so it can take up water through the holes in the bottom if the pot.
3. Replenish Million Bell’s (Calibrachoa) Nutrients
This step is about fertilizing.
Replenishing nutrients is important for planters and hanging baskets because there is a finite amount of nutrients held within the soil in the container and when the water drips out of the pots, some of those nutrients are lost.
We call Calibrachoa “heavy feeders” – meaning that they have high fertilizer requirements.
We recommend fertilizing Million Bells (Calibrachoa) hanging baskets weekly.
Pick a regular day of the week and make it your fertilizing day – or set an alarm on your phone. Our favorite fertilizer is called ‘Nature’s Source’. It is a natural fertilizer that we have found to be easy to use, gentle on plants with no burning, and we think it makes flowers brighter. ‘Miracle Grow’ is another good choice and other balanced fertilizers like 20-20-20 also work well.
If you see the leaves of your Calibrachoa plants turning pale green or yellow, that is a sign that they probably are lacking nutrients, and an extra shot of fertilizer midweek will help get them deep green again.
Interested in learning more about Fertilizer? Check out our blog Unwinding Fertilizer Numbers.
4. Encourage Million Bell’s (Calibrachoa) Growth
This is a maintenance step.
Taking off old flowers, removing dead leaves, and pinching straggly, leggy plants back all make plants grow better. Deadheading spent flowers is important because the ultimate purpose of flowers to produce seeds for reproduction. By taking off those dead flowers, the plant continues to flower.
Do Calibrachoa need to be deadheaded?
Calibrachoa is a low maintenance plant. The answer is no, Calibrachoa don’t need to be deadheaded – they will continue to flower – and everyone shouts “yay!”
Old wilting and curled leaves take energy from the plant in an attempt to repair itself but if they are removed, the plant can continue to focus its efforts on growing and flowering.
Plants can also get long and straggly looking – it’s ok to literally give them a haircut with scissors – it will make them branch and stay stocky and bushy.
Calibrachoa (Million Bells) can get gangly – so be sure pinch or trim your Million Bells during the summer, especially on top.
Some varieties of Million Bell hanging baskets tend to get flat on top – a phenomenon we call that ‘balding’ – and they need to be pinched back regularly. Every couple of weeks, take your basket down and trim the top growth with clean household scissors or use your thumb and fingers to ‘pinch’ them. This will encourage the Calibrachoa to branch at the leaf nodes and to stay bushy.
Final Thoughts on Calibrachoa
For a colourful, lively, and low maintenance addition to your gardening space, consider Million Bell (Calibrachoa) hanging baskets, they add sparkle and zest to any sunny location.
We invite you to come and visit us at our greenhouses each spring to find the perfect hanging basket for your location.
- Sharon Wallish Murphy