Orange and Blue Flowers

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What a pretty combination, don’t you think?

Orange and Blue Flowers

Well, technically the tall plant has purple flowers but it is close enough! I love how it looks with the vivid oranges of the straw flowers on the right in the photo above, and the plant to the left is a Chinese Lantern plant (Physalis alkikengi), which will produce orange lantern like shaped flowers in mid-summer to fall.

Chinese Lantern plants are perennials in our area and I’m looking forward to the vibrant, papery seedpods, later in the season, or I should say, my customer will. I have not used this plant before, but it is a spreader, so beware if you want to try it in the gardens of the ground because it is a vigorous plant in open areas. It is best planted in containers even in the ground to manage the roots and spread.

Baptisia australis

The tall upright plant, with intense blue-purple flowers, is a False Indigo (Baptisia australis), which has always been one of my favorite plants. The blooms are showy, upright, and a beautiful indigo-blue. Shaped like pea like flowers. This is a perennial and does well in containers as well. When I put these three together, I thought, wow, I just love how it looks and even from viewing it from the indoors from the window is so pretty.

Another bonus about the False Indigo plant (upright thriller in this combo) is that it attracts butterflies, and is deer resistant should you plant it in a garden, but in this case, I didn’t have to worry about deer, it is located on a balcony in full sun. This plant is a zone 4-9 plant and will bloom most of the summer. Later, the Chinese Lantern will provide a show of orange. It is nice to add plants that bloom at different times to keep the showy orange and blue display going into the fall season.

I also used similar colors with a blue dish garden and wonderful Calibrachoa hybrid plants.

Cobalt Blue Dish Garden

These dainty but powerful annual plants, Calibrachoa, are so useful in sunny situations as well. One is called “Dreamsicle” and more on the orange side, but I also added another called “Tropical Sunrise” that has a mix of the orange, peach colors in the blooms. It is just lovely. Plus they stay on the shorter side (6-12″) which is nice when used on a table for outdoor dining so you don’t block views of your guests while eating. These annual plants may take part-sun also.

Blue and orange are opposite on the color wheel so they work very well together (complementary colors). I had to just share a couple photos of these to brighten up my page (due to my last post being about snakes!).

Enjoy your Friday. Looks like we are in for gorgeous weather this weekend!!

Cathy Testa
Post date: 6/3/2022
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
06016
Zone 6b

Oh, by the way, as noted on my www.WorkshopsCT.com page, I am offering watering services this year.

Nature All Around

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One of the wonders and benefits of growing lots of plants and being surrounded by woodlands in my yard is the invitation of wildlife. This year, I’ve seen lots of snakes, so, if this is not your thing, brace yourself, because one made it’s way into my greenhouse!

Garter snake – harmless, I believe!

I’m not too afraid of snakes but I definitely don’t want to find one in a pot I’m carrying in my hands! Fortunately, this guy made it out safely when I left the greenhouse’s screen door open just a crack. I think they found their way in via a drain (they, yes, there was a ring neck snake in my greenhouse this winter as well).

I felt badly that it would not survive in there because I do not have mice or slugs in my greenhouse, nor a source of water, so I’m glad this guy found his way out. In fact, he was drinking water from the rims of pots – so I knew he was thirsty. It took a while. I had to leave him alone to travel across the floor to the screen. He had his face right against the screen and I was like, “Dude, slide to the right to the opening!” Finally, he did.

Luna Moth 2022
Luna Moth Side View

Then, just yesterday, I spotted a beautiful Luna Moth on a shrub on my driveway at 7:30 am. What a sight. I’ve seen them before, but this one was absolutely perfect, so I rushed out to take a photo or two. What a sight – they are just beautiful.

We have two huge groundhogs and lots of rabbits in the yard now. This is typical. And of course the squirrels and I’ve seen a chipmunk spying at my pots already. The list goes on and on. It is a wild life jungle. We even have five huge blue heron nests in the woodlands. I can hear them make their bird calls when they arrive. I am in tune with the sounds of these animals in my surroundings. And there have been quite a few hummingbirds this season. They zoom up to my flowers, pop around, investigate, and I have my hummingbird feeders in various places.

It is just wonderful to watch the wildlife, but it is also tricky because I have to watch them from getting my tomatoes later this year on the deck (that is for the chipmunks and squirrels). I want to build a huge garden enclosed some day in my yard, but that is a huge project for a later date/year.

Fox Cherry Tomato 2022

I plant all my tomato starts in large pots and fabric grow bags. Usually a minimum of 22″ in diameter and about as deep for pots, and the grow bags range from the 15-20 gallon sizes. I know you can grow them in 5 gallon buckets, but that is not my thing. I use quality potting mixes, usually add compost, and this year, I’m adding Espoma Tomato food with calcium because I had the Blossom End Rot issue last year. Long story there, but I want to test if this plant food will help prevent it. Whiskey barrel (1/2 size barrels) are a great visual to determine the size of pot you should use, unless it is a compact variety for patio pots that stays small, but the tomatoes on my deck are mostly indeterminate and will get large. Never use soil from the ground – it is too compact, harbors diseases and insects, etc.

This year, I have planted one of each: Fox Cherry Tomato, Cherokee Purple, Goldie Heirloom, and I need to plant a Ground Cherry, which that one is new to me. Just I have to rush to do these things for me between plant work for others. That is fine, the weather has been stupendous! Let’s hope it stays that way. Anyhow, I take lots and lots of photos if you are interested in seeing the progress, and more wild life photos – go to my page on Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I posted a few of the Luna Moth yesterday.

Well, that is all for today. Just wanted to share a quick photo or two.

Have a great week!

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b
Connecticut

Hardening Off Tomatoes 2022

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This week’s weather in my part of Connecticut is fantastic. My tomato babies will love the heat in the greenhouse from the sun and the breezes flowing thru the doors and vents. I am not, however, putting my tomato plants outdoors yet too much because it has been very breezy and windy. I use caution because I don’t want to dry out the delicate tomato start leaves.

This time of year is very busy for plant business people so I don’t really even have that much time to write this am, but as I sip my coffee no. 2, I wanted to post a quick hello and a pic or two. When the breezes subside, I will be rotating out my tomato starts in groupings this week to harden them off (acclimate). I try to avoid full sun and place them on trays where there is some shade from a nearby dawn redwood tree (a tree very useful because it looses its needles in the winter (thus, no shade is cast during winter on my greenhouse) but gets the needles growing now so it provides the shade I enjoy for my hardening off of the tomato plants.

If you put your tomato plants out in full sun immediately from your indoor growing environment, it will burn the leaves and white patches will appear on the leaves afterwards (usually you will see it the next day on the leaves). So I always do shade, part shade, part sun and luckily I have that available. I also use tables, shelves, and it becomes a little crowded, but in addition to focusing on hardening off the plants in non-full sun locations at first, I make sure things are spaced inside and out to allow air circulation around the plants. This helps prevent diseases on the leaves or other issues.

Some of my tomato starts are ready to be potted up and I usually do some to one gallon pots as needed. Others are still okay in their smaller pots, but if they start to lean, I know it is time to twine them to a small wooden stake.

Most of my plants are spoken for now, but I believe I still have some of the wonderful heirloom Cherokee Purples available. And Ground Cherries, those are still small and I’m not sure why, but I have faith they will perform when the time is right. This is the first year I am growing the Ground Cherries from seed. They are like hot pepper plants apparently, they really need heat to grow well from seed. I discovered the ground cherries last year, they taste like pineapple!

Ground Cherries from a site I visited last year in New Hampshire – inspired me to try them this year!

Well, this is all I can write for today, I have to get out there, get plants watered, out and then off to a site to prep for planting later this month. BTW, I wait to put my tropical plants and tomatoes/warm season vegetables in their permanent outdoor pots and or grow bags till Memorial Day. Hardening off is taking place now on good days with sun and not too windy or cool conditions. And I will rotate them out in groupings. Plus they still need to grow some. So happy about the great weather to do all!

Have a great day and week! Enjoy this weather!!

Cathy Testa
containercathy at gmail.com
860-977-9473
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b
Container Gardener
Plant Enthusiast
Nature Lover!

Seedlings and Transplanting

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I started to transplant seedlings from my seed tray into small pots yesterday. It was a very sunny warm day and a pleasant time to work on this, but it did take me half the day to complete, and I cut back on the amount of seeds I have sown as compared to last year.

Seedling Tray as of 4/11/22

Most instructions or reference books will indicate to transplant once the first true leaves have developed. Above is a photo of the stage at which I transplanted them yesterday. Usually, I wait a bit longer for those two top true leaves (above the cotyledons) to be a bit larger, but I had time to work on this and will be away from my greenhouse for the next few days. It will be sunny for a day or so and the temps will rise so putting them into bigger pots will help to reduce moisture loss or chances of soil dry out while I am not here to attend to moisture monitoring. (Tip: Water your seedling tray so the soil is moist before removing the seedling to transplant into a pot.)

Into Potting Mix

I used 5-6″ round pots and added fresh slightly pre-moistened potting mix (not seedling mix) and I used a clean golden knife to make a hole to insert the seedling into. I’m probably over cautious and handle all with care as to not damage the small seedlings. The golden knife was from a utensils set I received as a gift over 30 years ago – yes, as a wedding gift. The funny thing is I never really liked the gold color so I stored the set – and now they are used as gardening tools for me in the greenhouse. I can’t remember who gave that set to me. They would be surprised to know I’m using them this way today.

Seedling Size as of 4/11/22

I make a nice pocket to insert the seedling into the round pot. I do not fertilize at all at this point. The seedlings’ roots are still very fine and tender. I tend to not fertilize at all until a month later. Some recommendations will say to start fertilizing with half-strength with soluble plant food. I don’t do this at this stage. They will be able to stay in these pots for a 2-3 weeks, I think. I’ll keep you posted as I go along. It really depends on the amount of sunshine we get for growth results. (Tip: Remember, it still can snow in April – it did on 4/16/21).

On a table

I put some of them on a table set in the middle of my greenhouse and others on table racks. (Note: I do not recommend leaving on the glass like I did above, it is better to have air circulation below the pot as well as above, in my opinion. But sometimes I run out of space.) These are Cherokee Heirlooms above. Again, I usually wait till the seedlings are a bit larger but I had the time to do the work yesterday, so I got it started.

Fox Cherry Tomatoes

I also have quite a few Fox Cherry (yummy!!) tomatoes potted up (transplanted) as well. They are looking nice. I’m sure when we get more sunny weather, these will pop up rather quickly in growth. (Tip: If a seed shell is still stuck to the tip of a leaf, use a spray bottle to mist some water lightly on the seed, and it will remove easily.)

Liking the Look of My Foxes!

You can use seedling mix if you wanted to, but I tend to use potting mix at this stage. I handle them carefully, not pulling by the leaves but gently inserting the golden knife into the seedling tray cells and pushing up the root area as I remove them to put in the black pots. Sometimes I will bury the tomato plant just a little deeper. The stem has tiny hairs that turn into roots, but it is not necessary to do this (plant deeper) if you don’t want to. If your seedlings are leggy and stretchy however, this can be helpful.

Goldie Heirlooms

I sowed these for the first time last year, the Goldies! See photo below. We had too much rain last year when they were outside, but I am hopeful this year will be better for these babies. I am careful to not over water them right now, because they are so tiny and tender right now, I don’t want any rot to set in at the base of the stem. Good air circulation on hot days in the greenhouse is helpful. If the sun is out and the temps rise quickly, vent the doors, and turn on a light fan. It is important to not make the soil soaking wet, and checking them often. At least I do.

Last year’s Goldie!

Well, just a short post for today. We are getting rain all morning, up to 1 pm, then will be sun this afternoon, some of tomorrow will be sunny too. Bring on that sunshine. My new little tomato starts need them.

Remember, if you are local and interested in some of my tomato starter plants in mid-May, get on my list. I am not growing as many as last year, due to trying to conserve expenses (pots, soil, etc).

Thanks,

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b, CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
containercathy at gmail.com
860-977-9473
www.WorkshopsCT.com (products)
www.ContainerGardensCT.com (container designer)
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (blog)

Cherokee on a Plant in 2021

Growing Tomatoes Sucks

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Ha! Ha! April Fools!

Growing tomatoes definitely does NOT suck. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of summer container gardening!

I’m in the early stages of seed sowing this year, and here are some photos to share with basic tips, with all kidding aside! 🙂

Pre-Moisten

Tip No. 1 – Pre-moisten the seedling mix

I use a clear bowl and pour a small bag of “seedling” mix into it and then add water from my watering can. Using a clean and sterilized small scoop or utensil, gently stir the mix. It is best if you are able to do this a night before to allow the mix to absorb moisture, but a few hours before is fine as well, but this step is crucial. Allow that mix to take up a bit of moisture so it won’t float out of your seed tray and also the mix sometimes needs to rehydrate before use.

Close Up of the Seedling Mix in a Tray
Make a little hole

Tip No. 2 – Use a clean tool to make a tiny hole

Sometimes I have used a bamboo skewer, or you may just use your hands, I guess, but I prefer to make a tiny hole with a tool and then drop the seed into the hole with tweezers. You have the option of one seed per cell or a few seeds (and separate them later), but I tend to do one per cell in most cases. Again, make sure the tool you use is clean and I avoid reusing them unless they are easily cleaned. What I mean is after one tray, I may toss out that little plastic straw I used or put it in a recycle bin for use other than seed sowing. Be careful not to transmit things from tools. I’m referring to sowing tomato seeds in this post (and some of the hot pepper seeds).

Tip No. 3 – Seeds In Hand

Pour some seed into your hand or a paper cup as you work to drop them into the seedling mix – guess this is not really a tip but I have a good pic of me with some tomato seeds in my hand. Make sure if your hands happen to be wet to not to put an unsown seed back into your seedling packet because you will transfer some moisture from your hand to the seed to the packet. If you don’t use all of the seeds in your seed packet, store the packet in a cool, dark, dry place away from hot sun, temp flux’s, or moisture or damp conditions. And know how long seeds last for whatever you are sowing. Some seeds last 25 years, others last 2 years.

Seeds in Hands
On Seedling Heat Mats and Under Grow Lights

Tip No. 4 – Use a Grow Light

This is the first year I am using a high output energy efficient high bay fixture grow lamp. My trays are in my greenhouse BUT we get lots of cloudy days when I start to sow seeds in my area of Connecticut (usually starting in March thru May). On the cloudy days, I’ve been turning on the light. It hangs over the trays with a pendant chain which I am able to lower and rise the position of the lamp fixture by taking the chain and an S-hook to adjust it. I do not have it on a timer, I turn it on in the mornings on cloudy days, and turn it off by dinner time. It is only needed when the seeds germinate and are showing above the soil. This is a fluorescent lamp style. Tip is to watch it carefully as the seedlings grow so you do not burn the foliage as they grow higher.

Covers – Natural Sun was Hitting them in this photo one morning

Tip No. 5: Use clear covers to help maintain moisture of the seedling mix until they germinate is very much recommended, however, I tend to not do that – because I work from home, I check the trays every day at least twice a day. I look to see if some cells have dry soil (lighter in color, touch top to feel moisture if need be), while others are still are moist. I literally will carefully water only the ones that are dry, so because I am home and a plant addict, I check them often. If I was not home all day, I would be concerned about them getting too dry and go with the clear dome covers instead to help retain moisture during the phase of waiting for the seeds to germinate.

Tip. No. 6 – All same type of seeds in a tray

I made one minor error, I put tomato seeds in the same big tray in several rows and in the same tray, some hot pepper seeds in adjacent rows. Pepper seeds take a lot longer to germinate (3 weeks) because they really like very warm soil and air temperatures, while the tomato seeds germinated in five days! So now I am like, ah, I have to put the tomato side under the light. Next time, I will avoid that scenario. They only need the light when they rise above the soil. Hopefully this is making sense, LOL.

Other General Tips for Sowing Stages:

Don’t sow too early. Don’t sow too late. Know the timing. I’ve discussed in prior posts.
Visit trays twice a day to monitor watering, as noted above unless using dome covers.
Take photos, its fun and it allows you to see adjustment ideas for the next season.
Label seed packets with a Sharpie marker if seeds are still in the packet (I put a dot on the back if I used only some of the seed and a check mark on the back if all seeds were used.)
Record the date sown on the plant label and on a wall calendar or notebook. When the planting season arrives, you will get too busy. Taking notes is important.
Remember that in mid-May (for CT zones), you have to harden off the seedlings outdoors for a while before you actually plant them in patio pots, grow bags, raised gardens, etc.
Watch the weather forecasts.
Target your weeks before based on the expected last spring frost in May (usually mid-May).
Target your planting time when safe to plant outside (usually around Memorial Day, usually).

Types of Lights

I did minimal research on lights to be honest. There are several types of artificial lights for the greenhouse world. You do not need lights when the sun is shining in a greehouse for seedlings of this type, and the heat rises in a greenhouse quickly on sunny days, so you may need the alternate – a fan, or small gentle fan for your trays. Using a light should help the strength of my seedlings this year. As I’ve noted above, for many years, I did not use grow lights at all and I was successful. There are incandescent lights, high intensity discharge lights, fluorescent lights (the type I got), and light emitting diode (LED). All of these I will research when I have time I guess! LOL. Some are more expensive than others and some are hotter than others. Note: Some fluorescent fixtures are not good enough for other types of plants, but they work for seedlings with the right T strength. It is too complicated for me to go into and I’m still just learning about them so not much more I can offer on that for now, but if you do get lights, be sure you consider the placement, how you will adjust the height of them or the trays below. I read someone said they use books to raise the trays, rather than lower the light fixture but I also have a heat mat below. And I don’t want to bring books that may get wet into my greenhouse and keep dampness below the trays. Yes, I’m an*al that way – I over think it. Do research on the lights first if you have never used them, there are lots of neat setups now for indoor home growers. I just read of one that is a small shelving system perfect for apartments with lights already installed, etc. Many options out there.

My Tomato Jungle Last Year (2021)

And tomatoes do not s*ck – I was just kidding – it was a joke. Don’t slap me. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

Have a GREAT weekend!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Container Garden Enthusiast
Zone 6b
Connecticut
Dated: 4/1/2022 April Fool’s Day

Places I’ve Put My Tomato Plants in Containers at My Home

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When my husband and I searched for our house, many moons ago, I was absolutely sure I wanted a house with some property. I grew up on a farm in East Windsor, CT and I knew I liked having space around my home, but never in a million years, would I have imagined how much I would enjoy the spaces and land as much as we have over the past 30 or so years.

When I get my tomato plants ready to put in pots, grow bags, or containers, I have some choices on where to place the containers around my home.

The Driveway

Driveway Area

The driveway area located between our garage and house is fairly large. Never would have I thought when we had a wrought iron fence built that it would be a great place to line up tomatoes in pots later in life. The warmth of the paved area is great for keeping the soil warm for the plants, the wrought iron fence serves a bit as a protection from wild animals on the back side, and the garden hose from the house’s outdoor faucet is close enough to reach the potted tomato plants for daily watering in the summer months.

Upon Planting

I think the first year that I lined up the pots with tomato plants on this driveway space area, I didn’t need any fencing around it, but the wild animals learned. They (squirrels or chipmunks) started to discover this was “the sweet spot” and thus, the following years, I had to put chicken wire around the pots to protect the fruit from the little critters. The chipmunks were particularly a nuisance one year, because they would creep up and sneak in by going on the backside. The chicken wire I used was attached to a large dog pen portable cage I picked up somewhere. It worked, somewhat but it was a pain to open and close it to get to the fruit at times.

Driveway, Plants Surrounded by Chicken Wire attached to a Dog Pen Fence

Turns out back then, the driveway area between the house and garage served as a great place to also harden off my tomato plants before planting them in bigger pots. The paved area is level and a great surface to place portable tables there, so again, I could keep the critters away by elevating my starter plants, and for ease of transporting them daily, as I would move them back and forth sometimes from the inside to the outside each day to acclimate them before their permanent home in a large pot.

Hardening Off Tomato Plants on a Table along with some other plants

The Deck and Deck Tables

I knew when we built a wooden deck along the back side of our ranch style home that it would be immediately filled with flowers in patio pots, and it was, but later in life, I started potting up tomato plants and herbs as well. The deck is nice because fresh tomatoes are within reach of our kitchen area. Plus if any wild animals wish to investigate, which they do, such as squirrels, I’m close enough at times to yell at them to get lost. Last year, I decided to put some of the tomato plants in big tubs on an old deck table. I wanted to try to see if it would help from the investigating squirrels. It kind of did. We didn’t have the best weather last year for tomatoes (too much rain) but they were so beautiful and large before we started getting harsh rain storms with damaging winds, etc. Anyhow, using the deck table on the deck was a nice place to put some of the pots. Some of the pots are also on the deck floor.

Because the indeterminate tomato plants will grow taller and taller, I came up with a strategy to take garden twine and s-shaped hooks and train them up to the house gutters. It looks rather messy but heck, it works. I guess I don’t mind the jungle feel of tomatoes on my deck. We can just walk by and grab ripened ones anytime we wish. And yes, I did sit in that cozy deck chair and admire my plants from time to time. That makes them grow better. Didn’t you know that? LOL.

Tomato Plants on the Deck

North Side Area by Garage

To the north side of our garage, where our leaching field is located under the ground, is a nice flat open space. Years ago, I considered putting a hoop style greenhouse there because it gets full sun all day but that area gets very hot. There are no shade trees and the lawn bakes there. You can see the grass is usually dry as a bone on this area in the photos below. I didn’t end up putting a hoop style greenhouse there, and I’m thankful because it would get too hot in summer. I could imagine it having to have fans on all the time and things would bake. Plus, often it is not a good idea to build over leaching fields.

Anyhow, one year, I put a rather large black pot there with an Oxheart tomato. The plant grew so large, I wrapped hard wire fencing around it with bamboo poles. The bamboo poles were inserted into the inside of the rim of this large pot that is about 4 feet tall. It worked great – the critters could not climb up the large black pot (because it is large and not easily grabbed onto) to get to the amazing huge Oxheart tomatoes.

Inserting the Bamboo Poles
Before I decided to line the bamboo poles around it

I used to drag a very long garden hose up to that area and actually set the hose in the big black pot and let it run for a bit to water it. I developed tennis elbow from doing this here and everywhere for other containers on my property (always too many! LOL), so this area was not the best for watering routines. However, it was probably one of the best spots for keeping animals away. I think the pot’s height and the fact nothing was around it, maybe the animals felt threatened in that area (unprotected) but it definitely kept them out. However, to get to the gorgeous huge 3 lb sized Oxheart tomatoes once they were ripe, I had to get on a step stool to reach down into the plant and carefully grab these huge tomatoes. It was tricky, but worth it.

Zip Ties used to Secure the Hard Wire Fence Material to the Bamboo Poles
Look at the lawn area – burnt and dry

No matter where I put the containers with tomatoes around my home, I still envision an enclosed garden area in my backyard surrounded by a beautiful white fence with a gate and arbor entrance. Alas, my husband says, that will have to wait until he retires because he never has time to build it. We get lots of wild animals in our backyard, so any fruiting plants must be protected. It would have to be carefully protected with fencing all around and I envision it filled with those square raised beds. Ah, that would be tomato heaven.

Last Year, 2021, On the deck by my bedroom slider

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Zone 6b
Thanks for visiting!

Patio Umbrellas on the deck offers shade as needed
Welcome to the Jungle!
Plants around the Patio Table – Adds Ambiance!

Will We Be Short on Potting Mixes again This Year?

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Cathy Testa of Container (Garden) Crazy CT (Photo in my greenhouse by JMS Art & Photo)

Potting Mix is probably one of the most important aspects of success for growing healthy plants in patio pots. It must be a quality product. If the bag of soilless mix is damaged, not a good brand, or these days, possibly unavailable, you are in trouble.

Every single product or tool we use to grow plants (pots, trays, fertilizer, seeds, soilless mixes and specialty media, labels, etc.) has increased in prices and there are continued delays in the supply chain. This will affect all of us this year again potentially, however, it won’t stop us (because we love plants, or course! But I see it coming and if you haven’t noticed these issues, you will.)

I usually don’t make my own potting mixes for my container gardens, seedlings, or starter plants, but this year, I am highly considering it. In fact, I just read an article here, where they share a downloadable PDF file of how to make your own potting mixes. BTW, I trust sources from universities or extension services the most. By making your own mix, you are in complete control of each component. I’m guessing it may be cheaper but I am not sure until I compare apples to apples, so to speak. However, there is such an ease with opening a reliable trusted brand of professional potting mixes, if they are available and fresh.

Photo in Cathy T’s Greenhouse – Yes, that’s my hand in the mix!

Traditional pre-made potting mixes contain perlite and/or vermiculite, and peat. Good mixes are light-weight, have good water holding capacity, and mixes vary based on the specific growing needs (seeds, transplanting, bedding plants, plugs, potting up, etc.). Some mixes will have things like beneficial mycorrhizal (or biofungicides to prevent root diseases). Some will contain alternatives to peat, such as coir. Some have organic fertilizer added, and some don’t. Some mixes are pH adjusted and contain starter nutrients. This list goes on and on, and it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That is if you can find it and trust it.

Photo from Cathy T’s Greenhouse

After using various bagged potting and soilless container mixes for ten years, I am able to tell when a mix is healthy the minute I opened the bag. I’ve talked about what to look out for when you buy potting mix for your container gardens, patio pots, and planters here on my blog. I still need to update that article I wrote, called “The 5 Must-Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” which I wrote a long time ago and did a brief update to it in 2019. But it still needs lots of work. Potting mixes is a big topic. I just haven’t had the time to really dive into a more extensive version of that article.

Now here we are in 2022. And I’m frustrated with the potting mix scene. I’m not alone. Lots of plant related Facebook groups have questions on potting mixes. People are frustrated because they get issues in or from the mixes (i.e., fungus gnats), and they just want good results, and so do I. They fear using the wrong type or brand, and even I have from time to time. Why? Because lately some results from “some” mixes let me down, and now with supply-chain issues, I wonder how this will impact availability and quality of mixes in 2022.

Pouring Potting Mix into a Bubble Bowl Terrarium – Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Potting mixes are like a good foundation to building a house. And we all know what happened when one ingredient in concrete for home foundations became a huge issue, where houses had to be lifted and new foundation poured because house foundations were cracking and deteriorating. Well, I kind of feel this way about potting mixes. Potting mixes are the foundation to starting seeds, potting up your indoor houseplants, and building up soil mixes in your outdoor container gardens and patio pots, along with other components as needed. If one thing is wrong with them, it may lead to issues (e.g., poor drainage, insects harboring, or no moisture holding capacity). And there are many sources of potting mix brands out in the market, and it is growing, as defined in this link based on recent market analysis. The affects of COVID have impacted production and demand. It makes me wonder, what will roll out of those long awaited semi-loaded trucks, when they do arrive.

Castor Bean Seed Coming Up in Healthy Mix

For years, I had no issues acquiring the potting soilless mixes I needed, but the past couple years, eh, I’ve encountered some issues. And this year, because of all the things still impacting our supply chains overall, well, there are now potential issues with availability. This is my prediction, but we will see. I did receive a comment that orders were all back ordered a few months ago but the bottom line is lately we just can not predict what will happen next. So, my overall thought is, will potting mixes be in short-supply this year? And how will you or I manage that if so? What adjustments will need to be made? And also, remember, being flexible in the growing scene is key. I struggle with this because I want to be in control, but I’ve learned over the years, you must be flexible and strong! LOL. Because growing plants is a science and an art, and a bit of a guessing game sometimes too.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening
containercathy at gmail.com
Zone 6b

Five Random Plant Photos and The Story Behind Them

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Cactus in Tin Cans

This was back in 2019. I used a hammer and nail to pound little drain holes in the base of the soup cans (easy peasy!), and put a cactus plant in each. I had started to do letter stamping on the cans’ sides prior for fun. These just ended up on a wood shed floor and a photographer (JMS Art & Photo) took photos of it when here taking other photos of my plants that day. Note: Only downfall of the cans is they start to rust – but that could be a good thing if you like a rustic look.

Table in the Greenhouse

I know that every square inch of my greenhouse should probably be used for plants only, but I can’t help myself. I like creating a mix of vintage or antique things to put around my plants. The table is a very old small draft table a retired engineer gave away for free one year (actually his daughter posted it for free) so I went to get it. The typewriter in the background was from my husband’s uncle’s typewriter shop. The vintage fan is from a farm in Vernon, which I picked up as part of their tag sale one summer. But of course, what is the most impressive is that succulent plant and the way the flower stems grew. It is such a beautiful photo, again by JMS noted above.

Succulent Blooms in Summer

Speaking of succulent blooms, here’s a beautiful photo of one which was outdoors in summer. It was growing in the shape of a heart! Hummingbirds visit these blooms a lot. They like them, so take note, succulent flowers are great for your little hummingbirds in summer and they last a very long time on long tall stems. This bloom was actually growing from a hanging basket filled with succulent plants, so the flowers were high up and the hummingbird was fun to watch.

Castor Bean Seed Pods

Castor bean plants are easy to grow from seed. I wrote about this plant and an artist’s depiction of them too via this post. This variety has red stems, reddish foliage, and red round seed pods which are spiny. You wait to harvest them at the right time when the seeds inside are mature, and crack the pods open. Gloves are recommended as the spines can be a nuisance when cracking open the seed pods. Keep your seeds over the winter and sow in the spring. These plants grow super tall and huge. I probably will sow more seeds this spring again. They make a tropical affect in the garden.

Morning Glories

Another photo by JMS (noted above). I love the way she captured the shadow of the morning glories growing along my garage wall. I wrote about morning glories last month, see here. Plants offer many artistic benefits and one being the way plants’ foliage and flowers capture light or twine and grow – this is why I am obsessed with plant photography!

Well, just 5 random photos to share today!

Hope you enjoy them.

Have a great weekend.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com
Container Garden Designer
Plant Enthusiast
Blogger
Broad Brook, CT 06016
Zone: 6b
Written: 2/18/22

Photos of Me, Cathy T

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I remember a friend not wanting any photos of herself on her garden website, and I get it, some people just prefer privacy, but as for myself, I felt it was an important aspect of my plant blog or websites to show who I am, after all, I know if I’m looking up a service person of some kind, I like seeing who they are. And often times, if working as a container garden installer in particular, it is nice to see who you will be entrusting your plantings to. Anyhow, today I decided to share some photos of me with plants from the past to present for fun. I was clearing out some file storage and came across a few photo memories!

Photo Shoot for a Feature in Go-Local Magazine

This is me, making a terrarium in my greenhouse. The editor of Go-Local came by with a photographer to take some “action” shots of me for a feature of my small business in their magazine issue. Go-Local is a cool mag! They feature small businesses in various towns and I love seeing their magazine still today. I offer Terrarium Kits and used to do Terrarium Workshops as well. In this photo, I’m sprinkling some horticulture charcoal in the bubble bowl, or perhaps that is the soil. I was surrounded with all kinds of plants which some I stared myself.

This one didn’t end up being used, which we can see why – my eye looks weird, but the rabbit with plant was cool. I made it as a plant gift around Easter. There is moss in the base with cute little dwarf like plants inside. It was just adorable. Sometimes I will spot cool and unique containers, and the red shiny bunny things were perfect as a neat pot of tiny plants.

Cathy Testa with a Tray of Castor Bean Seeds Just Starting to Push Out Leaves

Happy Camper Here – also by Go-Local, of me holding a tray of Castor Bean seeds which were just pushing up their first leaves. I wrote all about this plant, here’s the link. Anyhow, the greenhouse is my ‘heaven on earth’ as I am always happy in there, especially when the sun is shining. What is neat about Castor Bean plants is you can clearly see the cotyledons shaped differently from the first set of true leaves. It is an easy seed to sow and the plant grows massive.

2014 – In-front of my Chicken Coop

The chickens had quite the chalet back then, but I didn’t end up keeping the chickens, as they were unable to free range (too many wild predators in my yard with the Scantic River near by). The birch tree in the background is gone now (probably fell from a storm) and the Magnolia to the right of me is much taller now – probably as tall as me now, and has some intense rosy pink flowers each season. The outdoor chicken pen is covered with Kiwi Vines – they grow super fast and must be pruned often to not allow them to wander too far. They do produce kiwi fruit (takes about 5 years from planting with a male and female plant) and they are hardy in Connecticut. I usually don’t eat the fruit – they are small and a little bitter. Even though the chickens are no longer here, I love this area still with the shed and outdoor pen. I always try to think, what can I do with that outdoor pen? It is all shade now in summer due to the Kiwi Vine covering the top. If I had grandkids, it would be turned into a fairy garden.

Little red table with the Red Blooming Canna Lily

That little red table was a freebie find on the side of the road by my sister’s house and I spray painted it red. It was just coincidence the red canna lily plants in the background were blooming red too for this photo shoot. Those canna lily return each year now because the wall is located above an indoor basement woodstove, so the soil stays warmer in winter – that is my theory anyhow. There is a honeysuckle vine to my left, which I chopped all the way down last year because it was getting aphids a lot the past two years and I thought, heck, I’ll just chop it all down – it grew back healthy. And the red head planter was purchased while on vacation, and I still have it today. For some reason, no matter which plant I put in that red head planter, it thrives. Right now it has a hobbit jade that is doing super well in my home. I put it outside every summer. You can see some catmint (blue flowers), lamb’s ear (silvery foliage), a yucca plant with spent flower stem (that blooms every other year), along with other things, it is kind of a messy area now that needs work!

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

I don’t remember what year this was but many years ago. We always attended the North Atlantic Blues Fest in Rockland, Maine, and one year, we went to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on our way up or back, can’t recall, but I do recall the magnificent Delphiniums in the background at the gardens. Could you imagine having those at your home?!! Just beautiful.

Ah the Younger Me!

Sometimes when I see photos of me, the younger me, I think that was before I got the annoying tinnitus ear ringing issue! Anyhow, I look happy, don’t I? Who wouldn’t with a stash of plants like this – but they weren’t for me – they were for attendees of my container gardening workshops. Aren’t they beautiful plants? I used to pick up plants from Sunny Border in CT at that time. I haven’t been there in a long time, but years ago, it was a fav of mine. They used to have some cool tropical type plants but I am not sure if they do anymore. It is a massive wholesale grower.

Me at The Garden Barn in Vernon, CT

This is me, gosh, I think 10? years ago, really? Time flies. I worked there for two or three summers and this was me before I was about to do a presentation about perennial combinations for container gardens. If you haven’t been to The Garden Barn and Nursery in Vernon, CT, I highly suggest you visit them. They are a huge garden nursery and packed to the gills each season. I still go there from time to time, and always know I can find something I need. They are closed right now for a short time in the winter but are always packed with plants all year otherwise.

Outside of the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA

Going to the Boston Flower and Garden Show was always a routine for me. My husband, Steve, would indulge me for a weekend in the Seaport World Trade Center area in Boston. We’d have Mexican food mid-day, go back to the flower show, and usually go out to dinner for Italian food. This area has changed a lot in regards to buildings, etc., and this year, they are not holding the flower show at the trade center, as it is undergoing renovations and they are looking for a new location. Many buildings around this area have been torn down and replaced with high rises and such. Remember the old run down Irish Bar, what the heck was it called? It is gone now. Anyhow, I just loved going with Steve. I am holding plants I could not resist buying at the show with pink tropical flowers – and guess what? I can not recall the name of them right now.

Presenting in my Garage

LOL! I look so serious, I can only imagine I was talking about big pots during a container gardening presentation in my garage.

Me holding a Floral Arrangement

I coordinated a floral arrangement class once with guest speakers, and they did a wonderful job for my group of attendees teaching floral arranging and everyone made a gorgeous bouquet. It was around Valentine’s Day too. I made one too. Here I am, a happy camper. I have to note “floral arranging” in vases is really not my forte. I don’t know why, but I find it a bit challenging. Whereas container gardening and other plant related creations are not difficult for me. Not sure why I can’t do floral arrangements with cut flowers. Plants attached to roots and soil are not a problem for me – maybe that is what it is, something about the stem positions? Who knows!

2021 Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Finally, here is a recent one of me. I’m in my truck getting ready to head out to plant some plants at a container gardening site. This is those selfie types – you know all about those! I was happy to have a beautiful day to do some work and enjoy the sunshine, which I’m terribly missing right now during the winter. February is tough for me and why I got distracted with photos as I was organizing my office and office files.

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire

One of my winter hobbies is snowshoeing. I really do enjoy it and we went off on a trail for hours one day in Jackson Village, New Hampshire. Yes, that cooler has food for lunch. The beer was my husband’s. LOL. It started to snow heavily and we were covered in snow by the time we returned to our vehicle that day but it was lots of fun and the snow is so pretty. It is one way I keep myself distracted in winter – snowshoeing. The place we went to had many many trails, linked above, and I recommend it. There were lots of choices for trails. You could spend many hours there. They also have cross-country skiing there.

On a High Rise

I’m super happy to have a few high rise customers and do lots of planters and pots for them every season. In the foreground is a Mangave, on the right. Isn’t it spectacular?! I loved using it in a very tall planter one year in the summer there. I will write about this plant more. I have one that shot up a bloom stalk about 10 feet tall in my greenhouse which started in October and is still standing. More on that later. After working on a high rise for a few years now, I have learned a lot more about what works well. Sometimes I think I should write a mini-book about my experiences of working on high rise outdoor spaces. It is fun, unique, challenging, and rewarding.

Well, if you are not bored by now, I’m glad. I hope you enjoyed the me photos. It is a way for me to look back and seeing flower colors beats the dull and gray wet day outside right now.

Have a good weekend,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Zone 6b, Connecticut
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com
Dated: February 4, 2022

Pre-Planted Elephant’s Ears Tubers in Planters – My Take

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It’s always interesting to see new ideas in the plant world, and of course, one caught my eye recently. It is a planter preassembled with elephant’s ear tubers, boxed up for easy handling, and ready for the consumer to just water and wait for growth.

How I’ve Stored Tubers and Grow Them:

I’ve grown elephant’s ears from tubers over the years. I typically store them (the tubers only) over the winter in my unheated basement in bins with some peat to wait out winter until spring time. Because the plants are not hardy here in our winter planting zone (CT Zone 6b), I can not leave them in the ground or in pots outdoors over the winter. I dig them out of my planters (the tubers that is), clean off the soil from the tubers, and store them. Usually I am successful with opening the box in spring time to find them in tact. I’ve blogged about my process many times, search the word “overwintering” for more on that.

When I’ve Started Them:

I typically start them indoors around end of April or early May as spring is approaching. For years, I started them in my house by planting the tubers in pots with potting mix and setting them by my kitchen glass slider door. It was sufficient to get them started. Within a few weeks or so, a growing tip would appear above the soil and start to grow. When all chance of frost passed, out they went into larger planters and containers in my yard or on my deck, etc. These plants reach huge sizes (4 to 6 to 8 feet tall), so larger pots are always my aim to show them off in the right places.

Tried to Start Them Earlier:

However, last year, I wanted to try to start them earlier. I attempted to start some in March in my greenhouse (years ago, I didn’t have a greenhouse). It didn’t really work out as I had planned. My greenhouse is heated only to about 45-50 degrees F in the winter (to over winter other plants). It is a low temp because heat is a huge expense (especially this year), and elephant’s ears (Colocasia) require warmer soil temperatures (65 degrees F or warmer). They didn’t take off any faster than they would in my home, in fact, it was probably a bit slower going. They weren’t popping out of the soil and when I inspected them under the soil, some rot had started as well on part of the tubers (or bulbs if you prefer that wording). I learned a lesson, the soil needs to be warmer. I somehow overlooked a fact I knew due to being anxious to start them.

I considered maybe it was too soon to even attempt growing them earlier. What ended up happening is the potting soil remained too cold (because it was too cold in the greenhouse) and too wet because the tubers weren’t actively growing yet. Cold temps + damp soils leads to rot of the tubers. In fact, storing them is usually at a temp of 40-45 degrees F so the whole situation was it was just too cold still in my greenhouse, despite those rapid warm ups during winter days when the sun is out – the evenings were still a bit chilly.

How they Do This in the UK:

I’ve seen posts by people in the UK (via the wonderful sharing of posts on various tropical pages) usually start their elephant’s ear tubers in what they refer to as a propagator or cupboard. Terms we don’t use here in CT. From what I can tell, many of them put the tubers in plastic bags and place them in a warm spot (a cupboard or propagator) until they see some growth coming from the tuber – and then they put them into soil mix – or the ground perhaps (I’m not sure). Makes sense, they give them a head start but don’t subject them to cold wet soils. I remember asking someone one day via a comment on a post about this, what is a cupboard? If I recall, it is like a warm cabinet you have in your home somewhere to serve as a place to start tubers, or perhaps some seeds. I have some places like these (over the fridge I have a small cabinet that stays warm) or a cabinet in a corner near our heat source, which actually, I did use that cabinet to start sprouts years ago and that was one of my things then – starting and eating sprouts. Maybe this will be a location to kick start the tubers first – I may give this a try this year.)

Anyhow, I think the message here is if you start them too early in the wrong conditions, it could lead to issues, which was the case for me last year. Thus, when I saw those pre-planted tuber pots at the local big box store (just yesterday), I had some initial thoughts. I like the idea but I also know of what could go wrong with them, but I’m not saying it would go wrong (see disclaimers below!). And I also thought about what was right about these pre-planted tuber pots.

Pre-Planted Pots with Tubers

I have always been somewhat addicted to elephant’s ears because of their large showy heart shaped leaves which point down (or up as in the case with many Alocasias). They give a wonderful vibe to a space and I have used them everywhere in planters. I even hired a photographer a few years back to take photos (check her out at jmsartandphoto.com).

One year when I got into skulls, LOL! Note: The Human One is not REAL! LOL!

Elephant’s ears are just so very cool. And grow large and tall. The wave around in the wind, they create shade for plants below them, and they look good from the tops or bottoms and are relatively easy care. I just have to share another photo here of them. I typically plant some around my big red banana plant (Ensete) as well in this massive concrete planter at my home. Over time, it becomes lush and dramatic looking. I find they work in sun or shade, if more sun, more watering is required. They also make excellent thriller type plants in pots. They can even be grown in water – they are versatile plants for a tropical look and you may propagate them too.

Cathy Testa’s Large Cement Planter with a Mix of Elephant’s Ears and Other Tropical Plants

Digging them up for storing them is a fall gardening chore, but re-growing them in spring time is not so much of a chore, but I did take notice of those pre-planted tubers in pots with soil at the big box store yesterday. I didn’t see a price tag on them, and believe they were freshly delivered to display and sell so the price was not on there yet, I was curious about how much they cost.

My Take On the Pre-Planted Pots Seen Just Yesterday – Just my opinion!

Pluses: Talk about convenience. All was so well packaged and boxed up, it would be very easy to plop into your store cart and go. The pot size was good; usually I start my tubers in a one-gallon nursery pots. These black pots were bigger and nice enough to use for the summer as your planter, basic black color. The plant care information on the side of the packaging was decent, indicating they should not be planted outdoors until frost has passed (true), and to “water sparingly” and to keep the mixture “moist, not wet.” But they didn’t say why on the moisture, nor was there any botanical information on the packaging. Since I could not see the inside, not sure if more details are provided. They do not give Latin names for example, but did indicate there are 2 plants (bulbs) inside pre-planted, or that is the impression I got.

The Minuses: What are you getting inside? The top of the pot is closed off with more cardboard, and I wondered, hmmm, how big are the tubers in there? How much soil, is it half full or filled all the way, are the tubers in the soil or do you have to plant them, what does the soil look like but I bet the soil is perfectly fine as they are produced by bulb or plant producers, most likely but I kind of wished I could peek inside. And the price tag wasn’t on them yet, and I’m curious on that part as well. How much does this whole package cost?

The Timing: It depends what you have for getting these started? If you have a warm home with some place to set them down where the soil will be warm enough (see noted above), you could start to water them and see them pop up over time. But it is still February, so you would be maintaining them perhaps as a house plant all the way until the end of May when all chances of frost outdoors are passed. I did consider the “what if” you just moved them as is (don’t unpack the box, don’t water them) and keep them in your basement. Will they be okay? They probably put the tubers in there with dry soil, so nothing will happen until moisture is provided, usually. I guess I pondered that because what if you just wanted to get it but not start them just yet.

Another plus, you don’t have to go buy a whole bag of potting mix soil if you want to grow these from these planters. Everything is all set for you. Another minus, what if they get wet at the store while they sit there waiting for the purchaser? They shouldn’t but if they did, then the soil gets wet and they may start to grow, or if the soil gets wet, it could lead to soil problems, if they are not in the right temperature conditions. And another minus, it is not technically supporting the local small businesses, but we all go to these big box places from time to time, don’t we? In fact, I feel like anytime someone creative comes up with a cool plant idea, these big box places are very quick to copy it – which is good or bad, depending on who you are supporting, a local small business or plant passions overall – I won’t go there, but any how, perhaps a minus is buying this is not supporting a local grower who takes the time to grow it themselves to a proportion and health readily available at the right time. It is just a matter of opinion, give or take. A matter of timing. A matter of preference, but anyhow, innovations and new ideas are cool overall. Maybe this is not a new idea either. It was the first time I saw it though.

Anyhow, I’m sharing it cause I spotted it, and thought I’d give my thoughts! What do you think??

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
A Container Gardener
Location: Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b

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Beautiful Photo – Really Captures the Beauty below the Elephant’s Ear foliage – Cathy Testa’s Planter