Cathy T at the Ellington Farmers Market – Edibles, Succulents, and More


Good Morning Everyone,

In June of 2009, I was interviewed by Sarah Martinez for “Garden Center Magazine” about my Container Garden Parties at people’s homes, and one statement I made to her at that time was, “Holding these parties at people’s homes is a lot of work – but I enjoy it.”

Well, the same holds true today.

Last weekend, Cathy T’s Big Container Garden Party (Class) was held, and the plant feature was succulents, alpines and tropical plants – and again – it was a lot of work to setup, but so much fun.  Being with a group of attendees interested in creating and learning – well, it can not be beat.

Attendees listening to Cathy T's Tips

Attendees listening to Cathy T’s Tips

The opportunity to share what I have learned over the years about Container Gardens and plants presents itself again at the Ellington Farmers Market today in Arbor Park on Main Street in Ellington, CT.

Come see me at 10:00 am in the gazebo. (Note:  There are 2 gazebo’s on the property, one will have musicians, the other along Main Street is where I will be on the farmers market grounds.)

The market opens at 9:00 am and closes by noon.  It will be a fast paced day filled with goodies – including a talk on “Decorative Edibles in mixed Container Gardens” by me.  I hope to see you there today.

And because I have beautiful succulents and alpines in stock, I will have those available for sale too.  If you haven’t completed planting up your container gardens and patio pots – come see the goodies available.

Succulents, Alpines, and Cacti

Succulents are plants with thick and strong leaves and stems.  Because they are designed to store water during periods of drought – they are tough little plants.  Some are dainty and others offer bold and strong architectural forms.

Cacti are similar to succulents; they store water in their stems.  Some have areoles with spines, so they can be very strong and even dangerous if not handled appropriately, but so worth it in my opinion, for many offer values in design compositions in container gardens.

In my class last weekend, I went over the 7 ‘Must Not Do’s’ with Succulents, so if you want to know what those are – see me today or sign up for a future class.

Oh and alpines – well, they are just adorable little plants popular to use in rock garden settings, as ground covers, and in crevices — and of course, in big or small container gardens.  This small wired basket is a creation by an attendee last weekend, Linda.  Isn’t it as sweet as ever – so small but so cute.

A dainty creation with alpines by an attendee

A dainty creation with alpines and herbs by an attendee

Sometimes you get inspired when you work with small plants too.  Yesterday, I took snips and cuttings of various succulents and alpines to create this adorable, dainty tea cup embellishment for a table.  Want to give it a try?  All supplies, the vintage bone china tea cups, plants, and instructions will be available at the market at the gazebo.

Cuttings of Succulents in Vintage Tea Cups

Cuttings of Succulents in Vintage Tea Cups

The tea cup plate and cup on the left, by the way, will be available for purchase. These cups go for $20-25 dollars on eBay – I will have them for a deal at a limited supply so if you want one, arrive early before they are all sold out.

But succulents, as noted above, can be very edge looking, and another attendee at the class scored an amazing container – check this out!  Topped with a very large Sempervirens (Hens and Chick), alone it makes a statement.  Her tall silver GARDEN container will rock it outdoors, and is easily moved indoors over the winter if desired.  I think it was my favorite container style brought by an attendee this year – so fun to see what they find and design in class.

Lisa's GARDEN container rules!

Lisa’s GARDEN container rules!

Succulents and cacti offer extremely different ranges of forms and textures.  Take the Faucaria tuberculosa on the left in the photo below.  This plant is a South African native and has the most interesting triangular leaves and it is a soft silvery blue color. This looks great with darker toned succulents in a pot, but it is also a neat form to work with.  It is a Zones 10-11 plant so perfect for the heat of summer and as a house plant in winter.  It is very easy to grow and will bloom yellow flowers in late summer.  The common name is Pebbled Tiger Jaws – perfect name, I would say.

Awesome forms and textures

Awesome forms and textures

And check out the plant on the right – Gasterworthia ‘American Beauty’ – it is NEW on the scene.  This is a hybrid of Gasteria and Haworthia pumila (maxima) grown by local growers in CT – and the rosette is stunning – patterned with spotting on the leaves. It is shooting up yellow flowers right now.  Both will be available for sale today at the market, along with many other types.

Two Types of Jades

Two Types of Jades

The plant with red edged leaves is a Jade plant by the name of Crassula arborescens – also NEW on the scene.  How can you resist this plant? – it has fleshy, blue-gray foliage and stands upright but full and mounded too.  It eventually grows to 3 to 4 feet wide, and I think they are stunning.  Also, a common Jade (as seen in the background), Crassula ovata, is in this photo – a common houseplant which I think looks amazing in head planters.  Go see my Container Garden Collages for photos of a red head pot to see.

Hens and Chics

Hens and Chics

These are just ‘sneak peeks’ of today’s plant features.  Echeverias with a variety of colors and fleshy leaves tinged with colored edges will be available too.  The Genus name is named after an 18th century Mexican botanical artist, Atanasio Echeveria y Godoy – now you know why they are called Echeverias (a.k.a., Hens and Chicks).  And be on the look out for Agaves, Aloes, Kalanchoes, and other’s.

But now it’s time for me to sign-off and get ready for my day.

See you there,

Cathy Testa



PODCAST: Container Gardening (No Yard? No Problem! Get Growing!)


Listen in to hear ContainerCrazyCT talk about edibles in container gardens during this podcast! Happy Sunday Everyone. Cathy T

Goofing Around with My Camera (Predators, Coop Renovation, Blooms)


I’ve been so busy preparing for this weekend’s class on Container Gardening with succulents, alpines, and cacti that I woke up at 2:00 am unable to sleep.  The excitement is getting to me, as it always does.  So, after tossing around in bed for another couple hours, I gave up and got up. I decided a distraction may be in order, so to continue my trend, I’m posting some general photos I took around my home, and here or there, related to gardening – and chickens – yes, have those now and we are enjoying our six hens.

Orchid Cactus

On a clear day last weekend, I took this plant outside to take some photos of its amazing bloom.  And geesh, is this not stunning?  I love the hot pink color against the clear blue sky.  Why haven’t I had one of these plants before?  I plan to research and blog about in detail later.  Do you have one or grow these?  If yes, I would love to hear from you.  The bottom photo is of two closed up blooms that finished their show.

Orchid Cactus Bloom

Orchid Cactus Bloom

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Can you guess what this plant is?  As noted, they are tobacco plant seedlings.  Last summer, I asked a nearby grower of these if I could have one plant.  His response, well, no, I can’t give any away.  I wanted to remind him of the day his big cows came into my yard and rubbed against my Arborvitae trees many years back, and how I didn’t complain – Why? Because I grew up on a farm and have an appreciation of how cows can get free, running loose from time to time.  But his cows did major damage, so I tore the trees out without much of a word about it and moo’ed on.

Well, last winter, I happen to mention this story to a friend, and this spring, she text me to say she got me some seedlings of tobacco plants from a farmer friend of her’s, and she even dropped them off for me in this pot.  I thought, what an amazing gesture on her part.  Why, you wonder, would I want one of these?  Well, they grow fast, have large showy leaves, and I just want to experiment with it for the features.  Will let you know how it goes, it is time to prick these out and get them into individual pots.

Tobacco Plants

Tobacco Plants

Japanese Tree Peony

I finally got my first Japanese Tree Peony (Paeonis suff. ‘High Noon’) and I couldn’t be more thrilled with its show.  The yellow blooms are luxurious.  This one has an exceptional yellow flower and they are the double type which I prefer on Peony plants.

As the afternoon sun hits it, I just ooze over it.  It will grow to 48″ tall and is for Zones 4-8.  It was a little pricey, but worth it.  For those of you who do not know, these have a wood based stem and look more like a shrub when mature.

Japanese Tree Peony

Japanese Tree Peony

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Iris with Honeysuckle

I planted a tall bearded Iris with honeysuckle and chocolate mint plants, one of each type in two large container gardens for a business client.  Imagine the scents in this arrangement?  The honeysuckle is Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’, a perennial with a vine and shrub like habit.  It is super fragrant with deep magenta blooms appearing in late spring through early fall.  It takes sun to part shade and I think the color looks spectacular with the blue blooms of the Iris ‘Abiqua Falls’. Ironically, I stopped at a local garden center this past weekend, and one of the owners told me someone had asked her recently what was in these planters – thinking her store planted them.  (Note to self: I have to get my sign in these containers!) I don’t like the look of a sign poking out of the containers, one of the reasons I haven’t done so yet.  Oh, the Iris is an award winner, prized for its large, sky blue blossoms.  The only problem with using Irises is they toppled over a bit, but luckily the trellis helped to anchor them back up.  In the bottom right photo is a Kwanzan cherry tree’s blooms which I took a photo of while on the road the same week as stopping in to check on these two container gardens.

Iris with Honeysuckle

Iris with Honeysuckle

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Fold Up Cart

Taking a break from the flowers – I also wanted to show a handy cart I ordered, which folds up super easily.  It can hold a lot of items and rolls really well too.  For years, when I would go to a Container Garden Party to do my classes or for talks at garden clubs, I lugged heavy items into the building practically by hand.  This wagon so helped me this past Monday when I did a talk at the Vernon Garden Club on incorporating edibles into container gardens.  It folds in a snap and goes right into the back bed of my truck.  Love it!

Fold Up Cart

Fold Up Cart

Bee on Polygonatum

I was trying to get a photo of this bee – but it came out a bit blurry.  This is a perennial I get CRS on every spring. I mix up the name sometimes with Polemonium which is similar but not quite.  However, I love my Polygonatums on the north side of my house in a shade area.  Their long and graceful arching stems are eloquent.  I divided up some and moved them to appear in batches in the bed and this year they look really great.  This makes a great woodland plant too and the dangling flowers are serving the bees coming by.  The foliage on this variegated one is very pretty, painted white on the edges.  This perennial prefers good moisture too.

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Stone Edging for the Coop

For years, I wanted to edge the area around my chicken coop – and my friendly landscape installer connection, Chris of Outdoor Creations of Ellington, obliged my request to have it done in time for this weekend.  I am thrilled with how it came out.  I like the natural look of this type of stone, and now I can have fun fixing up my plantings and adding perennials and container gardens to this area.  Talk about spoiled chickens!  Not only is their surrounding enhanced, they were fed grubs and worms by Chris as he was working on the building of the edge and mulching the beds.  He said they were fun to watch, and I’m sure they enjoyed his company while he was here.  Sparkles, the recently named chicken, agrees.  She’s the boss of my six Rhode Island Red hens, seen in the photo below.

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Kiwi Vine Feeds My Chics

Two kiwi vines, plants several years ago, a male and female plant on each side as required for pollination, are above my pen area of the coop.  One day, Sparkles was jumping up to grab some leaves.  We caught her on our motion censor camera which we move around the house to capture photos of wild life – and predators, as you will see following this photo.  Look at Sparkle’s feet – she jumped right off the ground.  My first priority was to determine if this vine could be poisonous to the chickens, and thankfully, it is not.  They get a feeding of them every day now when I go visit, tearing some leaves off to toss down for them.  And, I think this will be the year we finally get kiwi fruit from these vines. I saw tiny buds on one plant, the female plant.  It takes about five years for them to bloom and produce fruit – so we will see.  The vines require a great deal of pruning to keep in check, it can overtake anything, and grows fast.  We removed branches off a tree above the pen area last year because the vines were twining up to it, so it has to be watched.  Feeding some leaves to the chickens will help, I think.

Kiwi Vine Above Coop Pen

Kiwi Vine Above Coop Pen

Wild Predators Don’t Take Long

As I have mentioned, we attempted chicken raising here twice before, and gave up for a couple years.  The former chickens were allowed to free range, and got snatched by foxs, hawks – you name it.  But our new ones will not go beyond their protected coop and outdoor pen.  Since we have a motion censor camera, we set it up nearby to see what would lurk to investigate our new chickens.

The first week, we spotted a raccoon and coyote in the photos, and one early morning, I saw a fox running around the coop with something in its mouth.  Thankfully, it wasn’t one of my chicken.  We are sure to close their coop door every evening, and we are keeping a steady watch to make sure their pen is safe.  So far so good.  Kind of creepy to see the coyote checking it out.

Predators, first racoon, then Coyote

Predators, first raccoon, then Coyote

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That’s all for goofing around with my camera.  Now, its time to get back to work.

Written by Cathy Testa


A Succulent of a Different Kind is Rescued – Aeonium arboreum


I recently rescued an Aeonium suffering in the confines of a small square terracotta pot at a garden center.  It was tucked on the floor below potting benches where it stood solo with no others like it nearby.  Spotting its dish plate sized rosette, I stopped to look it over.

Hand shows size of  rosette

Hand shows size of rosette

It was apparent this showy and tall succulent plant had been sitting there for a very long time.  The pot it was growing in was very small, much smaller than the diameter of the plant’s terminal rosette which was growing from a single stem of 15 inches tall.  And although the plant looked great overall with no signs of problems, the pot was tattered and was barely holding up this plant.

This particular succulent could easily be overlooked at the garden center if you are not a scouter of plants, such as I am.  Additionally, there was no plant label in the pot, so if you are unfamiliar with this different kind of succulent, you may have decided to leave it where it sat. However, I decided to return to the garden center to go get it and bring it home.

Original Pot - Ready to be Potted Up

Original Pot – Ready to be Potted Up

I instinctively assumed it was a variety called, Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartkop’ or Aeonium arboretum var. artopurpureum, because of its dark plum colored foliage, but now I am not sure.  Only because the rosette is so large, I thought perhaps it is a cultivar unknown to me, or just a very mature ‘Zwartkop’ growing for some time.

Either way, the technical plant name is of no matter because the large size of the plant’s rosette is so spectacular, I know it will be a showcase in a container garden at my home this summer.

Potting It Up into a New Home

These plants should be repotted every two to three years. When Aeoniums get pot bound, they may send out additional aerial roots from the base of their stem, which was the case with mine.

The new pot selected should be a size up in diameter of the existing pot, or the plant itself.  Or it can go into a larger container garden with other mixed succulents sharing the same exposure and soil preferences. Either way, the container must have a drain hole, or perhaps two or three, for free drainage of water through the soil profile.

It helps to keep the soil moisture level regular for Aeoniums because their roots are fine and can dry out easily.  This is not to imply you should over water the plant. You do not want soggy soils for any succulents because they have the tendency to rot at the base when the soil is wet.  Most succulents or cacti can handle heat, drought, and dry soils from time to time because they store moisture in their leaves or stems during drought periods – which this one does, but it also is a bit different in regards to moisture levels because of its fine root system.

New Glazed Pot and Soil Mix

New Glazed Pot and Soil Mix

To help keep the soil at its best, use quality, fresh soilless mix specifically for container gardening or patio pots.  You may use soil mix labeled for growing cacti, but Aeoniums can also grow in regular potting mix for containers because it likes a bit of regular moisture.

Be careful when moving the plant to be repotted so you won’t bump into anything.  Gently remove it from the pot by holding the base of the stem.  The stem of this plant is fairly strong, but you do not want to risk damaging it during the repotting process.

As I removed it from the terracotta pot, it was very apparent there were some critters in the soil, such as sow bugs and centipedes.  These bugs like warm moist locations in the soil. I wanted to eliminate them as much as possible, so I gently removed away most of the soil from the plant’s root system.

Removing, inspecting the soil, and seeing the sow bugs

Removing, inspecting the soil, and seeing the sow bugs

In addition to seeing critters in the soil, there was an indication the soil was not taking in moisture anymore.  When potting soil is not renewed, it can actually repel water.  The soil in its original pot was moist only around the edges, and not in the center, so it was not permeating through completely.  It was just another indication the plant needed a new fresh growing environment.

Filling my new glazed pot almost to the top (about 2” from the rim) of fresh potting mix is the process I typically follow when potting up plants.  After it is full, I scoop out some of the soil to make a nice comfy pocket for the plant being transplanted.

Some people may fill the pot halfway with soil, place the plant in there, and then fill around the plant by adding soil up the rest of the way in the pot – but I prefer to make a pocket so the roots come into contact all the way around the plant.

Holding it down with stones

Holding it down with stones

This pocket process was especially important for this Aeonium because the rosette is so large, it was a little top heavy – especially because I removed the old soil from the roots.  To secure the plant better, I placed two large stones on top of the soil, adding a bit of weight there to help keep it stable until roots take hold.

I also added some slow-release fertilizer to the soil, and lightly mixed it into the top.  Always water any transplanted plants right after you are done.  Don’t leave it until later to give it a sprinkling of water – it will help to awaken the roots to the new fresh soil and get them established.

In a shady spot to drain after lightly watering in

In a shady spot to drain after lightly watering in

Succulents are Easy to Grow

Succulents can handle heat and drought, but as mentioned above, this species prefers some light shade for part of the day as it doesn’t really like super hot summers or very humid weather.  They like a mild cool weather which may seem odd because many people think of succulents as heat lovers, but some do well in moderately cool weather, and Aeoniums are one of them.

If you see the leaves curl when this plant is outdoors in summer, it may be an indication you have it located in too hot of a spot.  Relocate it to where it gets a break from the heat, a part-sun area or where it will get bright sunlight such as under a patio umbrella, and all will be fine.  And also remember, moving any tropical like plants outdoors after being inside for the winter should be done so with care – putting them in a shady spot for a day or so.  Foliage can burn when put into direct sun immediately.

The many different textures and forms of succulents are fun to combine in mixed container gardens and patio pots.  And ‘Zwartkop’ cultivars are especially useful because they have a dark coloring which works nicely against other light colored succulents, from the soft silvers of Agaves and Senecios, to bright yellows typically seen on succulent plants, such as Sedums.

The older, lower leaves on most Aeoniums will wither and fall off.  If they turn yellow and are unsightly, you can easily snip them off with a pair of common household scissors before they drop if you prefer – and sometimes they pull off easily by hand.

Tight Rosette in the Center

Tight Rosette in the Center

The top of the rosette stays tight in the center, and the foliage directly below it is usually more spaced out.  A lovely feature is the very center of the rosette.  It can have a tone of yellow or green, more prevalent when the plant is grown in part shade.  When in full sun, the coloring is more on the darker plum to black side.  Water droplets on this plant’s rubbery foliage can be very pretty too.

Different Growing Habits

Aeonium plants may be trained into looking like a topiary by removing side branches, such as the one I took home, and some cultivars grow very low to the ground.  They also grow like a shrub with side branches reaching out from the main stem with rosettes appearing on their tips.

The dramatic shape of the rosettes is useful in container gardens, adding interest and uniqueness to a composition.  And the branches offers an architectural appeal as well, resembling a large bonsai form.  And if you are lucky, you will see their amazing blooms.

I have yet to see an Aeonium bloom from my prior stock of these succulents because I usually get them when they are young plants.  Blooms grow on mature plants. The blooms are an excellent yellow color which contrast nicely against its attractive dark colored foliage.  But witnessing a blooming show has a double-edge sword because some succulent plants will die after they bloom.

To see the different growth habits and blooms of this interesting succulent, see my Pinterest board titled, “Succulent Sensations!” which is filled with examples.

Making More Plants

Propagating this plant is an easy process to do, so long as you are patient enough to wait for it to root and start a new plant.

Snip off rosettes with about 5-6” inches of the stem intact (still attached) with a clean sharp knife, and insert it into a small pot of fresh soil to take root.  This should be done during the active growing period of Aeoniums for it to be successful.

If your Aeonium has many branches, you have the capability to start a whole family of them by snipping and inserting cut stems into soil.  It helps if you allow the cutting to sit for 24 hours to dry a bit before inserting it into the soil, or just set it on newspaper to sit overnight.

The soil for the cuttings may be regular potting mix or one amended with fine sand and drainage material – but I find either works easily.  Moisten the soil before inserting the cut stem into it so it is slightly moist.  Cuttings can also be inserted into container gardens mixed with other plants in fresh soil – it will eventually take root.  This is a great way to capitalize on your purchase of an Aeonium, or other succulents easily propagated by cuttings.

By the way, Aeonium is pronounced like ay-OO-nee-um.  Get practicing so when you show off your specimen, you will sound like a pro.  Or you can just refer to it as a black rose succulent or black tree succulent.

Written by Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 cell

Hardiness Zone:  9 or warmer; grown as a tender perennial in Connecticut during the summers, and as an indoor house plant in the winters.

Upcoming Cathy T Class:

To learn more, register for Cathy T’s “Big Container Garden Party (Class)” on Saturday, May 24th – there’s still time to sign-up!  See “Garden Talks” on the menu of this blog for more information.  Succulents will be the key feature for this class.  Some Aeoniums will be available too.

Returned Inside Until Temps Warm Outside

Returned Inside Until Temps Warm Outside

When Picking Out a Mother’s Day Plant – This Is The Only Thing You Need to Know


Many people will be stopping into their favorite nurseries either tonight on their drive home from work, tomorrow, or perhaps on the morning of Mother’s Day on Sunday in search of the perfect gift for Mom.

In fact, Sunday may be the busiest day here in Connecticut because the temperatures are predicted to be in the high 70’s.  We may even reach 80 degrees.  A great day to shop for Mom, or with Mom at a garden center.

I remember my early days working at The Garden Barn Nursery in Vernon, Connecticut on Mother’s Day.  It was just incredible how many people came in to get plants for their mothers.  Especially popular is their big full huge hanging baskets of annuals.

And believe me, you Moms out there, your children take their time selecting just the right one for you.  All heads are up looking them over.  Shoppers will carefully look all around the plant too.

Sometimes they will ask the nursery staff to take one down from the rafters so they can inspect it better, and often they ask to put it back up so they can look over another hanger they spotted nearby.

I took down and put up so many hanging baskets during a Mother’s Day weekend one year, I had to go see a chiropractor the following week because I strained my neck.

The funny part is, the customer always goes back to the original one they spotted to take it home for Mom.

The hanging baskets will look just magnificent inside the greenhouses right now. I know from prior experience of working in nurseries, and because I just got one for myself the other day when I went to Meadow View Farms in Southwick, Massachusettes when I was in the area earlier this week.  It is a bit of a drive, but I figured, why not stop in.

Mothers Day Shopping_0001

It is a Fuschia with purple and pink flowers.  I cannot resist getting one of these every year – mother, or not!  The hummingbirds love them and so do I.  And when I spotted a full one flush with dangling blooms, I had to – just had to – put it on my cart and take it home for me.

Mothers Day Shopping_0005

There are many things you want to consider as you look up to the top of the greenhouse to select a hanging basket for your Mom, but probably the only thing you really need to know is Mom’s favorite color.

I can not imagine any mother not being thoroughly pleased with a full hanging basket from their child on Mother’s Day – no matter what type of plants it contains – but when it is delivered in her favorite color, this puts the icing on the cake.  Trust me.

Wagon Load at Meadow View Farms

Wagon Load at Meadow View Farms

Additionally, of course, you want to look the plant over a bit to make sure it has good form and no bugs are stuck to the undersides of the leaves, but to be honest, I don’t think you will typically find this scenario this early in the season – especially this year due to our cool temperatures.  Most of the plants have been taken care of inside the greenhouse and they are freshly awaiting you.

We are having such a cool spring, almost all of the annual hanging baskets will be housed in the greenhouses where they have been kept warm, protected from the outdoor elements, and tended to by the nursery staff.  They will probably move some out now with the weather being fine over the weekend.

Mothers Day Shopping_0004

Another thing you have to remember is to check the hanger for plant tags if you don’t know what the plant are – after all, Mom will want to know – and you do want to impress her, don’t you?

I have to give kudos to Meadow View Farms because when I checked out with my hanging basket of gorgeous Fuschia plants, they handed me and every customer in line a pamphlet with good instructions on care, including a friendly warning about how the early spring days are still a bit cool to put out “some type of plants.”

Plants such as tropicals, annuals, and some vegetables require warmer temperatures and will get damaged by frost – but most perennials are just fine.  Perhaps why I put one of these in my cart too – a pretty purple blooming Pulsatilla vulgaris.  This perennial was irresistible in bloom.

A perennial Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Blue Velvet' at the nursery (does not need to be covered)

A perennial Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Blue Velvet’ at the nursery (does not need to be covered)

I especially liked this tip on their instructions:

“A good rule of thumb is to cover plants by 8 pm the night before a forecasted frost and uncover them by 8 am the next morning.”

This might be too cumbersome to do with hanging baskets however, so my suggestion is you just take it in for the evening and put it back outside the next morning.  Tell Mom the same.

When you spot the right one for your Mom this Mother’s Day, don’t hesitate to grab it and remember, pick her favorite color.  If you don’t know what it is, I suggest you call Dad.

Written by Cathy Testa

Display at Meadow View Farms - Cute! Tea Thyme.

Display at Meadow View Farms – Cute! Tea Thyme.




Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ – A Big Red Banana Plant Revived Again!


Red banana plants (Ensete ventricosum, also called Abyssinian banana) are herbaceous perennials from the Musaceae family hardy to zones 10 to 11.  They can reach heights of 8 to 10 feet, perhaps even 12 in the best of situations, and take full sun with medium moisture.

When sun and good moisture are provided, it will give you a show to remember, especially if you are not from the tropics, as most would not expect such a large tropical specimen to be growing in your Connecticut yard.  But this is very doable if you store the plant appropriately over the winter, and follow the steps below to revive it to be planted again each year.

For the third year now, I have taken my red banana plant (which is a cultivar, ‘Maurelii’) out of storage around this time of year to revive it and bring it back to life so I can enjoy it once more in my landscape or in a big container garden.  Red banana plants love organic rich soils, so the large cement planter it grew in last year at my home during the summer is probably where it will return this season.

As I mentioned, in my blog post last fall about how to overwinter (store) a red banana plant, I took photos of the plant repeatedly last season.  I also had people stand in front of it when I’d walk them around to my backyard for them to see my big red banana plant.

Parents and Relatives

Here’s a photo of my parents (on the left) and my Aunt and Uncle on the right from last summer.  My mother is a twin, as you will notice.  It’s so cute to see them get together and my Uncle joked with me about how I built a foundation for my plants – he was correct!  They were having a fun day and it was a treat to have them stop by.

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

Another time, when babysitting my nephew, I tortured him a bit by taking several photos of him in his stroller before we went for a walk.  Here he is waving at me.  Too cute!  Someday he’ll look back at this photo and say his Aunt was nuts about plants.

Nephew waving 2013

Nephew waving 2013

Red banana plants like some shade so the spot where this planter is located is perfect. It gets the morning sun on the east side, which my nephew is facing in this above photo, and later, it gets shade in the afternoon as the sun moves over head to the west.  I also intentionally located it by our pool and below our deck, knowing the leaves would rise to the top of the deck railing where it could be seen as it grew to its towering heights. You can see I have many elephant ears and perennials planted around it.  On hot days, as I watered plants on my deck, it was easy to have the hose over the top to give this planter regular drinks of water too.

Photos taken from above summer 2013

Photos taken from above summer 2013

This plant likes good consistent moisture, and in my large cement planter this was never a problem because it is so large, it holds the moisture well.  When you plant red banana plants into pots, I recommend you go as large as possible too.  Okay – maybe not as large as my cement planter is possible for some folks, but remember the plant gets big, so you want a good sized pot, not only to give it a nice soil environment, but because a large pot will hold down a large plant well in the winds and will require less watering because it won’t dry out as fast as smaller pots.  See my Cathy T “5 Must Do’s for Container Gardening” for more information about how to succeed with container gardening.

Will It Get Bananas?

Many people will ask if my red banana plant will get bananas, and the answer is no, probably not.  Because I cut it down every season in the fall after it gets hit by a frost to store the root base, it may never produce a flower, but there are other types of dwarf banana plants you can grow that will get fruit, one being Dwarf Cavendish.  In fact, I gave one of those to my sister in law one year and she kept it in her sun room all winter. The following summer, it produced a bloom and had tiny bananas which her family was afraid to eat because they never experienced that before.  It was a new experience for them to see a tropical plant produce fruit in their home.

Red Banana Ensete_0014

At the end of the season, I took a photo from the other side of the deck.  You can see how the leaves reached the railings.  I also found the spot where it was placed to be a nice private place to sit and have a cocktail in the summer.  But eventually it was time for it go to.

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

This is what the root base looked like after I took the plant down.  You can see the overwintering preparation steps on my blog post from the winter.  Finally, spring has circled back around. So recently, I went down to my basement to check on the box.

Sure enough, the plant sensed the temperatures changes, and I could see white growth from the top through the plastic taping I used to close the top.

Root base just before packing last fall

Root base just before packing last fall

Opening Box Spring 2014

Opening Box Spring 2014

Coming Out of Storage

It may look like something out of a horror movie when you look at this image above of the plant as it is reawakening in the early spring, but believe me it won’t be long before it is returned to its beautiful state.  My first step is always to check to see if it looks healthy, free of any little insects, and if starting to grow – which is was in the box.  I opened up the box and positioned the root base to be standing upright.

Leaves Rising 2014

Leaves Rising 2014

As you can see, the leaves began to rise.  The bases of the leaves overlap like celery. And while it may look tattered, not to worry, it will perk up and look better in no time. I keep mine like this for a week or so and give it a tad bit of water, but not too much.  I don’t want rot to set in now that I have it alive and revived again.

Temporary Pot

Temporary Pot

A Temporary Pot

On Wednesday, May 7th, of this week, I decided to pot it into a temporary pot using fresh quality potting mix specifically for container gardening.  It happened to be a beautiful sunny day so my juices got going to get this baby into a better environment, and I watered it lightly again.  The next day, I carried it upstairs to a room so it could get warmer conditions and some soft light.  It will remain there until Memorial Day weekend when all chances of frost have past.

New Pot

New Pot

Cleaning It Up

And one other note, there were some outer sections which had some mold or fungus on it, where you can see the whitish area in these following photos.  I took a sharp clean kitchen knife and sliced it off very carefully.  If you do this, be careful to not cut the layer below the piece you are removing.  This step was taken to reduce any chance of the fungus to spread.  And any black parts were cut away also.

Slicing of bad sections

Slicing of bad sections

It is hard to believe this once towering plant at 9 or so feet last year with 6 foot long leaves is now a stump that will regrow to the same size again in no time.  It will sit in my spare room until ready to head outdoors, and as noted above, after all chances of the late spring frost has passed.  I don’t risk putting this plant out too early after all the effort to store and reawaken it.  And by the way, remember any plants you move outside to move into a shady location first so the leaves won’t burn when it is exposed to sun for the first time.  Just like our skin, it can get hurt and you will see white damage on the leaves when exposed to sun too quickly.

In the Landscape

If you want to see what this red banana plant looks like in a landscape bed, check out this photo provided to me from a Master Gardener friend, Serena.  She does garden maintenance, and was excited about her red banana plants last year too.  We both were very happy to see the lush growth of our plantings.  She lives in Connecticut also.

Serena's Red Banana in her CT Garden

Serena’s Red Banana Plants in her CT Garden 2013

By the way, Ensete ventricosum are referred to as “look-alike” banana plants because they are similar to the Musa genus but not part of the Musa genus.  Does this really matter?  Heck no!  It’s a red banana plant to me!  And it will go back outside in three weeks.

Written by Cathy Testa

P.S.  A limited supply of these plants will be available at Cathy T’s upcoming class, the “Big Container Garden Party (Class)” on Saturday, May 24th.

Happy Mother’s Day Weekend Everyone!




Mountain Laurels – If You Want Blooms – Give it Some Sun

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The main thing I find with Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia), when I discuss them with my garden design clients, is they think this flowering broadleaf evergreen shrub should be in full shade because Mt. Laurels are commonly seen in the wild growing under a canopy of trees. However, to get plentiful blooms on typical Mountain Laurel shrubs sold as landscape plants from garden nurseries, you need to plant them where they will get a bit of sun.

Pressed Sample

Pressed Sample

Half-Day Sun Location

Mountain Laurels will provide you with more blooms when placed where they get a half-day of sun, or when situated in a ‘bright’ shady area in your yard or landscape.  Think of a dappled shade location for this plant candidate, where there is some filtered light coming through the nearby trees.  If planted by a house, select a side where the location gets sun for part of the day. Otherwise, the shrub will not flower as densely.  It does tolerate shade well, but when in full shade all day, you will primarily see foliage over flowers.

Little Cup-Shaped Flowers

The colors of the flower buds and opened blooms on Mountain Laurel shrubs range from white to pink, and some cultivars are available in deep reds to lush rose tones.  When the buds appear in late spring, they are shaped like tightly closed pinwheels.  Eventually they open up to reveal small cup-shaped saucer-like flowers in clusters, each holding ten stamens in the center.

Mt Laurels_0005

It is always a pleasure to spot these flowers in the wild while on a hike or when full bloom in a homeowner’s landscape.  But more often than not, I’ve seen the plants look scraggly and lacking leaves and blooms.  Usually this is a result of not enough sunlight, or due to poor growing soil conditions.  Consider the soil as well as the exposure to get the maximum performance from this evergreen spring blooming shrub.

Glossy Green Leaves

The dark glossy evergreen leaves on Mountain Laurels are elliptic shaped, broadest in the middle and narrow on the ends.  It will hold onto its leaves throughout the winter months and typically does not require regular pruning for maintenance.  If placed in full hot sun, the leaves may yellow a bit, so again, achieving some sun with shade is best situation for these shrubs.

Mt. Laurel in a pot at a Garden Nursery

Mt. Laurel in a pot at a Garden Nursery

As this plant matures, it may grow to have a more open and non-full look to its shape.  This growth will also happen if it is grown in full shade or lacking healthy soil at its roots.  I like the description of gnarled growth as written for this plant on See their ‘plant finders’ link below for additional details.

In my experience of seeing Mountain Laurels in homeowners’ landscapes, their shrubs are more open than dense.  In fact, I can only think of one case where I saw a beautiful Mountain Laurel in a foundation planting completely full of leaves and blooms.  When I asked the homeowner what they did, they said all of their soil was formerly farmland.  Their housing development was placed on healthy organic soil to start with.

Acidic and Healthy Fertile Soil

In addition to providing some dappled sun or filtered shade to achieve the best blooms, Mountain Laurels prefer acidic soils to get the nutrients they desire to grow well.  The soil should also be moist, well-drained, and have good fertility with high organic matter.  Mountain Laurel shrubs will not thrive in alkaline soils typically found near home foundations, and tend to suffer if placed in poor soils unable to hold moisture. Many properties are void of healthy soils because the soil was disturbed or removed when the house was built.  If you did not amend your planting beds around your home’s foundation, it may not be well suited for Mountain Laurels because they will suffer from things like drought stress or lack of nutrients.

Mt. Laurel in Foundation Planting, lacking vigor

Mt. Laurel in Foundation Planting, lacking vigor

If unsure of your soil conditions, collect a soil sample first and mail it to the UCONN Soil Lab for testing.  Or go with a holistic approach by amending the soil with healthy compost prior to planting.  Raising the planting bed is also beneficial for Mountain Laurel shrubs because the soil will drain well which they prefer.

When planting a shrub in a poor soil, void of organic life, it usually will not prosper, flower, or flourish.  So remember to consider the exposure, the soil’s existing condition, and don’t forget once you have it in the right spot, to finish it off with some mulch.

The Mulch

Mountain Laurels pair up well with rhododendrons and azaleas due to their similar acidic soil requirements, preferred exposure of dappled sunlight and shade, and sequence of the blooms during the spring time. And they share similar water and mulch requirements.  Mulch is a good idea for these shrubs because all three are shallow rooted and it will help keep the soil moist and cool.  If you are seeing wilt on your shrubs, this can be an indication it needs some watering.  Remember to protect all three of these plants from drying winds, and again, when newly planted, to follow a watering routine until they get established.

Written by Cathy Testa

Useful Links:
UCONN Plant Database
State Symbols USA
Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder

Pinterest Board

To see photos of Mountain Laurels and other Evergreen Shrubs blogged about on ContainerCrazyCT, visit Cathy T’s Pinterest Board:

Goofing Around With My Camera (New Chickens, Perennials Rising, and More)

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On this windy day, I decided to post some general pictures taken as I goofed around with my camera outdoors this weekend.  I got more accomplished than I had planned on which is good news.

We got our new Rhode Island Red chickens moved into our chicken coop finally, I cleaned up some perennials, and even raked up some leaves and moved out some container gardens and pots.

This was all accomplished after I held my first garden talk of the season on ornamental edibles in Broad Brook at the Pride Fitness building.  A small group from South Windsor attended, and they were very enthusiastic. They are thinking of forming a new garden club at their church so we had lots to share about edibles and gardening on Saturday morning during my presentation.

So back to “Goofing Around with My Camera.”  Here are some photos taken as I worked and played outside during the first weekend of May 2014.

Perennials Rising

Perennials Rising

Perennials Rising

These are photos taken of perennials finally rising up from the soil and showing some initial growth. On the left is Nepeta (catmint), which is such an easy full sun perennial to grow.  The cats love rubbing against it from time to time.  It is super easy to clean up in the spring and can be pruned up or sheared anytime actually if it gets overgrown. Using sharp hand-pruners, I removed the old stems around the edges of this plant.

On the top right of this photo grouping is the leaves of an Iris with purple leaves, and then next a lamb’s ear (Stachys) perennial. Lamb’s ear always starts off slow, showing only a few leaves, but by early summer, it is much fuller and gently spreads near itself. I basically did not need to do anything to clean the remnants of last year’s lamb’s ear; it was looking fine right now and starting to grow.  On the Iris, it did not bloom, and I suspect it is because the soil is too moist there or not enough sun, or it was planted too deep, it will be moved later.

Below the photo of the lamb’s ear perennial was one where I experienced a CRS moment.  I could visualize the flowers in my head, as I looked down on the foliage coming out of the ground, but after months of dormancy for me and the plants, sometimes we have mental blocks.

When I took the photo, I was struggling to remember the name – but here it is Cornflower (Centaurea), also known as Bachelor Button to some gardeners. It grows showy violet-blue flowers in early summer (June-July), and I adore this perennial. Like its neighboring Nepeta and Lamb’s ear, it enjoys full sun conditions and can be kept on the dry side.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like the blooms too.

And on the bottom right of the photos above is a Honeysuckle vine with leaves coming out now.  I put a small garden bench near this area and kept smelling something sweet in the air when I took a break to sit.  I thought, could it be the Honeysuckle?  There are no blooms yet, but I leaned in to take a whiff and I think it was coming from the tips where the buds are beginning to form – amazing!

More Shade Loving Perennials

Ligularia, Peony, Bleeding Heart

Ligularia, Peony, Bleeding Heart

Around the corner, on the north facing side of my house are a couple Ligularia plants (top left photo).  The leaves are just beginning to come out and expand.  This plant is very showy in regards to foliage, which are round, large, and other cultivars have leaves with bronzy-green to plum colors and purple colors.  The blooms rise above in summer (around August) on tall spikes, usually showing off yellow flowers on dark stems.  It is a great shade plant, likes moisture, and is easy care.  Using my hand-pruners I cut away any old stems from last year – easypeasy cleanup.

The Peony is on the bottom left of the above photo.  They are starting to come up now, so I put my big round wire frames around them. I spray painted the wire frames first with green cause they looked a bit rusty.  I should have taken a photo of them – made by my father, they are round and fit around them well, and as soon as the foliage grows, you can’t see the wire frame which supports the blooms typically heavy and sometimes bending down from rainfall.

And of course, a bleeding heart (Dicentra spectablis) is on its way up with little flowers already appearing. Every time I witness this plant I think of the day my husband weed-whacked one down many years ago.  Let’s just say that I got him to stop when I explained accidentally cutting down a plant of mine is like if I went up and accidentally scratched his motorcycle paint.  He got it.

But he explained his fault, indicating it looked like a weed – and you know what, sometimes it can at first but once those flowers drip down heart-style, you can mistake it is a flowering perennial perfect for early spring and into May.  No cleanup was needed but later it will be cut down because it will go dormant earlier than many perennials and turn yellow.

Polygonaturm, Ferns, Thalictrum

Polygonatum, Ferns, Thalictrum

Further down the bed, under a Japanese Maple tree, are my Polygonatums (Solomon’s Seal).  I love the way the stems come out of the ground like graceful little – well, I don’t know what – they just look interesting before they grow more.  The leaves rise along the stems while little white flowers will dangle off the length of the stems, plus the stems will arch at the tops.  It makes a great woodland-like plant for part shade.  It prefers good moisture and rich soil too.  When you buy these at the nursery, sometimes the single plant doesn’t look too impressive at first – but over time, these keep rising up more plants (as seen here) and when you have a nice stand of them, they are pretty impressive.  On the top right is just a picture of some native ferns unfurling. Any nature lover gets why this is striking to look at – and I just grabbed a quick photo of that.

On the bottom right is a plant in my big cement planter around back of the house – can you guess what this is? You might think Columbine (Aquilegia) at first because its leaves are similar, but this plant is called Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Columbine Meadow Rue).  The specific epithet (2nd part of the Latin name) means columbine leaf.

Anyhow, I love this perennial because it shoots out stems that reach 2-3 feet tall!  Right now the leaves are coming out of the soil and they are tinged from the cool temperatures with some burgundy tones.  But in early summer, this plant will show off fluffy flowers in pink colors on very tall thin wiry stalks above the foliage below.  It is another woodland like plant and I love the height of it.

Hellebore Galore

Heleborus perennial

Helleborus perennial

Because I was near the chicken coop this weekend moving in the new chicks and fixing some damaged parts of the pen, etc – I took time to notice my beautiful and full flourishing Heleborus perennials.  I will have to dig through my notes to remember the cultivar name of this one, but it was flushed with blooms – all dark purple toned. Unfortunately, the blooms nod downwards, but if you gently tip one up you can see how the insides look – stunning.

I can’t say enough about Helleborus perennials.  The leaves are tough and long-lasting, semi-evergreen, and easy to snip off any left overs on the plant from last season with hand-pruners.  These plants take partial shade (and can take full sun) in a well-drained soil, but they seem to do better in shade in my yard.  They are known as Lenten Rose and if you don’t have any, I recommend you get them – the deer don’t eat them by the way which is a bonus. (Oh and I will have some for sale at my upcoming Big Container Garden Party on May 24, 2014.)

Helleborus perennial

Helleborus perennial

Here is another one I have near the coop.  Fascinating how the veins appear in the leaf petals.  Both of these stands of my Helleborus plantings are doing very well in their locations.  I had chickens in this pen before and the soil is very fertile.  In fact, when I was digging in the bed near these, worms were everywhere – a nice healthy sign of a living soil.  As I found them, I scouped the worms up to give to my new chickens.  They were ecstatic.  They really like the treatment they are getting at their new dwellings, the little Testa ranch.

New Rhode Island Reds Arrive

Newly Arrived RI Reds!

Newly Arrived RI Reds!

Here they are, we got six Rhode Island Reds.  We added a perch and four of them hopped up there right away, and I also put a box on the floor because they were hiding behind the feeder, so I realized they were a little “chicken” so I got them spots to hide by putting a box in there.

Chicken Coop Accessories

Chicken Coop Accessories

You are going to think my chickens are spoiled because I bought these perfect fit nest box pads to put in their future laying boxes. The boxes are a find of antique shipping crates and we are going to add side walls to the boxes so they have their preferred privacy when they lay eggs, expected by September.  I also got a big bail of pine shaving to put in the bottom of the coop, and have a galvanized antique chicken feeder given to us by a friend.  I put the feeder and water container on a pallet, raised off the ground, so they won’t poop in it as much as if it were level to the floor.

Soda Bottle Converter Kit

Soda Bottle Converter Kit

Soda Bottle Converter

Another nifty thing I ordered was a soda bottle converter kit which easily attaches to a bottle to drip water out for the chickens, but they have to be trained to use it.  How?  I’m not sure, but I set it up in the outdoor pen area.  They are still a bit chicken to walk outside into the pen, but they started poking their heads out to look around.  Both the nesting pads and bottle converter were purchased from My Pet Chicken online.  I also bought a galvanized hanging poultry feeder and waterer, but they were much smaller than I expected.  However will be handy and were hung outside in the pen for later use.



Incubator of Sorts

My brother, Jimmy, kept the baby chickens in his home-built incubator until they were large enough to move into our chicken coop.  I appreciated this very much because I did not have to setup a heat/warming place for them, and they are fine now to go without heat.  But I had to show his set-up here.  He got two shipping crates, attached them together with a door, and they had a nice warm and cozy home before coming to our house. Oh, I spotted his cat hiding behind the coop – she was probably waiting for a moment to get them, no luck my dear.  LOL.  But I guess raising chickens is in our blood.  My father had them when we were growing up and my sister also has chickens now in an urban setting no less.  She has pretty ones, with feathers on their feet and they are smaller – of course, CRS Again!  I can’t remember what they are called, the breed.  Hmmm, will come back to me.



I couldn’t help but admire my daffodils around the coop.  I prefer the type of daffs with multiple flower petals.  Again, CRS, can’t remember the exact names of these types but they are just beautiful.  The healthy organic soil there is really making them bloom a lot this year.  And they don’t get eaten by varmints, unlike tulips.  I will have to remember to add more in the fall to this area.

Spring Plants_0027Another one of my favorite daffodils is this one – name, I’ll let you know when I remember!  But I bought the bulbs at a Connecticut Horticultural Society meeting several years ago and despite the location being clay, this one puts on a show every spring.  The soil is well-drained there however because this location is on a slope, not near my chicken coop.  The blooms smell lovely too!  I let the foliage of my daffodils stay on as long as possible after the flowesr fade so it can build up energy via photosynthesis.

Poking Out Slowly

Poking Out Slowly

First Attempts to Go Outside

The chickens poked out just a little but didn’t stay out – they are still testing the area and are hesitant, and it was windy so they may have been a little chilled.  However, it will be no time before they scratch and dig in the soil there for insects.  In fact, what was so funny was the minute I set them in the coop, they pecked at tiny insects on the walls – amazing – they were literally cleaning house.

My cat, Hunter, followed me to the coop this morning.  I didn’t seem him there, but he let out one of his big MEOWS.  “Get back,” I said – these ladies are your new friends!  I still haven’t named the chickens yet – right now, I refer to them as No 1, No 2, No 3, etc.

There are six of them, so I count them when I open the door to make sure they are all there.  Even though we checked every part of the coop walls, etc., there is this fear of a predator trying to get in to snatch them.  In fact, we plan to setup our outdoor motion sensor camera to see which predator shows up first to investiage.  I am sure they can hear and smell the chickens in the coops already.

Weeping Larch (left photo)

Weeping Larch (left photo)

Weeping Larch Coming Out too

On the left of the photo grouping above is a close up of a Weeping Larch (Larix decidua ‘Pendula’) located by my house entrance. Everyone who sees this tree usually points and comments on it.  It is especially pretty just when the needles start to come out of the branches.  It has a twisted curvy trunk and will grow rather large.  It may outgrow its space but I like it there for now.  I will show more on this plant later.

And on the right of this photo grouping above are more various perennials coming out of the soil now.  I managed to get to most of them to clean up any tattered growth from the previous year, so now they are ready for a mulch refresh.

More of the Helleborus

More of the Helleborus

Here is some funky garden type art I put around my pen.  My next step is to edge all the beds with low stone walls, planned this season.  It will look much better then.

Funky Art

Funky Art

More flower photos…

Spring Plants_0018 Spring Plants_0019

Spring Plants_0020

That’s it for now for my informal photo goofing around.  Enjoy your week everyone, and enjoy the rising of your perennials too.  It is time to come out and enjoy spring.

Written by Cathy Testa



American Arborvitaes – Easy To Grow, Unless You Made These 5 Mistakes

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Arborvitae_0004Mistake #1 – Placed it where deer roam to dine

Thuja occidentalis (Eastern or American arborvitae) is a needled evergreen tree often planted in rows to create living borders between properties.  It is very easy to grow, low maintenance, commonly sold, and available in many choices of cultivars, but if you placed it where hungry deer tend to roam during their forage for food, you are asking for trouble.

Deer favor American arborvitaes and will typically dine on the lower portions of the leaves when they are hungry enough.  Your trees will end up looking like deformed topiaries, instead of full evergreens with a conical to pyramidal shape from top to bottom.  This will be a big disappointed if you invested in planting a long row of them as a hedge.

Alternatively, if deer grazing is not a problem on your property, this plant makes an excellent evergreen candidate for hedges, as foundation plants, and as backdrops to perennial beds.  You can use methods to protect the trees during the winter season with burlap, deer fencing, or wire cages, however, this is a process you may not prefer.

Mistake #2 – Planted it in full shade or exposed windy locations

If you have a lot of shade, beware when it comes to arborvitaes.  Too much shade will make the plant a bit more floppy, open and loose looking.  It may make it because they are generally easy to grow and tolerant, but they prefer full sun to “part” shade (and enjoy some light afternoon shade in warmer locations) to perform their best.

When planted in full shade, their stately upright form will suffer.  Before you invest in planting a row or barrier of several plants in your landscape, consider the sun exposure during all parts of the day.  Think about how the shade is cast throughout the day, especially if located near large homes or buildings.

Arborvitaes are generally picky about wind exposure as well, especially if the windy site is open with no protection around the plants.  During the winter, when exposed to wind, the foliage will suffer and may display brown to yellow spots the following spring from winter burn.  It is not super unsightly and can be cleaned up by pruning if limited, but could lead to some disappointment.

If planted in a container garden or patio pot during the growing season (because this plant also makes an excellent thriller in patio pots), be sure to protect the containerized plant during the winter months by moving it to a sheltered location such as your garage or shed.

When planted in the correct exposure, these evergreens will demand little attention.  Its flat sprays with overlapping scale-like leaf patterns are densely packed on the trees and are slightly aromatic.  Another interesting feature on this evergreen are the urn-shaped small cones.


Mistake #3 – Failed to protect it during heavy snowfalls

This plant can topple a bit during heavy snow storms and you may end up with arched plants from broken branches due to the weight of snow and ice.  During heavy snowstorms, which are thankfully months away now, you may want to loosely place twine around them to help keep up their branches or protect them with a wooden frame during the heavy storms.  Another option is to gently shake accumulated snowfall off the plants, if you feel like venturing out during the storm.



Mistake #4 – Planted it too deep or failed to water it

If your arborvitaes turn brown shortly after planting, this could be an indication you planted them too deep.  Because roots require oxygen and arborvitaes are relatively shallow rooted, they will suffer from lack of oxygen below the soil if planted incorrectly.

Be sure to follow the instructions provided by your nurseryman, or hire a professional if you are installing a large barrier or hedge – it will be worth the investment and help protect you from hurting your back, especially if you are planting larger balled and burlapped trees which are very heavy to move and place in the ground.

Arborvitaes can take a wide range of soils from average to well-drained, and overall, they are not super challenging to grow, however, their preferred soil conditions are moist and well-drained.  Think about the soil in your yard before you proceed.

After planting time, you should follow a watering routine as dictated by your nurseryman, especially when planting during the hottest parts of summer.  Once these plants are established, they are more tolerant to drought, but it is important to get your plants growing with a good start.  Do not leave them unattended during the heat of summer.

Planting any new plants, especially a row where you invested in purchasing several, should be monitored for watering during dry periods as well.  Do not fail to water it, and if you plan to leave for vacation immediately after planting them, remember your neighbor may not want to water them for you seeing as you just put up a privacy barrier between your properties.  Plan when you plant to avoid letting the new trees sit without attention.

Mistake #5 – Planted in compacted areas or where additives accumulated

Because arborvitaes are excellent candidates as tall hedges, many people will plant them alongside driveways or roadways on their property lines.  Be aware of any hard packed areas where the roots may struggle to get established.  And if planting balled and burlapped trees versus containerized ones, follow the instructions on how to property deal with the twine so you do not end up girdling the tree’s trunk near the soil line.

Additionally, roadside salts or runoff from lawn herbicides may injure hedges overtime.  Always consider the soil conditions of your planting site before proceeding with planting a hedge.  If planted at the base of a slope for example, accumulation of harmful additives in the area can affect the planting area.  While these evergreens are tough, anything sitting in a pool of pollution will suffer eventually.

American arborvitaes are native to the northeast and commonly used in landscapes as hedges, foundation plants, backgrounds to perennial beds, and focal points – and they are relatively easy to grow with some tolerance, but they still need a bit of awareness of their prefer conditions to perform at their best.  Avoid the 5 mistakes above, and you will enjoy your privacy in no time.

Pressed Sample of Flat Sprays

Pressed Sample of Flat Sprays


Thuja is pronounced kind of like “Fool-ya” but with a ‘th’ instead of the F.  To hear how it sounds, check out wordHippo.  By the way, many folks refer to arborvitaes as cedar trees.

Written by Cathy Testa

Arb w Pansies

Arb w Pansies