Recycle Potting Mixes – A Quick Tip


Potting mixes used in containers and patio pots doesn’t have to go to waste. When dismantling your pots in Autumn, save it to put in the bottom 1/3 of your big pots next spring and top it off with FRESH soilless mix or potting mix. Or transfer the soil to your garden beds to be recycled that way. It doesn’t have to go to waste! Just a tip for the day. Enjoy your fall weekend everyone, Cathy T.


Cathy Testa

Getting Red, Orange, and Yellow in Your Fall Landscape


The fall colors we have been experiencing as the trees’ leaves changed to red, orange, and yellow this year in Connecticut have been so spectacular, well – it is nearly impossible to put into words.

There have been moments when driving where you may have been blindsided by a turning in a curve when you see the beauty of it all. A street that is ordinary in your hometown has suddenly turned into a light show of vibrant eye candy, and you may have pulled over to take photos, but many times, those photos do not capture what you see through your eyes or through your polarized sunglasses against the clear blue skies and bright sun.

However, this month, a friend posted a photo which blew me away. Not only were the trees covered in the mixed colors of fall, but the ground was as well. Vibrant reds from low growing wild blueberry bushes provided an affect one doesn’t often see – unless you live in Maine, which is where my friend resides.

PJ Walter Photography

This friend, PJ Walter, is a person I met many years ago when my husband and I stayed at his inn which he co-owns with his partner, Frank. When we met PJ and Frank, the bond was instantaneous – Let’s just say, they are great people with a wonderful inn located in Rockland, Maine, called the LimeRock Inn. Check their place out – Steve and I highly recommend it for visits in that region, which we have done many times when attending the North Atlantic Blues Fest in summer.

During our first time staying at the LimeRock Inn, PJ did something special for us. He knew Steve and I were taking a sail boat ride in the afternoon, so he hiked out to one of his viewing spots and took a photo of us on the boat as it was sailing by. We didn’t know he was there, so when we arrived to our room that evening, the photo was already printed and matted for us sitting on our bedroom side table – what a surprise and gesture by PJ.

This is how we were introduced to PJ Walter Photography, and many of his works are hanging in the hallways of the LimeRock Inn for their guests to enjoy. PJ has the skill of capturing the magic of mid-coast Maine. He was posting photos this month of various Maine landscapes, and stating along the way how Maine’s fall colors were incredible and probably the best around New England.

One day, I responded by posting, “The colors are not too shabby in Connecticut either.”

But then on October 16th – PJ posted this brilliant photo below. It blew my mind.

It also blew the minds of many of his followers and friends. Comments were posted, such as:

“Looks like an impressionist painting.”


“That hill is on fire, yo!”

“Interesting that the colors are in the ground cover as well as the trees.
Do you know what gives it the red color?”

PJ responded to the question by providing a link explaining why the ground color is painted in red (see Wild About Blueberries blog), and also gave a hint of the location, posting it as: Route 1 just north of Bucksport. 

His photo was shared over 55 times and a local television station in Maine shared it one evening. One may argue he should have kept it so well guarded to avoid a non-credit situation, but how can one not share such a beautiful sight? We are so glad he posted this photo and many others this season which has been particularly colorful from here to Maine. To see more of his professional photography – be sure to visit his website, PJ Walter Photography.

Low Growing Reds

As PJ pointed out to his fellow followers, the reds on the ground are wild low-growing blueberry bushes. Many people desire the red color in their fall landscape, and for years, the burning bush shrub (Euonymus alatus) was recommended for its bright scarlet color in autumn, but this plant is invasive. It spreads aggressively in the woodlands (where it stays green in coloring due to mostly shade situations) and overtakes areas, out competing local native plants. Blueberry bushes are the perfect alternative – giving your fruit in summer, and as you can see from PJ’s photo, the bonus of providing a powerhouse of red to scarlet coloring in the fall season, especially this year. While these shrubs are wild and low in Maine’s natural landscape – many blueberry shrubs can be purchased here in Connecticut which grow taller, from 3-6 feet. There are highbush, lowbush, and rabbiteye blueberries – and as long as you plant them in acidic soil they desire, blueberries are rewarding. Ask your local nurseries about them next time you visit to browse their offerings.

Taller Growing Reds

Another good option is planting a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) to get red color in your fall landscape. There are many varieties, heights, and styles to choose from, but what you may not notice is the red coloring of Japanese maple leaves intensify in the late fall, turning to a glowing red. Some cultivars you may be familiar with are the ‘Bloodgood’ maple which grows to about 15′ in 15 years, or ‘Crimson Queen’ with a more delicate, weeping form, and many more. Ask your local nursery staff to point them out to you next spring so you can capture some of that red in your landscape in time for next fall season. Japanese Maples like partial sun or filtered sun locations in moist, fertile, well-drained soil, and range in heights from six to twenty feet, so if you want a high level of red, plant one of these along with some blueberry bushes, and you are in business. And don’t forget, many smaller Japanese Maples are gorgeous in containers on your deck, they serve as elegant focal points, and may be protected in the winter months in garages to be returned outside the following season – something I did for several years with one of my smaller maples until I decided to plant it permanently in the landscape.

Another Red – Sourwood Trees

Another red tree, which I just have to mention because I find them beautiful, is the Sourwood tree (also called Sorrel Tree, Oxydendrum arboreum). It grows long drooping clusters of bell-shaped white tiny flowers in summer, which I think are splendid, and in the fall, the leaves turn a plum-red color. You can see the remnants of the white flowers against the red when you observe the tree up-close. It is a slow-growing tree, reaching about 20′ tall, requires a infertile soil, and likes full sun. I don’t see them often in landscapes, but when I do, and it is in the fall – the color is striking on the finely textured foliage. There is one located in Northampton, MA by a walkway which I took photos of this summer and Instagramed by Cathy T – I will track down those photos for you soon to post here later.

Oranges and Golds of the Sugar Maples

Sugar Maple spotted in Wethersfield, CT.

Sugar Maple spotted in Wethersfield, CT.

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One afternoon while babysitting my niece, I drove past this maple on my sister’s street in Wethersfield, CT. My gosh, I had to walk to it to take photos. Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) make an impact when in full golden color – and this year in Connecticut, they have been breathtaking.

Close Up of Golden Leaves on a Maple Tree

Close Up of Golden Leaves on a Maple Tree

When my sister arrived home from work, I told her immediately, “I went down the street to take photos of that maple – its glowing.” She excitedly responded with, “I am so glad you said that; when driving down the hill, as the sun hits it – it is absolutely beautiful every year.” The tone in her response was as if she way saying, gosh, you noticed it too – that emotion you feel when you see a colorful autumn tree highlighted by the sun.

It is moments like that when you embrace fall. It helps to prepare for the oncoming winter by providing a sense of transition – and the Sugar Maple is one to have for oranges and golden yellows in your landscape. It prefers full sun and moist, fertile, well-drained soil and can grow up to 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Although this one was located by a sidewalk, these trees do not like poor soil or road salt and do best away from those scenarios. They require a lot of space since they are big trees.

Ginkgo for Yellow

Another yellow to be had in the landscape is by way of the Ginkgo biloba (a deciduous conifer), which most people are familiar with due to its unique fan-shaped leaves and its medicinal benefits – however, did you know it turns a yellow color in the fall? Additionally, it is very tough, can take difficult locations, and the yellow leave color in the fall is lovely – until all the leaves drop which can happen quickly – as in one day when frost hits it – but it is worth it up til that point, plus you may choose to collect the fallen leaves for crafts. Ginkgo trees do not have serious pest issues. They tolerate road salt and drought, unlike the sugar maples. Oh, and if you go buy a Ginkgo at the nursery, remember to ask for only male trees (‘Shangri-La’ or ‘Autumn Gold’ are examples) because they do not produce fruit – the fruit on the female trees are stinky and people find the scent unbearable.

Pumpkins in Broad Brook, CT

Pumpkins in Broad Brook, CT

One afternoon, sitting inside by my kitchen slider, I was mesmerized by the colors of the trees in my own backyard – our carved pumpkins were a nice orange, and I thought, “Gosh, I wish I could capture those tree background colors in a photo.” This photo above was my ridiculous lame attempt with my iPhone. I guess the autumn colors will be sealed in our minds, or if we are lucky enough – captured by people, like PJ Walter, to be viewed forever. Here’s another one of his shots. Thank you PJ for the permission to post and show your photos.

Photo by PJ Walter Photography

Photo by PJ Walter Photography; FB Page in Mid-Coast Maine, 2015

Cathy Testa

Beware of Bittersweet in Your Autumn Decorations


We often don’t consider the impact of grabbing something from the woods to add to our Autumn decor this time of year, so if you weren’t aware of the potential spreading of this highly invasive plant, beware of bittersweet.

I spotted bittersweet twined around some branches in the woodlands by my home, and took a quick photo yesterday. It is not difficult to spot. The yellow and orange coloring stands out in the landscape especially as other trees begin to loose their leaves.


Asian bittersweet, also known as Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), is a non-native plant, invasive and listed on Connecticut’s Invasive Plants list.

Chokes Off Other Plants

Bittersweet climbs by twining around trunks of trees and other branches. It can strangle its host over time. While the colorful berries are easy to spot, the leaves may have fallen from the plant by the time you spot the berries in Autumn, which is the case at my home – Thus, distinguishing this species from the American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens also used in fall decor) may be challenging. American bittersweet is said to not be as much as a problem, but it can quickly grow to 20-30 feet long or more, so you decide. Both types can and will usually attach to another plant or structure.

Leaves are Variable in Shape

Oriental or Asian bittersweet leaves are variable in shape (egg-shaped, oblong, round, tapered, etc) so distinguishing it from American bittersweet may be a little confusing upon a quick glance if you get tempted to take some for your decorations, but I would suggest using caution either way. Oriental bittersweet plant grows well in shade so you will find it embedded in woodland areas or around branches of native shrubs. Its one of those plants that will find a way to continue growing even when you tear it out by its shallow roots because every little piece left in the soil or torn pieces will grow more shoots.

Birds and Humans Move Them

Birds also carry the seeds to other locations. When the fruit on this plant splits open, you see the yellow parts on the outer parts which reveal the seeds in the center covered in orange fleshy coatings. This is nature’s way of moving it around, but humans may unknowingly move it to their yard too when they attach it to grapevine wreaths to put on the doors in the fall, or take it inside to put on the table as a centerpiece coloring. After all, it can be found for free in the wild because it is invasive and usually easily spotted. If you decide to use it in the home, be sure to dispose of it in the trash and not in your compost.

How Did It Get Here?

That’s a long story – which you may read about here: Untangling the Twisted Tale of Oriental Bittersweet by Peter Del Tredici. You may wonder how it gets to your yard – and one way is by not knowing it can spread in the pieces you take away from the woodlands. This is one of the cases where using fake plants is better.

Cathy Testa






How to Overwinter Tropical Hibiscus

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A friend recently asked me on Facebook if she can take her tropical Hibiscus inside to go dormant over the winter, and it reminded me of a post about this many years ago – Here it is below.

I would like to add that basically the answer is yes. They may be moved inside as a houseplant by a sunny window, OR these plants may be stored in the basement (unheated) where it remains cool, dark, and not below freezing. You keep the soil on the dry side (limited watering over the winter months). Most tropical Hibiscus are hardy to at least 45 degrees F. Watch out for pests such as aphids or white fly. You may want to have an organic spray handy if you spot any on them after moving them in – look at the underside of the leaves to inspect.

Don’t confuse the tropical Hibiscus with those which look similar but are hardy. Some people get confused, as noted on this blog post from years prior.

For example, some types of Rose-of-Sharon shrubs have similar looking flowers which folks have confused with a tropical, non-hardy Hibiscus plant.

There are “perennial, hardy Hibiscus” plants too – which usually have dish plate size flowers. One example is Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ hardy in zones 4-9. These may be left in the ground over the winter outdoors in Connecticut planting zones.

If you are not sure which type you have, and want me to take a look, text me a photo! Cathy T

Container Crazy CT

In late August, I took a photo of the blooms on a tropical Hibiscus growing as a standard in my brother’s backyard by his patio.  He and his girlfriend planted it this year.  It has been growing beautifully all season.

  • Standard:  For those of you who are not familiar with the term standard, it means a plant that has been trained into a tree-form shape.  I’m not sure why they call it a standard; seems like it should be called a tree-form plant.  A newbie would never use the word standard to search for information about how to grow a plant into a standard, which ends up looking like a topiary.  The plant sits as a beautiful round form on the top of a small tree.
Tropical Hibiscus

My brother’s Hibiscus has a twisted 3 branched trunk instead of a single trunk or stalk.  These are commonly found in nurseries and give…

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My Take on Self-Watering Pots


I have often made the comment during my container gardening workshops and demonstrations that if you don’t like to water, leave this presentation immediately. I actually love to water my container gardens and patio pots. Yes, a bit nuts to hear by some folks, but to me it is relaxing. It allows me to take a moment to enjoy the plants’ features and feel the sun on my shoulders. Not only do I like the whole watering routine, I also realize the importance of water to the plants’ internal functions and growth processes.

Water is the primary component used during photosynthesis when water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by the energy of the sun. Water is also used to transport nutrients, cool the plant, expand its cells, and maintain turgor pressure. And YOU, my container gardening workshop attendees and gardening friends, are the person that will provide water to the soil so our plants’ roots can take up the elements so essential for all this beauty to begin and grow in your container gardens in the summer. Without your watering process, a plant in a container garden and patio pot cannot internally manufacture its own food – a function that only plants can perform on this earth. Sound like a big responsibility? If it is too big for you…well, there are some options.

As shown at my annual May Container Gardening Workshops, there are some tricks used to “reduce” watering routines for your pots needs, but there has also been self-watering pots out there on the market for some time now for people who, UNLIKE me, despise having to water their plants in the summer months. Or, they may not have much time to “relax, enjoy the plants’ features, and feel the environment” due to their busy workday schedules – after all – it does take some time to water container gardens – but its worth it, isn’t it?

As one attendee told me after the summer season was over, watering her plants on her deck felt like a part-time job – but she surely enjoyed the big, lush plants which grew large in her pots all summer. To enjoy your container gardens as focal points throughout your outdoor surroundings is a mental boost to your day. Watering may just force you to stop and take it all in after your work day. It can be a forced relaxation moment in some ways. Now, back to the self-watering pots…

What are Self-Watering Pots?

Self-watering containers and pots have a reservoir of water in the base of the pot. A disk or platform partition is inserted into the pot about 1/3 of the way down with the soil resting above the disk. A fill tube allows you to top off the water as needed which goes below that disk in the base of the pot. Sound easy, huh? Yet, I have to admit, I am not a big fan of self-watering pots, partly because – as I mentioned – I enjoy watering plants, and because there is something about the water ‘not draining’ freely from self-watering pots through the bottom, and through the soil, which disturbs me. After all, do you like the feeling of damp feet when you are wearing shoes that don’t quite breathe correctly?

I don’t think plant roots like that feeling either (damp feet) which can occur with “some” self-watering pots. The theory is the disk prevents the roots from penetrating into the water reservoir below the disk, but in my curious mind, I wonder. I’ve seen roots creep where they want to go – nature finds a way, but again – I have not researched this like a scientist – it is just my intuition that the roots may try to go below that disk and hit pure water, and stop growing.

What happens when things are too wet? We humans may develop a foot fungus and stinky feet, and run to the drug store to get athlete’s foot powder. But plants, well, in containers and patio pots, their little roots aren’t going to be able to leave to get powder or more air. They are trapped. This is very unlike roots of plants growing in the ground where they can travel, plus they also have a larger mass of soil to help out the situation. Thus, my concerns about self-watering pots continue to ponder me. Here are some of my concerns:

Salt Build-up

Salts – Fertilizers are basically salts (in chemical form, as I remember my professor emphasizing in class). When applied near water, salts will move gradually towards the area where it was applied. This dilutes the fertilizer and distributes it. If tender roots are close to the fertilizer when too much fertilizer is applied, water is ‘drawn from the roots,’ and nearby soil (water in the roots and water in the soil moves). Plants can dehydrate when we apply too much fertilizer because of reverse osmosis where the water will move out of the plant’s roots, and this is why we use caution to apply fertilizers in the garden and pots in correct amounts, at the right time, etc.

In containers, salts can sometimes be a problem if they don’t leach out of the pot and end up building up in the pot (which doesn’t happen if you follow Container Crazy CT’s 5 Must Do’s for Container Gardening). You need to use good soilless mix with proper pore space, have drain holes in the base of your pots, and not over apply fertilizers.

Water should drain through the soil. It just makes sense. Also, it is a good practice and healthier for the plants, if you allow the soil to dry out a bit between watering applications so the soil has a chance to breath. Keeping the soil constantly wet is not good (unless it is a bog plant or native to a wet habitat or environment). Just like soggy shoes would bother our feet after a long walk in the woods, so will roots be bothered by overly wet soil for a long period of time.

A note on Winter Watering

In the winter, by the way, watering container gardens which you have moved inside as a houseplant is greatly reduced because the plant’s growth usually slows down if you place the pot in a sunny but cooler temperature inside the house. And those pots which you put in your unheated basement to go dormant are watered only when the soil goes dry – water very sparingly, as discussed in my “Storing Tender Tropical Plants” demonstration last weekend. Winter watering is greatly reduced in most cases.

Too Much Rain

Too Much Rain

Rain Falls

Rain – If you have self-watering pots outside in the summer, without a plug which enables drainage, and you get lots and lots of rain, the pot actually starts to form a pond on the surface of the soil because the excess water has no place to go. It goes up as the soil gets waterlogged. Now your plants are floating in a muck as the water rises to the top, and you’re not too happy either because you have to go outside in your muck boots and rain coat to relieve the plant by removing the plug in the weep hole in the side or bottom of the pot so the water under the disk may drain out. You may even have to tip the pot to the side to drain out more excess water. When we drink too much, what happens to us? We get messy too. We topple over or lean; the same thing happens with plants. They’ll wilt and eventually – if they drink too much – well, you know what happens there. They die or suffer such a bad hangover, they don’t quite recover, start to get diseases, rot, etc. One alternative solution, other than calling a rehab center, is to use plants that drink responsibly. Those which don’t require too many libations – as we discuss when we talk about drought tolerant plants, or just face it – water our plants ourselves to control and maintain an appropriate balance of watering applications.

Oxygen to Breath

Oxygen – Plant roots need oxygen to take up water. A perfect soil gives plant roots oxygen for respiration, pore structure, nutrients, and even distribution of water. When water is sitting in the base of a pot and the roots hit pure water, they will not grow there due to lack of oxygen. This reduces the root mass for the plants above to thrive. I like to give my plants what I refer to as a ‘full spa treatment’ by providing a good, if not great amount of soil volume by using large pots – something I go over in my Container Garden Workshops every May. They will be happy and thrive, grow large and lush, and full in BIG pots. Also, remember self-watering pots have a disk in the bottom. This reduces the amount of soil allowed in the pot above the disk because it is partitioned off. In small pots, the soil volume can be cut in half as compared to big pots. This greatly reduces space for the roots to grow and roots are important – very important to successful growth of your plants above the soil. It also causes a perched water table situation – an area roots seldom penetrate where root problems start due to lack of air, oxygen, etc – I try to explain the perched water table in my workshops as best I can to my attendees so they understand how small pots reduce the impact and vigor of plants. After they hear what I have to say on the subject, they go out and get that big pot – and let me tell you, they are impressed with their results.

The Fill Tube

In self-watering pots, there is a fill tube attached, and I don’t like it. Call me picky, but this is another reasons why I feel a bit leery about self-watering devices because there is no “spa” once the growing spaces are reduced – and we all know, everyone, even plants, enjoy a good spa environment. The fill tube is cumbersome basically. It is like a straw. I’m not going to fill a little straw to water my plants, ugh.

Drainage is Key

Drainage – As water enters your pot from your watering wand or rainfall, it moves through pore spaces in the soil and between soil particle’s tiny spaces. As it enters, it pushes air out. If air is not replaced over a long period of time, the plant roots will lack oxygen needed to thrive. Some water is used by the plant, and some will drain out through the mandatory drain holes in the bottom of your pots. It is one of Container Crazy CT’s 5 Must Do’s – drainage holes. If there are no drain holes, as with self-watering pots, some air is not replaced, in my humble opinion and experience. Too much water is not a good thing, nor is too little watering – it is a balancing act. Excess water causes the roots to suffocate because the pore spaces are filled with water. Basically drainage holes plus your commitment to watering correctly provides a balance. Some self-watering pots have “weeping holes” to help alleviate potential water build up as noted above. I suspect this “draining issue” is why the weeping holes were added to self-watering pots in the first place. Are they self-sufficient now? I don’t know – I need to keep researching, but I do know that I don’t want to take a plug out of a pot every time it rains – I only like to uncork wine bottles. Now, I see maintenance, watching if the soil gets too wet, and maybe I’m just anal. So, I’ll stick to just watering it myself.

Watering container gardens correctly and using the right soil-less potting mixes has provided me with the ultimate success in growing lush, bold, and beautiful container garden plants. In fact, I don’t always fertilize my containers and they are spectacular. My theory is: a) I water them, b) I use big containers with drain holes for large soil mass, and c) I use the right soilless mix, and of course, d) I love them (maybe a little too much).

Gravel at the Base of a Pot?

I remember thinking that putting gravel in the base of a pot for drainage was not really a good idea because it gets all clogged up eventually with little debris or bits of soil going into it over time, water then doesn’t drain there, roots don’t grow into that area because it gets too wet. Soon enough science later backed up this suspicion by announcing the old practice of putting gravel in the base of pots is not really beneficial. It can impede drainage. Roots won’t grow into that wet area at the base of the pot, thus it reduces the full spa treatment. So, take this as just my opinion on self-watering pots, and if I change my mind – I will update my findings here on this blog. I am sure someone will argue the point with me – and I fully admit I need to know more – but I also have heard some folks say they like self-watering pots, but I haven’t seen their plants though either. Are they healthy, lush, and thriving?

Planter with succulents by Cathy T

Planter with succulents by Cathy T

We all Need to Drink Responsibly

Lastly, there are always the options of using plants that drink responsibly such as succulents, some herbs, ornamental grasses, some shrubs like Junipers, or cacti. Drought tolerant plants require less watering, which not only saves you watering time, but helps the environment by reducing water usage – which is big today – no one likes waste. And if you are not a fan of dessert scenes or rock gardens, add things like soil moist to your potting mix, which is discussed in Container Crazy CT’s annual May workshops as well. Rain barrels may be placed on your deck too to obtain free water for watering your patio pots. You may focus on shade tolerant plants that require less water routines versus the hot, sun-loving types. And shade cloths can be used on extremely hot days in your greenhouses or growing rooms, or patio umbrellas on your deck during the hottest sunniest days of summer to cast some shade over plants to reduce watering needs. But I say, if you love beautiful plants in container gardens – then love watering them too.

Cathy Testa

To hear more about pot types, see this page: Container Garden Pot Types.

Ways to Decorate Containers for Autumn and Halloween

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Wait – Don’t put your container gardens and patio pots away too fast – They may be used in Autumn to serve as a place to add fall and Halloween decor for the month of October.

Autumn Installation for Store-Front

Autumn Installation for Store-Front

In the photo above, mesh ribbon, fake leaves, and various decor were used to fill the top of these barrels. Handy tools to get this done: Staple gun, wooden stakes, and creativity!

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This cast iron urn is wonderful because it can stay outside year round. In the fall, I took out the plants, left the soil, and added the black fabric webbing and a skull. The skull is attached to a square piece of Styrofoam by some heavy duty glue. First, a piece of black landscape fabric was used over the foam to hide the white of the Styrofoam block, then I glued the skull on top, added moss pieces and glow-in-the-dark worms. To insert it into the pot, use some larger type wooden skewers and push them into soil, then into the base of the square foam – simple and fun. And don’t forget, leave the soil in there when you disassemble this decor because it will be used to hold the winter evergreens when it is time to dress it up for the holidays in December.

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The plant on the side (vines) is from a climbing spinach plant which worked out nicely because it has black berries still clinging on – so it worked well with the black fabric webbing.

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A spooky baby head is tucked under a Carex grass. Picked up this “baby” at a antique fair of all places. Knew I’d find a use for it.

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The Carex grass is perfect because it was flopping anyhow as Autumn arrived, and the Delosperma below, hanging over the pot, is still tough outside right now. So. I added a cool Owl using the same technique noted above: Square Styrofoam block, black landscape fabric over the block, glued the decor on and staked the owl with wooden skewers into the soil.

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On my Mum-mmy pot, I added some plastic creepy hands found in a Halloween shop – all I did was use heavy duty wooden skewers in each finger and pressed it into the soil.

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My Castor Bean plant got hit by frost and all the foliage was toppled over, so I decided to remove all the side branches, foliage and kept the main stem and branches on the plant, which I then covered with the fake white webbing found in Halloween shops this time of year.

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After Halloween is over, I will chop the whole plant down, and save the soil in this big pot for stuffing with evergreens for the December holiday season.

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This is a photo of the spiny seed pods of the Castor Bean plant which I’m saving to use for next year’s plants – For more about this plant and its spooky features, read this post:


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A week before, I dismantled my big black pot – which kind of looks like a witches kettle, and removed the big red banana plant for overwintering. Well, I could not leave the pot un-decorated.

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I took old stalks of perennials and glued mini skeleton hands on the top and tore some black landscape fabric to add, then just inserted them into the soil. The witches broom was added to keep you thinking – what else will be added to her witches brew?

After fooling around with all this Halloween fun, I got serious and planted 50 tulip bulbs into my big cement planter and enjoyed the rest of the warm day. Remember, your container gardens and patio pots can be maximized during special holidays before they are moved inside for the winter season.

Cathy Testa

Pimping Pumpkins with Nylon and Bling-Bling

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This post received a lot of attention last October – so if you haven’t decorated your pumpkins yet – and don’t like the art of carving, here are some wonderful alternatives.

Note the stick-on bling decor held up well but some started to peel off when the sun heated them up – so I would recommend some adhesive or even some very small push pins to secure them onto the pumpkins.

I loved the nylon covering for pumpkins because they are reusable. I stored mine with my Halloween decor – however, we did some carving last Sunday, meaning my husband and I.

Carving pumpkins was so much fun – I decided in 2016 – I’m going to offer a fun workshop of “Carving and Flower Stuffing of Pumpkins” early in October. It will be posted on my blog under the “Nature with Art” class programs in 2016.

All will be here for attendees – pumpkin selections, carving tools, and fresh flowers if you prefer to fill them with flowers for your table!

Only two more weeks until Halloween – have fun out there, and be safe.

Cathy Testa

Container Crazy CT

IMG_9310The past week’s weather prompted me to start decorating for “Falloween,” the period where it may feel a tad bit early to put out your scary Halloween decorations, but not too early to begin decorating with pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks, mums, and other goodies.

IMG_9276So I decided to go with the easy packaged Martha Stewart find called “pumpkin sleeves” discovered at a local Michaels craft store.  When I tried looking up instructions, because there really wasn’t any on the package, I could not locate this item on the Martha Stewart website.



Not a bother – because it was very easy.  Just slip it over and secure the ends.  At first I used small rubber bands to gather the ends on the bottom and top, but later discovered a draw string for the top end of the sleeve.  However, I still found the rubber band trick to secure it tightly worked better.

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How to Make Kissing Balls for the Upcoming Holidays

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Container Crazy CT offers several classes and workshops year-round where Nature with Art are combined.

There are several classes offered every season, such as the annual Container Gardening Workshop in May and a Kissing Ball and Holiday Creations Workshop in December.

And this weekend is the Storing Tropical Plants Demo where steps will be demonstrated on how to overwinter plants such as Canna, Elephant Ears, Angel’s Trumpets, and banana plants.

During the months between the spring and winter, special guests artists are invited to hold various hands-on style classes with the the mission to educate, share, and create – and most importantly, have fun with friends.

On the drop down menu under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” from the top of this blog, you will find descriptions for each workshop scheduled in 2015 and upcoming in 2016.

Starting Early – Kissing Ball Workshop Dates

We realize that many of us don’t like to start thinking about Christmas or the Holidays until at least early November, but when you have workshops to setup, some things need to be ordered in October so we are ready when December arrives to make our wonderful holiday creations. This is why places like Hobby Lobby are stuffed with Christmas crafts already, where you may find decor to add to your kissing ball or wreath at the workshop.

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The December upcoming hands-on workshops have been scheduled. Seats are limited for the first big workshop date of December 5th, so register early. We gather to make beautiful holiday creations with a mix of fresh evergreens and socialize. It is a fun day and a great way to make your own kissing ball just in time to place it on your porch or hang it in a hallway.

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See How It’s Done

Kissing Balls Shown on TV by Cathy T. See how they are really fun to make and require a bit of time, but they are beautiful and unique when hand-made with your special touches – and the fresh evergreens smell wonderful – not to mention, when you hang them outdoors, the birds like to perch on them – so pretty when snow is falling upon the kissing balls. You can find steps on how to make Kissing Balls on the web, or watch the video linked above, but when you gather with a group – it makes the whole process extra special because you are with a large group of enthusiastic attendees, the mechanics and amazing greens are here for you, and you learn from Cathy T and attendees with their own unique ideas, such as adding lights to the balls. If you live in East Windsor or surrounding towns in Connecticut, come on down and join us – we have attendees all the way from New Haven joining us annually.

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Open Studio Days and Mini Session

Additionally, there are other opportunities to craft away and make beautiful round kissing balls with a wide mix of evergreens to adorn your home indoors and out. An Open Studio week is offered where you may schedule your own appointment to make an evergreen creation at a time convenient for you. Lastly, we have a Mini Session on December 12th. We also make square or round wreaths, candle centerpieces, and mail box swags at these workshops – you pick the one you want to make.

How to Register

All you need to do is fill out the Contact Form. Cost is $30-$45 (+ sales tax) based on item you select to make, and pre-payment is required. Once you sign-up here, you will receive the 2015 price list and details with instructions. Location of the workshops is East Windsor, Connecticut.

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For a handy view by month, click on the CALENDAR menu.

An Attendee Listens to Cathy T's Instructions at the KB Workshop

An Attendee Listens to Cathy T’s Instructions at the KB Workshop


Artists are invited to teach and a page shows the Featured Artists for the upcoming season. If you are an artist utilizing any aspect of plants, nature, or the environment in your designs and would like to introduce your product along with DIY instructions for Container Crazy CT’s attendees, please contact her at 860-977-9473 or to arrange a date and discuss your ideas.  All classes are taught by professionals and artisans with years of experience to share with the interested attendees.

We hope you will join us.

Cathy Testa

Overwintering Red Banana Plants – Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’


Hello Visitors,

Every year, several tropical plants from my container gardens and patio pots are overwintered. In this post, you will see how I helped a client, Laurie, who attended my May container garden workshops, dismantle her pots in September. She did an amazing job with watering and care all summer. Her plants grew very large and were extremely healthy, and now she knows how to store the root bases to attempt regrowing them next season. By the way, she wanted to dismantle her pots early because she was ready for the fall season and putting out mums on her deck. This process can be done much later however (end of October or early November) depending on how you wish to overwinter the plant.

A Client's Container Garden with Red Banana plant as a thriller

A Client’s Container Garden with Red Banana plant as a thriller

As you can see, her red banana plant in this pot grew quite large. It started as a small plant in May. This is a plant for planting zones 9-10 so it is not hardy in Connecticut but it is a great specimen to grow in pots – it grows large fast and the root base can be stored over the winter.

Take note the other plant on its left side is an Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) and during the summer it bloomed orange red flowers next to the rich red coloring of the big banana plant. The height of the butterfly weed worked well next to this very big red banana plant.

By this time in September, the Asclepias formed seed pods. The blooms on this plant are a major source of food for Monarchs.

Cathy T uses a bow saw to say "Timber!"

Cathy T uses a bow saw to say “Timber!”

You will see how I used a bow saw to cut off the top of the plant. It’s pretty straight forward, make a clean cut, do it about 15″ from the base, and let it fall. The hard part is making the cut because the plant is so beautiful. A bow saw works terrific for this – it slices thru just like you would a giant stalk of celery which is how this plant grows, pushing through new shoots/stalks of leaves from its center. Don’t cut it down too low – this can damage that growing center. Some people will make the cut even higher, more on that in the Oct 17th demo (see info below).

Top Removed

Top Removed

Even though I am smiling for the photo, my client was not. She cringed. I asked if she was okay and she said it is so hard to see it taken down. I don’t blame her. She did a great job of watering and watching her plants.

Red banana root base

Red banana root base

Can you guess what this is? It is the root base of the red banana plant. It was a bit of a job to get it out of the soil but after we did, we put it upside down to allow excess water to drain from it. The water collects in the center, and this root base is quite fleshy too. You want to air dry it a bit (few hours or 1/2 a day) to get a lot of this moisture drained out – but you do not want it bone dry either. Then it gets stored in peat in a box. More on that to be shown later.


Laying down a tarp or old blanket is a good idea when you do your work of dismantling your container gardens because there will be a lot of foliage to take away to your compost bin.

Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet)

Next was the Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) which is another beautiful, fast growing, showy tropical plant with 6-10″ gorgeous trumpet shaped flowers, also hardy to zones 9-11. It must be dealt with “before frost” in the fall. However, as noted above, the red banana plant may be left out until frost hits it if you store it as shown above.

Brugmansia with Coleus

Brugmansia with Coleus

This picture doesn’t do it justice. For a first time container gardener, my client did an amazing job with this plant too. She and her husband enjoyed the highly scented pink trumpet shaped flowers in the evening. You have a few choices with this plant in regards to overwintering it in Connecticut. You may take it inside (if you have space) and treat it as a houseplant. Or you may store it in your unheated basement that remains cold but not below freezing. It will drop leaves and look unsightly, but rest assured, when you take it back out next season, it will boom again. You may also cut back this plant hard too if you wish to reduce it in size for space considerations. However, if you leave it tall, you have the added bonus of it being much taller next season. We decided to cut Laurie’s back a bit.

Brugmansia trimmed back with loppers

Brugmansia trimmed back with loppers

Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) is a plant which can grow to the size of a small tree in the right conditions in the ground. It will bloom all the way into November if you wish to keep it going. It will grow a bit smaller in containers, or a big bigger in really big pots. It’s a keeper on my plant list.

Canna on deck

Canna on deck

Next was the beautiful pot of two Canna plants on her mini deck. Her husband graciously carried the pot to a better working location for us after we cut back all the stalks. Again, Laurie whimpered as we did so. The next photo shows what the pot looked like after all was cut off.

Canna with tops off

Canna with tops off

Her blooms were rising so high which is something Laurie commented about as we worked. She was impressed, and did see hummingbirds visiting the blooms this summer. And again, the plants were stunning. It was sad to see them go but the plus side is after storing the rhizomes, they will be ready to be regrown next season.

Rhizomes removed from Canna pot

Rhizomes removed from Canna pot

Here’s a test for you? How many rhizomes do you see above?

I count 17 at least – this means she now has 17 new plants from one potting!

Private Sessions

It took some time to dismantle three large container gardens but we enjoyed every minute. This service of showing you how the process is done and working with you is available up until our frost date, so if you wish to hire me for a private take down session, send me an email soon at or fill out the contact form below (private sessions are $25 and held at your home).

Castor Bean at End of My Driveway

Castor Bean at End of My Driveway

To close today’s post on overwintering plants from container gardens and patio pots, I’m sharing a photo of my castor bean plant at the end of my driveway (noted in yesterday’s post). It is Giant Zanzibariensis and provides quite a show – it grew to a monster size. The seeds are collected as a way to regrow it next season. More on that later.

And lastly, I wanted to share a photo of my Crocosmia since I referenced it yesterday and planted it into the ground this week from my blue pot. The best thing about this plant is how the hummingbirds visited it often. They loved the red blooms and would chirp away. It was replanted in a very large container which is almost the size of a smaller garden bed for next year’s enjoyment – so this year on the deck, next year in the garden – recycling the good way.



Overwintering Demo

On October 17th, Saturday at 10:30 am, the overwintering process will be demonstrated. If interested in attending, see the links on this blog under the “Nature with Art Programs.”

Workshops and Classes

Every season, Container Crazy CT offers workshops and classes. Some are plant related, some are arts related. This spring, we had a wonderful windchime making class. This May was repeated Container Garden Workshops. And every winter is the annual Holiday Kissing Ball and Evergreen Creations workshop where you may learn how to make them with fresh evergreens! Don’t miss out – we are always adding programs.

Red banana plant in my backyard

Red banana plant in my backyard

Cathy Testa

About this blog:

Container Crazy CT is about sharing the passion of growing plants in container gardens and about combining nature with art. Cathy Testa offers classes and workshops and regularly shares information about growing plants in pots. She is located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. To learn more, click the tabs on the top of this blog site. Cathy Testa also speaks at garden clubs, women’s groups, farmers markets, and special events. See Garden Talks above if interested in having her speak to your group.


Overwintering Canna Plants from Container Gardens


Hello Visitors,

As noted yesterday, I am beginning to disassemble, dismantle, and take apart my container gardens and patio pots.

As I do, I will share with you the photos and steps in the event you can not attend my demo on Oct 17th, Saturday.

Yesterday, I took apart one pot of Canna plants. I selected the tall red one, figuring it would be easy to show you what I do.

Canna plants may be kept in the pot and stored inside, but today’s post shows you how to store the rhizomes.


Rhizomes are the storage organs which are swollen stems under the soil that usually grow horizontally, below the soil about 6-8″ from the top of the soil line in the pot.

Mature rhizomes may be cut into sections to produce more plants, but you don’t need to do that step now. Just remove them from the soil and store them in peat moss.

Other Overwintering Options

Option #2: If you have a nice sun room in your home, you have the option of continuing to grow your Canna in the pot. However, I find if you keep your Canna plants in the same container for several years in a row, they start to get crowded and tend to not bloom or flourish as much.

Option #3: A third option is to leave the Canna plants in the pot and move it to an unheated basement where it remains cool all winter, but not below freezing. The plant will go dormant and may be revived the following spring after spring frost. In this case, however, you will need to watch for insects and water it sparingly so the soil does not go completely dry during the winter.

Canna Rhizome Removal

Tools: Clean pruners, loppers, or if you are not a full time gardener with various garden tools, use a long kitchen knife (like one you would use to cut bread).

When: You may wait until the Canna plants get hit by our fall frost later in October, and many references will say wait until it gets hit by frost. However, I’ve stored rhizomes in fall before frost and all works out fine as well.

Canna Australia in a Tall Red Pot

Canna Australia in a Tall Red Pot

Cleaning: Using sharp, clean tools is important to prevent pests and diseases from being transmitted to your plants or storage organs (rhizomes). It is also a good practice to wear gloves and wash your hands as you work, and wash your pots when you are done dismantling everything.

The Steps

Step One: Cut the stalks at the base, leave a little 5-6″ stub if you want. Most important – make a CLEAN cut. Do not tear, pull, tug or make a jagged like cut – the cleaner cut the better. If the stems are thin, pruners work. If not, I like using loppers for a clean cut. If you use a kitchen knife, remember to make the slice/cut as clean as possible.

Clean Cut at Base

Clean Cut at Base



Step Two: Remove other plants in the pot and save as needed or toss. Then remove the root ball. Usually, if the pot does not have a edge on the top rim, it slides out just by turning it over or rolling it on a table (unfortunately, for this red pot, I had to work at removing some soil inside to get it out).



You can see a rhizome poking out of the soil here in this photo above. This can help to locate where they are but you will not always see this in every case.

Step Three: Cut off (slice off) the bottom half of the soil mass. Be careful to not cut the rhizomes which should be about 6-8″ from the top of the soil line.



Step Four: I placed my hand to show about the distance from the top of the soil to where the rhizomes are in the soil. Start to remove the soil away from the rhizomes using your hands or tools. If you use tools, try to not damage the rhizomes accidentally — but if you do – don’t panic. Rhizomes are often cut into sections for propagation, it won’t kill them if you break one by accident.


Step Five: Pull the stems a bit apart, they may break away freely, meaning the rhizomes will separate. Take one stem in one hand, and another in the other hand and pull them away from each other, you will see how they break away. Then clean off as much as the soil as you can. You may use a garden hose to wash them off with sprays of water, but I don’t always do this because then the rhizomes get super wet. In this case, I did to show you how they looked.


Step Six: Trim off the stem stalks. I do this because any fleshy material stored has the potential to rot in the box of peat moss. I even trim the roots if they are super long with sharp pruners. Then let them air dry a bit (couple hours).

The last step is putting them in a container (box) with peat which I will show in tomorrow’s post.


In this particular case, the rhizomes were on the small side, but that doesn’t matter. Each piece you save is another new plant for next year.

Crocosmia (perennial)

This summer, I put a Croscosmia perennial in a blue pot. The hummingbirds adored this plant’s blooms. It was amazing to see them zip by every day. So, you have choices with perennials too on what to do with them if you grew them in your container gardens and patio pots.

They may be removed now and put into the ground to have in your garden or if you have a garage, some perennials will come back if you store the whole pot with the un-removed plant over the winter in the garage.

You may also bury pots with perennials in the ground, but I don’t like that idea because the pot will get dirty and probably worn out more – but this is an option. This information was noted on the container garden workshop handouts in May as well (for those attendees reading this information).

Before I cut back all the foliage from the Crocosmia perennial, which was tattered by the end of the summer, I collected the seeds from this plant for next season. They may be scattered in your garden or stored for next season.

I put seeds in prescription bottles. Its a great way to recycle the bottles and the label is available – with a quick sharpie marker, I write the plant’s name and date, and store the seeds in a cool, dark place until next spring.



The seeds are stored in pill bottles as shown above.


The root ball was removed from the blue pot. I decided to plant it in my big cement planter after doing a bunch of cutting back of the existing perennials in the cement planter, which also has some huge castor beans growing.


Then I put some stones around the Crocosmia to help me remember I moved it there. Even if I don’t keep it in this spot permanently, it is now saved for next season.

Crocosmia Blooms from a Prior Season

Crocosmia Blooms from a Prior Season

I love my big cement planter because the soil is so healthy and easy to work in, and dig in. Yesterday, I noticed some worm castings in the soil. This is what they look like below. It a sign the little critters in the soil are doing a great job of keeping the soil healthy. Worms increase air and water movement in the soil and help break down organic matter when they eat, leaving these worm castings behind which help the plant’s growth.

Worm Castings in Soil

Worm Castings in Soil

As noted in yesterday’s post, I sometimes put old soil balls/masses from dismantled containers into “big” pots or into gardens as a filler in the base – this is one example. The soil in this big cement planter is from former container gardens, and the worms moved in quickly. The soil is rich now.


Begonia from Tubers (see yesterday's post!)

Begonia from Tubers (see yesterday’s post!)

By the way, yesterday I wrote about storing tubers from tuberous Begonias. Here’s a photo of the plant from this summer (see above) which I found this morning in my files.

Note: The details about appropriate storing temperature, methods, and specifics by type of plant for overwintering various plants will be covered in the demo session on October 17th. If I were to write all the details here, this would be a very long post – and I’m wordy enough! But this shows you the basics. It is fairly easy to overwinter plants but there are other tips to be learned.

Keep tuned in – more tomorrow…

Cathy Testa