COVID Creations

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I have to find ways to entertain myself during these challenging times and ‘playing with’ my plants is one big time distraction.

Last week, I made a mask with succulents.

I thought I’d share the photos today. I know I’m not the first to think of this idea. After all, succulents may be applied to many scenarios.

I started off with using the traditional white cotton dusk mask. I placed a half styrofoam white ball under it as I assembled it to keep it stable, because the mask is pliable.

 

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From there it was easy peasy, but took some time.

First, I glued live moss to the white mask using green moss I have in stock and a glue gun.

Then I attached some of my baby succulents and added dried flower pods as filler. To be honest, I didn’t want to waste too many of my succulents so I wanted filler around it to take up some of the space on the mask.

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Then it hit me – I had some round red fuzzy craft balls in stock. I realized they resemble the COVID-19 images of the virus outside of a host cell. I’m sure you have seen this image many times, floating on TV screens as backgrounds during broadcasts. In fact, I was getting annoyed by one image a local news station used for weeks because it just reminded me of the darn C-19 nasty virus lurking everywhere!

The little red craft balls used on my succulent mask have little shiny spikes on them. Thus, these red balls were my representation of the C19 virus images, as shown below of an image obtained from the CDC Image Library on the web.

CDC Cell Image

Caption:
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Photo Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

Here are some photos of my final creation:

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You may wonder, will the succulents survive on this mask? They may. Their fine roots will reach into the moss to grow. Maybe at that point, I will take it all apart and pot them into small pots.

By the way, the succulent plants used were a mix of small echeverias, baby hens and chicks (sempervivums), and some Jade leaves.

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Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

How to Water Succulents in Pots with No Drain Holes

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My number 1 rule has always been to make sure your patio pots and container gardens for plants have sufficient drainage. There is no doubt plants perform much, much better when they have sufficient drainage holes in the base of their pots. Oxygen is necessary for plant roots to develop and perform better, and without drain holes, they lack it.

But, what about all those good and unique pot finds with no drain holes which you want to plant your succulents in? Vintage tea cups or a cool rock? Or when you are growing plants in hanging glass globes or in glass terrarium bowls? How do you deal with the fact these types of pots have no drain holes. If you cannot drill them, which is tricky with glass in particular, then the answer is to water very carefully.

Because succulents are able to withstand periods of drought, many people use them in pots without drain holes, but they do need watering at some point. In fact, succulents tend to like a good drenching, and then you should allow the soil in the pot to completely dry before you water again. The key is watering carefully when you have no drain holes.

Here is a list of tips I created to help you do this correctly, and again, carefully.

Tip No. 1 – Use Sphagnum Moss

Add some moss in glass hanging votives or glass globes over the soil mix. Fibered sphagnum moss absorbs up to twenty times its weight in water. The moisture will distribute naturally throughout the moss reaching the plants’ roots. The moss will dry over the course of the next few days on its own. By the way, sphagnum moss is not peat moss. And, Spanish moss is also different. Spanish moss is more for decorative uses and will remain soggy longer than sphagnum moss. I prefer the sphagnum moss because it dries between the moisture routines allowing the aeration also needed for the succulents delicate roots.

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Tip No. 2 – Tip the pot

After putting water in the soil mix (or moss), tip the pot to drain out any excess water, especially if you over did it. It may be okay to let the water sit there for a bit to be soaked up awhile, maybe an hour or so, but then be sure to drain out any excess water from the globe, pot, or whatever has no drain hole.

Tip No. 3 – Unplug the weep hole

Some pots, such as this hanging basket, has a reservoir area in the base. If the pot got overfilled with rain water during a heavy rain fall, pull the plug out, and allow the accumulated water to drain completely out. After, let the soil dry out and then re-insert the plug.

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Tip No. 4 – Add horticulture charcoal

Charcoal is very useful in terrarium glass bowls in particular. It improves drainage and absorbs harmful impurities. Add a thin layer in the foundation of the bowl along with soil and gravel in the base. It may be used in pots without drain holes too if desired. It will help the soil environment. Just be sure to follow the guidelines on the bag for the amount to use, and wear gloves since it is a messy dusty like component which will blacken your hands. Layer it appropriately as well for terrariums.

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Tip No. 5  – Less is more

Do not over water especially if your pot is in a dimly lit room inside your home or in the shade outdoors. This is a formula for inviting fungus gnats. The moisture will not dry out as quickly in shady spots, and thus, it invites critters. Critters like moisture. Be aware less is more in these situations, but again, your succulents shouldn’t be in non-lit areas in the first place. Most succulents prefer sun. If possible, if the soil is too wet from this situation, put it outdoors on nice days to give it natural air. Just be sure it is warm enough outside and not in too much sun IF the plants have been inside all winter. Select a partial sunny place and bring it back in later before evening.

Tip No. 6 – Use a porous pot

Terra-cotta and non-glazed clay pots allow air movement through the pot itself, so using a clay pots helps the non-drain holes situation versus using a glazed ceramic pot for example. Also, fabric or fiber pots with the natural ability to allow moisture to seep thru the pot base, are helpful to use. Such as coco fiber liners used in hanging baskets.

Tip No. 7 – Add perlite

Your potting mix may already have perlite, but adding more to the soil mix for pots with no drain holes will enhance the air spaces in the soil. Horticulture perlite is expanded volcanic glass. It increases aeration and drainage which will help the roots develop. This tip is good for plants which enjoy lots of drainage, such as succulents. Perlite is available by the bag in garden type stores.

Tip No. 8 – Create a drainage layer

Add gravel, stone chips, sterilized sea shells, or river pea gravel to the base of the pot before adding the soil and or moss. This is only recommended for pots without drain holes. Otherwise, if the pot does have drain holes, it can be counterproductive, creating blockage to drain holes or moving up the soil moisture above the gravel line. More on that in another blog post. It is a bit of a thing to explain to folks, which I have in my workshops on container gardening in the past.

Tip No. 9 – Allow drying time

Most plant roots need a balance of moisture and air. Be sure to allow your soil to dry between watering, especially important when you have no drain holes and are using succulent plants. Succulent plants should not be sitting in soggy soils for prolonged periods of time. And if the weather is right, put your container outdoors for some fresh air to give some air to the soil or moss, just be careful to not put it in harsh sun right away if they’ve been indoors all winter. And do not put out non-hardy soft succulents outdoors if it is still cold out – usually the right time to transition them outdoors is around Memorial Day, but if there is a suddenly warm day and sunshine, it doesn’t hurt to put them out for a few hours if the soil is really too wet.

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Tip No. 10 – Direct the water

Direct the water carefully to the soil mix (not to the top of the plants). Do not mist succulents. Point the tip of your watering-can spout to the soil, moss, or around the plant. I’ve been using a hair style water bottle lately for succulents in tight pots. The bottle is squeezable and squirts out a stream of water perfectly from a very narrow tip. If your succulents are a hardy type, and outdoors, it is okay if they get wet especially in the sun, but for soft non-hardy succulents, it is best to avoid getting the foliage wet. Also, bear in mind, newly planted succulents may have not expanded their fine roots into the soil much so the amount of water may depend on if you just planted a plug or baby succ, versus one that may be fuller and more mature.

Potting Mix

And finally, I think this goes without saying, use a quality potting mix or container mix for your plants in the pots. No native soil, no dirt please. In a future blog post, I will talk about my favorite potting mixes and how to find them. I have my favorite brands, and I actually listened to a webinar yesterday on new wood substrate type components for peat-based potting mixes. Again, more on that later. There is always more to learn.

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

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Why Succulents in Hanging Baskets?

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Succulents continue to be wildly popular with plant enthusiasts and collectors. If you don’t have lots of room on your patio, a hanging basket filled with various succulent plants is a way to capitalize on your space. Succulents don’t require frequent soakings and may stay dry for weeks, making them very low maintenance plants, which is perfect in summer, when we are busy or going on vacation. Many people are surprised to learn that most succulents do produce flowers, at least once during the growing season. Hummingbirds love the flowers on the long arching stalks of Echeverias for example, just one of the many type of succulents out there to enjoy. It is a thrill to witness a hummingbird visit the delicate urn shaped blooms. In summary, succulents have lots to offer and are very long lasting plants, which means you may enjoy them outdoors in the warm season on your patio in a hanging basket, and then later, move them indoors for the winter season to enjoy on your windowsill or any indoor room with decent sunlight.

The Soil Mix

Succulents require good soil drainage to perform their best, and hanging baskets with coco-fiber or sphagnum moss liners are perfect to provide that drainage. The water will seep thru the natural liners and allow the soil to dry between watering or after a strong rainfall. And, as long as you plant them in a gritty potting mix, which is best for succulents, the plants will thrive. Gritty soil refers to adding more components to make the potting mix sufficiently porous (i.e., providing air space) with materials such as white horticulture perlite, which is added to improve drainage and aeration.

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Fresh Mix is Best

The garden industry provides many perfect potting soil or container soil mixes by the bag to use to plant your succulents in containers, hanging baskets, and patio pots. Potting mixes or container mixes are suitable, and cacti mixes or mixes specific for succulents, are even better. The key aspect to keep in mind when selecting your potting media is to purchase it fresh from a reliable source. Never ever use dirt (native soil) from the ground for your succulents in hanging baskets. Dirt is far too compact and will not provide the appropriate air spaces in the soil for the plants’ delicate fine roots, and it may harbor diseases, plus it will be too heavy to support a hanging basket on a hook. Look for brands such as ProMix, Fafard, or Hoffman. There are many mixes on the market to choose from and most of them have the component to achieve success.

Deep Pots Not Required

Hanging baskets are also well suited in regards to depth. Most succulents do not require super deep pots, and hanging baskets with an 8” diameter and about as deep are fine to use for many types of succulents. Even a minimum of 6″ deep is fine for many succulents. If they outgrow the hanging basket by the end of the summer season, they are easily transitioned to interior pots for keeping them indoors for winter, or propagated to make more succulents from a mother plant. They don’t mind being crowded in a basket for the short term of a summer season. Hanging baskets are a perfect choice and have so many benefits for succulents.

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Making Baby Succulents

As the succulent plants in your hanging baskets continue to grow and get bigger, you may create babies from your plants via propagation steps. One propagation method that is becoming practiced quite a bit by beginners is making baby succulents by propagating leaves removed from the succulent mother plant. There are many ways to perform propagation to achieve success but once you learn how, you will become a succulent baby making machine in no time. The endless benefits of succulents are to be enjoyed. Some succulent naturally produce off set side babies as well to keep the plant growing and to expand your succulent family collections.

Each Has Different Needs

Not all succulents are the created equal, however. Each has different needs. Did you know some succulents actually prefer less sun than others? And some succulents may burn in extreme sun situations, especially when moved out from the indoors to the outdoors for the first time. But, in general, they are very tolerant of being housed together in one hanging basket for the summer. Plants like Jades will play well with Echeveria or Sempervivums, for example. Many succulents are spillers or trailers, perfect to soften and hang from the edges of hanging baskets; think donkey or burro tail (two types of Sedums). And for plants with upright appeal, add a Kalanchoe paddle plant or Aloe in the center. The list of succulents is endless and in general, many share similar needs, such as limited watering, full sun to part sun, and minimal fertilizing needs. Succulents do well in full or partial sun outdoors, and when grown indoors, you should do your best to place them by the brightest windows in your home. If you see your succulents stretch, this may be a sign of not enough light, or they could be pushing out a bloom, which hardy succulents often do from their centers. In regards to temperature, it depends on the type of succulent! Hardy succulents tolerate the outdoors in winter but some should be protected. Soft succulents are not able to stay outdoors in winter. This is why the hanging baskets are handy, just bring them inside and set them on top of a pot for winter! Voila!

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Watering Conservatively

Watering is probably one of the most difficult tasks to master when it comes to training plant beginners. Because most succulents conserve water in their leaves, they are tolerant of watering neglect but they will not survive if they are completely ignored forever. They have very delicate roots and if not watered at all, those roots will dry up and die. Watering is based on the climate, location, season, and the type of patio or interior pot. There are different methods of watering, but when they are in a hanging basket, especially one with a natural liner, you can’t really over water them either due to the drainage which will occur in hangers with natural liners. In addition, succulents appreciate a bit of air space below their pots, and hangers provide this function. Misting succulents is not recommended. They should be watered only when the soil is completely dry. You may drench the soil in the hanging basket and allow the excess water to drip out to drain. It is not good to let water sit on succulents leaves, especially in the hot sun, due to a water mark appearing on the center of the plant at times. Shaking the basket after watering helps, it will cause the water droplets to roll off the leaves and its center rosette. The misting routine, often used, is really not best for some succulents.

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Observations

I have found succulents have done very well in hanging baskets ever since I started offering it as a workshop topic a couple years ago. Due to the succulents various sizes, styles, shapes, and tolerance, people have been successful with keeping the plants going in their hangers after the workshops. In fact, many have shown photos of how well the plants grew and they were able to maintain them in their homes during the winter.

Spring is upon us and by early June, it will be time to enjoy your succulent plants outdoors. It is important to transition them carefully in late May, gradually, before putting them in full sun or partial sun. They also require warm temperatures and you should avoid putting them out too early.

Refreshing succulent hanging baskets is easy to do as well. Much of this I will be showing to my attendees via Facebook Live videos soon. For Connecticut, they are safe to go out around the same time you would plant your tomato seedlings/starter plants, around Memorial Day. Now may be a good time to take a look at your succulents and consider refreshing them for the outdoor season.

Workshop Cancellation

My goal was to offer a workshop in May 2020 again on Succulent Hanging Baskets but this was cancelled due to COVID-19. Stay tuned for updates on what is next, which only time will tell (see my Services List below). I have plenty of pretty colorful hangers in stock now however. Guess that means, time for me to get planting. All of the above is explained in detail at my workshops, but alas, I think the workshop scene is on hold for my offerings in the coming months. I will be, however, refreshing my succulent hanging baskets in stock and offering them for sale. Lately, I’ve been offering porch pick-ups for folks in my area during this difficult time (for seeds and houseplants or succulents). It brings me great pleasure to know it has been helpful to cheer up their environment with plants and other things, like seeds for sale or houseplants. I guess succulent baskets may be added to my services list. I will see how the rest of this month goes!

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
containercathy@gmail.com

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Ants on My Agave

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Yesterday, when I was in my happy place sowing seeds in a nice warm sunny greenhouse, I saw some little tiny ants on my Agave plant.

They were traveling from a leaf, up along a spine on the tip of a leaf, onward to a column on my shelving for my seedlings, and traveling up under the seedling heating mat.

I thought, “Oh gosh. Here we go. I have to stop my happy sowing to address this issue.”

For the most part, ants don’t really harm much; meaning they don’t eat plants, thankfully. I suspect they were in search of moisture in the soil.

Sometimes ants will be on plants due to aphids. They like the aphid’s secreted honeydew, but that was not the case here. No aphids in sight, thankfully, and I have never seen aphids on agave plants anyways.

I treasure this agave in particular, because I’ve owned it for years and just re-potted it last summer, thus, I had to deal with it right away. It could not be avoided.

Last Summer’s Repotting

You see, last summer, I had finally moved it out of an urn it grew in for at least 8 years, separated the side baby plants (off-sets), and then re-potted it into a big blue plastic pot.

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In the Urn before Re-potting Last Summer

My husband, Steve, assisted me at breaking the urn (a sacrifice I had to make). I thought banging the urn with a hammer would do the trick but he had to get a chisel and hammer to do break the urn pot.

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After we managed to get it out, separate the side babies, and all of that – I managed to get it into a new blue plastic pot without stabbing myself anywhere (including my arm pits).

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It sat outside all summer and was moved into the greenhouse before fall time.

This has always been my typical routine, actually for many years, I just moved it into my bedroom because the slider doors are right there – and this plant is big and heavy!

But last year, I thought, time for you to join the others for winter in the greenhouse.

Ant time!

Now fast forward to yesterday, early April.

To see the ants trailing on it was disappointing because of all the work we did last summer.

But, I thought, I want to see if these ants have an ant farm in the soil. They did not, by the way, from what I could see when I took it apart.

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Photo in the greenhouse last fall

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Moving it outside when discovering the ants

Because it was a decent day, finally now in spring, I moved it out. Lugging it was not easy.

At first I thought, let me flush it with water. I’ve read also the pot may be inserted into a bucket of water with soapy solution to kill the ants, but you can imagine with the size of this beast, I did not do that.

I figured that flushing it with water from the garden hose may help, but I still saw ants a bit later rushing around confused, as I let it sit it out for a couple hours.

I thought, gosh, I will have to take this darn thing out and re-pot it if I want to avoid having these ants in the greenhouse. I forced myself to do this process.

I also had to clean my seedling heating mat, move all my seedlings aside for the moment, inspect the shelves, and clean that as well, then move the seedlings back.

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Upside down root ball of the Agave

Now here is the good news. I discovered the agave grew roots all the way to the base of that blue pot from the time I had re-potted it last summer (end of summer) to now.

Wow, the roots are healthy and really down to the bottom, as shown in the photo above of the upside down root ball.

The bad news was I had to break some of those roots to get the darn agave out. What a bummer after all that re-potting work accomplished before.

More bad news – and this is really bad, because of how many times I have said to be sure you make sufficient drainage holes in your pots. I discovered my blue pot did not have sufficient drain holes.

In fact, this rule is one of my 5 Must-Do’s of Container Gardening, but what did I see? That I did last summer?

I had only drilled 2 big drain holes in the center and some around the perimeter but those are way too small of a hole size, thus, the water collected at the base of this pot, and there was a lot of moisture held down there in the pot. I think this is why the ants found it.

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I think because I was tired from a busy season on that day of doing the summer work on the plant and pots, I probably got lazy and didn’t drill enough holes. I remember I had to get that plant re-potted and forced myself to get the job done before summer was over.

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New temporary pot for now

Here it is in a new pot – a galvanized bucket with sufficient drain holes in the base, that I had on hand.

The white powdery stuff you see on there is diatomaceous earth. I dusted the top of the soil with it and some fell on the bottom of the leaves.

I am not going to water this plant for a while so there is no issue right now with the dust getting wet. It should kill any remaining ants still trying to locate their trail of buddies.

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Before putting it in the pot – I hosed the plant off really well and allowed it to air dry

It is the first time I’ve used this dust product this way, and I heard through a friend this worked for her when she had issues with ants in her pots.

As far as I know, the dust will not harm the plant. It is not poisonous but caution must be used when handling.

I wore my bandanna scarf over my mouth and had my sunglasses covering my eye glasses, and wore gloves both for the dust and to avoid the spines pricking my hands.

I’ve also read this product is helpful for fungus gnats; which is why I had it on hand. I was in the midst of researching it and grabbed a bag of the dust power of it a few weeks ago, the type made for horticulture use, so I was lucky I had it on hand in my garage.

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Last year – before re-potting – Love this!

By the way, last year, when walking by my agave, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

A tree frog! It had been hanging out on it. A good memory, for sure.

I posted lots of photos of my agave on SmugMug recently.

Agave – Other Facts:

I believe this one is Kissho Kan. Actually, I’m 99% it is – I had bought a tray of them one year, many years ago, to sell at a plant and art show. I kept one for myself, of course.

Division is best from spring to summer, which I did, of the offsets, as shown on the urn photos above. The underground stems or stolons are where the off-sets are produced.

Agaves tolerate a minimum temp of 41-50 degrees F, which is why they do just fine in my low-temp greenhouse over the winter.

Most agave species die after flowering. They are monocarpic. If I ever see it push out a flower stalk, I’ll be posting many photos of that. And probably hold a ceremony. LOL.

The common name of agave is century plant. They are slow-growing plants hardy in zones 9-11 but for our zone 6, they must be overwintered inside the home or greehouse before fall arrives.

They prefer full sun and well-drained soils. I added some perlite to the new soil mix after the ant incident to increase the porosity of the soil.

They really don’t need much fertilizer, which I did not provide much to this plant over the course of 8 years, and look at it – it is a monster. But I do follow the other 5 Must Do’s, except as noted, goofed on the last re-potting of the drain holes.

The soil in the pot should be allowed to dry out between waterings. And in the winter, keep it dry, which I did but I happened to be hose happy due to spring arriving and started to give it water recently – thus the soil was moist for the ants.

They do well as houseplants, which I can attest to, since it was in my bedroom over most winters over the years, which the slider door faces south so it received enough light.

Over all, they are easy care plants, minus when you have to re-pot them or they get ants – which I hope doesn’t happen to your’s or happen again here.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
containercathy@gmail.com
860-977-9473

P.S. If you are in search of seeds during this COVID-19 time, I have seeds in stock for sale. Details are on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. They are mailed upon ordering. Mostly tomato, hot peppers, parsley, basil, lettuce, and some misc other types.

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Seed Packets Wrapped to Mail