Four Weeks Till Christmas

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The festive holidays are starting off nicely this year. Thanksgiving Day was a beautiful day here in Connecticut, followed by Friday, which was a little misty and rainy at first but not terrible in regards to weather, then a beautiful sunny day on Saturday (a popular day to get your Christmas trees and start outdoor decorating, as well as hitting up Shop Small Saturdays for local businesses for gifts), and it looks like we will squeeze out at least another half day of no rain before rain again later in the day on Sunday, today.

This kind of nice cooler, non-rainy weather is helpful to me, because I will make at least 100 trips back and forth to my garage for my greens to make wreaths and prep items for holiday pots and planters during the next two weeks. I have to bundle going back and forth and if it is not raining, it sure helps. Even better is when there isn’t any ice on the driveway where I could potentially slip and fall. However, I don’t mind misty rain so much nor would I mind a “nice pretty snowfall” because it adds to the upcoming Christmas spirit we start to experience this time of year after Thanksgiving weekend.

This year is different, because things are just costing more. When you see an item priced a little higher, please just remember, it is not because anyone is taking advantage – at least not by small local businesses, it is because they are being charged higher too, and that is just the way it is this year. We all have to pick and choose what is important and valuable to us. In fact, we went to get our Christmas tree on Friday, and it was $75. All the trees in the lot were $75 regardless of size, where as a year ago, the place had no trees due to shipping issues, and the year before, I think it was $55. But you know what? We got a gorgeous tree at $75. It is so full and beautiful. Last night, I sat in-front of it with my husband and we admired the tree. It smells great in the house, the needles are firm, and it is full. I’m thinking I will sit in front of it every night instead of the television the next four weeks!

Anyhow, today is probably the day I will make my first custom wreath. And yesterday, was the day I boxed up my first greens box order. I am so very thankful for those who have placed orders thus far. Making each items brings me joy and a little worry too, cause I always worry – I know, not productive! BUT, it can be productive when you are planning and doing your best to have all the holiday “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. But overall, once I get into the zen of making a wreath, it is all good!

We are now at week 4 – meaning four weeks before Christmas. Our weekend agendas will hopefully start to be filled with gatherings and/or festive activities, or perhaps it will be mellow. Not everyone has those big family gatherings, some are small and intimate. Maybe you feel lonely this year, due to a loss, or perhaps just because things are not panning out a certain way. Whatever the case, surround yourself with what makes YOU happy. Whether it be a wreath or a chocolate bar (hopefully hand made with really good chocolate), or in the case of a wreath, handmade with really good fresh greens! And pick those things which make others happy to – for those who are important to you.

One thing that makes me happy to offer is my Holiday “Box of Greens,” which is actually two boxes with 8 varieties of fresh holiday greenery per order. To learn more of the total list of varieties and contents, cost, etc., feel free to contact me soon! And get decorating alone or with friends. I’m located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT and will be here every day this week and most of next. You may also visit me on, http://www.WorkshopsCT.com for additional details, photos, etc.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of your weekend! Hopefully today will be a day of rest for YOU!

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

How Many Days Till Thanksgiving

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I’m sure everyone knows how many days till Thanksgiving 2022! We are looking over menus, inviting friends and family to gatherings, and feeling the chill in the air to signal a new holiday upon us soon.

For me how many days till Thanksgiving is important because I start making custom holiday wreaths and kissing balls, some fresh made garlands, and other holiday gift items starting the weekend of Thanksgiving. So, we have 2 weeks to go before getting to my “start date!” for orders.

There’s quite a bit of pre-planning, such as reaching out to those who routinely order from me, posting various photos, wiring ornaments ahead (to save time while making wreaths), maybe spray painting some items for some outdoor holiday installations, or measuring various items, and checking the stock of my inventory needed is a big task as well. Do I have enough wreath frames in different sizes, florist wire, and other items needed to create? Remember COVID year, things were in low supply. I don’t think supply issues are as big but they do impact costs that continue to rise. Cost rising means more planning and careful to not over do things, which is tricky if you love to decorate!

Also, I usually make some special trips too to sources to find unique ornaments, ribbons, or decor to use – but restraint is also required because, not to be a broken record, but we all know prices of practically everything has gone up. As my SIL said recently, “Can you believe even celery is expensive?!” Yes! I can! However, I can not resist making beautiful wreaths with a mix of greens – everyone needs to at least have a wreath to adorn their door, mantels, or outside windows, you name it.

My wreaths come in various sizes from small, standard, large, and deluxe sizes. Usually, standard is a popular choice for folks, and standard or large sizes fit well on doors. I try to use color choices desired, but this year, I have to say with the rise in prices of greens to ribbons, I will be using standard colors mostly. There are some exceptions for special orders, etc. I do the best I can for everyone. And all is made with fresh greenery.

I also offer “boxes of greens” if you wish to make your own, and also make large kissing balls custom made. Fresh greens are great for your outdoor pots, window boxes, or to adorn a railing inside the home.

To inquire or learn more visit me at:

http://www.WorkshopsCT.com (posts by products there)

Instagram under my handle of “Container Crazy CT” where I post lots of pictures.

SmugMug Galleries (Click on HOLIDAY FOLDERS CATHY T) to see various galleries of past and present holiday creations.

Facebook under my handle of “Container Crazy CT

Hopefully, I will hear from you soon!

My Holiday Orders’ list has started to grow!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
Located in Broad Brook section of East Windsor, Connecticut
containercathy@gmail.com

Looking Back on Holiday Creations

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My holiday creations and wreaths are usually featured on my other blog site, WorkshopsCT.com, but I got in the mood to review some past creations and thinking about what will be the new creations for this upcoming holiday season.

Last year was the year of the half-wine bottles as an adorable, easy-care, and fun holiday gift. I made these with soil, a beautiful succulent, and holiday bling. So fun. They sold quickly and I was happy to create them.

Silver pine cones with Mr. Santa in white was the theme which developed. I called them “Grab-N-Go!” gifts last season.

Then was the year where I became obsessed with the Rockefeller owl, the little owl discovered in the tree put up in Rockefeller center in NYC. I thought so much about that little adorable owl, and it just hit me to create these larger globes and bubble bowls with the owl as my inspiration.

I purchased an ornament and coffee cup from the organization who saved and rehabilitated the owl and it just was some kind of thing with me where I couldn’t stop thinking about how cute that owl was, and the fact, the owl survived stuck in that wrapped huge tree heading to the city for display!

I ended up making quite of few of these as people ordered them. Each little owl was wrapped in a very soft material I acquired to match the photos of the real owl. I put decor, mini succulents, and some evergreen tips in each. So fun to make. Loved this so much. And it was just one of those “organic” ideas that popped into my head.

Several years ago, I made one of those holiday themed mannequin skirts with fresh greens during the holidays. It was a test, and I cannot claim credit for this idea. I started seeing them on Instagram feeds, and after I finished making custom wreaths for orders, I decided to give this a try!

It was a little tricky to make. I used chicken wire underneath to work with and loved how it came out but I thought you sure would need a nice location to display it and keep it fresh, and how would one transport this? – it would have to be made on-site, and it was time consuming as well. I loved it though. I almost purchased a bunch of those mannequin clothing display stands from a warehouse once, but then I stopped myself, because I didn’t think I’d really get many orders for these. So this was just a first trial test.

These moss holiday balls with mini tapered candles were from last season. Aren’t they just adorable. Could you see them lined up on a table for a holiday fancy dinner? Little things like this make perfect hostess gifts too and are nice used in groupings with other decor you may have on hand.

I’ve made other glass hanging votives with matching mini baubles wreaths shown below. The creative juices will start to flow at times. This one was so cute because the mouse was so cute with his little red Santa hat. How could anyone resist him?!

I called this one the “Ho-Ho-Ho” globe – what really made it was the perfect bow on the bottom. And the ribbon on the top. A friend ordered a set of these for her best girlfriends – which I think is super sweet.

Every year, a spontaneous gift related idea for the holidays pops into my head – those are the best, the ones that just arrive in your mind for whatever reason. It could be a unique little animal I saw somewhere, or whatever. Those are the fun, spontaneous, unique ones for me to make. I don’t know yet what will spur a new idea for this Holiday but I am planning to go look at some inspirations. Maybe something new will come to me – we will see.

And of course, there are my custom made wreaths. I like to make them full and fluffy – that is just my style, with a nice mix of greens. I will be taking custom orders again this year which are picked up from my home base location.

My kissing balls take a really long time to make and use up a lot of greens, but I’m always happy with the result. They are rather large too. Here I am holding one up which is good arm exercise. My husband is always so helpful with taking my photos for me so I can show others what the kissing balls look like – this was one before being decorated.

Here’s an example of a rather large and full and fluffy wreath I made. I love the white snowy background.

And another, made for a customer, with a bow with cute red, white, and silver colors.

And here he is, my willing hubby, always helping me to take photos and sometimes to install the larger wreaths at sights.

And here is what I called, or should say my customer called, a Winter Wonderland! It was freezing out the day we put this all together but somehow my love of holiday greens kept me working away until my fingers needed thawing.

A few wreaths laid out on a table before installing them. I’m so lucky we built a larger garage when we built it many moons ago because it comes in handy for setting up and laying out all my materials while I work.

Well, today is a beautiful, sunny autumn day, but I started to think about the holidays ahead and that got me into these photos. I’m looking forward to a weekend of autumn right now however, and I’m sure you are too!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Plant Gift Creator
Plant Enthusiast
860-977-9473
Located in Broad Brook, Connecticut
containercathy@gmail.com

Date of this Post: 10/28/2022

For more information on my custom work, please visit www.WorkshopsCT.com.

Thank you!

My Mangave Shoots Up A Bloom

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I like finding cool and unique plants for my clients’ balcony gardens every season, so when I spotted two rather large Mangave plants at a local garden center, I had to grab them despite the price. I was excited to plant them in two large upright planters and I asked my husband to take a photo of me standing right behind the planters.

Cathy Testa with Mangave in front planter

The mask wearing was on purpose, to show a timeline history of my plantings, and this had to be when masks for COVID were still required. Anyhow, I wore a pink mask and I loved how the photo came out. We were still required to wear masks at this time so I think it was 2020, or 2019.

Mangave is a Cross between Manfreda and Agave

I’m a big fan of Agaves, so when I spotted an article about the new Mangaves, which I read about prior to finding the only two available at a local garden center, it elevated my excitement of getting them and planting them as a unique and dramatic specimen at this location. I love the outlines of the plant, the speckling on the leaves (spines), and the fact it was not something commonly found at that time.

Here is some background information about it.

As stated in the article linked above:

Taking the best from both genera, Mangave have the accelerated growth rate, spotting and softer spines from manfreda, mixed with the durability and large architectural forms of agave. Mangave hybrids bring the potential of hundreds of new colors and habits not previously seen among agave in a product that’s more grower-friendly, with a quicker finish time and less prickly spines.

As the principal breeder of Mangave, Hans is the perfect source for the story behind the succulent, his experiences with the crop and how he sees it contributing to the world of horticulture.

https://www.growertalks.com/Newsletters/View/Newsletter/?article=3103

Spines are not weapons, like with regular Agaves

It is true, the spines are less prickly than typical Agaves. In fact, spines on Agaves are so sharp, they could be used as a weapon! And the spotting patterns on these new Mangaves are very interesting on the spines, and it has a wonderful architectural form, and yes, they grow fast! My two specimens were already rather large so I knew they must have been growing somewhere at a growers for a while before making it to a local garden center in my area to be offered for sale. In fact, when I spotted them at the garden center, they were sitting on the floor in their large nursery pots under a bench, as if almost hidden from sight, near other succulents and cacti. I lifted them into my shopping cart at warp speed, let me tell ya. I knew I had to have them.

They served as wonderful candidates all summer long at the clients’ site, and I think the only downfall to these plants is the spines are extremely flexible and soft, thus with one bump, the tips break off. I don’t like that aspect because it feels like a break to the overall form and architecture of the plant, so they are somewhat difficult to move, especially when you are moving plants up to a high-rise, but the effort was worth it. When moving them, use caution to not break any of the spine tips when possible, as I did the more I experienced observing, growing, and using this plant. It turned out to be more useful than I had expected.

September 21

In September of 2021, I noticed a bloom coming up on one of the Mangaves, which I had returned home earlier from the client site. Sometimes plants are taken back, and in this case, one of the Mangaves at the client’s balcony had started experiencing growing issues, so I took it home, inspected the roots, and sure enough, there was some type of pillbug in the soil. Because I cherished this plant, I removed all the soil and repotted it in new fresh potting mix that is well draining and more on the coarse side. Agaves typically don’t like wet soil, and I suspected the soil was probably wet prior to even planting it. I watched it for a while outdoors to see if it would improve, which it did, then in the autumn season, before frost time here in Connecticut, I moved it into my greenhouse. It was around that time, in September, that it suddenly started to shoot up a bloom stalk.

A Bloom Stalk Surfaces in 2021

When the bloom started, I was super excited about this and posted a photo to my Instagram feed (seen above). As some plant people may or may not know, Agave plants do not commonly flower. Some will bloom after several years, while others may take as long as ten years or even a hundred years to produce a bloom; this is why Agave plants are referred to as century plants. And the flowers will grow on the tip of a very tall stem, solo rising up from the middle of the plant, and the stem/stalk will grow super tall, reaching for the skies, or in my case, reaching for the ceiling of my lean-to style greenhouse. Knowing this, I was pretty excited to see how long it would take the flower stem (referred to as a candelabrum or wand for Agaves) to grow and how high it would reach in my greenhouse before it would produce flower buds. The stem (or wand if you wish to think of it that way), has no leaves on it and to me, it resembled an asparagus stalk.

Photo Taken As It Kept Rising

September 27

Within 7 days, you can see from the next photo how much the stalk rose from the center of the Mangave. It was growing up, and every day, I’d walk in to take a look, and I started to have to move it around because as it got taller, it was reaching the lean-to style of the greenhouse’s roof. I wondered if it would soon hit the ceiling.

Mangave flower candelabrum or wand

It got to the point, the stalk was so tall, I couldn’t get the whole thing in a photo. Here is a photo (above) where I moved it in-front of an old silver locker I picked up at a vintage shop, and it was about as tall as that cabinet by this point. As you can see, it definitely looks similar to an asparagus stem.

Very Top of the Stalk

Then the next phase was starting to reveal. Side shoots on the top started to form with flower buds. I knew I was in for a big surprise soon. And fortunately, the very tip of the stalk was not touching the roof of the greenhouse. It appeared I had just enough space to keep it inside for the rest of the winter.

Flowers Opening

The flowers started to feel like a fireworks show to me. That is just how my mind works when it comes to nature’s surprises. The flower clusters started to form to the sides of the main cluster on the top and as they opened, pollen was visible and I thought it was a shame as it would not be pollinated inside my greenhouse during the winter months, but just the same, it was a fun experience to witness all the buds opening over time.

By December, 3 months after I first noticed the stalk rising from the center of the plant, it had buds and the stalk was about 10 feet tall. In reviewing some of the posts I was sharing, around December 11th, it was 6 feet tall. Later in December, it grew to ten feet. By the following spring, I decided to chop off about 1/3 of the stalk and it was time to get it out of my way so outside it went. I put it on my deck, and to my surprise later in the summer, more side plants formed at the top of the plant’s flower stalk (where I had cut it off). It also produced many pups on the sides at the base of the plant, which I decided to use to top off my succulent pumpkin centerpieces; it made a nice spikey looking thriller on the top of the pumpkins.

Mangave used on the Succulent Pumpkin Centerpieces

This plant ended up surprising me in many ways and kept on giving. It did not die off as some plants do after flowering for Agaves, and retuned to my greenhouse yet again this fall. Not only that, I repotted some of the pups earlier, and they grew rather quickly into larger plants (as noted by the breeder above, Hans, they grow quickly).

Agave and Mangave plants make wonderful specimen plants, are beautiful in larger pots, and they handle full sun and don’t require lots of fertilizer, and they may be kept inside the home over the winter, if not too large, or if they haven’t grown a major flower stalk of 10 feet tall, and they over winter well in a low-temp greenhouse too from my experience. It is pretty cool when you start off admiring something and witness many returns and uses which were unexpected, like how I used them on my succulent pumpkin centerpiece creations this season.

I like collecting various Agaves and now Mangaves and will continue to do so. I find they are easy care plants and you can obtain various sizes and styles if you keep your eyes open for special finds!

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

Date of Post: 10/26/2022

Storing Corms, Tubers, Bulbs, Rhizomes for Winter

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This year I’m trying a new method for storing my Alocasia corms (sometimes referred to as bulbs or tubers, but they are not true bulbs). I have seen Alocasia corms referred to as “tubers” in many garden reference and technical books, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with corms as the term used for these Alocasia plants I am putting away for the winter months in Connecticut.

Bins Years Prior Used

For years, I stored the bases of underground parts from my elephant’s ears and canna lily plants in plastic bins with covers (air holes drilled in the covers) with peat. When I say “parts”, I’m referring to corms for the elephant’s ear (Alocasia and Colocasia) and rhizomes for the Canna Lily plants).

The peat (only a small amount below; used almost like a bed below the corms/rhizomes, and some peat lightly sprinkled over the tops of the corms and rhizomes) helped maintain a bit of moisture but kept the tubers in a dry but not too dry or too moist state.

However last year, some of my Alocasia corms had rot areas on them when I went to take them out in the spring to start growing again. They were too damp. Plastic bins will hold onto some moisture (versus a dry cardboard type box) but this problem of rot really had never occurred before. Since I want to make sure I am able to save these dramatic large Alocasia plants’ corms, I’m trying this new method this year.

Dug Up about a Week or few days prior

In last week’s post, I showed how I dug up the Alocasia plants from a huge cement planter, cutting off the foliage about 4-6″ from the top of the corm area, and laid them out in the sun for one day. Then I moved them to my basement in laundry baskets.

I also dug up a very large Alocasia plant prior to these, from a big tall patio planter, and laid out a huge corm with top part of the plant (stump like stem area) in a bin about a week before these above.

The ones in the laundry basket were still too damp when looking them over yesterday, so I laid them out on a table in my basement, and spread each corm on the table so they are not touching, and decided I will wait a few days longer before packing those up into boxes. I will leave these on a table another few days to air dry in my unheated basement.

However, I decided to pack up the others that were dug up prior from my gray patio planters. One of them is super large and heavy. It isn’t draining out any more water or moisture now, feels like it has dried enough, and there are no rot or damp areas on the corm area. It was placed in a bin in my basement about one week prior to those dug up from my cement planter so it and its side shoots have been drying longer.

In doing a bit of research, I’ve read Alocasia corms may be stored in newspaper and put in a cardboard box with air vents. I happen to have some boxes available and used a large sharp knife to make slits in the boxes around the perimeter of the cardboard boxes for the air vents.

Making air vents

I placed crumbled up newspaper sheets in the base of the cardboard box and used the original plastic mesh bags, which were around each corm when they were originally shipped to me. I placed individual corms into these mesh bags for those that would fit. My largest “stump” shown top right of this photo below is too large for any of the mesh bags I kept on hand.

Mesh Bag with Corm inside

I loosely wrapped a couple sheets of newspaper around this mesh bag once the corm was inside and put it in the box. I am careful to not have them stacked or touching too much with other corms handled the same method because if anything is damp, that moisture will transfer to any touching corms. However, these were all fairly dry and not moist. The idea is to not overpack any boxes and keep air around each.

Now for the larger Alocasia stump. I keep calling it that because it is so much larger, it is more like a stump size! This one I had to find a larger long box and I have no mesh bag for it. It also has a large green area (the top part of where it grew) still attached which is not wet at all when I decided to lay it into the long cardboard box. Again, I crumpled up newspaper below in the box, and then I used a paper bag to cover it like a blanket and close up the box. I did not tape the box closed, as air circulation is important. I just overlapped the covers and I also put vents in the sides like with the other cardboard box prior to laying it in there.

Largest Alocasia “stump”

The root area is dry with dry soil a bit still on it, the corm area is dry, and there is still green life on the top part but there is no dripping water coming out of it – it seems like it is dry enough. I labeled all the cardboard boxes with date and placed it in the usual corner of my unheated basement (by the door where it is like tucked in a corner, stays cool, dark, dry and it does not go below freezing here.)

I have read the optimum temperature for storing Alocasia corms is 40-45 degrees F. Again, my basement is unheated. The only time it may get warm in there is when we use a woodstove at the opposite end of our basement, which is only occasionally. It does not go below freezing (32 degrees F) so they will not freeze. They are kept in a consistent cool 50 degree range or a bit below that for the whole winter. I will check on these in one month by making a note on my calendar to go look at the corms in these cardboard boxes and seeing if they look good (no rot, no moisture, no wet newspaper).

Again, this is the first time I’m trying the cardboard box method for these. I also wish to note, canna lily rhizomes tend to not survive if they completely dry and wither up, so I don’t think I’ll use this method for those plants, only for my precious upright huge Alocasia plants’ corms. I’ve read more about how these are okay more on the dry side. Makes sense because when I purchased the corms about 3-4 years ago, they showed up in a card boad box, with the white mesh bag, shown above, and only the brownish corm with no plant at all attached.

Label the boxes
Corner in Basement

You see the big plastic bin near these two cardboard boxes, that was the bin I last used for my big red banana plant (stump), the Ensete, I had for over 10 years. It failed this year, so there’s nothing in that box right now. I also put a plastic shelf section below the boxes so it is not directly on the concrete floor which may lead to dampness on the bottom of the boxes.

Pic of corm inside a mesh bag

I just hope this works well this year and will keep you posted. Next up will be to dig up my canna lily plants from containers outdoors. Sometimes I don’t bother anymore with those as they may be easily grown from new plants next season, but it is always a great feeling to reuse and regrow plants to save money on purchasing new ones, but sometimes I run out of energy to keep digging up these things. Each year, I seem to do less storing because of the effort. Sunny days help!

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Connecticut Planting Zone 6b
Date of Post: 10/18/2022

P.S. I also want to note, many references will indicate to let the plants get hit by frost first before storing underground parts like the corms or rhizomes, etc. because the freeze will induce dormancy to the plants, however, I often do this process just before a hard frost. The weathermen indicated frost may be happening this week. Wednesday’s forecast indicates about 34 degrees F overnight – so that is chilly!

Overwintering Elephant’s Ear Plants

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Overwintering Alocasia (al-oh-KAY-see-uh) plants, dug up from a large cement planter in my yard yesterday 10/11/22.

Since this plant is not hardy in my Connecticut planting zone (6b), they must either be dug up and stored (tubers) in a cool, dry place. Alternative options, if the plants are small enough, is overwintering them as houseplants in small pots where you have a sunny room. Or just moving the pots with the plant in tact into an unheated basement and letting them go dormant, but check to add moisture to the pot’s soil from time to time, and check for any insects on the foliage if moved in the pot. In this case, I dug up the plants, removed the foliage, and air dried the tubers yesterday outdoors.

The Planter – Cement

Because yesterday was sunny and warm, I wanted to get to the elephant’s ears in this planter. I was already tired from being on my feet all day, so I rushed getting these out. Luckily for me, the soil is super soft in this big cement planter due to worms and just great healthy soil. Rather than cut all the foliage off first, like I typically do, I dug around the tuber areas in the soil to break free some roots and just pulled them out one by one from the plant stems.

10/12/22 Before Removing the Elephant’s Ears plants

The soil and exposure

The soil in this planter stays relatively moist and receives the east morning sun, so it primarily gets partial sun or dappled sun, it doesn’t get too hot in this area. I do not fertilize – literally – I do not in this cement planter. Over the years, I’ve added recycled soil (from other pots), maybe some compost, but not often, and it is possible some wood ash from the woodstove in our basement, that is used only occasionally, was tossed in there by my husband, but I asked him not to do that after a while (wood ash changes the pH of soils). It is apparent when I dig in the soil, it has worm castings and the soil is very soft and easy to dig into. This is why I was able to pull out the tubers with the plant on the top rather easily after I broke the roots around the base with a trowel. I didn’t even use a shovel.

I do, however, water this planter by using a garden hose from above and showering it every time I was out there watering my other patio pots above on my deck. We had a very dry season this summer here in Connecticut so I’m sure the tropical plants in this cement planter enjoyed the moisture I gave them. These tropical like plants like moist soils, part shade or some full sun. After getting them out, I laid them on the ground and got my machete, which I finally found where I had stored it!

Chop off the foliage, then lay in the sun

It was super easy to chop off the foliage and stems with my machete. One whack and it was done! Then I put them in a laundry basket to sit in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, later, I moved the laundry basket to my basement. It will sit there drying a while before I move them to bins or paper bags for the winter. Some references will say to wait until the foliage dies back or wait till the foliage is hit by frost to dig and store the tubers, however, I like to work on nice days and yesterday was it – sunny and warm. I store mine in the basement, in a corner by the door, which is an unheated basement but it does not go below freezing in winters. We have a woodstove at the other end of the basement, but it is only used on stormy winter days when we feel like it. We do not use the woodstove to heat the house, only to warm it up sometimes. This means those tubers in the corner stay cold, but they never freeze there. It must be cold, but not freezing, and not too warm either. If warm, they may get soggy or start growing.

Side Shoot on Right

Notice my logo on the left side of this photo above; do you see the brown original tuber? The plant this season grew from the side of this tuber (a side shoot) which is attached on the right. Sometimes there are smaller side shoots which you may pull apart to create separate plants and replant those side shoots. Also the green parts above the brownish tuber is this year’s plant and I cut it about 4-5″ above the brown tuber in most cases when I remove them. I usually leave the green plant (like a stump or root base) on there but I am not absolutely sure that is required, because when I received the tubers, there was just the brown dry tuber to plant.

After Photo

It probably took me only a half-hour to get those elephant’s ears (in this case, Alocasia macrorrhiza, known as giant elephant’s ear or giant taro) out of the cement planter. I was lucky I think it was easy. I know rain is coming tonight and some parts of Connecticut got hit by a quick light frost already, but no hard frost here yet in East Windsor, CT. When it is a true frost, all the foliage will blacken and flops over. Next is to get to those tall Canna lily plants on the ends of this planter dug out and store the rhizomes or the whole root base.

Note: A. macrorrhiza is hardy in zones 8-10 from what I’ve read, but here in Connecticut (zone 6b for me), they are not hardy (will not survive in the ground over the winter months). Also, when I dug these out – there was no rot on any of the tubers, which is good news. Sometimes, if I wait too long to dig these out, there may be rot spots on the tubers because of cold, wet soils later in October. This is another reason why I like digging them out now. I don’t want any soft rotten spots on the tubers, rot only leads to storage problems as the rot may continue on the tuber, which is what you don’t want.

Sit to dry out a bit more before storing

Because these plants get huge and are gorgeous, I had to take the time to save them. I will let those tubers sit in a bin, spaced out for air, probably for another five days before I store them. I have always typically stored them in peat in bins with air holes in the lids, but last year, as noted on prior posts, they rotted a little. I am going to try storing them in paper bags in cardboard boxes this year with air holes. Plastic bins can trap moisture and for some reason, it just seemed they were too wet last year (maybe I was rushing too much last year, and stored them too wet). I have found when my rhizomes for Canna Lily were too dry stored, they didn’t make it. I have always balanced a bit of moisture from the peat and air, but I believe the Alocasias prefer more on the dry side. Everyone has different techniques for storing from what I’ve seen and read over the years.

Prior was making pumpkins

Prior to doing all of this quickly yesterday afternoon, I made a few more orders of my centerpiece succulent topped pumpkins. They were so fun to make and took me a few hours – and my feet give me a hard time, now that I’m getting a little older, standing for hours can be rough. I even put foam on the floor – below my feet, but I felt it later. I tend to make these centerpiece arrangements standing up, and anyhow, these are what I made for some requests. It was a perfect day to do them – sunny in the greenhouse. It’s that time of year when I’m making pumpkin centerpieces and still putting away plants and supplies.

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Centerpieces by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

If interested in a custom pumpkin, now is the time to order since it is pumpkin season. They last for months!

Thank you for visiting!

Cathy Testa
Connecticut Zone 6b
Container Gardener and Plant Enthusiast
Custom Creations for Seasonal Decor
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now!)
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

Stay tuned for more information on holiday creations for later in November!

Date of this post: 10/13/2022

Moving In Plants for Winter

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By now, many of my outdoor plants have been moved inside the greenhouse, or if it is a smaller houseplant, into my home, but I am not finished yet. I still have a bunch of elephants ears to dig up out of some larger planting areas to store tubers, corms, etc., and doing things like covering outdoor furniture soon.

In the meantime, I make Succulent Topped Pumpkins for custom orders! This is fun and I love making them. This year I am focused on making medium to large size pumpkins and each is very unique. People will ask, how long do they last – the answer is for months. They make a beautiful centerpiece, or to serve as focal point of a table-scape in your home, and make wonderful hostess gifts.

Just Made Yesterday!

Between making succulent topped pumpkins and running other errands, etc., I go back to my deck to do more outdoor winter prep work. Maybe it is emptying a patio pot of soil and then washing the pot with soapy water to put it away in a clean state for use next year, or perhaps it is asking the help of my husband to use a hand-truck to take down heavier pots, like the one with a giant Agave in it. We did a few of those bigger pots on Sunday morning while it was nice yet very chilly out. It appears that some of Connecticut got a “touch of frost” per my friends comments here and there, but my tropical plants were not blackened from frost which usually happens with a true hard frost, so there is still time to work, and this week is looking good.

Moved Into the Greenhouse

Some things I do to the plants in pots being moved are blowing off leaf and debris by using a leaf-blower, this helps to push out stubborn debris in between the plants’ leaves. I also wash the outside of the pots with soapy dish water and inspect the plants to make sure it doesn’t have any visible insects (or a frog or snake, LOL). I also like to move in pots when the soil is dry so I try to do that (move before a rainfall and avoid watering). I keep an eye on all the plants moved in because as they warm up on sunny days indoors, those insects may decide to show up. A key thing to do is scouting. I know one lady friend who puts all her plants in her garage and does a bug bomb routine each fall season. I don’t do that but I will always have a handy insecticide bottle in case I suspect any insect danger. And I have a rule, if the plants is really badly infested by insects, I don’t keep it – but I am so careful with my plants, thus, this situation is not encountered often here, but my advice is, don’t bother if it has a major problem with insects at this point.

My Cozy Chair for Winter Days

I also moved one of my outdoor cozy chairs into the greenhouse this year with the comfy cushions. In the winter, there is no better therapy on a sunny day than to sit in the warmed up greenhouse with a gardening magazine or book. It totally heats up your bones just like as if you were sitting on a beach on summer’s sunny day! It doesn’t work when cloudy but sure does when sunny. It is a special space and I had to make room for a cozy chair (it should be an exercise bike, but you know, that would just turn into a plant stand).

It turned out the chair is my photo spot too for the succulent topped pumpkins I’ve been making for some orders. It sits perfectly on the chair for a quick photo before pick-up by the customer.

A Nutty Brown Succulent Pumpkin

It is very expensive to heat a greenhouse in the winter here so I keep it at a low temp, just enough to keep tropical plants or tender perennials (some of them rather larger) alive until next season. They are able to endure the conditions in a semi-dormant state. I almost considered shutting the heat down completely this year due to the expense of everything, but I’m very lucky that my husband insists I keep my routine going because, as he says, “This is your passion.” Plus, I think he likes sitting in there on cold sunny winter days too. Sometimes we play a few games of cards.

Another thing I do is take cuttings or collect seeds from plants (I did most of the seed harvesting already a weeks ago). I never ever run out of tasks I need to do – there are always nursery pots to wash and store, debris to toss from jobs, and items to organize, or repair work. I sometimes feel like I will never finish it all. It is a circle that never stops revolving for me and I’m sure most gardeners understand this, plus I have a small little business, so there are also those tasks related to plants. I hope to get more done today due to the warm sunny weather expected.

Enjoy your Tuesday!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT

Making Succulent Pumpkins

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I made my first two succulent pumpkin centerpieces for an order yesterday, and gosh, it was so much fun. I typically make these in my small hobby greenhouse and the “Zen” feeling in my greenhouse puts me into a total creative zone.

The leaves of the trees outside are starting to turn the color of yellow for autumn, and the wind was blowing around quite a bit. Every once in a while, I’d look outside from my work table in the center of the greenhouse to see if any bears would be there outdoors on the property – and nope! I have NEVER seen bears here in my yard, but there have been three sightings in my town last week of a momma bear with her two cubs. And it was nearby for one sighting so it makes me wonder, will they ever adventure here? I hope not!

Locally Grown by Nearby Farms

I picked up 9 pumpkin candidates from nearby farms in my town the day before. We had a drought year and I wondered how well the pumpkins would grow and this year they look great (last year we had too much rain). Number 9 was selected by a repeat customer right away along with a cheese pumpkin (not shown in this above photo) which I grew myself this year for the first time as a test (with the help of my cousin who grew veggies in her community garden plot in our town for the first time this year too!). She planted a couple of my pumpkin plants in her garden and I planted one pumpkin plant in a container here. I got about 7-8 pumpkins total for the smaller cheese pumpkins, but some had blemishes on the side but two were perfect – one has been used so far for a succulent pumpkin! Yes!

Succulent Pumpkin on a Cheese Pumpkin

And…here it is in the above photo. It is about 7-8″ diameter. I grew them from seed and kind of just experimented. I don’t plan to be a “big pumpkin grower” but it was fun to see how they would turn out. They arrived (were ready to pick) a little earlier than I would have liked so I will adjust my seed starting process for next year. But these pumpkins last a long time, can be stored and baked too. Anyhow, it was so very rewarding to make my fall themed arrangement on this pumpkin because it was home grown by me! The shape is perfect for the succulent pumpkin making process as well.

12″ pumpkin from a local farm

The other pumpkin I used yesterday was sourced from a local farm. I’m so fortunate to have local farms nearby! It is a blue-green color and very very heavy – you’d be surprised by the weight of some of these pumpkins. I carried it to the greenhouse and get into my “Zen” and create. Sometimes I listen to blues music and totally just zone out or sing along. I guess it is that space where some artists say they are at their best. To me, it is a pleasant time of creating and hopefully the end results reflects my Zen-mode. Also when in Zen, my tinnitus is not as noticeable which is another huge bonus cause I suffer from tinnitus.

Hobbit Jade

If you can believe it – the large pumpkin finished with 11-15 different plants of all sizes! It is quite the bargain when you consider the succulent plants may be transplanted later to keep going. So as a wonderful colorful living autumn centerpiece in your home, and then plants are maintained later. Anyhow, this customer wanted reds and orange themed décor. Oh and I forgot to mention, this year I also put a dwarf agave on each pumpkin which I think is pretty cool. The plant is rare and a nice find!

Ivory Whites, Beige

I really want to make a pumpkin with the color theme above for the décor embellishments. I like this neutral feel of the soft whites, cream whites, beige, brown, etc. Maybe I’ll make that one today. Even if not for a standing order, maybe as a gift, or maybe someone will purchase it after I make it – we will see!! It is a rainy day so it is perfect to be creating again, I hope.

Well, I better get to it – I have to pack my truck for a job tomorrow and then hopefully some time today make another Succulent Pumpkin. FYI, I’m located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. Thank you for visiting my blog and have a great day. Feel free to contact me with any inquiries or questions.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT

Overwintering Alocasia 2022

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This is part one – showing my process of disassembling my largest elephant’s ear plants from containers or planters. I purchased the tubers in 2019 for this Alocasia, which I refer to as an “upright elephant’s ear” because the leaves point upwards towards the sky. It is often referred to as a Giant Elephant’s Ear, Giant Taro, or Upright Jumbo). Official name is A. macrorrhiza. They grow from 71 to 96 inches (6-8 feet tall) from summer to frost and prefer partial shade. The leaves are very dark green, glossy, and impressive! It prefers partial shade but will do well in more sun with appropriate moisture. In my zone, it must be stored, but warmer zones, I suspect you may keep them outdoors or protected somehow.

2022
Cathy Testa holding two of the leaves

As you see here, I’m peaking behind two of the leaves. The leaves are at least 3 feet long with the stem an additional 3 feet as well. They tower above me in my planters and put on quite the big tropical show in summer. Now, on to how I disassemble them in preparation for our Connecticut winter months:

Definitely Wear Gloves

TOOLS

Gloves: Definitely wear garden gloves. These plants release a sap that will make your hands itchy – believe me, I regret when I don’t wear them. Even digging around the soil, I found my hands will itch later.

Hori hori knife: I really like this tool, heavy duty, serrated edge, perfect for cutting the roots in the soil around the base of the plant to release it. I find this to be one of my most useful overwintering tools.

Bin: A clean bin to put all the tubers and root bases in to let dry outside if it is pleasant weather, or inside if it is rainy.

A Large Kitchen Knife or Machete: I couldn’t find my machete, so a long, clean, sharp knife is a great back up.

Clean Up Tools: A leaf blower works to blow away dirt that will fall everywhere.

Ruler: Yes, measure those babies!

Large Knife

Cut away all the foliage by using the knife to slice each stalk off individually at the base of the plant. The main thing is to cut away from the plant so the angle of the slices are able to drain away excess moisture. At least that is how I do it. I’m also very careful to not nick surfaces with my knife tip – always avoid any damage while I work.

Slicing off each leaf at the base of the stalk (petiole) – stem – whatever you wish to call it!

As you slice off each petiole at the base, be sure to do a clean cut, avoid tears or anything which would allow entrance of mold or insects later on. A clean cut is recommended. If you mess it up, cut it again below where you just cut it.

Measure the leaves cause it is impressive!

I always measure so a ruler is handy, or measuring tape, and then take photos. Because sharing is caring – LOL. Everyone loves to see how massive these leaves get. It is fun to Instagram the photos!

Here are two of the biggest leaves above. It is too bad I am not set up to make leaf castings of these babies, they would make impressive art for the garden!

Close up of Slice

As you can see, the slice is downwards and away from the center of the plant. I slice each stalk individually and pile the leaves to the side.

All leaves removed

After removing each stalk, I use my Hori hori knife to cut around the base of the “stump” in the soil. As I push the knife around in the soil, I hear the crack of the roots being cut. Then I will push on the stump back and forth to help loosen it. Once I feel it is ready to be “delivered” from the soil, I start to pull it out – It always makes me feel like I’m a doctor delivering a baby – hahahaha. I have quite the imagination at times!

Cutting a circle around the base of the plant to cut the roots below
Out with more top sliced off

I will put it in the clean bin and trim the roots with clean sharp pruners or cutters, and slice the top off a bit if it still too big to fit into the bin. Leaning it upside down, or on the side to help drain excess moisture is helpful as well. Some folks may recommend not trimming the roots but I always have. New roots grow when it is replanted. My theory was less “fleshy” material the better. Fleshy material has the tendency to rot sometimes over the winter months.

After I got the massive big base out and laying out to dry, I worked on the planter next to it which had more off sets from the same type of Alocasia. I then let this dry in the house for about 6 days. Oh, I also removed as much soil as possible from the tuber areas. I used my gloved hands and kind of just rubbed or pushed off the soil. You may use a garden hose with water blast but that will only make the tuber wetter, so I didn’t do that. In the past, I have used a soft painters type brush to get soil off.

TIMING

In Connecticut (my planting zone is 6b) you may do this process either before or after we get a fall frost which could happen anytime now, but sometimes I like to start this while things are dry and temperatures are not too difficult to work in, so I started on these two planters last Thursday (9/29/22). It was a cool, breezy, day with little sunshine but that would be better than the rainy cold days expected the days following. The date if this post is 10/4/22 and no frost yet, but there are some talks it could happen this weekend, I hope not, cause I have lots more to do!

I placed the bin in the house for a few days and then moved it to a table in my basement. The next phase is storing them. For years, I stored all my tubers, rhizomes, corms in peat in bins with air holes drilled on the tops. But this past spring, I had rot on portions of my tubers. This year, I plan to store them dry in paper bags for some at least. I will most likely test the paper bag process and see the results. I will post photos of this soon. I also saved some mesh netting bags (like those used for Avocado’s in grocery stores) to put some tubers in.

Oh, when I took these apart last week from the gray planters, they had NO ROT anywhere on the tuber areas (brown area at the base) which is good news. No rot means they won’t have rot as they dry for a few more days. When I store the tubers, I will share it here as well.

The tubers need to be sored in a cool, dry place. I use my basement which does not drop below freezing but is unheated so it stays cool. It is recommended that you do not store them in plastic bags which would only trap moisture. If stored in a paper bag, make sure it has holes for vents. Again, for years, I stored them in peat moss in bins, but had rot issues this year in spring, and I didn’t want to loose these tubers of this super big Alocasias, now that I’ve regrown these plants each year. These particular tubers were from 2019 so it has been replanted 4 times now. A definite pay back from the investiment!

PLANT IN SPRING

Next year, after all danger of spring frosts, I will replant these Upright Elephant’s Ear tubers to grow again. Many tropical loving plants may be handled this way, such as Canna Lilies. For years, I stored my big red banana plant, Ensete, the same way as shown above. In fact, here is the link to the Ensete post if you are searching for it on my blog site: https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/. Unfortunately, I lost my big red banana plant this year in 2022. It was the first time it rotted too much.

NEXT OVERWINTERING PROJECT

Ack, I have to dig all of these up soon – anyone want to come help me?!

Canna Lily on ends with Upright Alocasias in the centers

Cathy Testa
Connecticut
A Container Garden Designer
Also make custom orders, grow tomatoes in spring time, make succulent pumpkins now in fall season, wreaths during the holidays! Thank you for visiting and your support.

DIASSEMBLY ALOCASIA QUICK STEPS:

Get your tools ready (knife, gloves, bin, hori hori knife, cleanup tools, etc.).
Cut away each leaf stalk at base cleanly.
Cut around base of plant in the soil area to break free roots with hori hori knife.
Pull out stump (base with the tuber) out of the planter, and let dry for several days to a week.
Store in an unheated, dry, cool area that does not go below freezing in winters.

It’s Succulent Pumpkin Time!

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Just a real quick post – It is that fall time of year and I’m starting to make custom orders for the large to medium style succulent topped pumpkins. To learn details, please visit www.WorkshopCT.com and see the top post.

Next up! Photos of me taking down my largest Alocasia plant. Stay tuned!

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Connecticut US Zone 6b

Thank you!