Persian Shield is Purplelicious

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If you haven’t been introduced or seen the annual, Persian Shield, you are missing out on one of the most amazing purple colored foliage plants to use in container gardens.

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) enjoys full to part sun and will grow to about 18-36″ tall. It has an upright habit, makes an excellent filler, and is an annual plant except for zones 9-11. In CT, we are zone 6.

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0007

In a part sun situation, under patio umbrellas, these plants performed beautifully this season for me at home. However, I also have installed them in full sun situations at client sites (photos on those later) this year, and they performed equally well because they are heat tolerant too. I guess you could say, this plant is very versatile.

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0002

As a container garden installer, sometimes I will have some left over plants and assemble them at home in random fashion. Thus, this year, I put together 3 plants you may not consider would “work well” together for design purposes, but they did. They were a darker variety of rubber plant, Persian Shield, and mint.

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0006

The mint served as a cascading spiller (and was handy to cut from for summer cocktails), the rubber plant served as the large and tall thrillers, and the Persian Shield was the filler (and is of a perfect height with the rubber plant which grew taller).

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0005

I tend to enjoy foliage plants over flowering. Foliage lasts a long time (still going strong right now in mid-September) and adds a great deal of texture. In the case of Persian Shield, it has the narrow shaped leaves with pointy ends and the leaf veins and the somewhat ruffle texture on the leaf itself gives it a sense of ambiance.

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0001

These two patio pots with Persian Shield graced the steps leading to the top level of my deck. When friends came by, they always stopped to not only comment on the Persian Shield’s coloring and beauty, but they also would reach down to touch the leaves with their finger tips. This is a true sign of a plant that is captivating.

The rubber plant’s darker toned and larger sized leaves gave the Persian Shield’s coloring a bit more impact but this plant also pairs well with softer colors, like pinks or softer purples, which is a combination I put together at a client’s full sun patio site this season (and will show photos of that combo later).

I have found the coloring of Persian Shield is best in the part-sun situations, but I would never limit it to only part sun. It tolerates the full sun situations. I watered these two pots regularly and the soil remained moist most times, although one should always be sure to not over water anything to the point of soggy. The nice thing about Persian Shield is it can take low water use as well. Again, easy and versatile.

This plant may be overwintered as a house plant, which I have not done myself, or you may take tip cuttings to root in water and hopefully keep it going to replant next season, or just run to the nursery in the spring time to get some more because Persian Shield is worth it.

In a future post, I will share more photos of how I used this plant and post about the rubber plants used in these combinations soon. They have an interesting story to go with them. 

In the meantime, enjoy the purplelicious nature of this wonderful primarily foliage plant (Note: It does bloom light purple flowers eventually but they are not very showy).

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
Broad Brook, CT

P.S. The beautiful photos in this post were taken by JMSArtandPhoto

Next Workshop: Mom and Me Offer!

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Pop on over to WORKSHOPSCT.com to read about this weekend’s Succulent Hanging Basket Workshop on May 11th, Saturday, 1-3 pm, Broad Brook, CT. We are making a special offer in honor of Mother’s Day! Check it out while seats last. Pre-registration is required.

Mom and Me Flyer

And don’t forget – we still have beautiful Mother’s Day cards as GIFT CERTIFICATES. I will be available all week if you decide to pop by to get one and surprise your Mom! They may be redeemed for the dollar value selected for workshops or for plants or plant gift purchases.

Mday front and envelope

Additionally, I will be making special LARGE hanging globes as Mother’s Day gifts all this week and posting them on my Insta feed and Facebook business page. Stay tuned!

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

SUCC HANGERS C Testa Copywrite_0004

Cathy T’s 5 Must Do’s for Successful Container Gardening and Patio Pots

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Several years ago, I came up with what I called, “The 5 Must Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” to help attendees of my workshops succeed with their patio pots and container gardens in the summer. Most of what was written then still holds true today, but some things have changed. I am going to update my “5 Must Do’s” in a series of articles on this blog. To get started, here’s a review with some 2019 updates:

For Successful Container Gardening

  1. Provide additional drainage holes in the base of your pots Still True! And still a number one rule!

  2. Use soilless potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening – Yes, but there are soooo many more choices today – it is sometimes overwhelming to know which bag of mix to select. How do you know which to pick? I will go over this in an upcoming article here on this blog.

  3. Add slow release fertilizer to the soil upon planting – Still a trusted method for me but there are many other choices today of various fertilizers. This is a topic to be updated with more suggestions.

  4. Water your plants on a routine schedule – There is no doubt – this follows rule no. 1 in regards to importance. However, some plants are more drought tolerant than others – so if you are bad about watering, I am going to make suggestions for you on your plant choices. And a ‘routine schedule’ is probably not the best wording – it is really all about how the soil is looking in regards to a balance of moisture and air – we will go into details!

  5. Use big pots to increase your growing power – Guess what? I’ve changed my mind on some of thisI still adore HUGE tropical plants and mixes of annuals or perennials in big pots – but some plants actually prefer smaller pots and I will be offering a blog update on this number 5 rule as to why. Using big pots is not always a rule, and is optional…

Let’s get started:

It may seem straight forward or common sense to do the five items listed above, but many people skip some of these steps when they assemble their container gardens and patio pots because they are either in a hurry, want to avoid spending extra money, or they don’t understand the negative impacts to the plants’ overall health and appearance when they don’t follow The 5 Must Do’s listed above. But, do these 5 important steps and you will achieve successful container gardening status every time.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

DRAINAGE – Must #1

Most pots on the market today have only one small drain hole in the base (or none at all) – and this is not sufficient.  If the soil in the pot remains too wet, the plants’ roots will not get the oxygen it needs. And oxygen is required, along with carbon and hydrogen, for plants to grow. Having constant wet soil in the base of a pot is similar to walking around in wet sneakers. While it may be tolerated for a short period, if air is not provided soon, rot or death may set in. Everything above the pot is depending on what is going below in the soil, so Must #1, providing additional drainage, will allow for the free movement of water throughout the soil profile which is extremely important because as those spaces filled with water are vacated, air can replace them for the plants’ roots to use oxygen.

Without sufficient drainage, your plants will not perform as well which leads to failure.  It is a step you should not forgo or skip, and must do in order to achieve beautiful plants in your container gardens and patio pots.  Once you see the difference in your plants health, you will find adding drain holes so valuable, you will never skip this step again. And, although specific potting mixes have ingredients to help create pore spaces for air, adding more drain holes to the base of your pots only enhances the soil environment for your plants.  It leads to ultimate success because the roots are thriving in a healthy soil environment which is well-drained and balanced.

So get your power drill out and use a drill bit to create holes about the size of a quarter (coin) in the base of the pots. Be sure to drill at least 5 or 6 holes evenly spaced apart (one in the center and a few around the diameter).  If the pot cannot be drilled (e.g., ceramic or clay), make sure it has at least one drain hole already built into the base by the manufacturer, or reserve that pot for plastic plants or water gardening.  Do not use pots with no drainage capability. This always leads to poor results, trust me (except if you are creating a water pot garden).

2019 Update:

One of my biggest frustrations with the market place is they still continue to offer pots with no drain holes. What are they thinking? Plants require drainage! I have posted this comment on Instagram – “Hey, pot makers – Please make pots with sufficient drain holes please!”

If they did this, we would not have to drill them ourselves and it would help sell their pots because the plants would do better in them. It is not to say I haven’t seen some with drain holes in some stores, but it is progressing slowly and not common. I wish they would offer more with them already pre-drilled for us. (Hint to pottery makers, same for those wonderful pots you make – make some with a drain hole please.)

In my container gardening workshops, I have held up grower pots – the ones you buy your plants in – to my audience. I tell everyone, take a look at the bottom – what do you see? SEVERAL, I mean SEVERAL all around drain holes. Growers know what they are doing. It is a good example to show how important drainage holes are in your pots – this holds true for growing seeds in seedling cell trays as well. Or when you put a succulent in a pot – many times, you will see pots for succulents with no drain holes – succulents can be an exception to the drainage rule due to their ability to go without water for weeks at a time, but you have to monitor your watering carefully with succulents in pots with no drain holes. That is a whole other topic to explain, which I hope to do soon, and will in my Succulent Hanging Baskets Workshops in May, where we will be designing them with an amazing array of succulents of all kinds. But that is for a session/class, and for now, we want to focus on the drainage needs of container gardens and patio pots in general.

Over-watering is a leading cause of plant issues for people who are new to container gardening and plants. When you over water and the soil stays too wet in a pot, well, as mentioned above, the roots will rot. But other issues surface when there is too much moisture.

One, for example, is you may get fungus gnats showing up – they need moisture in the soil to thrive. This is especially common in houseplants where people have them in pots inside their home. And sometimes, you may even see mold on your soil when it is too moist. Moisture (with a lack of air circulation) may cause big problems in your soil. Too much moisture in your seedling pots leads to damping off. Water is a requirement for plants to grow but if over done without proper drainage, it leads to issues at times.

Balancing the air and moisture in your container gardens and patio pots or home pots of any size is critical. And soon, I will write a blog post to expand upon the air and moisture of pots as part of the 5 Must Do’s series updates I plan to post here on this blog, Container Crazy CT over the course of the next few months. In the meantime, be sure to add drain holes to plastic pots or buy pots with holes in them already for the best success with your plants.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

SOILLESS POTTING MIX – Must #2

Soil (dirt) from the ground cannot be used as a substitute for potting mix when planting up your patio pots and container gardens.  Must #2 is you must use soilless mix specifically formulated for container gardening. I know what you are thinking, if plants can grow in the ground, why can I just dig up some dirt and use that in my pots?  Well, for starters, soil from the ground becomes very compact in container gardens.  Plus, with container gardening, you have to water more often resulting in the ground soil (dirt) becoming even more compact and dense in the pot as it compresses down in limited space.  Young new roots cannot grow through this and cannot get the oxygen or water they need.

To prove this point, I put ground soil (dirt) into a mason jar and soil from potting mix into another mason jar.  The weight difference between the two jars was substantial.  The dirt jar weighed about two pounds and was very heavy.  The mason jar containing potting mix was light as a feather.  Imagine roots trying to penetrate the heavy compacted poor soil, plus it won’t contain the balanced nutrients or air spaces for the roots to thrive and survive.  Roots are just as important as the top part of the plant – if not more important. Everything below the soil impacts the results above the soil.

Additionally, soil from the ground (dirt) can harbor soil borne pathogens, insects, and weed seeds – and you don’t want those in your container gardens.  The ground soil may be too hard (clay) or too porous (sand). Soil in container gardens must have good pore structure for root growth, water holding for even distribution, and oxygen for the roots, and of course, nutrients for the plants to grow healthy and strong.  Soil from the ground will not give these must needed elements to plants in container gardens. And trying to find the ideal ground soil that has all of these factors is a big chore, if not impossible.

Bottom line:  Do not use Dirt.  Dirt is a four-letter word in the world of container gardening.

Most potting mixes on the market contain a combination of bark, wood fiber, coir (a by-product of coconut husks) or peat, vermiculite, perlite, and maybe some compost.  The little white non-symmetrical round things you see in the soil is called perlite.  These provide pore (air) spaces in the soil required for roots to grow.  Other ingredients mentioned help with water retention (peat moss, coir), drainage (pine bark, perlite, rice hulls), and nutrients (compost). You want a balanced soil that can hold 25% air, 25% water, and the rest, 50%, is organic matter.  Plants must have the appropriate pore space, water holding capacity, and nutrients to grow.  This is especially critical in container gardens because roots are confined, cannot extend out to find its needs elsewhere, and they depend on their current environment and “you” to grow well.

When planting up your container gardens and patio pots, go out there and invest in a couple bags of potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening.  The good news is there are many types available today, and by the way, none of the potting mixes used for container gardening contain any real soil (dirt) at all.  Now you know why, it is should no longer be a surprise to hear this.  Once you start using potting mix, you will be pleased to see how well your plants are growing and thriving.  There are tricks to extend your potting mix life, but that is another topic to be posted later.

2019 Update:

Now that you know you should NOT use “dirt” in your container gardens or patio pots, the big question is which potting mix should I buy? It is OVERWHELMING because today, the market place has many types to choose from – and you stand there looking at all the bags scratching your head thinking, which is the “right” one? I want to succeed, and I read Cathy T’s 5 Must Do’s, but I’m now afraid to pick the wrong one.

I will be posting about my favorites, but one big tip is inspect the bags. Picking up a bag of soilless potting mix (and by the way, it is not labeled soilless, that is just a term used, it is usually labeled as “potting mix”) is similar to picking out produce in the grocery store. Look at the bag’s condition, especially if you are shopping at a low-end type store. Is the bag torn, heavy, wet and a mess? Hmmm, that is like a banana or avocado about to rot, in my opinion. It could have been an older bag, and the soil in there may be even worn out – unable to take up moisture. Be careful with “deals.”

Check the weight of the potting mix bag. Is it light and airy feeling? GOOD! Is it rock hard, wet and very heavy, hmmm, not so good. That is not to say it is bad because some bags are out in the cold early in the season, and may be thawing out – but I always go for the ones that look fresh and are in good condition. The weight of the bag gives you clues.

Go to a reputable nursery, see where their soil is placed outdoors – businesses who put their bags of potting mix under cover – with a roof top of sorts – are a winner in my book. Or if they are a popular and reputable nursery, they have lots of FRESH soil bags put out there early in spring especially. They also have staff available to answer any questions you may have if you find there are lots of choices. Be observant. You can tell who is on top of their game, if you just pay attention.

As for the big box stores, some of the mixes are good, but some I am weary of. I will be writing more about the products I like and I share all of that in my May container gardening workshops in detail. Heck, we even test soils in some of my sessions, like I did recently with “seedling mixes” in my recent Seed Starting Session. Horticulture and growing plants is a science and an art. You may have a mix you have found to be wonderful, or maybe you have been using a mix causing problems which are not YOUR fault – it is the mix (and you didn’t know it). We go over all of this in my workshops and sessions. Making your own mix is another option which I plan to go over as well, but some mixes are so excellent and it just saves time to get the pre-made mixes.

Lastly, the type of plants matter. Cactus, succulents, and houseplants have different soil needs compared to tropical plants, annuals, and perennials growing in mixed container gardens. For example, succulents and cacti appreciate more drainage and air space in the mix.

And lastly, I saw a new product on the market recently to help refresh older mixes in your pots – which I will be testing this year myself to see what I think. Heck, there are signs of people growing plants in no mix at all now – using special beads or growing in water. The learning never ends. I always test out new processes first before offering my take on them.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER – Must #3

Once you have your drainage holes and soilless potting mix in your pot, you want to add slow release fertilizer to the soil to obtain optimum growth.  Slow release fertilizer will provide small amounts of nutrients to the plants’ roots over a specific period of time.  While some potting mixes come pre-charged with fertilizer (meaning they add the fertilizer in the mix as an ingredient), it may not be substantial enough to keep your plants fed throughout your container gardening season.  Add some when you get started, and don’t have to think about it again unless you are dealing with a high demanding plant or you didn’t follow the rest of The 5 Must Do’s.

Many slow-release fertilizers on the market are available in a granular form which is easy to apply.  The little round balls you see in the granular fertilizer bottles or bags are called prills.  Each contains a balanced release of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – the three macro-nutrients needed most by plants).  Nitrogen promotes leaf, stem, and above ground growth.  Phosphorous promotes rooting, flowering, and fruiting.  And potassium helps with disease prevention and cold tolerance.  If you put too much of any, you can burn the plants or even kill them.  However, the nutrients in the prills of slow-release fertilizers will slowly leak out into the soil as water vapor is absorbed into the prill through its coating.  It dissolves the fertilizer inside to feed your plants during your container gardening growing season – which is typically 3 to 4 months in Connecticut, from May to September. As the soil temperature warms (during the summer months when you want your plants to thrive the most and when they need more nutrients during their most active growth period), the nutrients are released even more when the prills’ coating expands as a reaction to the warmth in the soil.  Think of the slow-release fertilizer feeding as a well-balanced diet for your plants to stay healthy and beautiful.  It will be handled for you in a controlled manner.

Add the slow release fertilizer upon planting your container gardens to ensure a continuous feeding routine.  Do this one simple step, and you will be amazed at the results.  And it also eliminates the needs to add water soluble fertilizer as a supplement later in the season, especially, as I said, if you follow all five of The 5 Must Do’s.

2019 Update:

One of the biggest ongoing trends or change in gardening is the love of organics, and this is a good thing. Some slow release fertilizer are synthetic while others are organic based. I go over these in my workshops and their differences, but I still think slow-release fertilizer of either type work very well and are EASY to apply and you don’t end up burning your plants. I still use the trusted brands of slow-release fertilizers I’ve always loved and always add slow released fertilizer to almost all my container gardens and patio pots. It just works. Again, some mixes come pre-charged with starter fertilizer but adding the slow-release prills gives the plants a balanced diet over the course of 3-4 months and now many last 5-10 months! The coating size of the prills varies and this is what makes it last longer than others – look at the bottle’s instructions and follow accordingly.

However, I’m on several plant related Facebook groups where there are tons of questions asked, and many times, the subject of fertilizers come up. Wow, the brands some people show and have used, I have never seen before (because the members of these groups are from all over the world). Again, almost like the potting mix choices, it is confusing at times, which should I use? Which is safe? How do I use it? When do I use it? We go over specifics in my workshops based on the plant types.

I read once a nursery owner saying, everyone has different methods of gardening – and this is true – some go into it blindly however, and the 5 Must Do’s are here to get you started, but what I’d like to do is dive into the fertilizer topic more as part of my series of the 5 Must Do’s.

Also, I always always tell my attendees, if you follow the 5 Must Do’s – you don’t have to fertilize as often. I believe over-fertilization advice is given at times. If you have a healthy growing environment with the soilless potting mix and drainage, you are off to a good start and may not need much supplemental fertilizing as the season progresses in summer.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

WATERING – Must #4

Forget container gardening if you are not willing to water your plants in container gardens and patio pots.  Must #4 is all about giving your plants watering love and it must be done on some kind of routine basis and based on the plant type and your environmental conditions (sun, shade, inside, outside, summer, winter, etc), but it must not be skipped or completely forgotten.  Watering in the morning is helpful because the plants take up the moisture during the day while photosynthesis takes place.  If you can’t do it then, please do it when you get home after work.  A plant will remain strong as long as the movement of water through the soil is in balance.  And you are that balance.  Without watering, your plants are doomed. If they don’t get water, there is no growth, and stomates in the leaves will close up to prevent further water loss to protect themselves.  Then, the plant will wilt and it certainly won’t flourish.  If no watering occurs for an extended period of time, the plant may reach a permanent wilting point and never recover.  And you don’t want that after you invested in buying beautiful plants from the nursery or from Cathy T (me!) to enjoy and show off at your home.

If you are not sure if the plants in your container gardens needs water, look at the plants – Are they wilting? Do they look thirsty?  Or insert your finger into the soil at a two to three inches depth.  Does it feel damp or sufficiently moist? It may be okay.  But you absolutely cannot forgo watering your container gardens.  Even if it rains occasionally, or you used drought tolerant plants, you must pay attention to them and their needs in regards to watering.  Observe the plants’ overall health, get familiar with their watering needs, and pay attention.  Climate in your area, the type of material from which the pot is made, and location will dictate some of the timing of your watering routine, but it is not the only factors you should pay attention to.  Basically YOU need to pay attention to watering.

Some people think they can douse their container garden plants with lots of water all at once, walk away, and forget about it for a week or more.  This does not work.  The soil needs periods where it dries out a bit between watering too. It should drain (Must #1) and have some breathing room (Must #2).  You don’t want to overdo it either, where the soil remains too wet. Wilt can be a result of over-watering as well as under watering.

Watering is one of the more difficult of The 5 Must Do’s to master because every plant and container type is different. And because people’s habits are different.  And the weather and exposure will affect how much or how little water your plants will need. There are some tricks to help reducing your watering routine, but that is another post for another time.  Bottom line, you MUST WATER your plants or they will die.  Plants need water to live.  In fact, every living thing on this earth needs water.  We need water. Without it – we all die. If you will not water, you should not do container gardening. In my opinion, not watering your plants is like committing plant murder.

2019 Update:

As I read my information above on watering (written several years ago), I think, yes, this is all still true in 2019. Watering, I think has been my biggest challenge to convey to attendees – is there a simple rule when it comes to watering? The answer is no. But – there is an observation factor involved in watering. You need to think about the soil. When you last watered, and all of that above. You really should NOT just think, “Hmmm, I’ll water every Friday and put one gallon in that big pot.” It really doesn’t work that way, there is a BALANCING act involved. But then, we don’t want to complicate watering, do we? The key point is that you must accept you need to water your container gardens, especially as we venture into summer, or you will not succeed, and your plants will suffer and look unhappy. I guess you could say, well, watering is like doing your physical exercise, you need to keep it consistent to have the plants and you do their best.

There have been times I wanted to do a watering type demonstration – using a shot glass, coffee cup, beer mug or wine glass, and milk jug to show the amount of water to be used based on the size of the pot and the plant type. Maybe I will get around to demonstrating this – but think of this: shot glass (succ), coffee up or wine glass (houseplant), beer mug (hanging basket), and milk jug or jugs (big veggie pots) – get the idea? But it also has to do with how moist the soil is, and did you let it dry somewhat to give some of that air space between waterings, and the type of plant. And yes of course, where your pot is situated. Outdoors in full sun, inside on a window sill, or in the shade. All are factors.

Ensete Red Banana_0001

BIG POTS – Must #5

People fear buying big pots, probably due to concerns with cost, placement, and moving them.  But big pots and container gardens make a big statement!  They capture your attention, create a focal point worth noticing, elevate the arrangement of your showy healthy plants, and ultimately reduce the compaction problems of small pots – so movement of water in the soil is enhanced. Big pots also provide good anchorage of your large plants, hold more inches of water, don’t drain out as fast which helps to reducing Must #4 (but not eliminating that must), and enables you to grow larger, showier plants – leading to more bang for the buck.  Go for supersized if you can.

However, with that said, big pots is listed last on The 5 Must Do’s list because it is not mandatory for success, but using them will elevate you to a higher level of container gardening.  My recommendation is you should invest in at least one big pot.  Just one. I believe you will never regret it.  It makes a tremendous difference to the plants’ performance when you give the roots a large mass to grow in.  Also, as noted above, using big pots make a big statement in your outdoor environment.  So why not make your container gardening show magnificent for the season?

There are some tricks to helping with the amount of soilless potting mix you have to use to fill up a big pot, but that is for another post. Big pots may be a little challenging to move or fill, but place them in the right spot before you get started, and go back to Must #1 through Must #4 to get them in the best shape ever, and then wow yourself, your family, and your guests as they visit you to see your amazing and stunning container gardens.  You will feel a huge admiration for your efforts, a new appreciation for the world of container gardening because you followed The 5 Must Do’s, and your plants will love you for it too.

2019 Update:

Okay – Okay – I know – maybe not as big as my cement planter shown above in the photo – that is one monster pot! And I love it to this day for showing off my amazing tropical plants grown every year from overwintering tubers, rhizomes, and corms, etc. However, what I meant when I wrote the above is when we did many of my May workshops with a mix of tropical plants (banana, canna lily, elephants ears), and big pots really made the show spectacular. In those days, I would recommend attendees bring a pot about 22″ in diameter and at least as deep for those types of mixed container gardens. Boy, did we ever have fun getting those big pots into their vehicles when they left the day of the workshops.

But, alas, times have changed. Succulents grew in popularity and still are very popular – that trend continues. My joke on that is succulent growers must be dancing in their boots about the passion of succulents these days. They are wildly popular, and guess what – most succulents do not need BIG pots. In fact, they have such shallow root systems, they do just fine in wider and less deep of pots.

And house plants for that matter should not be moved up into a bigger pot too quickly. Their roots tend to grow slower and thus if you move them up into too big of a pot, the roots may rot – because they are not taking up that moisture as quickly, and the soil could remain too damp, so it is recommended to move houseplants into one size up higher pots when they become root bound or over grown, etc.

But when it comes to vegetables, like tomato and pepper plants, well, big pots are recommended and needed, and I talked about this in my seed sessions recently – we went over types and size of plastic pots and fabric grow bags for growing some veggies. Some require the number #5 rule of big pots. But herbs, well, they are fine in smaller pots and in hanging baskets, etc. And radishes or carrot require different size pots too. Lettuces do well in window boxes. You get the idea.

Thus, plant types dictate the pot sizes, so the #5 rule is really optional and based on plant types you are using to make your beautiful container gardens for the season. It is not really a hard rule.

As I provide this Quick Update to my 5 Must Do’s, I remembered, I had a rule no. 6 to add. Now, for the life if me, I’m sitting here thinking, what the heck was the number 6 rule that I wanted to add? I know it will come to me. In the meantime, hopefully, these quick reminders of the 5 Must Do’s are helpful along with my quick 2019 updates as we get closer to the outdoor planting, decorating, and growing season. As noted above, I plan to do a series in detail of several updates on these topics.

The Five Must Do’s are all about achieving successful container gardens and patio pots.  Do all of them, and you will be happy, if not overjoyed, with your amazing results – I guarantee it.

In fact, as a 2019 update, I want to note that I’m amazed by the progress of my attendees’ patio pot creations since they have become fans of my workshops – their results are so good now – they follow the 5 Must Do’s and continue to learn right along with me. I’m very appreciative of the experiences we have had and continue to have learning about the love of container gardening.

Written and Updated by Cathy Testa
Owner of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy CT
Location: Broad Brook, CT
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

When I play white noise in the house, what is my cat thinking?

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I suffer from tinnitus.

If you don’t know what that is, you are lucky.

It is an annoying and constant hissing and ringing sound in my ears (well, apparently in my head, per the experts).

It is a sound or (sounds) that could make anyone go mad. But you have to learn to cope.

So, every once in a while, to combat the tinnitus noise when I’m trying to concentrate on my office work, I will play white noise on the speakers in my house.

The sounds of rushing waterfalls, babbling brooks, or ocean waves splashing on a beach helps to deter the awful noises of tinnitus in my head. It is a distraction, basically.

I often wonder, “What is my cat thinking?” when I start playing the various water sounds which broadcasts from speakers throughout my house.

My cat, Mini, is looking a little depressed right now. She is bored to tears because she just hates the cold weather and hasn’t had much play time outdoors lately.

In fact, when she begs me for fresh air, she comes back from the outdoors screaming at me (meowwww!!!), as if this cold and boring weather is all my fault.

I just tell her, “I know. I know. It is NOT nice out. But it will get better.”

Before we know it, the signs of winter will fade away, but we also all know, it will be a while still. In fact, I’m sure we are in for some snow storms soon.

The only good thing about January (at least in my book, as of this moment) is that it is the best time to plan ahead for the season, which is what I was doing all morning – creating schedules of my workshop dates and outlining workshop details – while tinnitus danced in my head.

The proposed schedule is on my workshops site, http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com, under the DATES tab. You may pop by there if you want to start penciling in the dates, which I surely hope you will.

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Removing Succulents from Pumpkins – FB Live on January 18, 2019

First up will be a Facebook Live (for registered attendees of my workshops) and then follows with Seed Starting sessions in March and April, followed by my Container Gardening Workshops in May. Then, of course, the fall and winter workshops arrive, etc.

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Seed Starting Workshops on March 23 and April 13, 2019

Just thinking about them reminds me how busy I will be when they start up, so I guess instead of dreading the blah times of January when it is cold and dreary, I should probably embrace them as I work in my home office listening to white noise while I finalize the pre-plans for all to come ahead this season. There is still much to do.

Whether Mini, my cat, will embrace January as well, (or the white noise she is forced to listen to), I will never know. I guess she has to tolerate it, just like I have to tolerate tinnitus.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Broad Brook, CT

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Want tomatoes like this in 2019? Check out my Seed Starting sessions – Seats will be limited!

Hot Peppers Ready for Winter Recipes

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I’ve been so busy this month holding Succulent Topped Pumpkin Workshops and Demonstrations that I was not paying attention to a hot pepper plant in one of my large container gardens outside, but my husband noticed them this weekend, and he told me on Sunday that there were so many ripe yellow peppers on the plant, he was going to go pick them.

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Matchbox Pepper for Hangers

I grew two hot pepper plant varieties this year. One was called “Matchbox Pepper” (Capsicum annuum) and I picked this one because it grows very compact, so it was absolutely perfect for hanging baskets. It produced many tiny red peppers and was very decorative. I was happy with them. As they ripened, I collect them and gave some to friends and used some for cooking. That was earlier in the season.

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Lemon Drop Hot Pepper

Then came the arrival of the other variety I had selected, called, “Lemon Drop Hot Peppers” (Capsicum baccatum) on a plant quite the opposite in size to the matchbox type. It was not compact and grew to 3 ft tall and was almost as wide. I put the lemon drop type in a rather large pot because I didn’t have time to plant that pot with my usual tropical plants,  and I almost most forgot about it this summer as it grew larger.

The lemon drop one was situated in a very hot, full sun location. It gets brutal hot actually in that spot in my yard due to no shade and receives full sun all day, thus, it was good there because peppers like the sun and warmth. And this season, it got plenty of rain falls to help water it. Usually I’m a fanatic about watering, but I must admit, I didn’t drag the garden hose up there as often as I usually do but the pepper plant did just fine.

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The Lemon Drop Hot Pepper was selected because, of course, it has a vivid and bright lemony yellow color, and I like color in my plants and container gardens. Plus I thought they looked interesting and although I can’t chomp on raw hot peppers (like my husband can) because I will choke on it, I wanted to grow them for decor and possibly seasoning recipes. They also have a waxy and shiny appearance and one time, when I went to go look at them mid summer, I was impressed with how perfect they were – not a blemish.

My husband, Steve, adores hot peppers and often he will just toss a raw one in his mouth. He could not do that straight up with the Lemon Drops peppers, however. He told me they are “killer hot.” This reaction made me laugh because he normally can chop them down without choking, like I would if I attempted it.

Okay, back to when he spotted tons of them on the plant this past weekend. He decided to go pick them all on Sunday because frost was coming. He also wanted to dry them in the oven. He loves hot peppers so much, it makes me happy he wanted to preserve them.

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In the Oven at 180

I was feeling rather tired on Sunday, so I said, “Oh, I don’t know; I read they take a long time to dry in an oven,” but he persisted, so I googled it – “180 degrees in the oven for 4-5 hours or more,” I said.

He started to cut the tops off and I told him, “Oh no, don’t cut the tops,” as I looked on Google searches more and then found a U-tube video. This guy says to dry them whole on a cookie sheet in the oven at 180 degrees for several hours.

As the peppers sat in the oven, the smell started to permeate in the house. Steve kept checking them and after 4 hours, he thought, this seems like the oven is not hot enough. He decided to take them out and off the tray, chop them into smaller pieces, and put it back in the over at 200 degrees. By the time we decided to shut the oven off – they still didn’t seem dry enough, so the next morning, I put the tray of the lemon drop peppers back in the oven at 200 degrees for one more hour – and that worked.

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When I took them out, they crushed in my fingers. I got my small chopper grinder device, which I hardly ever use, and started putting the large pieces in there to grind. Sure enough, it worked perfectly, BUT, I could not taste test it. I know I would choke, so I had to wait for Steve to come home. As soon as he did, he asked, “Where are the pepper flakes?”

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Taste Test Time!

My husband, Steve, put a dab of the yellow pepper flakes on his finger to taste them on his tongue, and he was like, “Wow, these are very hot,” and then he immediately grabbed a cup to down some water. That is not a common reaction from him. He usually can take the heat. Thus, they are truly hot. I will have to use them carefully in my autumn and winter recipes.

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I’m super glad I grew some of the Lemon Drop Hot Peppers and Matchbox Peppers from seed this year, using certified organic seed and starting both of them early, as directed. The lemon drops take longer to ripen than the matchbox ones. I definitely plan to grow them both again next year and offer up seedlings for sale.

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Easy to Grow in Pots or Hangers

Hot peppers are super easy to grow in containers. They don’t get attacked much at all by critters, animals, or insects and are very decorative in pots or hanging baskets (like I did with the matchbox type but the lemon type needs bigger pots). They are not demanding for soil, although it must be well-drained, and they need regular watering but can handle some periods of neglect from watering if there is enough rainfall.

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The Lemon Drop hot peppers are harvested later in the season which is perfectly timed for when we get in the mood to start making pots of hot chili, warming soups, and hot sauces for the autumn season.

During the growing season, the pepper plants like warm conditions and need watering regularly especially when it is super hot out, and for these two varieties mentioned, there was no staking required as may be needed for the heavier sweet bell peppers.

I basically removed the ripe hot peppers from the plants when they were the right color, as shown on the seed packets. Both of these varieties formed blemish free fruit. And side bar, I love the way the artists depict the fruit on the seed packets by Hudson Valley Seed Co., which is a company I like for seeds. I offered up seeds for sale last year, and plan to do the same this spring, so stay tuned on that.

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Seed and Plant Details

Lemon Drop Hot Pepper
Capsicum baccatum
Small, crinkled yellow peppers with waxy shine
Hot as in cayenne range hot
Plant grows large – up to 34″ tall
Need big pot or can be transplanted in mixed container gardens
Seeds must be started early (8-10 weeks before last spring frost)
Transplant outdoors after frost passes
Grows fruit 98 days from transplant of seedling
Ripens 2 weeks later than other hot peppers
Plant full sun with well-drained soils

Matchbox Pepper
Capsicum annuum
Tiny, red peppers, decorative
Hot and must start early
Great plant size for hanging baskets
Start early; Sow indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost
Transplant to hangers or ground 3 weeks after spring frost
Pick a sunny spot to keep growing
Fruity and hot flavorful

Couple Other Workshop Updates

Only 6 seats remain open for the first Holiday Kissing Ball & Wreath Making Workshops in early December! See www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site for details. The 2nd session for beginners on a Wednesday evening is starting to fill as well, but has more seats remaining than the first Saturday session. See dates below in photo.

Succulent Pumpkin Workshops and Demo’s

Thank you to all who had me come speak, demonstrate, hold sessions on the fabulous Succulent Topped Pumpkin Centerpieces! What fun we had – and I loved seeing everyone’s unique twists on the pumpkins, from strings of spooky lights added, to swan gourds fixed on the top. Each year, this creative centerpiece topic gets better. There’s still time if interested to hold a session with live succulents – just contact me soon.

As for November, my mind is brewing on new ideas for workshops, and of course, this is when I start to look forward to early December’s holiday workshops and custom wreath orders to follow the month of December. But there’s still plenty of time for that – we have the autumn season to enjoy – or to prepare for – as noted below!

This Weekend’s Weather

Oh, and did you hear? A possible Nor’easter here in Connecticut this weekend, really? Oh gosh, I have to run out and finish putting away all my corms, tubers, rhizomes, and plants which have been all staged in the garage to be inspected, treated, and stored. The work never ends for the garden lover.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

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Overwintering Plants – Some Tips

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my personal recommendation, based on years of moving container gardens and patio pots indoors, is to bring your plants inside the home before we get “cold wet” rains in autumn.

What do I mean by that?

Well, this week, here in CT, we had two cold days. It was cold enough for me to put my red winter work jacket on while I was taking apart plants from big containers in my garage. And it rained. It was damp, cold, and raw. It was cold enough for my bones to feel it. I wasn’t up for being cold all day, so I wore that darn old red coat.

But the very next day, Wednesday, it was humid. In fact, so humid my prototype pumpkin, which I’m going to use for a demo tomorrow at the market, was covered in moisture (dew) from sitting in the garage overnight. I took a paper towel and wiped all the moisture off – and within an hour, dew was on it again.

When we start getting “cold temps” combined with “rain” in the fall season, our plants outside get subjected to cold moisture almost like my pumpkin was subjected to it in the garage this week.

The soil in the patio pot gets really wet from these scenarios, and then, it may stay cold over night if our temps tend to drop down a bit, thus, it stays soggy. Maybe more than normal because summer is gone now, even though we may get an occasional humid, or the opposite, warm and a pleasant sunny fall day, autumn is coming and so are those cooler temps.

When our patio pots with plants have wet soil, and you move them in your home, I believe that is a big invitation for two things:  Foliage or stems to rot (if tender especially, meaning if the stems are more soft or tender, like a Begonia’s, for example) and insects to move in. Insects like moisture and if the soil is wet, they like to make it their home (think fungus gnats) before it is too late. They are probably looking for winter homes. Moisture is an open house invitation for those pest like insects.

I always move in my cactus plants before the “cold wet” rain routine starts. Sure, it is warm enough still for the cactus to enjoy the weather of fall, and they will even tolerate a drop in temps at night, BUT, I always have the best luck with overwintering those plants inside my home when I move them in before they get subjected to the cold, wet rains of fall. The soil is on the dry side in the pot, and it hasn’t been “stressed” by elements.

When moved in, before we get cold wet rains, the soil is dry (before the rain is my goal) and the critters are not settled in. I will, however, a few weeks before, hose off the plant, the pot, inspect it for any bugs, remove any dead leaves which started to fall and land on the cactus plant, and just kind of give it a once over.

As far as houseplants, I had a few in mini pots on my deck table. I moved those in already too. Some houseplants can take cool weather, like ferns, for example. I have a few of those in hangers that did amazingly well this year. The rabbit foot ferns are gorgeous in the hangers right now. I moved those to my wood shed (ooops, that is the hubby’s wood shed) but I moved them there for now to keep them outside for a bit under cover. They can still take the cooler temps, but I am protecting them from major elements. This all may sound premature or even somewhat anal but it works for me and leads to success.

As for tender (soft) succulents, which you may have in hangers or in various styled patio pots, they too are affected if subjected to cold and fall rain. They can especially rot once that soil gets too cold and stays wet. This is not the case technically for hardy succulents, like hens and chicks.

In the fall, wet soil in a patio pot takes LONGER to dry out – because some plants are going into a dormant state, so the roots are not taking up the water as actively as in the summer months. That is another reason why I don’t like plants, like succulents, to sit in wet soil too long when temps are cooler. They, too, have tender soft like bases, leaves, and stems. If stays sitting on “wet cold” soil, it can lead to rot, bugs, etc.

Please though, don’t panic if you still have those types of plants outside right now (cacti, succulents, houseplants), but try to consider maybe moving them to coverage outside, like if you still have patio umbrellas or if you have a cover over your steps, so they can enjoy the sun. This will help to start to dry out the soil in the pot – before you move them inside.

As for the tropical plants (elelphant ears, banana plants, canna lily) – well, those can be subjected to frost (early October usually) – if you plan to dig up the tubers, corms, rhizomes, bulbs (not gonna specify the technical names of each type of plant for simplicity sake here) but you know what I mean, if you are planning to store those underground tubers from these types of plants, you can wait till we get frost in October. All the foliage will turn black when hit by frost and flop over usually if they are tall. At that time, you will have to cut that all off, and dig up the tubers to store.

By the way, if you are local, I am offering the service to show you how to do this at your own home by appointment. If interested, reach out.

As for me, I started taking apart some of my tropical plants early – why? Because I have sooooo many to do. The other day, I made the mistake of not wearing gloves, and there must have been a slug in the soil. My hands started to feel itchy, and then my arms, and then I thought, OMG, what if there is a poisonous caterpillar in that soil? I went inside and had to wash my hands repeatedly 5 times to get the itch to go away. I even grabbed some olive oil to rub on my hand cause there was some sticky slime on my hands, and that must have been, what I call, “slug juice.” Never realized I could have a reaction to that.

As for my really big red banana plants, they are swaying in the wind these days, and reaching towards the heavens. They are so tall right now. It will be a big job to take those down, but it is worth it to me. I love love love having those in my landscape in big huge pots. I still have time to get to those, but may wait til later in the month so I can continue to enjoy them.

Well, that is my simple tips for overwintering plants – do it before cold and wet rains, inspect the plants for insects, remove any leaves or debris blown into your pots, rinse or wipe down the pots themselves, make sure they are clean, and then of course, put them in the appropriate place in your home for the condition of the plants.

Look for insects too – if you see any, treat them before moving the plants inside. If the plant is super infested or damaged, and you have other plants in your home, it may not be worth it to keep them over the winter inside, BUT that choice is up to you. I don’t take in plants that are unhealthy.

And last but not least – check for seed pods for mature seeds on your plants to save for next year.

If questions, holler, oh and by the way, here are my October events coming up.

Hope to see you soon!

Cathy T.

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First Cool Fall Day – Get Ready to Craft

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Yesterday, my sniffles and sneezes would not stop. It got to the point my eyes were red from rubbing them. Yes, the cool fall air arrived and it made me go into fall allergy mode.

But today, it is going to be warmer and humid. It seems mother nature and the fact hurricane winds hitting the North and South Carolina coasts are shuffling up the air here in CT, it will be a bit warmer today, but still wet.

Most of us are probably looking forward to fall cool air and are ready to welcome it. But with that comes some gardening chores, like disassembly of our patio pots before frost in October, and putting things away. Alas, it is time to take down my many tomato plants in my pots and grow bags on the driveway, but it was a good season for eating them. I am thankful for a good summer season.

For me, because I have so many plants outside to take care of and put away, I will start slowly and keep working on it every day until October gives us a fall freeze. To try to do it all in one day is too difficult for me – now that I’m in my 50’s. But it is always worth it – my deck was “jungle style” with many tropical plants and my bigger pots in the yard have huge plants in them right now to take down but all is so rewarding – it gives me so much joy and relaxation to watch my plants grow and provide a living environment all around us in the summer, I just love it. I think the animals, birds, and bees love it too.

In between these fall gardening “chores”, I also get crafty and have been showing some prototypes on my Instagram feed of succulent hanging dish plates (a new trend spotted on Instagram), and I made a Spooky Halloween Terrarium prototype (kits are for sale now), and I also been playing around with decoupage to put natural leaves picked from the yard’s plants on white pumpkins, and I even tried out some turkey feathers on another small white pumpkin, which I thought gave that pumpkin a “spooky” feel to it. It has been fun getting crafty as we wait for the full fall weather to be here permanently.

In addition, I want to pot up some bulbs (daffs and tulips) and chill them to have them forced early in the spring for inside the home. They bulbs are stocked in the nurseries now and it is time to pick them up. You may plant them outdoors now anytime until the ground freezes. But I also want to test them out in small pots, put in the fridge for the required weeks, and then take out to grow and bloom in early spring or even in late winter. I will let you know how that goes. If successful, that could be another new workshop to offer next fall season.

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Despite the humid heat of this summer, which was brutal and increased the critters on plants (ugh), I did finish up a big project I really wanted to do this season, which was stain the boards inside my greenhouse which support the clear panels of the roof. This was a big job. I would start early in the day like 6 am, and stop by 11 am because of the summer heat being too much. Imagine how much hotter it is on a ladder staining at ceiling level in a greenhouse. I must be crazy – but it is done and now the wood will be preserved for more years to come in my most favorite place in the world.

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So, back to autumn and fall, here are some things coming up:

New Events and Workshops

A demonstration at Ellington’s Farmers Market on Sept 29th – Look for me in the small round gazebo. I am usually in the larger gazebo but a band will be there and of course, all their amazing vendors are at the market, and lots of pumpkins, I am sure. To learn more, visit their website.

Two workshops at my Broad Brook, CT location on Succulent Topped Pumpkins on Oct 6 and 10th – Sign-up now. We have seats still available but the first workshop is starting to fill up. I am SO LOOKING forward to this workshop. We will be making our gorgeous centerpieces again using real and faux pumpkin with live beautiful succulents. Each year, the tips and tricks get better – This is year 3 of offering this seasonal workshop. $15 to register, plants for sale at the workshops, and all details are on my WORKSHOPSCT.com site.

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A day at the Strong Family Farm Harvest Festival on October 20th – Mark the date. This a historic farm with so many new updates and a beautiful barn. They will have many vendors in their large field, and fun things to do with kids – so mark the date. I love this place. It is located in Vernon, CT.

Faux Pumpkins Grouping

Garden Talk at the East Hartford Garden Club on Oct 22nd with succulent sales. I really enjoyed speaking to this club last year, and they asked me back. You guessed it – we will be talking Succulent Pumpkin Centerpieces. Contact the club if interested in attending.

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New Items – Spooky Kits:

I am now offering “Spooky Halloween Terrarium Kits” for sale – see www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. I had so much fun making a prototype with a skull embellishment on the glass and adding cacti. Kits are available now. The glass bowl is embellished with a skull applique which makes it super cool for the Halloween season. The internal components, 2 cacti plants, and instructions are part of the kit.

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9th Annual KB Workshops

My 9th Annual Holiday Kissing Ball & Wreath Making Workshops will be opening by end of September for pre-registrations. Stay tuned. We are offering Advanced and Beginner sessions this year. We absolutely love offering this quality workshop with fresh live greens – and this year is year 9. OMG. That means, next year, it will be a decade of a holiday event I truly cherish and love offering. It takes a lot of work and coordination and I’m thankful to have my elf helpers – so stay tuned – it is coming.

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Hope to see you soon.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Broad Brook, CT

 

Heat and Humidity Great for Tropicals, but Not So Good for Tomatoes!

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This is a big pot at the front of my home exploding right now with tall Canna lilies.

Who doesn’t like Canna lily plants, right?

They are easy to grow, get big and lush, and may be overwintered by storing their rhizomes (tubers), which must be dug up after the tops of the plants are blacked by frost – or just before frost.

Growing them in big pots makes it easier to pull them out by October, thus, why I am going to show the process in early September so you may learn it if desired. (See dates below on that if interested.)

They also thrive in the heat, humidity, and rain, which we are getting all week. None of these weather conditions are harming their attitudes at all – they love it.

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My tomato plants, however, are a different story right now.

They started off great, but a fat chipmunk has damaged some of the lower specimens, and well, that is the ugly side of gardening.

To see a tomato half eaten on the ground is discouraging, but it forces us to shrug our shoulders, cry, or become determined to try a new technique to combat the critters. Because in the end, it is worth it to bite into a fresh, juicy, flavorful home grown tomato.

On top of the chipmunk problem – the foliage on my tomato plants started to look bad just recently. I should share a photo here, but why depress myself more?

I think it is Septoria leaf spot. The leaves developed small, dark spots and it started from the bottom parts, and eventually got on many of the leaves throughout the plant.

This type of problem, the leaf spots, occurs more commonly, from what I’ve read, during heat and humidity, and lack of air circulation contributes to the issue as well.

Yesterday, I took pruners out and cut all the damaged foliage off. It took some time, but I just couldn’t stand looking at the terrible foliage.

Fortunately, it does not affect the tomato fruit. Thank God!

Next year will be a new strategy. That is the name of the game, keep trying, don’t give up.

Mikado Tomato Plants

By the way, in the photo above, that is a Mikado tomato. It is an heirloom and I grew plants from seed in April.

I transplanted them into 15-gallon fabric grow bags around Memorial day (which was the first time trying grow bags – more on that later).

They mature by August – as in now, and are indeterminate (keeps growing taller).

I should have given the plants more air circulation by spacing them out more – next season, they will be put in different places too.

Yesterday, I took that photo (above) of one Mikado tomato that is nearly perfect.

Then, I begged the gardening Gods to not allow it to get attacked by a critter, crack, or whatever. I’m scared to go look this am – as I decided to not quite pick it yet. Being hopeful.

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Of course, tomatoes like sun, warmth, and as much good air flow as can be provided. I think I did well with the sun, warmth, but my mistake was not spacing them out enough. They grew very large and needed more space – so lesson learned.

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Yesterday, while out pruning the nasty damaged foliage from the leaf spot (noted above), I spotted this cluster of tomatoes on another plant, called Stone Ridge (Solanum lycopersicum).

Stone Ridge Tomato Plants

As stated on the seed packet, they are dense, bottom heavy, and have sweet fruit – so true based on my experience so far.

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What I found with this type is the cracking seemed to happen more on the tops (like they are that heavy and dense enough to weigh them down) but no matter, they are freaking delicious – and they are SWEET tasting.

The Stone Ridge tomato plants have weird various shapes to their fruit.

Some are pear-like (above) and some are just goofy and flatter or fatter. I like viewing the stages of them. When you touch them or hold them, they are heavy.

They must be started earlier from seed, which I did in late March.

As far as the tomato plants go, the Fox Cherry Tomato is my absolute favorite. And apparently is for my fat chipmunk freeloader too.

Fox Cherry Tomato Plants

The shape and size are just perfect for skewers, or cutting in half, because they are more like two bite-sized than one-bite sized. They are plump and perfect. And the plants are vigorous growers. Staking, twining, and supports are needed but worth it.

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Every day, I go out and grab many and put them in little farmers market baskets (used for raspberries or strawberries which I saved) and set them on the kitchen island.

And every morning, my husband takes a bag full to eat as snacks at work. That is the most rewarding part of it – how much he loves them.

Usually the heat and humidity is good for tomato plants, but it can help to introduce some problems, such as leaf blights, like the Septoria leaf spot, I believe was the problem on mine this month.

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I won’t let it stop me though – just keep improving the process next year.

In the photo above, there is the Bumble Bee Mix cherry tomato next to the Fox cherry tomato, to compare.

Bumble Bee Mix Cherry Tomato Plants

These are fun to grow as well. The have a unique striped patterns, are mild sweet, and smaller than the Fox variety.

They turn various colors,  either yellow, purple, or just mixed. Sometimes it is hard to know if they are ready, but I still love them.

Both the Fox and Bumble Bee will be on my growing list again in 2019.

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Another plant I grew this year is called, Matchbox Pepper (Capsicum annuum), and I LOVE these for the ease of growing and plant size.

Matchbox Pepper Plants

Why are they so great?

Because they are absolutely perfect for hanging baskets.

The peppers are tiny (and supposed to be spicy but we haven’t tasted one yet – probably will this weekend as they are reddening now), and they are decorative.

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But the fact this plant stays compact makes them just wonderful in hanging baskets.

They, like some of the tomato plants, had to be started early inside. They mature 75 days from transplant. They just started to turn red last week.

Now, I just have to learn how to dry these hot peppers, or make some chili this weekend.

And another bonus about pepper plants is that critters tend to stay away from the hot ones. And the fact the plant is in a hanging basket keeps them up high and potentially away from critters looking for a tasty treat.

Upcoming Workshops

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If you want to learn my process on how I overwinter my tropical plants by storing root bases, tubers, rhizomes, corms, etc, the dates have been published on WORKSHOPSCT.com for early September.

I am scheduling it early so people may prepare ahead of frosts. Sign up is requested for headcount but it is a simple ‘pay at the door’ setup for this session.

I’m in love with the big foliage of the tropical plants (canna, elephants ears, and red banana plants) which, as I noted, is flourishing in this heat, humidity, and rainfall.

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Another bonus about tropical plants is they remain gorgeous all the way into October, and tomatoes for that matter sometimes continue into early October as well.

Well, that’s all for today – I have to get busy again.

I’ll let you know if that juicy Mikado tomato made it – and if yes, it is my lunch today.

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

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April is Warming Up Slowly

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Good Morning Friends,

As you know, if you live in Connecticut, it is taking a bit longer for April to warm up this season, but that hasn’t stopped me from potting up my canna rhizomes and getting my precious seeds in seedling trays.

I thought now is a good time to provide some quick updates on happenings with Cathy T as we kick off the spring season and look forward to summer.

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First up, this week is a free Facebook Live on Wednesday, April 11th, 10:30 am Eastern to show my micro-greens growing process in a 20-30 minute demonstration. Following the demo, if you are interested in a starter kit to give this a try, please contact me (form below) or just text my telephone noted below as well.

Note: This will be the only free showing this year – don’t miss it if you like to eat healthy and nutritious micro-greens which are delicious – all year, and very nice in summer too, when we have fresh tomatoes to go with your homegrown and fresh micro-greens.

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Seeds for sale and Starting seeds

I’ve been planting up seeds like crazy this month – cherry tomatoes and big tomatoes (shown above) as well as basil, moon flowers, edamame, peppers, lettuce, etc. Some will be for me for my container gardens at home to enjoy, and others are for friends requesting I grow some for them. If you are in need of some seeds, and are local, hurry up to contact me – I have plenty of wonderful varieties above. And remember, some seeds grow well in patio pots (radish, kale, lettuces, herbs). I have some growing right now – wonderful to have at your finger tips.

Note: Seed packets make amazing gifts – put a mini succulent with it – and voila.

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Canna in a 5″ Square Pot

My winter stored rhizomes, tubers, and corms are starting to wake up from hibernation. I am planting up Canna lily, Elephant Ears, and getting my prized big red banana plants out into pots to give them an early start. I’ve offered to “hold” the canna and elephant ears for anyone interested. They should be ready by end of May or a bit earlier for your container gardens.

Note: Limited supply and based on success – or not – I hope all will go well, and will keep those who have asked to “reserve” one posted on the progress. They will start in the 5″ pots shown above and potted up as needed. Prices are based on pot and plant sizes. Details will be emailed to you if you wish to have one held for you.

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Cacti are Blooming

It is so nice to see this vivid yellow in the greenhouse – my cacti are blooming. This was a cacti garden made last Halloween for fun and I’m enjoying the colors.

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With Succulents

Heads Up — If Interested! I’m holding my first terrariums workshop at the Granby Senior Center on May 9th. It will be with succulents and cacti. It is a daytime session at 1 pm on a Wednesday. Please contact the center to sign up. See their newsletter (last page) to see the complete details and price.

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Note: We need a minimum of 8 attendees to hold the terrariums session at the Granby Senior Center, and the sign-up cut off date is April 20th. Please signup soon if want in.

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Succulent Hanging Basket (Birds Not Included)

This succulent hanging basket is on reserve for a client. I would be happy to make more now and keep them growing so they are ready for you by end of May to put outdoors when it is warm enough. Holler if you want in.

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Canna Cleopatra

This canna rocked my world last year. The foliage is mixed dark tones and green plus the flowers bloom both red and orange blooms on the same flower bud. I am growing some of these too. Again, supplies are limited, so if you think you want me to reserve you one, contact me below.

Note: Must pick up your Canna by May 25th in Broad Brook, CT. Supplies limited.

Lastly, hopefully my regulars saw that I will not be offering a May Container Workshop this season. However, I will have beautiful succulents in stock starting in early May – and I also will be offering Terrarium Kits with 10″ bubble bowls, all the interior components, and the plants. Just ask if you have any interest and hope to see you soon.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.CONTAINERCRAZYCT.com
Location: Broad Brook, CT

Seeds are Available Today!

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Hi everyone,

Pop on over to www.WORKSHOPSCT.com to see my latest post on the seeds I have available today.

If interested, fill out the contact form there. Remember, mid-March is when we start “some” seeds to prepare for the upcoming spring (if it will EVER get here).

I’ve been dabbling in seeds more these days, did a bunch of research the past couple months, and have a nice stock of new unique seeds available. I hope you will be interested.

In the meantime, stay warm – I hear we may have yet another nor’easter next week, really? Ugh.

But what is nice during these cold spills is that I have some nice salad mix growing right now – from seed, and I even pushed the limits and have some basil and oregano started from seeds as well, along with beats and radishes. All I need is some SUN.

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Also, I’m attending the Boston Flower Show this weekend – it is kind of a date weekend with the hubby. I always discover something new at the show – and we also enjoy the local restaurants (motivation even more because it will be a cold weekend in Boston this year, some years it has been more spring-like).

The info gained at the show will be shared on my Instagram feed.

More to follow!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Planting Zone 6a
Broad Brook, CT
A container gardener with a passion for art, plants, and now, seeds!

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