Nature All Around

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One of the wonders and benefits of growing lots of plants and being surrounded by woodlands in my yard is the invitation of wildlife. This year, I’ve seen lots of snakes, so, if this is not your thing, brace yourself, because one made it’s way into my greenhouse!

Garter snake – harmless, I believe!

I’m not too afraid of snakes but I definitely don’t want to find one in a pot I’m carrying in my hands! Fortunately, this guy made it out safely when I left the greenhouse’s screen door open just a crack. I think they found their way in via a drain (they, yes, there was a ring neck snake in my greenhouse this winter as well).

I felt badly that it would not survive in there because I do not have mice or slugs in my greenhouse, nor a source of water, so I’m glad this guy found his way out. In fact, he was drinking water from the rims of pots – so I knew he was thirsty. It took a while. I had to leave him alone to travel across the floor to the screen. He had his face right against the screen and I was like, “Dude, slide to the right to the opening!” Finally, he did.

Luna Moth 2022
Luna Moth Side View

Then, just yesterday, I spotted a beautiful Luna Moth on a shrub on my driveway at 7:30 am. What a sight. I’ve seen them before, but this one was absolutely perfect, so I rushed out to take a photo or two. What a sight – they are just beautiful.

We have two huge groundhogs and lots of rabbits in the yard now. This is typical. And of course the squirrels and I’ve seen a chipmunk spying at my pots already. The list goes on and on. It is a wild life jungle. We even have five huge blue heron nests in the woodlands. I can hear them make their bird calls when they arrive. I am in tune with the sounds of these animals in my surroundings. And there have been quite a few hummingbirds this season. They zoom up to my flowers, pop around, investigate, and I have my hummingbird feeders in various places.

It is just wonderful to watch the wildlife, but it is also tricky because I have to watch them from getting my tomatoes later this year on the deck (that is for the chipmunks and squirrels). I want to build a huge garden enclosed some day in my yard, but that is a huge project for a later date/year.

Fox Cherry Tomato 2022

I plant all my tomato starts in large pots and fabric grow bags. Usually a minimum of 22″ in diameter and about as deep for pots, and the grow bags range from the 15-20 gallon sizes. I know you can grow them in 5 gallon buckets, but that is not my thing. I use quality potting mixes, usually add compost, and this year, I’m adding Espoma Tomato food with calcium because I had the Blossom End Rot issue last year. Long story there, but I want to test if this plant food will help prevent it. Whiskey barrel (1/2 size barrels) are a great visual to determine the size of pot you should use, unless it is a compact variety for patio pots that stays small, but the tomatoes on my deck are mostly indeterminate and will get large. Never use soil from the ground – it is too compact, harbors diseases and insects, etc.

This year, I have planted one of each: Fox Cherry Tomato, Cherokee Purple, Goldie Heirloom, and I need to plant a Ground Cherry, which that one is new to me. Just I have to rush to do these things for me between plant work for others. That is fine, the weather has been stupendous! Let’s hope it stays that way. Anyhow, I take lots and lots of photos if you are interested in seeing the progress, and more wild life photos – go to my page on Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I posted a few of the Luna Moth yesterday.

Well, that is all for today. Just wanted to share a quick photo or two.

Have a great week!

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b
Connecticut

Growing Tomatoes Sucks

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Ha! Ha! April Fools!

Growing tomatoes definitely does NOT suck. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of summer container gardening!

I’m in the early stages of seed sowing this year, and here are some photos to share with basic tips, with all kidding aside! 🙂

Pre-Moisten

Tip No. 1 – Pre-moisten the seedling mix

I use a clear bowl and pour a small bag of “seedling” mix into it and then add water from my watering can. Using a clean and sterilized small scoop or utensil, gently stir the mix. It is best if you are able to do this a night before to allow the mix to absorb moisture, but a few hours before is fine as well, but this step is crucial. Allow that mix to take up a bit of moisture so it won’t float out of your seed tray and also the mix sometimes needs to rehydrate before use.

Close Up of the Seedling Mix in a Tray
Make a little hole

Tip No. 2 – Use a clean tool to make a tiny hole

Sometimes I have used a bamboo skewer, or you may just use your hands, I guess, but I prefer to make a tiny hole with a tool and then drop the seed into the hole with tweezers. You have the option of one seed per cell or a few seeds (and separate them later), but I tend to do one per cell in most cases. Again, make sure the tool you use is clean and I avoid reusing them unless they are easily cleaned. What I mean is after one tray, I may toss out that little plastic straw I used or put it in a recycle bin for use other than seed sowing. Be careful not to transmit things from tools. I’m referring to sowing tomato seeds in this post (and some of the hot pepper seeds).

Tip No. 3 – Seeds In Hand

Pour some seed into your hand or a paper cup as you work to drop them into the seedling mix – guess this is not really a tip but I have a good pic of me with some tomato seeds in my hand. Make sure if your hands happen to be wet to not to put an unsown seed back into your seedling packet because you will transfer some moisture from your hand to the seed to the packet. If you don’t use all of the seeds in your seed packet, store the packet in a cool, dark, dry place away from hot sun, temp flux’s, or moisture or damp conditions. And know how long seeds last for whatever you are sowing. Some seeds last 25 years, others last 2 years.

Seeds in Hands
On Seedling Heat Mats and Under Grow Lights

Tip No. 4 – Use a Grow Light

This is the first year I am using a high output energy efficient high bay fixture grow lamp. My trays are in my greenhouse BUT we get lots of cloudy days when I start to sow seeds in my area of Connecticut (usually starting in March thru May). On the cloudy days, I’ve been turning on the light. It hangs over the trays with a pendant chain which I am able to lower and rise the position of the lamp fixture by taking the chain and an S-hook to adjust it. I do not have it on a timer, I turn it on in the mornings on cloudy days, and turn it off by dinner time. It is only needed when the seeds germinate and are showing above the soil. This is a fluorescent lamp style. Tip is to watch it carefully as the seedlings grow so you do not burn the foliage as they grow higher.

Covers – Natural Sun was Hitting them in this photo one morning

Tip No. 5: Use clear covers to help maintain moisture of the seedling mix until they germinate is very much recommended, however, I tend to not do that – because I work from home, I check the trays every day at least twice a day. I look to see if some cells have dry soil (lighter in color, touch top to feel moisture if need be), while others are still are moist. I literally will carefully water only the ones that are dry, so because I am home and a plant addict, I check them often. If I was not home all day, I would be concerned about them getting too dry and go with the clear dome covers instead to help retain moisture during the phase of waiting for the seeds to germinate.

Tip. No. 6 – All same type of seeds in a tray

I made one minor error, I put tomato seeds in the same big tray in several rows and in the same tray, some hot pepper seeds in adjacent rows. Pepper seeds take a lot longer to germinate (3 weeks) because they really like very warm soil and air temperatures, while the tomato seeds germinated in five days! So now I am like, ah, I have to put the tomato side under the light. Next time, I will avoid that scenario. They only need the light when they rise above the soil. Hopefully this is making sense, LOL.

Other General Tips for Sowing Stages:

Don’t sow too early. Don’t sow too late. Know the timing. I’ve discussed in prior posts.
Visit trays twice a day to monitor watering, as noted above unless using dome covers.
Take photos, its fun and it allows you to see adjustment ideas for the next season.
Label seed packets with a Sharpie marker if seeds are still in the packet (I put a dot on the back if I used only some of the seed and a check mark on the back if all seeds were used.)
Record the date sown on the plant label and on a wall calendar or notebook. When the planting season arrives, you will get too busy. Taking notes is important.
Remember that in mid-May (for CT zones), you have to harden off the seedlings outdoors for a while before you actually plant them in patio pots, grow bags, raised gardens, etc.
Watch the weather forecasts.
Target your weeks before based on the expected last spring frost in May (usually mid-May).
Target your planting time when safe to plant outside (usually around Memorial Day, usually).

Types of Lights

I did minimal research on lights to be honest. There are several types of artificial lights for the greenhouse world. You do not need lights when the sun is shining in a greehouse for seedlings of this type, and the heat rises in a greenhouse quickly on sunny days, so you may need the alternate – a fan, or small gentle fan for your trays. Using a light should help the strength of my seedlings this year. As I’ve noted above, for many years, I did not use grow lights at all and I was successful. There are incandescent lights, high intensity discharge lights, fluorescent lights (the type I got), and light emitting diode (LED). All of these I will research when I have time I guess! LOL. Some are more expensive than others and some are hotter than others. Note: Some fluorescent fixtures are not good enough for other types of plants, but they work for seedlings with the right T strength. It is too complicated for me to go into and I’m still just learning about them so not much more I can offer on that for now, but if you do get lights, be sure you consider the placement, how you will adjust the height of them or the trays below. I read someone said they use books to raise the trays, rather than lower the light fixture but I also have a heat mat below. And I don’t want to bring books that may get wet into my greenhouse and keep dampness below the trays. Yes, I’m an*al that way – I over think it. Do research on the lights first if you have never used them, there are lots of neat setups now for indoor home growers. I just read of one that is a small shelving system perfect for apartments with lights already installed, etc. Many options out there.

My Tomato Jungle Last Year (2021)

And tomatoes do not s*ck – I was just kidding – it was a joke. Don’t slap me. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

Have a GREAT weekend!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Container Garden Enthusiast
Zone 6b
Connecticut
Dated: 4/1/2022 April Fool’s Day

These Tassel like Flowers will Hang to the Ground and Last for Weeks in Container Gardens

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I have tons of gardening and plant reference books in my home office on tropical plants, succulents, landscape designs, perennials, woody trees and shrubs, vegetables, herbs, fruits, container gardening, and more plant related topics, but I do not have many reference books specifically about annual flowering plants (such as sunflowers, zinnias, or marigolds). I guess that is because my passion with plants started with mostly large showy tropical plants, and annual flowers have always been somewhat of a staple plant to me in Connecticut, thus they are not typically the unusual types of plants I enjoy. I use annuals rarely and only when I want that pop of color in a container combination in the summer. I find annual flowers typically look tired towards the end of summer because they are fast growers and push out lots of flowers, exhausting lots of plant energy, whereas tropical plants and their flowers last well into the autumn season here in Connecticut.

However, I discovered upon researching amaranth annual flowers (herbaceous ornamentals or a short-lived perennial in some climates), a particular species caught my eye last year in a seed catalogue. What I read in one of my books is that they are plants from the “tropics” of the Far East (per the one book I have on annuals, which is an old book!). The book indicates they are “brilliant, heavy-looking plants, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall” and grow in rich or poor soils. Another website indicates they are native to India, Africa, and Peru. In some ways, they are similar to the tropical flowering plants I already enjoy; plants from warmer regions. This is why I picked them as a candidate to sow from seed last year, plus the species I selected is a variety that grows much taller than normal, very tall, reaching 48″ tall. This would be perfect as a specimen plant with my other large showy tropical plants such as canna lilies, elephant ears, castor bean plants, or banana plants in my container gardens and patio pots.

Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT – Featuring Amaranthus caudatus

Coral Fountain Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus)
Love-Lies-Bleeding, Amaranth, or Tassel Flower

Of all the common names or flower descriptions of this plant, I guess tassel flower represents the flower form the best in my opinion of this species I selected. The plant’s large plumes (technically called inflorescences) dangle down in clusters of coral colored tassels as if they are fastened at the top of tall stalks. The flowers are fuzzy, clumpy, and resemble dreadlocks (another great word to describe their form and appearance!) They are chunky and petal-less. They resemble fountains or waterfalls in form, and may be used in wedding bouquets, as cut flowers in vases (long-lasting), and in container gardens where you wish to present a dramatic unexpected showy element. The foliage is not very large, and are a lime green lighter color on this type of amaranth, and I read the leaves are edible, but I did not experiment with that aspect, yet. After admiring the interesting aspects of this flowering annual with cool attributes, I decided to sow some seeds last year and give them a try.

Coral Fountain Amaranth – Cascading Plumes

When to Sow the Seeds

The seeds should be started indoors either at the end of March of middle of April based on our weeks before our typical spring frost timing in Connecticut (or use the appropriate 4-6 weeks before your last frost of your planting area). You may also direct sow these seeds in the ground after the threat of frost has passed (frost threat ends mid-May usually in Connecticut – check your weather and seed sowing charts). The seeds take 75 days (or about 2.5 months) from the time you transplant them to produce flowers. Starting them earlier will give you more time to enjoy the flowers which last well into the end of summer. The seeds are tiny and the packet has up to 250 seeds. That’s a lot of amaranth sowing, so use caution when sowing to not over do it.

Seeds Sown in a Flat Tray

Some Sowing Problems I Experienced

However, I experienced some problems when I sowed them. I did a whole flat tray of them, and they seemed to not be really pushing growth a while after germinating, so I painstakingly put them in 2″ round mini pots one by one and thought I’d wait to see if that would help. It did, but one day I left the tray of the mini pots outside by my greenhouse and a rain gutter above rushed water down on them during a rain fall that day – pretty much destroying them all. All the tiny seedlings got stressed and the potting soil completed washed out. My bad – I’ll remember there is a gutter above problem next time, but I did manage to salvage a few seedlings and decided to put them in planters later when they were large enough to transplant after all chances of frost. I think the reason they may have been slow to grow from seed initially is because seeds germinate best at 75-80 degrees F and they need a night temperature of at least 65 degrees F after transplanting. Maybe my night temps at the time in my greenhouse were not warm enough but I am not sure.

ACK! Rain gutters heavy downpour washed out all the soil

Exposure Full Sun or Some Shade

One of the containers I planted them in is a rather large round black container in my back yard (probably at least 3 feet in diameter and about 4 feet tall). I put canna lily plants, elephant ears plants, and some of the amaranth transplants I managed to salvage in it. The seed packet indicated the plants like dry, hot conditions in full sun but will grow in partially shaded areas. The large black round pot is on the east side and gets shade part of the day. The packet also indicates the plants are drought tolerant (and may get root rot in poorly drained soils where is stays wet in the ground all the time, which was not a concern for me since I do all in patio pots and container gardens with sufficient drain holes). A drought tolerant plant is beneficial for container gardening, however, as you don’t have to worry about dragging the watering hose or watering can out there too often in the summer to water it. They are very easy to grow and tolerate poor conditions once the plants start to grow and get established, in fact, you may want to use caution with not overwatering it once it is doing well. Wet soils for this plant may lead to root rot per various sources.

An Insect was visiting some of the foliage

Use Large Pot Sizes and Sturdy Stakes

Because this species of amaranth grows very large and tall, place this plant in an area where you enjoy witnessing them cascading at the corners or edges of your patio pots. Consider taller upright planters because of how the plumes will descend down in big chunks towards the ground level. You want to be able to enjoy how they flow downwards like a waterfall without them hitting the ground. Fortunately, that was the case of my big round black pot in the backyard. As I started to see them progress, I thought about the wild and unusual form being a real show stopper if they were staggered in huge garden. The plums grow so long and become top heavy thus a good support stake is recommended when they start growing flowers. I used thinner bamboo poles which would be hidden against the stalks in the pot. The weight of the flower plumes becomes substantial as they start to grow well and large into the summer months.

Castor Bean Plant Bottom Right with Darker Foliage
Coral Fountain Amaranth (bottom) near the dark foliage of an Alocasia (above)

Companions with Darker Foliage

Consider pairing it up with plants with darker foliage and use tall plants too. The color of this amaranth’s leaves are a light lime green with an oval shape, and the flowers are a light coral color. It will show up more against a darker foliage plant, like a canna lily with plum colored foliage or a castor bean plant with the darker foliage. And consider pairing them up with other plants which are mid summer bloomers so you will get a mix of bloom colors for the look you wish to achieve in your patio pot or container gardens. I noticed hot pinks looked great with them too for contrast. Think hot pink canna lilies.

In a Vase at Cathy T’s

Used in Floral Arrangements for Weddings

I started to create a board on Pinterest last season to show what the flowers would look like, but this board is of other photos of various Amaranth plants. I discovered quite a few photos where the flowers are used in wedding bouquets and arrangements, but the only consideration I had on that is when the flowers reach maturity, they tend to drop tons of tiny little seeds. When I placed some in vases last year, it dropped lots of seeds on my outdoor patio table. I wondered how they work with those as cut flowers for floral arranging to avoid that problem (the potential mess it makes), and realized that would take some more research. I now realize you would have to harvest the flower tassels before they mature to avoid the abundant seeds in them later. The flowers plumes bloom from July to frost, and mine were full with flower plumes towards the end of the summer here in Connecticut. If you wanted to grow some for a wedding, you would want the wedding to be a summer wedding and again, harvest them before maturity so you don’t get a situation of tiny black pepper sized looking seeds falling down your wedding aisle runner. The plumes also look great in tall vases and provide a rather exotic interesting vibe in outdoor spaces. They may be used as fresh flowers or in dried flower arrangements. In fact, I saw some in a floral shop this winter and I kicked myself for not saving the plumes of my own last summer.

Bees Loved – Many Visited!

Food for You or Pollinators

Some reference books indicate they are favored by bees and that is true, I did see lots of bees visiting the tassels of its petal less flowers and took photos, and at times I would witness a bird perch on the tall thick stalks. Additionally, there is some information about how parts of the plant are edible and seeds may be used in porridge. I didn’t really look into that much however. Maybe this year when I grow them again, I will do so. The seed packet indicates amaranth are one of the most nutritious of the ancient grains. This turned out to be a stunning plant, which friends and family noticed, when they visited. I had one by my entrance stairs, and one day, my brother shouted out as he was leaving, “That plant is cool!”

Amaranthus definitely have a cool vibe!

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, Connecticut
Zone 6b
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com
See also:
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com

By My Stairs – the planting my Brother noticed one day!
Great Plant for our Important Bee Pollinators

For a Wall of Flowers, Use Mandevilla Tropical Plants in Container Gardens

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Mandevillas are amazing flowering tropical plants for full sun locations in the summer in container gardens and planters, and I always enjoyed looking at them, but for some reason, I didn’t plant them very much at my own home location, until a couple years ago, when a clients’ needs to cover a wall with flowers lead me to paying attention more to mandevillas.

Perfect for walls, trellises, arbors and more…

If you have an area to grow a beautiful flowering plant upwards, such as a wall, trellis, lamp post, arbor, stair railing, fence, mailbox, or in a pot with a support trellis, these plants are perfect candidates. In Connecticut, mandevillas will bloom profusely on upward growing vines with big dark greens leaves when provided enough sun and heat, and appropriate growing conditions. They work very well in containers, planters, patio pots, and don’t even require super huge pots to thrive.

Mandevilla at a Client’s Home

Above is an example of a wall located below an upper deck. The white blooming mandevilla vines were very lush and full, growing from a planter about 24″ diameter and just as deep. It was facing the sun most of the day, and it looked absolutely fabulous, reaching the top of their deck that year. These plants will twine fairly quickly onto supports with many funnel formed flowers opening over the course of the summer to fall season in Connecticut. They must be taken in before fall frosts or overwintered immediately after being touched by frost. See my “Overwintering” posts for more information on that aspect.

Cathy Testa with two Mandevillas at her home in Broad Brook

In the next photo, here I am in between two plants in blue pots at my home. The base plants (serving as fillers) are Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’ (annuals in CT). I put really tall trellises in each pot along this wrought iron fence, which is on the driveway where the plants got full sun all day and my watering hose was easily accessed. You will see they were growing taller than me and if the trellises were higher, they would keep growing up and up and up.

In a Pot Growing Up a Staircase Railing

And I wanted to grow one up my stair case railing to reach the overhead arch, it almost made it to the top. It helps to use garden twine to guide it along and give the vines something to reach and attach to as it twines up. The purple pot below used for it is probably about 2 feet deep, but you may grow these plants in even smaller pots. More on that later.

Side View on the Driveway
Cathy Testa standing in front of a Wall Planted with Mandevilla Plants

And here is a photo of me with the mask on, primarily because I wanted to show the timing of this photo, of a wall I just planted. It wouldn’t be long for the plants to produce more blooms. It does help if you start with taller plants if you are looking to gain the affect of covering up something like the wall in this city photo. They will grow as high as the support system they can attach to. If I had a higher wall here, it would keep growing up all summer. They don’t grow as fast as morning glories, as an example. The growing pace is moderate, so if you want to get one to really show off, get the taller specimens to start with. They may be a pricy but so worth the display and enjoyment you will get by using one or more in your outdoors spaces.

Reaching for the Heavens
Gorgeous Pink Blooms against dense foliage
Stunning Against Blue Skies!

Moderate climbers that keep on growing up…

Mandevilla vines will reach to the heavens, if you allow them to – they seem to never stop wanting to reach up into the skies. If you are able to acquire taller specimens to begin with, it is worth it in my book. They come in white, pinks, and reds for bloom colors. I haven’t grown the red ones yet, maybe this year will be the year.

Funnel Shaped Flowers
Masses of Pink Blooms

Inspecting the leaves

Some of the varieties have glossier leaves than others. The leaves on the white blooming one, in my photos, were about 4-6″ long. A good tip is to inspect the foliage when you are looking for one during out Connecticut container gardening growing season, and although you might experienced a stressed leaf or two based on when they arrived in Connecticut (cause most of them are shipped here from warmer states), they usually bounce back quickly when potted up and provided the right soil environment and sunny conditions in your planters. It is not to say they don’t suffer some minor issues, but a good tip, again, is to inspect your plants. See a healthy tall one – don’t hesitate to grab it.

Now that is a HEALTHY A** LEAF!

Sometimes I admire foliage of plants more than flowers, especially when they look almost perfect. Not always achievable because we are not plant Gods, but the leaves on this plant that year, wow, so shiny and healthy. To achieve good results, be sure to have well draining soil, use pots with drain holes (see my 5-Must Do’s for Container Gardening), and inspect the plant from time to time. Sometimes, during inspections, I may discover nice insect visitors, like bees, lady bugs, butterflies, and moths.

A very WELCOMED visitor – Lady Bugs are great for eating any bad bugs!
Bumble Bee Heading in for a Landing
Bee Deep in the Tunnel Funnel

Moth – Awakening from His Night Visit

Not damaged by serious pests, but bothered if conditions are not right…

So far, I have not encountered serious pest (bag bug) problems on mandevilla plants, but I do think they don’t like “inappropriate environmental stress” and things like too cold of temps, or too much wind, or neglect from not watering regularly. Those aspects will weaken them, and you should also avoid areas with high salt (maybe road side). Do not plant them in containers or your patio pots in Connecticut outdoors till well after all chances of spring frosts. So, you would plant them around the same time as you put out your warm season vegetables, like tomato plants.

Heat, sun, and well-draining soils…

The plants want heat and sun, well-draining soils, and appropriate watering. These are tropical vining plants and they don’t like the cold, so remember that on your timing in spring time. They want warmer temps at night so even if the an early spring day feels okay, the cold temps at night are not good for them in early spring before frosts. Also, for more blooms, get some bloom booster liquid or water soluble fertilizer and fertilize a couple times a month in the summer after the plants are established if you feel there are not enough blooms being produced on your plant. It is a good idea, like most tropical plants or plants indoors over the winter, to acclimate them to outdoor summer conditions.

Acclimating a Stock on My Driveway
The In and Out Year

One year, I had to pick up my mandevillas orders earlier than normal, so I literally moved them in and out of my greenhouse during the later part of April into mid-May before planting them at a location. I didn’t want to subject the plants to cold temperatures of the evenings, but I also wanted to give them natural sunlight during the days (on good early spring days). It was a “Mandevilla Workout!” As noted above, do not plant them until around Memorial Day in our area of Connecticut (Zone 6b). They are from areas of warmth, sunshine, and moisture – so remember these 3 environmental conditions for your mandevilla plants. If temperatures drop or if you put them out too early, your plant will experience stress, leaf drop, and potential diseases later, so be sure to protect them from the cold in early spring before frosts if you pick any up early in the container gardening season in Connecticut. An occasional drop in temps in the summer is fine however if we get some freak cold (like we did last year in 2021 on Memorial Day weekend!), they should bounce back from the heat of summer, which mine did that year.

Pretty with the Ornamental Grass nearby

Of course, you may plant them into the ground but I typically do not do that. In this photo above, the pink mandevilla is in a pot below my driveway climbing up and an ornamental grass is in the background, which I thought looked lovely together as a combination.

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

As you can see, mandevillas make me happy. I love planting them and watching them grow all summer long. They turned into a plant I barely gave a second glance to, to one I can’t stop admiring now. I hope you will admire them too.

Pots don’t have to be really big…

And I noted you really don’t need big pots. Sources will say keeping them in smaller pots will force the plant into growing the top part of the plant more rather than focusing on growing roots for Mandevilla. In my experiences, I’ve done both, repotting into a 22″-24″ diameter planter or inserted the nursery pots into a larger planter, but be sure to allow draining in either scenario from the base of the pots. And the soil is best on a organic side. I have amended the soil with aged compost in pots with potting mix. I tend to space them right next to each other when creating walls in big planters. However, in gardens, it is recommended to space them apart by 8″. Probably the best maintenance tip is to water them regularly and not let them dry out too much. They have thick chunky root systems, so if the pots is smaller, you may see the nursery growing pot expand as the roots are trying to move around, pushing against the sides. In those cases, I’ve used a razor knife to cut the pot off the root base before planting them.

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b
All photos are taken by Cathy Testa
See also:
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
P.S. I plan to get more mandevillas this year, if local, e-me!

Morning Glory Bloom Photos

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I’ll be honest, the main reason I wanted to write this post is to share the photos of my beautiful morning glory blooms from a couple of summers back. I usually don’t grow morning glories, but I spotted a seed packet of blue and white ones at a local hardware store which attracted me so I grabbed one packet for the heck of it.

Easy to Sow

Morning Glory seeds are easy to sow and seeds are not super small, so the seeds are easy to handle as well (tip for gardening children sowing), but it is recommended, for better results, to soak the seeds in lukewarm water for 24 to 48 hours before planting the seeds. I can’t recall if I did that, but I remember I started them indoors and planted them in a couple planters by my garage and under some of my birdhouses situated on tall poles.

Morning Glory Flying Saucers

Don’t you agree? These blue and white morning glory blooms are fantastic. Here’s one of the photos I snapped as they started opening up. Blue colors are sometimes hard to find in blooms, thus this one really showed off a gorgeous deep blue – almost like a Caribbean ocean blue, against the pure white. And they were fairly large blooms, about 3-4″ across.

Morning Glory Flying Saucers

Look – at – that – blue!

It is ironic that I accidentally captured a photo with my iPhone where the flower looks like it is flying on it’s own and hovering in space. Notice the stem became unfocused in this shot. Ironic because they are called ‘Flying Saucers’ on the seed packet.

Morning Glory Crimson Rambler

It is a good idea to take a photo with the seed packet so you remember the name of it! These photos are from 2018. I grew these Crimson Rambler Morning Glories as well the same year. The foliage is heart shaped and the blooms are smaller than the Flying Saucers’ blooms.

Crimson Ramble Morning Glory Climbing up Garage

My idea was they would climb up to the gutters of my garage and I would arch them over the doors using twine to guide them along. They were getting there but I found morning glories to be a bit messy. I didn’t like how they twined around other plants in my container gardens, but I did like how they twined up poles to my birdhouses in my yard.

Bird House on a Pole in a Planter

The Crimson Ramble Morning Glories really looked lovely against this old white birdhouse. This birdhouse is in a planter. I wished a bird would have moved in, but none did – probably because this birdhouse is more a decorative type. But I have other birdhouses in my landscape on tall poles, which my husband setup for us here and there, that the birds love. I wrote about our process to setup the birdhouses on tall poles on a prior blog post called, “A Unique Way to Install a Birdhouse,” which is rather popular post based on views.

Morning Glory Climbing Up a Pole to Birdhouse

The morning glory plants grew all the way to the top of a pole for this birdhouse (photo above) and I just loved the look. Birds move into this birdhouse every year. They seem to like it’s location (faces southeast). It is fun to watch them peek out especially with the beautiful rosy flowers all around. To the right of the birdhouse you may notice I have a Hydrangea called ‘Quick Fire’ and the blooms start off white and turn pink and get a darker pink over the course of its bloom cycle. They made a nice combo in this little bed by my driveway.

Glows

It is always fun to take photos of blooms like these with the white centers and deep colors as the center feels like it is glowing sometimes at the right time of day. Sometimes I check to see if any insects are resting inside the funnel of the blooms.

Morning Glory Flying Saucers

Climbs and Grows up Tall

Morning Glories may reach 10 to 15 feet in height and the Flying Saucers did. If you want a climber, these are quick to climb and will bloom in late summer to fall. They should be planted outdoors after all dangers of our last spring frost date here in Connecticut.

Facing the Sun

Southern Exposure and Full Sun

I would check them out in the mornings to see if any insects were perched inside the fluted throats of these blooms. Both situations where I grew them faced east on the south side of my yard, so they received the morning sun and sun continued up until mid day. It is recommended for best continuous blooming to provide a southern exposure per the seed packets. I don’t think it much matters with morning glories because they almost grow like a weed, and they are easy to grow in dry sandy soils.

Just about to open

They are also very pretty in form when they are just about to open in the mornings, or maybe this photo was taken when they were closing up for the evenings. Morning glories, as you probably already know, open in the mornings to face the sun.

Flying Saucers Morning Glory

For the most part, the Flying Saucers were a true blue and vivid white, almost reminded me of a pinwheel, but there were a few blooms with a more faded blue color.

A Bit Messy

And even though I did like the morning glories, they were a bit messy. You can even see in this photo, some of the leaves were yellowing. They started to choke some of the stems of my other plants in the same container and I wasn’t too thrilled about how mangled or unruly they grew over time. I thought, I don’t think I’ll use them in planter combinations again, but I would use them on the birdhouse poles.

Crimson Rambler

May Self-Sow Following Year

Morning glories may self-sow in planters and areas where they were planted the following year, I’ve seen this happen before, as I noted above, they are almost like weeds, but in my case, not a weed – because a weed is a plant out of place. I guess it was out of place in-front of my garage for the reasons noted above, but not out of place on the birdhouse poles.

Thanks for visiting, and please if you have any questions or comments, scroll to the top of this post, look for the red comment box on the top right to leave your thoughts (or on iPhones, look for the “Leave a Reply” link.) I appreciate hearing from other gardening enthusiasts and plant lovers.

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT
Container Gardener
Zone 6B
Broad Brook, CT
Please see also:

www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

Trailing Red Small Daisy Flowers that can Take it Rough

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I am always in search of tough (as in tolerant) plants for container gardens and patio pots for full sun locations due to having a few clients with these environmental conditions at their outdoor settings. In fact, I often refer to the location as “full on sun” when I talk to my husband about it, and he jokes about that term to this day. It is a hot location with lots of heat in the midst of summer with limited water sources outdoors. Thus, I like plants to be drought tolerant if possible.

Last year, I happen to notice an annual plant at a local nursery with light green and white succulent like foliage, and thought this may be a candidate for my full sun project because the succulent foliage led me to believe it probably is similar to a succulent plants (able to retain water in its leaves and are drought tolerant) but I wasn’t sure.

However, despite not knowing the plant’s requirements as of yet, I also noticed it blooms small red flowers and I was in search a red and yellow combinations for a theme I was planning on this site that year. I looked at the label, of course, and thought it over and decided to give this annual plant a try.

‘Mezoo Trailing Red’ is the Tradename

A Spiller in Habit

In addition to having the succulent like foliage, the hot red colored blooms are what I was searching for, and having a bit of an unusual variegated foliage coloring, it also would work as a spiller plant (plants which trail or hang down in planters and pots). I grabbed a couple to add to my selections to plant in some large long planters. And, also, it has a lighter tone of a foliage color, making good contrast to darker plants.

‘Mezoo Trailing Red’

It is known as ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’ as the tradename, but upon some research, I discovered it’s botanical name is, Dorotheanthus bellidiformis. Try pronouncing that one! So, I will just refer to it as “trailing red” or “Mezoo” in this post. It is a tender perennial that is winter hardy to planting zones 9-10, but here in Connecticut, it is treated as a annual plant and is not hardy in our CT zones. I’m in Zone 6b.

Easy to Root

However, I discovered yet another benefit about this plant, it is easy to root from a tip cutting by placing it in a jar of water and letting roots form from the stem end tip. I did that after the summer with some cuttings and managed to start a couple smaller plant to keep in the house over the winter.

Great with Darker Contrasts nearby (dark greens), and also looks nice with soft blues!

Blue Green Coloring

There are different types of green and the foliage green on ‘trailing red’ is a bit of a blue green with hues of white to creamy white edges on the leaves. I thought how it seemed to click in color with a few blue Senecio plants I had to plant as well, which I used a little fillers to tuck in next to the Mezoo trailing red plant. However, by the end of the summer, Mezoo took over the area in the center of this tall and long planter. The Senecio got crowded out quickly. I didn’t mind, however, because Mezoo turned out to be just beautiful and full to the max.

Abundant Growth

The amount of growth that occurred in one summer in the planters really shocked me when I returned later in the season to take a look at the plants. The Mezoo was lush, full, and trailing over the edge down to the middle of a 5-6 foot tall square planter. There were no signs of insects and about the only issue I had with it was as some of the leaves dried up here and there (just a bit), the dried up papery residue of the leaves stuck to the outside of the planter under the plant’s hanging foliage and blooms. I washed that up later off the planter, when I took the Mezoo out of the planter, before fall arrived, by using some mild soapy dish type water. I was glad the planter’s outside covering was not damaged.

Drought Tolerant

This is the type of plant that tolerates some dry periods as well, which is a bonus. It is low maintenance and takes somewhat dry to medium moisture. Well-drained soil is preferred by it, and I had placed between two dark green globe shaped shrubs and thus, the plant was somewhat protected, but I don’t think it needed any extra protection. It grew massive and was impressive. It dripped over both sides of the planter, to about half-way down. I was impressed. Take note, it doesn’t like to stay completely dry and fortunately, we had good rainfall to get some moisture into the soil in the planter that year.

Overflowing Abundance

Like a Waterfall

Just look at this photo above. It is very apparent this plant was thriving. It was full, lush, bursting with foliage and flowing thru the two side shrubs like a waterfall. When I saw this abundance of growth, I said an, “Oooohh, so nice!” comment out loud to myself, which is typical of me. I surprise myself sometimes. LOL. I was pleased.

When I got back to my greenhouse, from digging it out at the site, I decided to take a few cuttings (as noted above) and showed it to my plant followers, and immediately a friend and plant enthusiast chimed in to say she has one as well and loves how well it performs in her hanging baskets at home. She also takes tip cuttings to root as a method to save some over the winter months here in Connecticut.

Sometimes its worth a shot to try out a plant you are unfamiliar with and often they will give you clues to their habit and tolerance. This one I would definitely recommend for sunny locations in containers and patio pots. It handled the heat, wind, sun, limited watering, and crowding between two other plants pretty well. It has a lower habit (doesn’t grow upwards), so if you don’t want to block the view behind it, which we didn’t want to block the skyline, it worked very well and I experienced no insect issues on it all summer long. I will say, we did have more moisture than usual that summer and maybe that helped, but overall, it can take it rough.

Mezoo used on a Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Blooms are Small but Long Lasting

It also blooms many daisy red small flowers from about June up to October. The flowers do not fall off so no worries about a mess on the ground area and also no worries about deadheading. I do wish the flowers were larger however.

Later in the autumn season, I ended up tucking some of those cuttings I took on top of my succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces. I guess the bonus list continued onward. It just hit me how they would look pretty on my pumpkins.

Dripping over the edge of a long square planter

Benefits Reviewed

  • Dry to medium moisture (somewhat drought tolerant; don’t allow soil to completely dry out)
  • Likes heat and can take the heat
  • A spiller that cascades over pots (but has a low mat forming habit)
  • Easy to take tip cuttings to root in water
  • Full sun lover
  • Low maintenance, no deadheading required
  • Can take average well-draining soils
  • Makes a decent winter houseplant
  • Pairs well with succulents
  • Not a high feeder
  • And well, lastly, I liked using the cuttings on my pumpkins as noted above!

Thank you for visiting!

Cathy Testa
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b
Container Garden Designer
Posted: 1/18/2022

Side View – Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT in Broad Brook, Connecticut

Hot Pinks for Full Sun in Containers

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Here’s a combination I created last summer for a client. I loved the way these plants thrived. Despite some troubling weather set-backs we had in 2021 at the start of the container season, they performed beautifully all summer into early fall. These plants tolerate full sun, drought, and wind fairly well.

Hot Pinks For Full Sun – Upon Planting Photo of Dipladenia, Calibrachoa, and Sedum stonecrop

The beautiful fluted hot pink flowers of the tropical plant in the center, called Dipladenia vine, was a perfect candidate. These plants continuously bloom and hold on to their blooms pretty well in windy conditions. It does not vine upwards, like Mandevilla vines do, but spread out more as it grows. The flowers are just gorgeous, and sometimes towards the end of the summer, they may fade a bit to a softer pink but overall they retain their form and color beautifully in containers.

Paired with Calibrachoa (left lower plant) – An annual in CT

I paired up the Dipladenia (thriller plant in the center) with a annual plant, Calibrachoa. The Calibrachoa has small Petunia like blooms on trailing stems which would eventually cascade over the rim of the pot (serving as a spiller) in this combination. It also is a sun lover and prefers well-drained soil kept evenly moist. The reason I selected the Calibrachoa, an annual plant here in Connecticut, is because of the coloring and form of the flowers. It has an outer pink to lavender color with a ring of a darker toned pink in the centers of its blooms. It was one color I had not see before for this annual, and thought of how well it would pair with the hot pink Dipladenia. It repeats the form of the larger hot pink flowers of the Dipladenia, and shares the same coloring in the pink hues.

Calibrachoa spilled over the edges

Also tucked in the corner is a Sedum (stonecrop) (see top photo on right) which is a perennial. It is called ‘Firecracker’ of the Sunsparkler series. Again, using another sun lover which tolerates periods of drought. The Sedum is hardy in Connecticut as a zone 4-9 plant, and blooms from late summer into early fall, however, it ended up getting hidden by the plants next to it by the end of the season. You couldn’t see it later in the season which is unfortunate, because I loved how the burgundy shiny succulent foliage gave a darker contrasting color to the hot and soft pinks in the combination. Sedum stonecrop plants makes nice groundcover in hot full sun landscapes, and again, I tend to use perennials in pots here and there as the anchors or foliage (filler) plants. They are good performers and easy care plants in either situation.

Full by mid-Summer into Fall

To the right of the planter with the hot pinks, I planted a large leaved perennial, a Lamb’s Ears perennial plant with a hardiness up to Zone 4. It is a hardy plant in Connecticut, typically used in sunny landscape beds, but I enjoy using perennials in my container gardens as well for adding the foliage power. I knew the soft, silvery, woolly leaves would look beautiful with the hot and soft pinks nearby. These plants are very easy care and again, love the hot sun, and can take drought. This Lamb’s Ears is called ‘Big Ears’ (Stachyz byzantina) because the leaves are huge, and the plant caught my attention right away. Bigger than the typical varieties of this plant, it was a perfect candidate for the tall planters. Another benefit of this plant is it is not preferred by deer, which is not an concern at this location but good to know for use in landscape beds. I also find, if planted in full sun, it doesn’t get any insect issues. If you try to plant it in shade or part sun, it won’t perform as well, and may even rot if in a damp location. And of course, it is soft and fluffy, and one of those plants you like to touch which makes it a fun candidate in outdoor areas on patios, decks, and wherever you may reach out to touch it. It grew at least two times bigger by the end of the summer season in its planter.

Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ (Perennial, Hot Full Sun, Zone 4 Plant)
Evolvulus pilosus ‘Blue Daze’ annual

In the smallest of the trio of tall planters, I planted a plant with soft blue flowers which are also sun lovers, or part sun. These bloom all season and tolerated the conditions at this site well (hot sun, windy, periods of drought). However, by the end of the year, while the plant grew huge, it didn’t have as many flowers as I expected, but the foliage stayed lovely. I had written about this plant before. I used it in wedding container gardens for a client. Blues is a tough color to find in blooms and thus, this is one of the blues available. It doesn’t drop its flowers nor require deadheading, which was a bonus. And no insect issues encountered. I only wished it was more prolific with blooms. I loved the way it looked with the other two planters, soft delicate foliage, and easy care. And as noted in my prior blog post about using these years ago, I learned the blooms close during cloudy conditions and or in the evenings, as you can see in this photo below.

Late Summer

But what you may also see is all the plants were extremely full, lush, and healthy all the way into early fall as shown in the photo above. You can even see a bloom that formed on the Lamb’s Ears on the far right. It was a shame to take all the plants out when I replanted for the fall season, but at the same time, it was a pleasure to know this combination performed well. The perennials may be salvaged at the end of the season by replanting them in your landscape beds. See more photos below. And, thank you for visiting my blog!

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
See also:
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in Broad Brook section of E. Windsor, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com

Upon planting – before Memorial Day
‘Big Ears’ Stachys byzantina – Perennial
Sedum stonecrop – perennial
Mid Summer Photo

A Bowl of Tomatoes

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One year, many years ago, I went on vacation with my husband and some friends to Cancun, Mexico. We adventured from our hotel via taxis one afternoon and stopped at a mini local market. I was so into the market, looking at all the handmade items, jewelry, knickknacks, and I then saw beautiful hand-made pottery type bowls in super colorful patterns on the inside of the bowl with a wonderful terra color to the outside of the bowls. I bought one immediately, and the man selling them did the sign of the cross with his hands after I paid him cash, and he said a prayer right in front of me. He was so thankful for my purchase. I remember thinking, wow, I wish I could buy at least 5 more of these gorgeous bowls, but they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase!

Here is the bowl filled with various tomatoes and peppers from my container gardens this year. Aren’t the colors of the bowl and fruit just amazing? It is a good way for me to display the fruit as a reference for next year when I grow the starter plants from seed again. That is my main goal usually is to show what the fruit looks like, and comment on how they tasted.

This year, again, I’ve said has been a very humid and very wet summer in Connecticut. My plants didn’t do as well as last year, but alas, I got enough fruit to give my opinion on them. If only they grew better, I would have a lot more to eat, and so would Steve, my husband.

What is this Pepper?

Okay, who out there can help me? I obtained seed packets which are a mix of chili peppers. When I sowed them, I thought, “Wait, how will I know which is which when I go to sell the starter plants?!” Because it is a mix, I won’t know until I try these out and see them grow and produce peppers.

I ended up with 3-4 patio pots of the pepper plants on my deck and had to wait and see. One plant produces the pepper shown above, it turns black from a green color. One day, I tossed one on my grill whole, roasted it, and we tasted it. It was very yummy! Then I did that again a month later with some more of the black ones, and they were a lot hotter than the prior picked black peppers. The heat turned up the longer they stayed on the plant.

The Green Ancho Poblanos Peppers

This one above, is on a different plant (not the same as the ones that turn black). Look at the top – how it kind of indents. I has a different shape than the ones that have been turning black on the other pepper plant on my deck. I was able to find this green one described as:

Ancho Poblano represent the golden mean of the pepper universe. They’ve got some spice, but you can easily chomp right into them. They’ve got some genuine pepper flavor, but it’s muted a bit by the heat. They’re great fresh, cooked, pickled, dried, or blistered in fire when fully ripe. They grow abundantly on bushes that reach nearly three feet tall. Plant early, though, if your goal is to maximize the number of ripe pods you get; they do require a fairly long growing season.

I agree, they have some heat. At first I questioned if they were Habaneros cause the seed packet contained some of those as well, but I thought, that can’t be possible. The Habaneros I purchase in grocery stores are not nearly as large, but these green ones are hot. My husband is the taste tester, and it is always comical to see him take a big bite, chew, and then the expression on his face! At first, he was like, “Oh, they are mild,” then a few chews after, he says…, “OH NO, they are HOT!!”, and he then spit some out. LOL.

Habaneros (green stage – to turn yellow)

This week, I finally spotted a pepper that is the size of the Habaneros on another plant on my deck. I thought, “Ah-ha! Here it is!” Steve hasn’t taste tested it yet. It is supposed to turn yellow so I will let you know. So basically, all the seeds in this packet are a mix. It also includes a red pepper (small oval long shape) that starts green, and I think this is a Serrano pepper.

Serranos Hot Peppers

Well, I am thinking these are Serranos, but I’m not 100% positive. Steve still has yet to taste these. I think I will make some salsa this weekend with tomatoes and some of these peppers to give them a try. These red peppers are abundant on a small plant in a pot on my deck. The plant looks like a Christmas tree with all the green and red peppers right now.

Thus, again, the confusion lies in the fact the seed packet has a mix of Pica Chile various species of hot pepper plants. It has been fun to witness what is produced, but the only downfall is I don’t know what I will get but I will definitely start these mixes again from seed next year for people who enjoy the adventure of seeing what types of hot peppers they will be able to use in their cooking from their plants!

The Bowl from Cancun with a Mix of Tomatoes and Peppers

Starting from my logo on the left, lets go clock wise! At the clock noon position, is a Goldie (obvious from the golden yellow color), Ancho Poblanos (green pepper, mild to hot) 1 pm, Habaneros (green small sitting on-top of some red Matchbox peppers and Tiny Tim tomatoes), a Mandurang Moon tomato at 6 pm, another green Ancho Poblanos, and then the black peppers (name unknown) at the 9-10 pm position of a clock. There are others in there, such as Paul Robeson tomatoe and a StoneRidge, and a Cherokee Purple.

Granted, some of the fruit doesn’t look perfect, some cracking from too much moisture this season (lots and lots of rain storms), and all that – but overall, they still taste amazing.

Hot Matchbox Peppers

This one is definitely a Matchbox hot pepper (pointy tip) in a different pot and not from the “mix of variety seed packet.” It is from a separate packet and I’ve grown them before, they are super compact, perfect in small pots, and product lots of hot red peppers, starting from green color.

Cherokee Purple

I’m pretty sure this is the Cherokee Purple. It looks very similar to the Paul Robeson tomatoes. Paul Robeson are orangey purple green beefsteaks, and I am taste testing both. Both the Cherokee and PR’s are just amazing. My only disappointment is I wish I had more of the plants on my deck or in a garden. I did restrain myself this season, I can only keep up with so much watering, I thought. Then it poured like heck this summer. Things got over watered by nature.

Paul Robeson Tomato

The PR’s are noted to resist cracking and have exceptional flavor. They just look very similar to the Cherokee and sometimes I forget which I took a photo of later when I start to blog and post about them.

Goldie

Speaking of tomatoes which resist cracking, I would say by observation this season, Goldies fit that description as well. They are blemish free and absolutely perfect looking yellow golden tomatoes. I wrote about them in my prior post this month. It is an heirloom and sweet golden flesh. They do melt in your mouth. Oh I hope next year will be better growing season cause I want these again for sure!!!

The Mandurang Moon tomatoes are about the size of cherry tomatoes and a pale yellow. I thought when I cooked with them in a sauce, it intensified the flavor of this tomato. They are also perfect, no blemishes, and firm. The plant stays shorter with stalky center stems and leaves that look like potato plant leaves. I blogged about these earlier as well on this site.

The bowl with a mix

Others in this bowl are some Tiny Tim tomatoes (super compact plant) and some StoneRidge. More on those later.

It is interesting to note that even though I felt like my plants suffered, I still was able to enjoy the fruit – enough for two. We add one to sandwiches, roast a couple to put next to steaks from the grill or corn, and add some to salsa’s, whatever. It was just enough to test the varieties and take notes here so I will remember come spring 2022 when I do this all over again!

Thank you and enjoy your weekend. It is supposed to cool down tomorrow after a very humid day today!

Cathy Testa
Written Aug 27 2021
Container Crazy CT
Located in Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT

860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

I sell starter plants in the spring time, I install container gardens and patio pots for clients, I dabble in holiday items such as succulent topped pumpkins in the fall, and fresh greenery wreaths and kissing balls in the holiday winter season. I ponder what is next, what should I continue but I do know, I really LOVE growing the tomato plants from seed, so that is a keeper on my to-do lists! Thank you for visiting, Sorry about the typo’s or grammar errors, I have to rush out to water before the humidity kicks in! Cathy T.

Sacred Basil and How it Grows

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Last year, I sowed some sacred basil seeds for the first time. It is also known as Tulsi or Holy basil. Latin name: Ocimum tenuiflorum (Ocimum sanctum). I thought it would be an interesting plant to offer my clients for their herb gardens. However, I discovered not too many people of my circle of plant lovers were familiar with Tulsi basil. And neither was I.

Fast Grower

What I discovered is it is a fast grower from seed. It wasn’t long before it would fill my pots or cell trays when I started them from seed. It also has an unusual fragrance, even when it is small and just sprouting from the soil in my seedling trays. The seed producer describes it as, “Pretty, heavenly-scented basil used in teas and Ayurveda.” The seed must be sown early indoors or may be directly sown into gardens.

Attracts Beneficial Insects

I did grow some on a balcony garden last season and it grew lovely and lush in a large pot. I also grew some in my containers at home around a couple tomato plants. Wow, I was stunned at how beautiful, large, and lush the plants grew. I also grew some in big pots on my driveway, and every single time I went by those plants while they were blooming, bees were visiting them constantly. I thought, hmmm, this is a good pollinator attractor. Also, herbs tend to attract beneficial insects, which also helps your garden. The blooms last a long time and the plant stands firm, upright, bushy, and full. I thought if I could I would line my driveway with them and let the bees go crazy enjoying those blooms.

Long-Lasting Blooms

The blooms remind me of catmint, a soft blue. I can’t find the darn photo of when it was lush and full on my driveway, but let me assure you, it grows tall and bushy. If you look up the plant online, you will see it in gardens and find many people describing it’s benefits as a tea. It is similar in growth to regular basil but it grows much faster, as I witnessed in my own pots. It has a strong flavor and scent. You may add it to your water but chewing it directly, I read at least on one site per my research, should not be done. It is that strong.

Dried for teas

Tulsi basil can be dried and saved for months. Something I wanted to do – but did I? No, cause I was too busy tending to plants. LOL. But bottom line, if not for teas, I think it makes a splendid container plant, garden plant (perhaps on a border), and is easy to grow. If you want a full, lush, tall plant in a container, this is the one. I think it was about 1.5 feet tall, if I remember correctly. And I could envision it as a big stand or as a border along a walkway, just covered with bees. It is a long-lasting plant as well, all the way into the fall, it performed wonderfully.

Summer growers

Basils are grown outdoors in hot weather and struggle if it is still cool spring outdoors. You should wait till all chances of frost have passed and when the temps are right for basils. Don’t rush this one outdoors in early spring. They prefer well-drained soils and full sun, and a little shade is okay too. I always plant various basils in my herb planters on my deck every year. I can’t tell you the amount of times I snip from it. It is heaven. Why not mix up your selection of basils and add Tulsi basil to it?

Health benefits

See the links posted below of the various health benefits and research about this plant. The last link has information on how to make the tea.

Well, that is my Tulsi talk for the day! I still have some seed packets available if interested, please let me know. Also, if you know of a really good site that shows how to use, prepare, and store this type of basil, I’d love to hear about it. I can not find much about it in my current herbal books in my home office.

Have a great day,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b
Always Learning, Always Loving Plants

Here’s a few links to more articles about Tulsi basil for your reference:

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/basil-benefits#brain-benefits

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1101/holy-basil

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/5-reasons-why-you-should-sip-on-tulsi-tea-holy-basil-everyday-1806434

Tomatoes Outdoors; The Hardening Off Process

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Usually I start hardening off my tomato starts in mid-May, but when a good weather day comes along in April, as it will today per the weather stations last night on tv, I will begin my tomato exercise program where I pull some trays from the greenhouse and put them outdoors to get some natural sunlight during the day.

Today’s weather in CT (4/28/21) is predicted to be mostly sunny, in the mid-70’s by mid-afternoon, and sunny for the first part of the day, followed by clouds in the afternoon.

per my iPhone app

Location

Years before, I had a slope to deal with and placed them on the ground, now I have a small deck floor area which makes everything level. This helps tremendously. I will put them on portable tables, bins turned over, the wood floor, and on shelves I may have picked up here and there at tag sales or as road side finds. I also have a small drafting table outside which is usually in the greenhouse. It makes a perfect potting station for me. When not being used for potting things up, I put trays on that too.

Flats on a turned over watering bin

Weather

Big factor! If it is too windy and cool, I won’t put them out. I also use my weather app on my iPhone. I find this is the most reliable source of hour to hour weather predictions. I also bring a patio umbrella to the area so it is not direct sun for the delicate tomato leaves. And make sure that umbrella is stable. The last thing you want is for it to fall over from wind on your delicate plants! There is a big tree near this staging area, but remember, the trees are not leafed out yet so why I get the umbrella setup as well.

Timing

It is about 47 degrees F outside right now as I write this and cool, with rain from last night. I’m not going to put them out this morning, I’m waiting till it warms up a bit. I’m just particular that way – my tomato plants are my babies! So time of day is just as important as the location and predicted weather for the day.

Care

How your seedlings are cared for is super important this time of year. Spending months prior, seeding the seeds, monitoring the growth, carefully watering the seedlings, and inspecting all along the way. The last thing you want to worry about is damaging them during the hardening phases outdoors. So, I am sure to select the bigger of the seedling plants to go outside and I limit it to only a couple times a day. This makes for a great exercise program, going in and out of the greenhouse, bending and lifting trays, reorganizing only to move it all back inside a few hours later.

Hardening Off – Cathy T’s tomatoes on a long tray

Hardening Off Weeks

Usually the best time to start hardening off seedlings is a week or two before when you plan to transplant them into your container gardens, grow bags, patio pots, or gardens. This will acclimate the tender plants gradually for a couple hours every day. However, as noted above, this year, I’m doing some of this early on good days only and carefully monitoring them. I won’t do this on a day that I am not here to watch over them (literally, LOL). It is very important to make sure the place where you do this process outdoors is protected, to do this on non-windy days, and away from any potential problems.

Watering

Another important factor is to make sure you are watering appropriately, monitoring what is drying out, and pay attention to watering needs while hardening off plants. Watering is a tricky thing. You get a sense of how to balance the dry cycles (where the soil gets the oxygen it needs for the roots) and moisture cycles. Watering plants is best in the mornings, but you also don’t want to over water them. After a while, you get a sense of what is working and how the plants respond. It is definitely a science and an art. It also can be intuitive if you have a green thumb or are obsessed with plants, or it is an exact science. In fact, some big growers actually weigh the plants at different parts of the day and do this all by exact numbers and creating graphs! As for myself, I sometimes will observe if the soil looks dry on the top, feel the tray or pots for their moisture weight, know when I last watered, and in some cases, may take a seedling out to look at the roots and moisture. You want the moisture to be lower so the roots grow downward (versus wet on the top of the soil profile, which would not encourage downward root growth).

Plant Size

Some of my plants are in 5″ squares and others are still in 3″ round pots. I typically select only the larger seedlings for hardening off a bit early. The more delicate small ones I would not risk doing this early. It also helps to give the plants some natural air circulation by placing them outside in a protected location. I’m actually still potting up seedlings, even some which are still in the seedling starter trays. So, there are several different sizes and stages to my seedlings.

Showing Roots

I feel especially impatient this year because it felt like a long winter. I can’t wait to put all my plants outdoors permanently but we must hold back. If you try to cross the finish line too early, you risk all the hard work you put into starting the plants from seed in the first place. But hopefully all goes according to plan with no problems so you can look forward to eating big yummy juicy fresh tomatoes, like this one shown below from last year!

Tomato Plant Growing on Cathy T’s deck last year

Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to ask questions.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Container Garden Designer
Small Time Grower
One-Woman Owned Business
Plant Enthusiast
Location: Broad Brook, Connecticut
Post dated: April 28, 2021