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.

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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

Best Workshop Yet

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Good morning fellow visitors!

I’m feeling cheerful this morning because the sun has risen and it will be a sunny day – all day today – which I absolutely love because I have seedlings started in my greenhouse and they will burst out with happy growth from the warming of the sun today.

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I have to say, my Seed Starting sessions, which are a new offering this year, have been one of my best workshops yet.

I held a few small group sessions on seed starting where we went over all you need to know to get started on sowing seeds of your tomatoes and pepper plants, and a few other types of plants. And everyone sowed their own trays.

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It was a great session for beginners or those who have attempted sowing seeds, but had some failures and wanted to learn why, etc. Or those who wanted to just enjoy the process of sowing and growing their own vegetable plants.

We gathered in my greenhouse and went over many aspects of starting seeds. And then we got our hands dirty!

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The best part, I think for the attendees, is I offered to oversee their 32 cell seedling trays from germination to now, and for a few more weeks. This really excited the newbies. And, to be honest, I think excited me more.

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I’ve been having so much fun inspecting their seedling trays, watching the germination process, watering them, moving them to brighter sun from heat mats, and handling all aspects of plant growth during these initial (and crucial) stages of seed starting.

The germination process is exciting to anyone, if you love plants, gardening, or botany. I don’t care if you are 5 years old or 50, the moment you see that little green bit expanding from the top of the soil of a seed germinating is inspiring (and sometimes surprising, especially when they germinate quickly).

The soil will sometimes will be pushed up by the shoot’s upward growth, and it is amazing to think that an itty-bitty seed could be so powerful. I should look up what kind of power that takes for a seed to crack open, push down it roots and up its shoots to emerge from the soil – Is it similar to the strength of ants? One has to wonder.

This weekend, I am holding part two of this workshop – a “Monitoring Session” where I will go over many aspects of seedling growth, next steps, and finally the process of moving your starter plants into gardens or container gardens at the right time.

But there is still time to sow more seeds. In fact, now is a good time to consider starting basil and cucumber seeds. Who doesn’t love both? So, if you are interested in scheduling a private seed starting session, feel free to ask me.

Looking forward to seeing my groups on Saturday…

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

Upcoming and Current Activities at Cathy T’s:

May’s Succulent Hanging Basket Workshops
Private Terrariums Sessions at People’s Homes
Custom Made Easter Hostess Gifts
Succulents in Stock for Sale
Bert’s Birdhouse with Reclaimed Wood
Private Seed Starting Sessions

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First Day of Spring is Tomorrow

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And I can feel it!

Yesterday, there was a bird in a tree singing a unique sound I am not accustomed to hearing and I thought, “This is a sign – spring is just about here!”

We all know, in fact, March 20th (tomorrow) is the first day of spring.

I took out brand new pruning tools after hearing that bird sign and began cutting back a large ornamental grass which I did not get to before winter hit. I cut each stem or bundles of stems by hand with hand pruners (but did you know? They can be burned back, haven’t tried that technique yet).

Also, I decided to pull down the dried up moon flower vines from a birdhouse pole. I didn’t get to that either last fall, but it turned out the birds loved using the dried up vines this winter. They used it to hide behind when they would perch on the birdhouse or use the birdhouse as protection during a winter storm.

Then, I even attempted to prune a panicle hydrangea that has grown to a massive size the past few years. It is so large in fact, I didn’t finish and will do that today. As I was cutting individual branches, I recalled seeing a beautiful butterfly visiting its flowers last summer. This variety of hydrangea can be cut back in late winter or early spring, so I figured it was safe enough to start although I usually wait a little bit more – but that sun and the bird – well, it got me motivated.

And, of course, I spent time in the greenhouse (all before this activity). Always a priority on a sunny day when possible. I was reviewing materials for Saturday, I potted up a little pinch pot I made recently with baby succulents and mini rabbit decor – it came out so cute, but most of my time in there was spent rehearsing, reloading water into my big water bin (used in winter months), and watering the canna lily, elephant ear plants and stock of succulents, and more potted up plants.

I will be doing a bit of all of this today and tomorrow while the weather is nice and then in a few days more will be my first seed starting session with the people who have already signed-up.

THIS SATURDAY: Seed Starting Sessions

I’m still reviewing all I want to cover in my Saturday Seed Starting Sessions – THIS SATURDAY, March 23rd at 10 am and 1 pm. (See WORKSHOPSCT.com for details.)

My weather app is showing some yucky weather on Thursday and Friday (either a bit of rain or a bit of snow – or maybe Mother Nature will change her mind). Spring will do that – appear and give us a little taste but we are not “quite” there yet, but I’m very hopeful that Saturday will be a nice day (partly sunny predicted so far) because that will make the greenhouse seed starting sessions comfortable and cozy. There are seats available. Contact me if interested.

So, this post in general is a quickie.

I wanted to update my side bar on this blog with workshops coming up and add the 2019 Gardening Trends list, which I will expand upon in another post later.

For now, I don’t want to waste this beautiful sunny day. I plan to move some chairs into the greenhouse and other supplies needed for Saturday, and oh also, another session has been added on Tuesday at 3 pm (March 26th). I could squeeze in a couple more attendees if you are interested.

Again, all of the details are on WORKSHOPSCT.com.

And as for other upcoming activity, I’m thinking of holding a terrariums workshop in April, then follows the Hanging Basket Workshops in May, and plant sales of starter plants available by appointment towards the end of May.

List of Upcoming Events

Until then, enjoy this sunshine and longer days coming. It is time to pick up the branches, debris, and clean up the beds as much as you can, take your pots out to clean on a nice day, and think about seed starting, which you don’t want to start too early either.

And the birds of course – don’t forget I have birdhouses for sale, made by Bert, my father. All hand made and painted with various images (bunnies, dragonfly, butterflies, and flowers). I noticed last year, the birds started moving into our birdhouses on March 10th.

Thanks,

Cathy Testa
72 Harrington Road
Broad Brook, Connecticut
860-977-9473
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
containercathy@gmail.com

And the Sowing Begins…

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Good Friday Morning Everyone,

I’ve been a busy beaver in the greenhouse lately. I’ve potted up some of my Canna Lily rhizomes (about 30 to be exact) and Elephant Ear corms (bulb-like structures) in starter pots and have sown some seeds to get growing. Some started germinating this week.

And another activity has been cleaning and rearranging the growing spaces in my greenhouse so I can fit the planned attendees for my upcoming Seed Starting Sessions in two weeks.

I decided to add a new date – a weeknight at 3 pm on Tuesday, March 26th, for those who can’t make Saturday’s session. All the details are on WorkshopsCT.com.

Over New Date Added

These seed starting sessions are small groups and it is the first year I’m offering this as a hands-on learning workshop. Each attendee will learn everything I know to date about growing from seeds. There are so many little things to be aware of. You would think it is just as easy as plopping a seed into soil but there are at least 5 important things you need to know to succeed. We will go over these at the workshops and you will plant your own tray of 32 seeds!

I also enjoy very much picking out unique varieties to grow. There is something amazing about the odd shape of an heirloom tomato and the interesting shapes of crinkly hot peppers, in addition to the plethora of amazing flavors of both.  These are the goals of the types of plants we will sow at my seed starting sessions. The focus being on warm season vegetable, specifically tomato and pepper plants.

It is important, if you are new to sowing seeds on your own, to start with a limited palate of choices – narrow down your plant types and practice growing them. It is very easy to get carried away and next thing you know, you have more starter plants than you know what to do with! Although giving some away to family and friends is truly rewarding.

In my seed starting sessions, I plan to go over how to plan your sowing dates on the calendar and why it is important, to review why I select the types of seeds I do – and how you should go about selecting your own seeds. We will discuss what the various terms mean and why they are important (e.g., open pollinated, hybrids, and heirlooms ). And of course, we will go over soil types, how to water, and potential mistakes people make when sowing seeds. Then the best part is they will germinate in my greenhouse or you may take your tray home to oversee. When ready to be planted outdoors, you will be ready with a nice variety of plants you grew yourself.

Over Photo Seed Starting

In addition, we will go over how to store seed and what mixes to use and why. And then of course, review what causes things to fail. If you have tried to grow seeds and had issues, this is a place to learn more, and these sessions are for beginners. Practice makes perfect in the seed sowing world. It is not always full proof but know what and how to sow really increases your chances of success.

Dates of the Sessions

The dates are March 23rd, Saturday (2 sessions available, 10 am or 1 pm) and March 26th, Tuesday (1 session available at 3 pm). In April, we have a monitoring session and you will be required to pick up your trays in late April or sooner if you wish. Registration and payment required in advance. See WorkshopsCT.com for details and links.

What interests you in growing your
own plants from seed?

  • I want a variety (more choices) and know that buying transplants won’t offer special unique types of plants available by seed sources.
  • I want to feel reassured it is grown organically and is free of GMO issues.
  • I want to save some money (buying transplants is more expensive and I can get many plants from seed sowing instead).
  • Because I know the seedling will be monitored in the greenhouse and I don’t have the space at home.
  • I have a hobby greenhouse or wish to get one, and want to learn what may be needed.
  • Because I attempted growing them before and failed, and I’m not sure why.
  • Because growing from seeds is satisfying and the rewards of fresh food are great.
  • Other:

Maybe you want to grow plants from seeds because you want to teach the value of fresh food to your children or future generations. Perhaps you are a new homeowner and want to start a small garden. There are countless reasons why.

Or perhaps you are a plant addict like me, and you just can’t stop yourself from having more plants in your surroundings. Just the act of sowing seeds is therapeutic and takes you away from the technology induced anxiety of social media.

Whatever the reason, I hope you sign up soon.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.om
Location is Broad Brook (East Windsor), Connecticut
Planting Zone: 6a

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Planning Ahead is required if you Want to Start Plants from Seeds

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Before going into why growing plants from seed is extremely rewarding, fun, and even spiritual, let’s discuss why planning ahead is so important.

Planning Steps

First – You need to consider our climate and planting zone because you can’t move new, tender seedlings outdoors until it is safe for them to grow. In order to plan for this appropriately, you really need to prepare a plan of when to start your seeds. Your very first step is finding out what your last spring frost date is for your planting area and then work (count) backwards on your calendar. How many weeks you need to count back from the last frost date depends on the type of seeds you are planning to sow.

Second – You need to make a calendar or chart to plan out each variety of seed you plan to sow. Making a calendar is important because if you start seeds too early, the seedlings or starter plants will be ready before it is safe to move and grow them outdoors. Starter plants (seedlings) waiting inside will start to grow too large and this will cause growing issues which may result in unsuccessful plants when planted outdoors. And the opposite will happen if you start seeds too late, you will end up not having them ready in time for the outdoor growing phase and the plant’s fruits will mature too late to harvest them.

Third – Seeds sown need to be transitioned from cell trays to larger pots, and then transitioned during a hardening off stage – all before they are transplanted into your gardens or container gardens outdoors. If all three of these steps above are not thought out in regards to timing, you could waste some valuable and enjoyable growing time of your treasured starter plants, and not to mention waste soil, water, and other resources.

While it is not as complicated as it may seem, it is a bit of a process to plan these steps out if you want to increase your chances of success. It requires some pre-planning and organizing.

The good news is, after some seasons of practice, trial and error, and success, you start to master the process and develop some of your own successful methods and routines which you acquire along the way. Truly rewarding, and a bit addicting.

So where do you begin if you are a beginner?

There are many seed planning charts out there, websites, planting apps, and helpful resources to determine all of this planning and calendaring information, but in my opinion, it is not as easy as a “click” and marking the date on your calendars.

You want to plan ahead AND make a schedule. And now (late-Feb) is about the time to do this planning effort, if not sooner. It takes a bit of thinking, organizing, and considerations.

Even thinking about how many plants you are able to grow based on your layout of containers or patio pots and/or garden space at your home is necessary. And thinking about what types of vegetables you want to grow and why – do you enjoy them for cooking, slicing, snacking, sauteing, or even grinding for flakes to use in recipes? All of these aspects should at least be pondered upon during your planning process in order to avoid some pitfalls or disappointments.

Thankfully, my upcoming “Seed Starting Sessions” are here to guide you.

I have already done much of the “planning and calendaring” legwork for my upcoming seed starting sessions in March and April. In these sessions, we will go over how to do the planning so you will be prepared when you go do this on your own next season, and we will plant various tomato and pepper seeds in large trays to grow in my greenhouse.

You will learn about the how to’s of sowing, about various soil mixes, appropriate tools and how to maintain them, and potential problems you may encounter. You will learn all of this while attending these sessions in my greenhouse, so we will go over some information on what to consider in a hobby greenhouse growing environment as well – which is a bonus.

In April, you will revisit your seedlings, see your progress, and make any necessary adjustments. Or if you wish, you may take your trays home to watch the germination and growing process while you maintain all steps there. It is up to you!

Seed selection is always key in regards to timing.

Even before the planning and calendar phases, the fun phase of selecting seeds is another important step. Starting plants from seed gives you the wonderful option of growing unique and favorable varieties based on your style and tastes. Often these unique varieties are not found in local garden centers.

If you want to sow something out of the ordinary, selecting seed ahead is important and should be planned ahead, which I have done for my upcoming seed starting sessions.

I use a trusted, reputable, and well-orchestrated seed company. We will be sowing cherry tomato seeds as well as seeds of various large tomato varieties. We have hot peppers and sweet peppers on the list. Each I hand-picked due to various traits – such as, they are reliable, easy, produce a large harvest, and yummy.

Some varieties chosen are ideal for snacking and others perfect for enhancing flavors of sauces. Some are large slicers for sandwiches and others are decorative in pots when they flower too – after all – container gardening is always key on my list.

Other varieties selected grow well in hanging baskets and some in large pots. One really special seed variety I have chosen produces 3 lb. fruit – imagine that?! And most importantly, all the seeds are certified organic, heirlooms, and/or open pollinated.

Lastly, there will be other seed types to mix into the planting trays for herbs, salads, or flowers. You will have some flexibility of choices in your large seed tray to sow and grow.

Dates of the Seed Sessions are March 23 (Part I) and April 13 (Part II):

In regards to planning ahead, now is also the time to sign up and get on the sessions list. Seeds are so fun to grow – you learn the process and are able to grow many varieties and many plants.

Some of your new seedlings you could pass along to your children or grandchildren to grow in their kid’s garden, and some you may want to give away as gifts, but I bet your bottom dollar, many you won’t be able to part with after you learn about the great aspects of growing plants from seed and value that you grew them yourself, not to mention the taste! Fresh is best – we all know homegrown tomatoes are out of this world compared to store bought – you would be nuts not to agree!

Growing plants from seeds takes some time and considerations on where you will grow them, and as started above, proper planning – but it also saves you money because you can grow so many more for the price of one transplant from a garden center. And because most of the legwork, materials, and tools are being prepared right now for my upcoming seed starting sessions, it will save you time and the need to go get materials, seeds, and tools on your own. And the materials are reusable.

And not to mention, by attending, you are gaining valuable space to put out your seed trays with heating mats to warm the soils, and natural sunlight of a greenhouse for their growing environment. If you rather take your trays home to keep them going, that is an option. We hope you will consider joining us and plan ahead.

To learn more, visit www.WORKSHOPSCT.com, and feel free to ask any questions in advance.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
https://www.instagram.com/containercrazyct/
Location: Broad Brook, CT

What are Container Gardens?

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Container gardening is the art of growing plants in pots. When you search the word container gardens or container gardening on the web, you may notice some people define it as growing vegetables in pots, but container gardening is not limited to just vegetables. That is for sure. You may use container gardening for so many situations and types of plants. The options are endless and with the right combination, stunning.

With the appropriate potting soil media, feeding and plant care, container gardens provide instant gratification and focal points. They operate like “functional art” in the right scenarios, bring life and amazing colors to an area, and add movement. For businesses, they are useful as well as welcoming. For homeowners, they create an oasis in your outdoor and indoor surroundings.

I have always preferred growing plants in containers designed to be focal points instead of gardening in the ground. For years, I’ve recommended installing big pots for when you want a big statement. Big pots 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.

However, in today’s world, many people have limited spaces, and small pots or medium sized pots fit the bill. They are easy to care for, add a sense of space and nature to your surroundings, and let’s face it – are fun to assemble in various design formats. From vintage patio pots to hanging baskets, all of these are defined as container gardens in Cathy T’s container gardening world.

Big pots provide good anchorage for your large plants so it won’t topple over in the wind. Also, they hold more inches of water, won’t drain out as fast which helps in reducing watering routines. Big pots helps the plants to grow larger and showier, leading to more bang for the buck. They are great in summer for vegetables like peppers and tomato plants that may grow to 6 feet tall, and big pots are super for large, showy, big leaved tropical plants, such as elephants ears and banana plant. Want to wow your friends and family? A huge pot with showy big plants will stop people in their tracks.

Small pots are wonderful to create a floral like design to enjoy. They are also excellent for displaying a single succulent on your windowsill. Small succulents are great collectibles! Plus they are easy care, drought-tolerant, and resilient. They easily reproduce via cuttings and propagation steps. Let’s face it, smaller pots with adorable plants, such as succulents and cacti, are irresistible.

Sometimes, two or three medium sized pots work well in business or store front scenarios to direct traffic or redirect a walking path. Two large pots gracing a main entrance helps your visitors know where to go if you have two entrances at your business location. Positioned appropriately, containers or pots may assist with parking, blocking sore spots and drawing the eye to key signs. They also say welcome to your customers and visitors – and changed up for the season make your place more alive and in tune with the seasons and holidays.

Homeowners may want to include a big pot in their outdoor setting along with various smaller to medium sized pots, either way, container gardens provide a plethora of design options. Another wonderful benefit of adding container gardens to your home is helping out our pollinators. Bees, birds, and hummingbirds enjoy visiting the plants and it brings life to your world while they visit and bop around your flowers. And small pots on patio tables are rewarding visually. I can not imagine any space outdoors in summer without lots of plants, or a plant or two. Hanging baskets are wonderful as well as they add height and many are adored today with macrame and beads. It is just wonderful!

In the case with homeowners, container gardens serve as your decor, like a pillow or end table would enhance a space indoors. More and more people are expanding their living environment to include outdoor spaces. And even more are creating oasis of plants inside their homes with houseplants to enhance indoor living – especially because so many of us are glued to our iPhones and social media viewing, we need to break away and enjoy a living plant which also helps to clean our air indoors. Plants are living things and if you care for them, they will reward you in so many ways.

Container gardening is also great for those with physical limitations – no bending, weeding, digging. For kitchen container gardening, you have unlimited access to various herbs right from your door step. Incorporating vegetable plants in your home designs not only provides a healthy snack, it adds color and a place for bees, our treasured pollinators, to collect nectar for their survival. Today, we see a lot of desk top herb growing type of container systems, some furnished with lights. The new trends are interesting and just amazing – and useful. More and more people would rather have some plant life in their home and also appreciate nature and want to participate in helping our earth – plants are the key to this. Be a plant care taker, and you are part of the bigger picture – okay, a little deep – but true!

Many plants you may start right on your windowsill, especially in spring with seeds to start plants which will be later placed outdoors as soon as the spring frost passed in well, yes, containers! Grow bags used for vegetables outdoors are another example of container gardening. And in winter, seeds for micro-greens may be grown in small containers suited to your kitchen.

And let’s not forget “raised beds” which sometimes only require an 8″ depth to be successful as a mini garden where you don’t need to weed as often as you would in the ground, and you control the soil you put in it, etc. Raised beds at a higher level are great for people in wheelchairs, or people who have back issues. All of these examples are container gardening. If I could, my entire yard would be filled with raised beds. Easy to reach in and out of and easy to keep critters away if you enclose it with fencing. They are not only functional but pretty visually.

Some may argue container gardening is not sustainable, and I absolutely disagree – because when you use containers in the correct way, which sometimes involves reusing plants which are overwintered (tropical plants), you are not wasting plants. Also, containers reduce the use of heavy fertilizers or herbicides, in my opinion, because I find less insect issues with plants in fresh soil and clean pots, and don’t fertilize often when it is done right.

Container Gardening is a wonderful alternative to in-ground gardening, and doesn’t require high impact conditions which may negatively affect the environment like other options may. Soil in raised beds are enhanced once a year with some fresh compost as needed, where as soil in the ground requires a alteration at times which is difficult to achieve when working against the natural landscape components (clay, sand, etc.). You don’t need a tractor when you do container gardening either. In container gardens, it is relatively simple. I’m not knocking gardening, but to me, containers are just faster, simpler and just as rewarding.

Container gardening, to me at least, includes by definition, any plant that is put into a vessel of any type. Hanging baskets, vintage pots, terrarium bowls, patio pots, grow bags, wood raised bed frames, hypertufa’s, moss, and more. You name it. Yes, you may have to water container gardens more often than gardens in the grounds, but again – this forces you out of the iPhone addiction rut, and into the scents, sounds (bees and hummingbirds). It forces you to look up, down, all around and slow down and breath, smell the air, feel the flower petals, and enjoy outdoors, rather than having your head in a down position staring at a phone. Believe me, I know – I’m addicted to that darn phone too – we have been “conned” somewhat into staring at them – I say, prepare some container gardens this summer to help you break that habit.

Years ago, when I wanted to pick a name for my blog site, all I could think of was “container gardening” – nothing else was coming to mind, so I spontaneously called it “Container Crazy CT.” And, if you know me personally, you know it fits. I have done so many crazy things with plants – some of those on the nutty side, and others which led to amazing pieces of garden art with beautiful plants, if you will. I kind of wished though that I had named it, Container Garden Crazy CT – but that is too long of a name anyways. However, it has worked over the years and I guess I will keep it.

Happy Container Gardening!

Cathy Testa
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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