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

Will We Be Short on Potting Mixes again This Year?

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Cathy Testa of Container (Garden) Crazy CT (Photo in my greenhouse by JMS Art & Photo)

Potting Mix is probably one of the most important aspects of success for growing healthy plants in patio pots. It must be a quality product. If the bag of soilless mix is damaged, not a good brand, or these days, possibly unavailable, you are in trouble.

Every single product or tool we use to grow plants (pots, trays, fertilizer, seeds, soilless mixes and specialty media, labels, etc.) has increased in prices and there are continued delays in the supply chain. This will affect all of us this year again potentially, however, it won’t stop us (because we love plants, or course! But I see it coming and if you haven’t noticed these issues, you will.)

I usually don’t make my own potting mixes for my container gardens, seedlings, or starter plants, but this year, I am highly considering it. In fact, I just read an article here, where they share a downloadable PDF file of how to make your own potting mixes. BTW, I trust sources from universities or extension services the most. By making your own mix, you are in complete control of each component. I’m guessing it may be cheaper but I am not sure until I compare apples to apples, so to speak. However, there is such an ease with opening a reliable trusted brand of professional potting mixes, if they are available and fresh.

Photo in Cathy T’s Greenhouse – Yes, that’s my hand in the mix!

Traditional pre-made potting mixes contain perlite and/or vermiculite, and peat. Good mixes are light-weight, have good water holding capacity, and mixes vary based on the specific growing needs (seeds, transplanting, bedding plants, plugs, potting up, etc.). Some mixes will have things like beneficial mycorrhizal (or biofungicides to prevent root diseases). Some will contain alternatives to peat, such as coir. Some have organic fertilizer added, and some don’t. Some mixes are pH adjusted and contain starter nutrients. This list goes on and on, and it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That is if you can find it and trust it.

Photo from Cathy T’s Greenhouse

After using various bagged potting and soilless container mixes for ten years, I am able to tell when a mix is healthy the minute I opened the bag. I’ve talked about what to look out for when you buy potting mix for your container gardens, patio pots, and planters here on my blog. I still need to update that article I wrote, called “The 5 Must-Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” which I wrote a long time ago and did a brief update to it in 2019. But it still needs lots of work. Potting mixes is a big topic. I just haven’t had the time to really dive into a more extensive version of that article.

Now here we are in 2022. And I’m frustrated with the potting mix scene. I’m not alone. Lots of plant related Facebook groups have questions on potting mixes. People are frustrated because they get issues in or from the mixes (i.e., fungus gnats), and they just want good results, and so do I. They fear using the wrong type or brand, and even I have from time to time. Why? Because lately some results from “some” mixes let me down, and now with supply-chain issues, I wonder how this will impact availability and quality of mixes in 2022.

Pouring Potting Mix into a Bubble Bowl Terrarium – Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Potting mixes are like a good foundation to building a house. And we all know what happened when one ingredient in concrete for home foundations became a huge issue, where houses had to be lifted and new foundation poured because house foundations were cracking and deteriorating. Well, I kind of feel this way about potting mixes. Potting mixes are the foundation to starting seeds, potting up your indoor houseplants, and building up soil mixes in your outdoor container gardens and patio pots, along with other components as needed. If one thing is wrong with them, it may lead to issues (e.g., poor drainage, insects harboring, or no moisture holding capacity). And there are many sources of potting mix brands out in the market, and it is growing, as defined in this link based on recent market analysis. The affects of COVID have impacted production and demand. It makes me wonder, what will roll out of those long awaited semi-loaded trucks, when they do arrive.

Castor Bean Seed Coming Up in Healthy Mix

For years, I had no issues acquiring the potting soilless mixes I needed, but the past couple years, eh, I’ve encountered some issues. And this year, because of all the things still impacting our supply chains overall, well, there are now potential issues with availability. This is my prediction, but we will see. I did receive a comment that orders were all back ordered a few months ago but the bottom line is lately we just can not predict what will happen next. So, my overall thought is, will potting mixes be in short-supply this year? And how will you or I manage that if so? What adjustments will need to be made? And also, remember, being flexible in the growing scene is key. I struggle with this because I want to be in control, but I’ve learned over the years, you must be flexible and strong! LOL. Because growing plants is a science and an art, and a bit of a guessing game sometimes too.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening
containercathy at gmail.com
Zone 6b

Pre-Planted Elephant’s Ears Tubers in Planters – My Take

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It’s always interesting to see new ideas in the plant world, and of course, one caught my eye recently. It is a planter preassembled with elephant’s ear tubers, boxed up for easy handling, and ready for the consumer to just water and wait for growth.

How I’ve Stored Tubers and Grow Them:

I’ve grown elephant’s ears from tubers over the years. I typically store them (the tubers only) over the winter in my unheated basement in bins with some peat to wait out winter until spring time. Because the plants are not hardy here in our winter planting zone (CT Zone 6b), I can not leave them in the ground or in pots outdoors over the winter. I dig them out of my planters (the tubers that is), clean off the soil from the tubers, and store them. Usually I am successful with opening the box in spring time to find them in tact. I’ve blogged about my process many times, search the word “overwintering” for more on that.

When I’ve Started Them:

I typically start them indoors around end of April or early May as spring is approaching. For years, I started them in my house by planting the tubers in pots with potting mix and setting them by my kitchen glass slider door. It was sufficient to get them started. Within a few weeks or so, a growing tip would appear above the soil and start to grow. When all chance of frost passed, out they went into larger planters and containers in my yard or on my deck, etc. These plants reach huge sizes (4 to 6 to 8 feet tall), so larger pots are always my aim to show them off in the right places.

Tried to Start Them Earlier:

However, last year, I wanted to try to start them earlier. I attempted to start some in March in my greenhouse (years ago, I didn’t have a greenhouse). It didn’t really work out as I had planned. My greenhouse is heated only to about 45-50 degrees F in the winter (to over winter other plants). It is a low temp because heat is a huge expense (especially this year), and elephant’s ears (Colocasia) require warmer soil temperatures (65 degrees F or warmer). They didn’t take off any faster than they would in my home, in fact, it was probably a bit slower going. They weren’t popping out of the soil and when I inspected them under the soil, some rot had started as well on part of the tubers (or bulbs if you prefer that wording). I learned a lesson, the soil needs to be warmer. I somehow overlooked a fact I knew due to being anxious to start them.

I considered maybe it was too soon to even attempt growing them earlier. What ended up happening is the potting soil remained too cold (because it was too cold in the greenhouse) and too wet because the tubers weren’t actively growing yet. Cold temps + damp soils leads to rot of the tubers. In fact, storing them is usually at a temp of 40-45 degrees F so the whole situation was it was just too cold still in my greenhouse, despite those rapid warm ups during winter days when the sun is out – the evenings were still a bit chilly.

How they Do This in the UK:

I’ve seen posts by people in the UK (via the wonderful sharing of posts on various tropical pages) usually start their elephant’s ear tubers in what they refer to as a propagator or cupboard. Terms we don’t use here in CT. From what I can tell, many of them put the tubers in plastic bags and place them in a warm spot (a cupboard or propagator) until they see some growth coming from the tuber – and then they put them into soil mix – or the ground perhaps (I’m not sure). Makes sense, they give them a head start but don’t subject them to cold wet soils. I remember asking someone one day via a comment on a post about this, what is a cupboard? If I recall, it is like a warm cabinet you have in your home somewhere to serve as a place to start tubers, or perhaps some seeds. I have some places like these (over the fridge I have a small cabinet that stays warm) or a cabinet in a corner near our heat source, which actually, I did use that cabinet to start sprouts years ago and that was one of my things then – starting and eating sprouts. Maybe this will be a location to kick start the tubers first – I may give this a try this year.)

Anyhow, I think the message here is if you start them too early in the wrong conditions, it could lead to issues, which was the case for me last year. Thus, when I saw those pre-planted tuber pots at the local big box store (just yesterday), I had some initial thoughts. I like the idea but I also know of what could go wrong with them, but I’m not saying it would go wrong (see disclaimers below!). And I also thought about what was right about these pre-planted tuber pots.

Pre-Planted Pots with Tubers

I have always been somewhat addicted to elephant’s ears because of their large showy heart shaped leaves which point down (or up as in the case with many Alocasias). They give a wonderful vibe to a space and I have used them everywhere in planters. I even hired a photographer a few years back to take photos (check her out at jmsartandphoto.com).

One year when I got into skulls, LOL! Note: The Human One is not REAL! LOL!

Elephant’s ears are just so very cool. And grow large and tall. The wave around in the wind, they create shade for plants below them, and they look good from the tops or bottoms and are relatively easy care. I just have to share another photo here of them. I typically plant some around my big red banana plant (Ensete) as well in this massive concrete planter at my home. Over time, it becomes lush and dramatic looking. I find they work in sun or shade, if more sun, more watering is required. They also make excellent thriller type plants in pots. They can even be grown in water – they are versatile plants for a tropical look and you may propagate them too.

Cathy Testa’s Large Cement Planter with a Mix of Elephant’s Ears and Other Tropical Plants

Digging them up for storing them is a fall gardening chore, but re-growing them in spring time is not so much of a chore, but I did take notice of those pre-planted tubers in pots with soil at the big box store yesterday. I didn’t see a price tag on them, and believe they were freshly delivered to display and sell so the price was not on there yet, I was curious about how much they cost.

My Take On the Pre-Planted Pots Seen Just Yesterday – Just my opinion!

Pluses: Talk about convenience. All was so well packaged and boxed up, it would be very easy to plop into your store cart and go. The pot size was good; usually I start my tubers in a one-gallon nursery pots. These black pots were bigger and nice enough to use for the summer as your planter, basic black color. The plant care information on the side of the packaging was decent, indicating they should not be planted outdoors until frost has passed (true), and to “water sparingly” and to keep the mixture “moist, not wet.” But they didn’t say why on the moisture, nor was there any botanical information on the packaging. Since I could not see the inside, not sure if more details are provided. They do not give Latin names for example, but did indicate there are 2 plants (bulbs) inside pre-planted, or that is the impression I got.

The Minuses: What are you getting inside? The top of the pot is closed off with more cardboard, and I wondered, hmmm, how big are the tubers in there? How much soil, is it half full or filled all the way, are the tubers in the soil or do you have to plant them, what does the soil look like but I bet the soil is perfectly fine as they are produced by bulb or plant producers, most likely but I kind of wished I could peek inside. And the price tag wasn’t on them yet, and I’m curious on that part as well. How much does this whole package cost?

The Timing: It depends what you have for getting these started? If you have a warm home with some place to set them down where the soil will be warm enough (see noted above), you could start to water them and see them pop up over time. But it is still February, so you would be maintaining them perhaps as a house plant all the way until the end of May when all chances of frost outdoors are passed. I did consider the “what if” you just moved them as is (don’t unpack the box, don’t water them) and keep them in your basement. Will they be okay? They probably put the tubers in there with dry soil, so nothing will happen until moisture is provided, usually. I guess I pondered that because what if you just wanted to get it but not start them just yet.

Another plus, you don’t have to go buy a whole bag of potting mix soil if you want to grow these from these planters. Everything is all set for you. Another minus, what if they get wet at the store while they sit there waiting for the purchaser? They shouldn’t but if they did, then the soil gets wet and they may start to grow, or if the soil gets wet, it could lead to soil problems, if they are not in the right temperature conditions. And another minus, it is not technically supporting the local small businesses, but we all go to these big box places from time to time, don’t we? In fact, I feel like anytime someone creative comes up with a cool plant idea, these big box places are very quick to copy it – which is good or bad, depending on who you are supporting, a local small business or plant passions overall – I won’t go there, but any how, perhaps a minus is buying this is not supporting a local grower who takes the time to grow it themselves to a proportion and health readily available at the right time. It is just a matter of opinion, give or take. A matter of timing. A matter of preference, but anyhow, innovations and new ideas are cool overall. Maybe this is not a new idea either. It was the first time I saw it though.

Anyhow, I’m sharing it cause I spotted it, and thought I’d give my thoughts! What do you think??

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
A Container Gardener
Location: Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b

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Beautiful Photo – Really Captures the Beauty below the Elephant’s Ear foliage – Cathy Testa’s Planter

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

A Smaller Rose Perfect for Patio Pots and Container Gardens

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When I worked at a garden center years ago, they had Knock Out Roses always in stock for sale. I recall Knock Outs were easy care, disease resistant, and great repeat bloomers, but for some reason, I can not remember exactly what made them special, other than they were really reliable compared to other fancier roses. I’d walk around looking at them at the nursery outdoors, leaning down to read the tags and smell the blooms, and always admired them, but I had never seen a compact variety of Knock Outs Roses until last year.

Photo 1 – Upon Planting Memorial Day Weekend – Knock Out Rose Petite with other plants

That was when I spotted the new member of the Knock Out family – last summer at a local nursery. Because I was familiar with the Knock Out logo and pots (from years ago), it caught my eye right away from a distance, and I thought, “Is that a miniature or smaller rose by Knock Out?” Long story short, I grabbed a few because the smaller new size, called Petite! Knock Out, is well suited for patio pots and container gardens for our summers here in Connecticut. I also knew that my customers would like traditional rose blooms in their outdoor planters. It would be a nice addition to the urban outdoor setting with various planters throughout the area.

Photo 2 – A Month or so Later after Planting It

The Petite Knock Out rose color is a beautiful intense deep red (their website refers to it a “fire-engine red”), and the plant’s tag indicates its mature size would be about 18″ tall, and that really is perfect for patio pots and containers, plus roses are sun lovers. These required about 6-8 hours of full sun and my customer’s site is definitely a sunny location. Another aspect is these are easy to carry to my location and plant, which is a side bonus for me as a container garden installer. And it would bloom all summer into fall (long-bloomer candidate!). What’s not to love?!

Photo 3 – Later in the Summer towards fall season – by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

I usually don’t plant or play with roses too much. Some will say roses are for experts and/or I know roses may develop issues, insects, or diseases but the thought of using a smaller, more compact, or miniature rose from Knock Out didn’t scare me. As I took photos at different times, it is apparent the blooming power of this Petite Knock Out Rose plant did not disappoint. Looking at the sequence of the above photos, you can see Photo 1 – upon planting, it has many buds ready to open, Photo 2, lots more flowers opened a month later, and Photo 3 was taken at the end of the container gardening season, towards the start of fall. The flowers are still abundant right before our fall season. And the blooms retained their deep fire-engine red color. When you have very full sun situations, as in super full sun, sometimes flower colors will fade, but they did not fade on this Knock Out Petite. Take a look at the foliage as well – shiny, healthy, and no issues. No signs of trouble, thus, I and my customers’ were pleased.

Plectranthus – Flowing Over the Planter!

The Knock Out Petite retained its shape overall, did not overgrow the tall blue planter, but the trailing spiller plant next to it got rather large. Sometimes I laugh at myself, when I see how big a plant got over the course of the summer, and I have to always remind myself to restrain my plant enthusiasm and remember that some plants will grow faster and fuller than others. So next time, a more controlled spiller perhaps with this rose plant will be used.

Early in Season – Container Gardens By Cathy Testa

This Petite Knock Out Rose will give a show from the time you plant it till end of the container gardening season in Connecticut, then you may transplant it later if you wish or store the container with the rose shrub in it in your garage or basement over the winter. After my first year of using the new Petite Knock Out rose, I can’t think of any flaws with it – so it is a nice one to add to your full sun locations list. Well, one flaw, make more of these with other bloom colors. Again, it is noted as disease resistant, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get diseases. Overall, I find if you select a healthy plant to start and maintain your container gardens with appropriate watering and care, all should move along well. Container gardening is not like that of a shrub in the ground which may get subjected over the long term to issues, but anyhow, I really was happy to find a smaller rose plant perfect for container gardens and patio pots.

Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Plants in this tall blue planter are: Petite Knock Out Rose, Delosperma ‘Pumpkin Perfection’ (orange flowers; called Ice Plant), Senecio (succulent plant with blue foliage; called Chopsticks), and Plectranthus (white edges to leaves and a spiller habit). As far as planting requirements, full sun, potting mix for pots (I added a small amount of aged compost), and use at least a 12″-14″ diameter pot for this size plant, but in my case, I used a larger and taller pot. Go with about 16″ deep, but deeper will help those roots grow down, and use larger pots if adding more plant candidates with the rose. And oh, placement: I suggest you put the outdoor planter near a window if you are able to do so, it will allow you to see the roses from the inside too.

For more information about Knock Out Roses, click here.

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, Connecticut
Zone 6b
Posted: 1/25/2022
See also:
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com

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!

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

Flowering Tropical Plants for Decks in Connecticut

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Are you new to Connecticut and have no idea what flowering plants you should grow in containers or patio pots on your deck this summer?

I saw this question asked by a CT newbie on a gardening group on Facebook recently, and thought, hmmm, that is a GREAT question.

So to start to answer the question above, I will share some of my suggestions. Let’s start with tropical plants:

Flowering Tropical Plants

If you are new to Connecticut, you may not be aware of the wonderful tropical style plants which showcase beautiful flowers and are perfect to grow in container gardens and patio pots on your deck this summer. The key thing to know about tropical plants is that you should not put them outdoors until after frost in the spring here in CT (known as the last frost date) because tropical plants can not tolerate frost conditions. Thus, the key timing is to put them out around Memorial Day as a guide. Frost usually occurs around mid-May and it changes slightly year to year but mid-May is a good all around watching point, check the weather forecasts, etc. Once we are past frost, many tropical plants do wonderfully during our summers here in Connecticut in pots, planters, and container gardens.

Blooms all summer

Another cool thing about using tropical plants is many tend to bloom all summer into the fall season, usually into September and October, without fading or wearing out as with other annuals type plants. They usually showcase long lasting flowers. And just as with spring timing, you have to take them in before the frost which occurs in the fall in Connecticut. I blog a lot about storing underground tubers, rhizomes, corms, etc. here on this site which you may search for in the fall on this blog by using the search word “overwintering” for more details on when you should take them in and steps to store them over the winter to reuse each season.

Hot Pink Canna Lily Flowers

Canna Lily Plants

Canna lily plants are not hardy in Connecticut, at least they used to not be hardy, but if grown in the ground, they sometimes come back (due to global warming). That’s another story, as the focus of my blog site and this post is about growing them in pots.

In pots, you may plant them using plants you would pick up from a local nursery (or from me if local to my area – see below). Or you may start them by purchasing the rhizomes and planting them in one gallon size nursery pots indoors with potting mix to give them an early start, in March. They will start to grow from the rhizomes inside the house, and then you may transplant them outdoors after our spring frost in Connecticut by the end of May typically.

Love full sun, grow really tall, not a lot of problems

Canna lily plants love full sun but they are also okay in part sun or even part-shade. Many grow really tall and others species or cultivars are dwarf sized. Anywhere from 4 feet to 8 feet or taller. Their flowers attract hummingbirds and the plants are easy care. Flowers are pink, red, yellows, peach, orange, and some have dark burgundy colored leaves.

Speckled with red on yellow flowers

I usually do not encounter insect problems with Canna lily plants, other than the Japanese beetles that come out one time a year in the summer, they may eat some of the leaves and you may see some holes, but the beetles don’t stay out all summer so I usually just cut the damaged leaves off and tolerate them for a month. This occurs in July or August on one or two plants. Sometimes they only bother one of my plants and leave the rest alone, so I don’t find them to be a nuisance.

How to plant them…

As far as planting them, use a good quality potting mix and add some compost. I typically add slow-release fertilizer to all my container gardens and patio pots as well. See my prior blog post, called the 5-Must Do’s for more information. I typically don’t regularly fertilize my Canna lily plantings on a monthly schedule, with liquid plant food as often recommended, unless I have the watering can with me and I’m fertilizing other plants, than maybe. But, in general, they are very easy to grow. They tend to be low-maintenance plants, other than the part about storing them over the winter, that is a bit of maintenance in the autumn season, but worth it if you wish to reuse them each season. And of course, as with all container gardens and patio pots, you must water them in the summer as needed.

Very Tall Canna (dark foliage) in a large square planter on my deck 2020

Can be top heavy…

One thing to note about Canna lily plants is that they do grow tall and their stems are usually thick enough to stand on their own, so staking is not required at all, but I typically grow them in large pots of 22″ in diameter at a minimum and about as deep. They tend to multiply and produce more shoots so a good clump can form over the summer. As a bigger clump of stems form, it can be top heavy in a pot, and if a small pot is used, they may toppled over from the wind at times. The rhizomes from which they grow are usually about 6 inches deep in the soil, so when you are ready to take them out by digging up the tubers in the autumn season, you will find them there in the soil below. And if you are growing a really tall variety, be aware a very windy location could tilt them, but I don’t encounter that here at my house on the deck. I’m talking if you grew them on a high rise or place where it is unprotected with super strong winds.

These toppled over from wind at times last year (pot was really not stable enough for the tall varieties)

Make More Plants!

Another great benefit to using Canna Lily plants is they tend to grow bigger rhizomes each season. You may dig up the rhizomes in the autumn season, and divide them into pieces and store them from late fall and over the winter in a cool basement, dark place, and where it will not freeze (where it will not drop below 32 degrees F). You get more plants over time with this process.

Thriller in Arrangements

As I’ve noted before, a good balance of plants in container gardens is having a thriller (tall center plant), spiller (drapes over the edges of pots and hangs down), and fillers (self-explanatory). Canna lily plants make excellent thrillers. They give height to your container and planters, and bloom all summer into fall, non stop. As flowers fade, just remove them if you wish, keep the plant cleaned up as desired, and enjoy them all summer on your deck. And best of all is seeing hummingbirds zoom up to the flowers while you sit and enjoy their show.

Pair Them Up With..

Practically anything. As you see in the photo above, I have succulents in the base of the planter with those tall Canna lilies and various annuals. They are great with practically any warm season loving plants that enjoy full to part sun. On this post, about my Aqua Blue Planter on my deck from 2020, you will see a list of the plants I used as fillers and spillers below the tall Canna lilies. Many larger leaved foliage type plants do well with Canna lilies as well, such as Elephant’s Ear (Colocasia), which are also tropical plants. They do flower but usually only one or two blooms. However, for a tropical look, I just love using the big ears of Colocasias with my Canna Lily plants and other topical plants with fantastic foliage. Because many succulents enjoy summer hot weather, they pair well as fillers too.

I will continue blog about other tropical plants great on decks in the summer in Connecticut.

Stay tuned or follow this blog to receive an email when each new post is published here.

Thanks for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer and Installer
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b

Tomato Seed Sowing and Planning

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Tomato Plants 2021
Tomato Pots Deck 2021

These photos motivate me to sow and grow again in 2022. I know we experienced some rough wet summer weather (as noted in my prior post) last year, but photos are what prompt me to grow again. Let’s hope we have a good growing season this year!

Goldie Tomato – an Heirloom

Nothing pleases me more than when a person who purchased a starter plant from me sends or texts me a photo as they start their harvest, such as in this photo above, sent by Shannon. Doesn’t that plate of fresh Goldie tomatoes make your mouth water?! I am planning to grow these golden delicious heirlooms again in 2022.

I also add a new tomato or two to my sowing and growing list for each season and will be providing that list to my regulars or post it on www.WorkshopsCT.com soon.

Paul Robeson Tomato – 2021

This photo of a tomato, with a bit of a purple hue, sliced up on a white plate was taken by me last summer. It is the Paul Robeson tomato with orange, green, and purple hues. It produces large sized fruit and the fruit resists cracking. I plan to sow some of these seeds as well this year. Another keeper on my list. And I pray for better weather so I can eat more of these this summer!

Basil 2021

An an absolute must to repeat sowing again are the basils. OMG, how can one have a fresh home-grown tomato sliced up on a plate without fresh basil leaves? I can smell it now – almost!

So in January, as I write this, on 1/13/2022, I have decided on which I will sow again and have ordered my new varieties for sowing. Check! Seed ordering done!

Cathy Testa
Zone 6b Connecticut
Container Crazy CT
WorkshopsCT
Container Gardens CT