Ants on My Agave

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Yesterday, when I was in my happy place sowing seeds in a nice warm sunny greenhouse, I saw some little tiny ants on my Agave plant.

They were traveling from a leaf, up along a spine on the tip of a leaf, onward to a column on my shelving for my seedlings, and traveling up under the seedling heating mat.

I thought, “Oh gosh. Here we go. I have to stop my happy sowing to address this issue.”

For the most part, ants don’t really harm much; meaning they don’t eat plants, thankfully. I suspect they were in search of moisture in the soil.

Sometimes ants will be on plants due to aphids. They like the aphid’s secreted honeydew, but that was not the case here. No aphids in sight, thankfully, and I have never seen aphids on agave plants anyways.

I treasure this agave in particular, because I’ve owned it for years and just re-potted it last summer, thus, I had to deal with it right away. It could not be avoided.

Last Summer’s Repotting

You see, last summer, I had finally moved it out of an urn it grew in for at least 8 years, separated the side baby plants (off-sets), and then re-potted it into a big blue plastic pot.

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In the Urn before Re-potting Last Summer

My husband, Steve, assisted me at breaking the urn (a sacrifice I had to make). I thought banging the urn with a hammer would do the trick but he had to get a chisel and hammer to do break the urn pot.

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After we managed to get it out, separate the side babies, and all of that – I managed to get it into a new blue plastic pot without stabbing myself anywhere (including my arm pits).

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It sat outside all summer and was moved into the greenhouse before fall time.

This has always been my typical routine, actually for many years, I just moved it into my bedroom because the slider doors are right there – and this plant is big and heavy!

But last year, I thought, time for you to join the others for winter in the greenhouse.

Ant time!

Now fast forward to yesterday, early April.

To see the ants trailing on it was disappointing because of all the work we did last summer.

But, I thought, I want to see if these ants have an ant farm in the soil. They did not, by the way, from what I could see when I took it apart.

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Photo in the greenhouse last fall

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Moving it outside when discovering the ants

Because it was a decent day, finally now in spring, I moved it out. Lugging it was not easy.

At first I thought, let me flush it with water. I’ve read also the pot may be inserted into a bucket of water with soapy solution to kill the ants, but you can imagine with the size of this beast, I did not do that.

I figured that flushing it with water from the garden hose may help, but I still saw ants a bit later rushing around confused, as I let it sit it out for a couple hours.

I thought, gosh, I will have to take this darn thing out and re-pot it if I want to avoid having these ants in the greenhouse. I forced myself to do this process.

I also had to clean my seedling heating mat, move all my seedlings aside for the moment, inspect the shelves, and clean that as well, then move the seedlings back.

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Upside down root ball of the Agave

Now here is the good news. I discovered the agave grew roots all the way to the base of that blue pot from the time I had re-potted it last summer (end of summer) to now.

Wow, the roots are healthy and really down to the bottom, as shown in the photo above of the upside down root ball.

The bad news was I had to break some of those roots to get the darn agave out. What a bummer after all that re-potting work accomplished before.

More bad news – and this is really bad, because of how many times I have said to be sure you make sufficient drainage holes in your pots. I discovered my blue pot did not have sufficient drain holes.

In fact, this rule is one of my 5 Must-Do’s of Container Gardening, but what did I see? That I did last summer?

I had only drilled 2 big drain holes in the center and some around the perimeter but those are way too small of a hole size, thus, the water collected at the base of this pot, and there was a lot of moisture held down there in the pot. I think this is why the ants found it.

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I think because I was tired from a busy season on that day of doing the summer work on the plant and pots, I probably got lazy and didn’t drill enough holes. I remember I had to get that plant re-potted and forced myself to get the job done before summer was over.

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New temporary pot for now

Here it is in a new pot – a galvanized bucket with sufficient drain holes in the base, that I had on hand.

The white powdery stuff you see on there is diatomaceous earth. I dusted the top of the soil with it and some fell on the bottom of the leaves.

I am not going to water this plant for a while so there is no issue right now with the dust getting wet. It should kill any remaining ants still trying to locate their trail of buddies.

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Before putting it in the pot – I hosed the plant off really well and allowed it to air dry

It is the first time I’ve used this dust product this way, and I heard through a friend this worked for her when she had issues with ants in her pots.

As far as I know, the dust will not harm the plant. It is not poisonous but caution must be used when handling.

I wore my bandanna scarf over my mouth and had my sunglasses covering my eye glasses, and wore gloves both for the dust and to avoid the spines pricking my hands.

I’ve also read this product is helpful for fungus gnats; which is why I had it on hand. I was in the midst of researching it and grabbed a bag of the dust power of it a few weeks ago, the type made for horticulture use, so I was lucky I had it on hand in my garage.

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Last year – before re-potting – Love this!

By the way, last year, when walking by my agave, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

A tree frog! It had been hanging out on it. A good memory, for sure.

I posted lots of photos of my agave on SmugMug recently.

Agave – Other Facts:

I believe this one is Kissho Kan. Actually, I’m 99% it is – I had bought a tray of them one year, many years ago, to sell at a plant and art show. I kept one for myself, of course.

Division is best from spring to summer, which I did, of the offsets, as shown on the urn photos above. The underground stems or stolons are where the off-sets are produced.

Agaves tolerate a minimum temp of 41-50 degrees F, which is why they do just fine in my low-temp greenhouse over the winter.

Most agave species die after flowering. They are monocarpic. If I ever see it push out a flower stalk, I’ll be posting many photos of that. And probably hold a ceremony. LOL.

The common name of agave is century plant. They are slow-growing plants hardy in zones 9-11 but for our zone 6, they must be overwintered inside the home or greehouse before fall arrives.

They prefer full sun and well-drained soils. I added some perlite to the new soil mix after the ant incident to increase the porosity of the soil.

They really don’t need much fertilizer, which I did not provide much to this plant over the course of 8 years, and look at it – it is a monster. But I do follow the other 5 Must Do’s, except as noted, goofed on the last re-potting of the drain holes.

The soil in the pot should be allowed to dry out between waterings. And in the winter, keep it dry, which I did but I happened to be hose happy due to spring arriving and started to give it water recently – thus the soil was moist for the ants.

They do well as houseplants, which I can attest to, since it was in my bedroom over most winters over the years, which the slider door faces south so it received enough light.

Over all, they are easy care plants, minus when you have to re-pot them or they get ants – which I hope doesn’t happen to your’s or happen again here.

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

P.S. If you are in search of seeds during this COVID-19 time, I have seeds in stock for sale. Details are on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. They are mailed upon ordering. Mostly tomato, hot peppers, parsley, basil, lettuce, and some misc other types.

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Seed Packets Wrapped to Mail

 

 

 

This is a tough one

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This is a tough one.

It is the perfect time to start working on your gardens while you are sheltering at home, but should you go to your local garden center or supply store during this COVID-19 pandemic?

I saw a Facebook post the other day of a person upset someone was going to the store to get mulch. They shouted out on their post about how this is not the time to go to the store, risking contact with others, for mulch.

I thought, I see their point.

But darn it, it IS the time to be outside, to do something meditative, and get fresh air safely at home in your own yard with no one but you and the birds.

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Bird Houses are Garden Art too

People are stuck at home, and I am absolutely sure, people who love plants and gardening want to work on what they may while they have the spare time right now.

Conundrum

We have a conundrum on our hands here. Is it okay to go to the garden center or a supply store for plants or gardening items?

I am not going to answer that question.

I suppose if you are doing your six foot distancing, they have curb side pick-up for individual needed items, and you are not touching bags of soil – maybe.

But, I don’t know.

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Hopefully you have some soil on hand!

It kind of sucks for a gardener to not to take advantage of this free time.

After all, as noted above, gardening is very meditative and relaxes the mind. Something we all need right now.

And it is actually a good time to do some clean-up work outdoors in early spring, especially on sunny days.

Gardening and being outside may also help the kids at home now with breaks from at-home schooling.

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Micro-greens on a window sill

Things you could do possibly, if you don’t have the need for actual items like mulch or plants, are:

Prune your shrubs – those which should be done in early spring before new growth starts.

Remove dead leaves from your landscape or garden beds you didn’t get to in the fall.

Clean your patio pots and containers with water and bleach per the appropriate mixing directions.

Sow your seeds indoors. If no seedling trays on hand, use alternatives – egg cartons, yogurt cups, or toilet paper rolls. (If you don’t have seedling mix, that is a dilemma however.)

Sharpen your garden tools, clean up your garden shelves, and take inventory of your gardening items on hand and make a list of what is missing so when it is safe to go out, you will be ready.

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Clean Your Tools

Plan out a new garden bed you’ve always dreamed of.

Watch the patterns of sun and shade in your yard for a day – see where sun lovers are best suited and look for good places for shade plants, etc.

Dust off and read some of those garden books you have but never had the time to fully read before. You need to clean anyhow.

Get your garden decor items out of storage and place them in your favorite spots.

Grow some micro-greens inside the home (did you go to my sessions on those a couple seasons ago?)

Watch some garden related video’s for inspiration. (I have some on seed sowing on my sites right now). Visit my Container Crazy CT page on Facebook if interested.

Gather some stalks of spring flowering shrubs to force into bloom inside the home (e.g., forsythia).

Order some new container gardens and patio pots online. They may arrive a little later than normal but heck, they may be right on time for May plantings.

Get your tubers and bulbs out of winter storage. Pot them up early to get them started inside the home.

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Stalk of a Red Banana Plant starting to push out growth

Clean your hummingbird feeders and hang them up – empty, if need be. But they will be ready for when the hummingbirds are and you are ready to make your own sugar water.

Get your patio furniture set up. Okay, maybe risking a last season weird snow fall or spring frost incident, but it will melt fast.

Put your big pots out and dream of planting them. I am! Envision the future.

Collect your tomato cages, trellises, and bamboo poles. Put them where you will be using them when the garden green light is set to go.

Put out your peony hoops around the peony plants starting to pop up now from the ground.

Build a scarecrow with your kids to put in the garden with materials you have on hand. You’ve been cleaning your closets out anyhow, right?

Have your kids search for a hollow log in your landscape if you are near woods to create a planter of sorts. It doesn’t have to be live plants – add some dirt and make twig people. Or find some ferns in the wild to plant in the stump.

Paint some rocks. Another great kid activity. They could pick specific locations in your yard to put them out or place them in gardens. Make them herb markers. Don’t have paint, maybe use nail polish?

Enforcing policies if you have to go:

If we get creative, we can avoid the visits to supply stores or open garden centers, but if we truly do need supplies, then at a minimum, store owners need to enforce policies (see the article below).

And please people, don’t rush to judgement.

Some people may need a propane refill or pet food – which are also at some garden like stores.

Article stated above:

An article by AgCenter Research Extension Teacher outlines some tips in an article titled, “Public Health Emergency Response for Retail Store Managers.”

https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/aiverson/articles/page1584563222650

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

P.S. If you are local to me and need seed packets, I still have some in stock for tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, some flowers, herbs, etc for sale. I could mail them to you. The details are on WORKSHOPSCT.com. I will have seedlings for sale in mid-May too.

 

 

Finding the Bright Spots

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I was getting a little depressed the past couple days, I think because I started to worry about my husband still going to work. His company is considered essential, but to be honest, I want him to stay put at home and work remotely. Who wouldn’t want that?

Obviously, my worrisome feelings are because of those lurking fears of COVID-19 risks, but the other part is he is my only family member outside of me in our home! I am used to being at home alone, working here, and staying busy, but the pandemic made me feel a bit too alone. I’m sure many may relate to this feeling.

However, I had quite a few bright spots in the past week or so while I dealt with the emotional ups and downs of this challenge we are all facing. I’m up when I am in my greenhouse, for example, sowing seeds, but I get down real quick when I see the news and start to worry about loved-ones. And although I’m somewhat safe here at home, there are so many who are not safe, who have to face the danger every single day. I can’t imagine what their ups and downs feel like today.

I guess, from what I’ve read, it is important to focus on the bright spots right now when we can. Here are some of mine:

Bright Spot #1 – A thank you letter in the mail

I don’t always pick up our mail myself. My husband does it every day when he arrives at the end of our long driveway from work. He hops out of his car to get the mail and our newspapers, but yesterday, I walked to the mailbox to put an envelope in there to return a prepayment check for a workshop I was hired to do for a prep school in May. Of course, the May session has been cancelled. No worries, that is okay. On the way back from the mailbox, however, as I sifted thru my mail pile, I saw a card in the stack. It was from Garden Media Group. It stopped me in my tracks.

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The Thank You Card

I attended a presentation by the owner and founder of Garden Media Group, Suzi McCoy, many years ago at UCONN. I was just starting my own small plant related business at that time, and her speech made an impact on me. I could write a whole page on why, let’s just say, she knows marketing, especially plant related marketing. Everything she stated during that presentation spoke to me. It had a lot to do about the “new” Facebook world and how to market there, and what not to do on social media as well. Also, she included a whole presentation on TRENDS in the gardening world for that particular year. If you do a google search on Garden Media Group, you may see this about her company:

Today Garden Media is one of the top 10 public relations firms in the Philadelphia region and the top marketing communications and PR firm in the lawn and garden industry. We know this industry inside and out, and people know us, from the top media to garden center owners to horticultural breeders.

I’ve read every single one of Garden Media’s annual gardening trends reports since attending that talk years ago. I find marketing in general fascinating but even more exciting when it is related to plants of course. Sometimes, to be honest, I felt I was a trend-setter because some of the things I offered related to plants would be in that report. Other times, the trends report tuned me in to what is on the rise. It was always on the mark, I’ll say that – in my opinion.

Recently, it was announced Suzi McCoy was retiring and her daughter is taking over the company. Right at that moment, I decided to type Suzi McCoy a letter and tell her how her presentation that day spoke to me and how I followed her advice in her company’s newsletters and trend reports ever since. Me, being a very small solo business, with very little mentors of my own, she was a mentor from afar but she didn’t know it. I let her know this. This letter was sent to her at least a month or more ago.

When I was reading her handwritten thank you card in my driveway at the base of the hill yesterday, half way back up to my house, the sun was shining on me and I thought, wow, one of my garden heroes wrote me back. I stopped in my driveway to read it completely. It was one of those letters you can’t wait to open till you get inside the house. She said she saved my letter to her. She also said that she was flabbergasted, as one never knows how or when they can make a difference in someone’s life. To get her thank you in return for my letter to her, which I didn’t anticipate or expect at all, right now during COVID-19, made it extra special to me. Her letter and the timing was a bright spot.

Bright Spot #2 – My nephew face-timed me

My young nephew is stuck at home now due to school closings, so I’m sure he was searching to play with his new messaging app, which is monitored by his parents, but I was pleased he face-timed me this past weekend. It was a bright spot for sure as it was a surprise as well. While talking to him, I walked myself and my phone to the greenhouse to show him all the seed trays I’ve sown, and he replied with, “Wow!” Then he told me I was breaking up due to a low connection, and I told him, “Oh yes, that happens when I’m in my greenhouse.” Anyhow, after that, I showed him a view of his Uncle Steve chainsawing wood. This got him all excited. That was a bright spot.

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Bagged Seed Sowing Kits 

Bright Spot #3 – Seed Sowing Kits

First of all, I sold seed starting kits to about 15 people when the presentation I was going to do at a market was cancelled (due to COVID-19). I want to say thank you to those who purchased the kits from me. I finally packed up the remaining kits I had pre-assembled for the market because I realize we should not be risking social contact anymore. But a bright spot was hearing how happy people were who got the kits and sowed their seeds at home. They got a bit of “excitement” knowing that they had something to look forward to – seeds germinating and sprouting above the soil!

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Sealed Seed Packets for Mailing

You see, it makes ME happy when others are happy about plants. I even had a friend of a friend ask me to mail him a few seed packets, and I did. Along with sending him my instructional PDFs to show all on how to sow the seeds. As you can see, I’m a wordy girl, so they get lots of PDF details along with their seeds and/or kits. And I gave a seed sowing kit to a friend’s mother who is dealing with throat cancer. She sent me a message to say thank you. That was a bright spot.

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The Tiny Bright Spot making a Big Impact

Bright Spot #4 – Seeds Actually Sprouting

I’ve been doing some Facebook Lives from my private workshops page for my regulars on how to sow seeds, what to do, how to watch over your seedlings, how to transplant them and what have you when it comes to sowing tomato and pepper seeds. And this did and does make me happy – very happy in fact, especially last week on the sunny days. It gave me a focus and people are at home anyways, so how perfect is it to share what I can with them?

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Bumble Bee is on the left, Fox Cherry on the Right

But as noted above, I started to get the blues real fast this week. I felt the blahs. Then I walked into my greenhouse yesterday, and saw my Bumble Bee Mix Cherry Tomato seeds are starting to sprout. And when I say sprout, I mean the tiniest tinniest baby sprout. This thing, this tiny thing, made me smile. Why? It is just a seed, after all. Because it shows renewal, growth, future, success, and I don’t know – I’m a plant freak, is why! Nature has always amazed me. Even from childhood. I often looked at nature and pondered it. Nature and plants are my savior right now. I’m not just saying that. Plants are my bright spot. And eating those yummy cherry tomatoes this summer will be even more appreciated than normal.

Bright Spot #5 – Hubby working from home today

He is working remotely today. He handed me a cup of coffee as I was typing this. He made his typical jokes the way he always does. He is an eternal optimist. But his work is considered essential and not on the stay at home list, so I know he will have to go back in to do some rotating duties at the office. But for now, I will soak up this bright spot and feel a bit of relief. Hopefully the next bright spot on my list will be scoring TP today, because I have to go out and get some. Wish me luck!

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

P.S. I received another bright spot this morning. A text from a client, showing me the new containers I will be planting this spring for her! 🙂

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Me, Cathy T, last spring. Looking forward to more bright spots to come!

 

 

How will COVID-19 Affect Plant Events?

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How will the virus affect plants, plant products, and plant world remains to be seen. I do have to say, however, this week in Connecticut, there seems to be a ramp up of concerns. I just listened to a voicemail received on my cell by Congressman Larson telling us that there will be a update issued to cell phones at 7:00 pm today about Covid-19. There seems to be a panic in the air. We all have our concerns, fears, and sometimes, we are trying to not go there – meaning trying not to panic and remain calm. Wash hands, don’t touch your face, and stay healthy, in general.

That is what I’ve been trying to do. I try not to watch the news too much, but I have to admit, I want to know the updates. I try not to touch my face, wash the hands, and trying to stay healthy. Thank God I have my plant sanctuary to unwind and stay calm, which is my greenhouse filled with plants and seedlings starting right now. My Happy Place.

We are seeing many events being cancelled, and oh boy, I understand totally, but I also have a little fear of how many will they cancel? As for me, we are proceeding tonight with a Purse and Plant Party, an idea that sparked into my mind one day when chatting with Buxton Sales Rep friend, Maryse Kettle. We decided to collab (collaborate) and we are fully prepared for today’s event which is being held at a restaurant in East Windsor, CT from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm today. The restaurant is called Elizabeth’s Bar and Restaurant at 4 Prospect Hill Road (not drive as someone just pointed out to me).

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Note it is Prospect Hill Road (not drive).

This shopping event is being held in their banquet room and any one wishing to shop today may stop by anytime between 3 pm and 7 pm. I guess we will be listening to Congressman Larson’s phone update there when we close our event. Will this be the last event of my spring season?! I surely hope not. I think we all have to weigh out our situations. But this show must go on. We have lots of plants and purses – we are ready!

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A mix of Healthy House Plants will be available

This event is good timing, however, to get healthy and happy plants, as well as, to enjoy shopping a huge mix of purses, wallets, accessories. As for plants, well – they DO enhance our well being. Plants are able to make us feel more calm – something we need right now with Covid-19 being in our minds. Plants also help you to relax and be mindful. If you create a space as your indoor green oasis, you can meditate there with plants. Did you know that people with plants in their work spaces actually take fewer sick days?! They tend to feel happier and there have been studies by NASA about how plants “clean” indoor air. This is something good to know for buildings, homes, and schools.

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Satin Pothos – Trailing plant, gorgeous in macrame hangers, moderate to bright light. Fast growing, and one of my favorite easy house plants – will be available tonight.

Houseplants in particular are trending now too. I think people really understand the value of plants in general for increasing our well-being whether at home or at work by having nature around us. And also increasing our spaces to enjoy inside the home.

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Zebra Plant – Bold white veins and patterns on the leaves. Very pretty plant. Bright to moderate light. This one likes warmer temps so keep away from drafts of cold windows but what a beauty. I just LOVE this one. Keep soil constantly moist but not overly wet.

Tonight, I am offering 11 varieties of houseplants for sale and they are very healthy right now. I personally think now is the time to get some of these beauties – especially if the impacts of Covid-19 impact the traveling of plants to our regions for our nurseries or plant people, like me! I will also have various succulents in containers, in individual decorative pots, and my Mother’s Day Gift Cards.

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Low modern small dish garden with baby succulents I grew myself. Only 2 of these tonight will be available! It has a nice wooden tray to sit on.

My collab friend, Maryse Kettle, is stocked up with many purses and accessories. She knows her stuff when he comes to fashion and accessories! Her product line, Buxton, is made of fine quality. She is offering one of a kind designer samples and leather hand-bags at 1/2 price. She’s kind of got me hooked on purses now – I love the different varieties she has in very festive bright colors, especially for spring. I guess her sample sale is somewhat similar to my plants – as I have samples of many types of houseplants ready for the garden and plant lovers.

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White TerraCotta Pots, 3″ size, with succulents – Only have 18 available – they are doing really well in these porous pots. Perfect gift or for your shelf at home!

Again, show up anytime between 3 pm – 7 pm at Elizabeth’s. The restaurant is in a plaza off to the side of Rt 5 (Prospect Hill Road). You will see a big banner outside displayed to help you locate us. It is an easy on/off highway 91 too in Connecticut for East Windsor.

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Lots of colors – not just the hot pinks or reds. Black purses and many other styles and colors.

I hope you will join us. And oh yes, by the way, we are offering a FREE raffle. Cash and checks please. We do have a link for any items over $40 available for PayPal, but in general, we would like to use cash and checks for payments at today’s event.

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

2020 UPCOMING EVENTS

 

First Talk Coming Up, and First Workshop Posted

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Good Morning Everyone,

Just letting everyone know I posted the first Container Crazy CT Workshop today to be held in May 2020. See www.WORKSHOPSCT.com for all the details, which includes a Mother’s Day special. The topic is again, Succulent Hanging Baskets, with new twists!

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Also, I will be speaking in a week and a half at the Burlington Garden Club on Seed Starting (focusing on tomato and pepper plants – warm season crops). The session will be held on Thursday evening, 2/13/2020, at the club’s location. See their site for more details. Seeds will be available for purchase following my demonstration. March is the time to start “some varieties” and I’m excited to share the types I will be offering this season. It is a good time to consider all aspects of seed starting.

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And we all know that Valentine’s Day is around the corner – only two weeks away. I make custom items for Valentine’s Day with plants and here’s an example. Local meet-up’s and I will be showcasing some at a store soon as well. If interested in any, contact me for a meeting up or drop by for pick up (Location: Broad Brook, CT).

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend!

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

 

Top Nine

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When watching talk shows the other day, I realized so much was being shown regarding the “Top Nine” app used to generate the top nine photos in a grid format from Instagram feeds and it perked my curiosity.

I caved and did it – and here it is:

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Apparently, this is not an “Instagram” thing but a separate app but using Instagram – and it became popular and a bit of a trend. We may all assume the reason why? Because your curiosity kills the cat – you have to know – Gee, what is my top nine (most liked or most engaged photos of the year) per some app? Well, mine are above.

To be honest, it surprised me which were selected. How do they determine which photos are selected? I guess it is based on likes, shares, and engagement? Not sure, and I don’t have the right mind after the holiday hoop-la to research that aspect right now, but I did find it interesting and a bit of fun to use the app to find out.

My Photo Grid Explanation:

From left to right (starting from the top row), I thought it would be entertaining to say what I think of each of these photos which were generated by the Top Nine app.

The Jade Plant (Crassulas) – Ah, this is one plant I became involved with in 2019. Meaning, I propagated it (made cuttings and grew new plants) from it quite a bit. It is rather easy actually. I also used this plant in some of my install jobs in various containers. And offered them in my succulents workshops. But what would make it a top photo is the fact that I feel I can grow them myself and they are healthy and happy! Maybe people enjoyed the photo due to the Indigo Blue Background which is a popular color right now I heard.

The Beach Shot – That was a vacation my husband and I took last year in Naples, Florida. I wanted to make sure we’d go see the sunset which I had read about being wonderful on this beach, and we joined many other people that day doing the same. I guess that is a good photo, right? And it WAS a great afternoon waiting for the sun to set.

The Yellow Peppers – Grown from seed, hot and tasty. I love these yellow long banana shaped peppers, which I wrote about in my seedlings topics on this blog and for the workshop which I offered on seed starting last year too. So, yes, I agree on this photo. The peppers were easy to grow, abundant, and we ground them up after drying them in the oven to make hot pepper flakes of the yellow variety. They did not go wasted. My husband loves hot peppers and he shook those flakes on his various meals many times. We went thru two jars of the hot pepper flakes. Great for chili recipes too.

The Blue Pots – Ah, yes. I was on the hunt for a client, trying to find pots. I kind of knew these weren’t the right ones. I had put them on the floor and took a photo. You will see my hiking boots there as I looked down in the photo. But for some reason, this photo was popular with people on Instagram. However, it was not quite the right fit and I later found a better style and color for my clients’ needs. But that was a journey on a day of hunting for just the right patio pots. Pinch me – I love that type of work.

The Flyer in the Window – My workshop flyer was posted in a local package store’s window. I always appreciate when they share my flyers about my workshops. I guess that day, it was noticed quite a bit and thus, another top nine. I would say these clients are tops too. They have hired me for years to install their store-front pots. I do think the flyers look great in their store’s windows. Thank you!

The Cacti Cans – I pounded small drain holes in the bottom of soup cans with a hammer and nail last year and inserted a cactus in each. No drill required which I loved. And I even hand-stamped the sides of some of the cans with words and added chains to some to hang the cans. They are adorable. However, in the rain, one thing I forgot about is the cans start to rust. I did’t like the rusty look. That day a flower was blooming on one, as you can see, and it was adorable, so I snapped a photo.

The Burro Tail Sedum – I obtained a stock of these from a grower to provide in my succulent related workshops last year. Everyone loves these plants, which drip down into long tails as they grow over time. They work well in hanging baskets – which was a topic I offered last year too. These plants are great fillers in arrangements and easy to grow, drought tolerant and long living.  I still have some growing in my hanging baskets in the greenhouse now. I can see why a popular photo – and those who got them in my workshops surely loved them. Thanks to my amazing grower, I obtained a nice stock of them last year.

A Photo of Me – From many years ago. What I like about this photo is that my red head planter, the little red table with red chairs, and the red blooms of the Canna Lily plants in the background were all happening. I spray painted that little round table and the chairs red. It was a freebie find on the side of the road one day. My sister was annoyed cause it was on her street when I found it as I was leaving her house. She joked that was supposed to be her free find. 

The Cherry Tomato Leaf – This is all about my obsession with plants. I love taking close up shots of plants and their structures. It was also probably popular cause we all dream of eating fresh tomatoes. The photo was taken in March or early April, and the handwriting on the label is not mine – it is of an attendee’s who came to my workshop on seed starting last year. That will be my first project, setting up the Seed Starting Workshop for 2020. I can’t resist doing it – it was very rewarding. Seats will be limited because the plants are kept in my greenhouse until they are ready to be planted outdoors. Unless, of course, I got a bigger greenhouse.

By the way, this is what CNN has to say about the Top Nine app and trend. You may want to read their article before you try it!

Have a good start to your first week in 2020.

Best regards,

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

Other Cathy T sites:

www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

 

 

 

 

8 Days Till Christmas

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Is it 8 days till Christmas? Or…8 days till Christmas Eve?

Guess that depends on how you count the days!

For me, I was on a 15 day of a cold – coughing and feeling quite run down. I remember one day, when having a moment to pause, I felt suddenly exhausted. But, I got through it all: The KB Celebration this month, the KB Workshops, and the Holiday Custom Orders, the client installs, but we still have 8 days, and I’m sure many of you are running around finalizing your holiday plans from gift shopping to food shopping.

Gift Certificates or Hostess Gifts

I still have those 8 days for any last minute requests – Need a Gift Certificate to next year’s workshops? I have them in stock. Just reach out. Need a small plant related holiday gift – ask. I have some cute items I make by order, and I don’t even post any photos of them – they are too unique. Great as hostess gifts or for table decor.

What is KB? You may ask…

KB, as most of you know, is my short-cut name for Kissing Balls. I held all workshops of where everyone makes their KBs, along with wreaths and candle centerpieces, except one session, because I just was too sick AND lost my voice. I didn’t want to spread my germs to the private group either – and I will make it up to them next year somehow. Thankfully, they were very understanding. But the workshops held were super fun and festive. I posted lots of photos on my Facebook and Instagram Pages. Everyone’s creations were well-done.

KB Celebration 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0004

Attendee to our KB Celebration 

2020 Planning

Next year – OMG, I took out my first 2020 calendar and started to jot dates down based on last year’s happenings. The season will most likely start with my “Seed Starting Sessions” and Seed Starting Presentations. That can start up as early as February for me. I will start preparing the game plans, outlines, seed calendars, and handouts in February, probably around the same time of doing taxes (ack!) but then the classes (or sessions) on seed starting will most likely be around March 14, March 21st, and even March 28th – but these dates are all tentative. Will keep you updated in early 2020.

tomatoe 2018_0002

I need to review other activity first – but I think those dates above are my targets. In April, there is a part two to my Seed Starting Sessions – called, Seed Monitoring. I think I will follow the same format at last year. I really enjoyed the whole Seed Starting (for tomatoes and peppers primarily) offerings. It was one of my most rewarding workshops. Why? Because it was continuous. I got to see how everyone’s starter plants did over the summer, see their harvest, and it was really a good feeling to see how happy everyone was. Who doesn’t love their own homegrown fresh tomato, right?

May’s Topic

Then, in May, should I do the Succulent Hanging Baskets again? Should I offer a new topic? I may poll my attendees or maybe I will come up with something new. I’ve been focused on succulents the past few years. Maybe it is time to return to perennials, tropical plants, or even houseplants? TBD on all of that. But, if I did offer a workshop on container gardening or patio pots, it would most likely fall around May 9th and May 16th in 2020. I do have some new ideas brewing. Stay tuned.

Good Photo Kim with Hanger

Summer Months

The summer months are usually quiet in regards to workshops, but my container installs keep me busy during the height of the watering and flowering season, no worries there, but I usually don’t offer any big workshops mid-summer. People are usually on vacation! Even so, the time moves so quickly every summer. In fact, I keep so busy watering my own container gardens at home that I promise myself EVERY year to not plant as many containers and patio pots at my own home, but what do I do? I always plant tons cause the plant passion grabs me. But grabbing that hose was hard on my arms last year. I got tennis elbow in not one, but both arms. I think it was from the hose dragging all summer long. Of course, I usually have various types of plants for sale during this time as well.

Autumn

Fall arrives very quickly after summer, and we move in the Succulent Topped Pumpkins workshops, which I always feel is a keeper. Will I offer it again? I think so. If yes, I’m looking at the dates of Oct 3rd and Oct 10th. All TBD at the moment. Just scanning the 2020 calendar today for the first time. But if you want to pencil them in….

Custom Pumpkins by C Testa Copywrite_0006

Holiday Workshops

OK, so the big question is – will the Holiday Workshops continue in 2020? I think so on those too. I am toying with the idea of more dates and smaller groups – but I don’t know – it is so popular and I feel like everyone relies on me now to kick off the holiday season with this fabulous and festive workshop. I will have to just wait till I get closer to decide. My tentative dates noted are December 5th and December 12th for now.

End of Year

As I reflect on 2019, I am so thankful for the workshops attendees of 2019 and of past years, and thankful for new clients who found me this year. For the garden talks and presentations at garden clubs and local farmers markets too – great groups this year. I’m also thankful for the inspiration, creativity, and fun we had through it all. It was a very busy year, and I think I said that last year, but this year was busier. In fact, they say it takes 5 years for a business to take off – I disagree – for me it was 10 years of practice, trial, and persistence. My 10th year has been the busiest.

I hope the 2020 year will bring lots of the same fun and maybe a little more controlled hectic schedule. When I finally decide on the exact 2020 workshop dates, I will be sure to post it to keep you updated.

Have a good pre-week before Christmas you all.

Stay Healthy. Stay Happy.

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

KB Celebration 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Cathy T with Hubby Steve 2019

Every Plant Picture Has A Story

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Fall is a time to capture the sun’s beautiful rays on the last days of the gardening year when our plants and gardens are at their final stages before frost.

Last week, I posted about two tall planters at my home that had upright elephant ears and a couple beautiful annuals.

I truly enjoyed looking at them all year, but in the fall, the sun is different. The sun gives the plants a backdrop of bright yellow and shimmering red fall foliage – and it feels special.

Thus, I asked a professional photographer friend to take photos of my planters before they were dissembled for storage.

Here is just one of those photos:

Fall 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0001

Is this not a stunning photo above?!

I love the way this photographer uses color and light. To me a photo like this is heaven. It is eye candy. It makes me say, “Ahhh.”

The wonderful photographer who took this photo of my planters (and many others to be blogged about soon) is Jackie and her site is called JMS Art & Photo.

I met Jackie when my workshops were featured in a magazine called, “Go Local.” I loved the photos she took then as well for that article. Many of them were from inside my greenhouse. I knew at the moment I saw her photos, I liked her style of photography.

Jackie has vibrant red hair, the friendliest smile, and is also a very creative art teacher in Stafford. She is passionate about what she does in all facets of her life from what I can tell. I will say this – I wish I had her as my art teacher when I was a kid. When I see her class related photos, I just love how she uses colors in a very vivid way. She also has that color talent (which I can’t seem to find the right words to describe it) of the photos she takes at musical fests and shows – and of my plants now! Go visit her site, you will see what I mean.

I find that every plant photo has a story and every photographer does as well. I’ve met 4 professional photographers (each women), and hired each of them to come here to take photos of my plants at some point in my gardening life.

One photographer moved away, and I remember being sad because I just loved her style too. Each photographer is different and each definitely has their own unique style and method – all wonderful. I splurge from time to time to have one take pro photos of my plants here. It is fun for me and a treat.

I want to share many of the photos Jackie of JMS Art & Photo took for me here at my home of my plants this fall. This is on my blogging to do list. And, hopefully, by the winter months, I will be able to do so.

In the meantime, I wanted to quickly share just a couple of these photos with you today.

Fall 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0002

I’m lucky to have met special people, such as Jackie, who have a passion for their art  – and other photographers I have mentioned on this blog in prior posts. Thankfully, they never think I’m a cuckoo for my passion of plants! As they clicked away with their cameras here, I feel like my plants are on the red carpet. And I’m happy they are willing to entertain my passion thru their lenses.

Ironically, I’ve met photographers at craft shows as well. And I happen to have one coming up. In the same town that Jackie teaches. It is a Fall Craft Fair, scheduled in a week, on November 2nd, Saturday, 9 am to 2 pm at the Stafford Fire Department house located on 27 Willington Avenue, Stafford Springs, CT.

Fall Craft Fair 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0001

You can find out all the details on their Stafford Fire Department No. 1 Facebook page. Approximately 30 vendors are scheduled to participate. My items will be focused on plant gifts related to Christmas themes as well as some fall themes. I hear they make soup in their onsite kitchen at the fire house – and I think I will be enjoying some of that myself! Swing by if you can. And don’t forget to shop the local businesses nearby in the center of Stafford Springs on Main Street. There is a beautiful artisan shop in town and a local cidery, both worth the drop by before or after.

In the meantime, be sure to capture and take in the last moments of fall whether with your own photos of your plants or when you are out and about attending shows. The leaves were stunning this year in Connecticut but many have fallen now onto the ground. Don’t miss out on the last days of these plant photo opportunities.

Have a great weekend!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

 

 

Overwintering Plants 2019

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Hi all,

I spent a good deal of this past weekend overwintering my tropical plants from patio pots and container gardens, with the help of my husband, Steve.

First, I walked around our yard with Steve and asked, “If you can move this or that – it would help me a great deal?” He was very happy to do so.

As he worked on “this or that,” which consisted of various pots with Canna lilies and such, I worked on taking apart some plants from a couple large and tall patio pots on my deck and disassembling my large tropical garden filled with a elephant ears, perennials, and a huge red banana plant (Ensete). I posted photos and videos of the process on my Container Crazy CT Facebook page.

The weather was fantastic both Saturday and Sunday, which helped a great deal, but it was cold out – I needed to wear warm gloves. We had two “light frosts” this month so far (one on the 20th and one prior in the month) but we still haven’t had a hard frost which would kill and blacken the foliage of my tropical plants that I was focused upon.

When I say tropical plants, I’m referring to the red banana plants, canna lilies, elephant ears, and mandevillas – plants which will not tolerate the frost here in CT.

I document my storing process every year usually so if you need information on it, use the red search bar on this site (right-hand side of the screen, scroll down to locate) and enter ‘red banana plant,’ or ‘overwintering’, or ‘ensete’, ‘canna’, etc – and you should be able to locate the prior detailed articles I have posted.

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0002

This year, I planted Upright Jumbo Elephant Ears (Alocasia macrorrhiza) in two new pots I acquired. The tall pots are about 5 feet tall or maybe a little less, and are very nice, BUT the spiller plants in the pots grew so well, they actually hid the beautiful pots.

By the way, the spillers were Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ and Plectranthus coleoides ‘White Surf.’ Both were amazing. I especially love the plum color of the Alternanthera, and the Plectranthus (with green leaves serrated with white edges), both of which are always great spiller performers in container gardens. They can take full sun and part sun. And both are vigorous growers as annual plants here in our CT zones.

The tubers of the upright elephant ears were shipped to me in early April and I planted them in nursery starter pots, first in my greenhouse and then moved them out to my new patio pots later after all chances of spring frost, usually around the same time we plant out our tomato and pepper plants (around Memorial Day in late May).

I had visions of these upright elephant ears growing super huge and tall, but they didn’t reach the 6 to 8 feet height described by the producer of the tubers. However, they reached about 3 ft high in the first year – I expect it to be taller next season. And I will probably start them in the nursery pots sooner in the greenhouse to get the growth going earlier, which helps get that big show I was looking for.

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0005

Removed Leaves

The leaves were on average about 20″ long, but what impressed me the most about this variety were the clumps they formed. One tuber shot up about 15 stalks per tuber, or tubers, which reproduce on the side, as they grow in summer. As seen here:

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0007

Original Tuber on Left (new growth on right)

The original tuber is on the left. When it arrived in the mail in April, it had a dry papery brown covering and was big and solid. As you can see on the right, it grew another plant after I planted them in the patio pots outdoors, and this is what I love about tubers from tropical plants – you get more plants at the end of the season to replant next spring. In fact, as seen here, I got LOTS of new plants for next year:

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0006

There are 12 stalks in this photo – all from one original tuber. After I removed them from the big patio pots, I cut the stalks down to about 4-5″ from the base of the tuber area (root end) and I will store these in a cool, dark, dry place (my basement which is unheated but it does not freeze there).

You may cut back all the foliage before or after frost before you dig up and store the tubers. I prefer doing it before frost because it is less messy. After frost, the foliage turns black and mushy.

After I dig out the tubers from the patio pots, I usually lay them out for 2 days in the sun to dry a bit. After that, they get placed in plastic rubber maid type boxes (low height containers) with peat moss covering them and a lid on the box. I sometimes drill small pin holes in the lid to allow some air exchange in the boxes/containers. Again, all of this is documented in detail in prior posts on this site too. Do not store them in too deep of containers or boxes as this increases the chances of rot. And I also recommend you only lightly cover them with the peat.

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Pots empty and ready to cover for winter

When I posted this process with videos last weekend, a few people asked some questions – one of which was, “Do you keep the soil in these pots for next year?”

Traditionally, I do not keep soil in patio pots after a year’s use – UNLESS they are really big pots like these. Potting mixes lose their ability to retain water well in smaller to medium sized pots after a year or two’s use.

I am a big believer in using the best potting mix possible – fresh every year in your containers, and to use reputable sources. I really need to do a long post on potting mixes – one of these days soon.

But for really big pots, I do keep the soil mix in there for a couple years. Sometimes with smaller patio pots, I use the “old” soil as filler only in the base of big pots. Or it goes to compost areas or garden areas as filler at the end of the season. To me it is so worth it to have quality potting mix for your plants because they thrive and put on a wonderful show of growth when you do.

I put these two big heavy patio pots on trays with wheels so we could push them to a more sheltered location on my deck and I will cover each of them with thick tarps. I sometimes put a board over the top of the openings and then cover it. This seems to work well with my bigger pots in my yard – none of them have ever cracked, thankfully.

These upright elephant ears made me happy despite not getting super tall. The sun rose behind them every morning and lit up the leaves. I enjoyed looking at them from my bedroom sliders. These plants could be over-wintered as a houseplant IF you owned a a large home, but alas, I do not, but I would if I could. However, what I love about these is how you may store the tubers in a compact way to reuse them again and again every season. And it may look like lots of work or effort, but it was relatively quick to get it done. It doesn’t take too much muscle strength to get them dug out of pots either, as compared to the ground, where the roots extend further into ground soils.

You may also allow these plants to go dormant and store them in their growing container or pots but that also means having the space to do so. When I started these in the spring, the original tubers were planted about 4″ deep in my nursery starter pots. It was the waiting game that was difficult – waiting to see how they would grow, but when they did, many weeks of viewing was enjoyed in summer till almost the end of October. Tropical plants last well beyond annuals in most cases. Another reason I continue to enjoy them.

Also, these plants very rarely get insect problems. The upright elephant ears’ leaves are slick, shiny, glossy, and dark green. They’d make great candidates for making leaf bird baths the hypertufa style way! But who has time for that? I have to get ready for my holiday workshops now – and speaking of – I have to mention them:

KB 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0010

Holiday Workshops – December 7, 2019 – For Beginners and Advanced Attendees

Registrations ARE happening now for my December 7th, 2019 holiday workshop and if you are interested, I encourage you to sign-up early. The start time is 11 am to whenever you like, we have fun in these workshops making kissing balls, wreaths, or candle centerpieces with beautiful fresh greens. For as long as I can offer them, you should be taking these workshops – cause, I dare say, they are wonderful! Will I ever loose steam to do them, like I do all these pots in fall? Hmm, only time can tell. Hint: Don’t Miss Out! Sign-up now!

Overwintering 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0004

Red Banana Plant Stumps (Ensete)

Lastly, I also took down my two big red banana plants in other big pots in my yard. Here’s a photo of the stumps (technically pseudo stems) that get stored in BIG plastic bins, of course. I posted some time lapse videos of the process on my page noted above as well. Like the tubers of the upright elephant ears, I let them sit out in the sun to dry and drain because these big stumps hold excess water. I also clean the soil off the roots with a soft brush. Today, they will be laid to rest for the winter in the big bins in my basement.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in Broad Brook, CT (East Windsor)
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

Persian Shield is Purplelicious

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0003

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0007

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0002

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0006

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0005

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

Persian Shield by C Testa Copywrite_0001

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

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

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