How to Determine which Plants to Bring Inside

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I’ve been sharing my methods and timing regarding when to bring in outdoor plants (in container gardens or patio pots) indoors during the fall season to prepare for the winter months here in my area of Connecticut (Broad Brook/East Windsor, Zones 6).

But how do you actually determine which plants to bring inside and when?

Sometimes other factors come into play besides the lower temperature drops that some plants will not tolerate.

For example, this kitchen herb garden, which I planted for a client on a balcony, is booming still. I visited the site just yesterday, and look how large these herbs are in September. Amazing! All of the herb plants are still thriving and not showing much stress yet from being exhausted from growing all summer in the heat nor from drops in evening temperatures recently.

Herb Gardens at Container Crazy CT Client Site as of September 15th

It would be a sin to take these all down right now, don’t you agree? There still time to enjoy these wonderful, fresh, aromatic, and delicious herbs. Due to the full sun conditions and appropriate watering by my clients at their residence, their herbs are absolutely thriving.

I’m especially proud of these herb plants because many of the herbs in these planters were started from seed by me earlier in the season and planted as starter plants. I’m in love with how well they did and how amazing they taste. The clients are still enjoying every snip and harvest.

We decided to let them be for a while more. While my herbs at my home are dwindling, such as my basil (which prefers warmer temperatures than we get during our fall cooler temperatures), their herbs are still perfectly fine. They get more sun where they are located compared to my location.

MatchBox Peppers Grown by Cathy T of Container Crazy CT

Just look at these matchbox peppers, which I grew from seed earlier this year as well. They are booming with small hot peppers. They are tiny and super spicy. They completely cover this plant, which was described as compact. I’ve grown these in hanging baskets too and they are perfect for them. Of course, these can remain outdoors a couple more weeks until we get frosts.

Sometimes we get a few “light” frosts before a hard frost. Light frosts may occur as early as October 4th. A hard frost could be anywhere from mid-October to very early November, based on my experience and records. So, yes, you could decide to leave something like this herb garden growing a while longer to capitalize on the wonderful harvest. The key is to pay attention to the weather forecasts and your weather apps.

Skull Terrarium with Succulents and Cacti

Here is another example of a plant related item which could stay outdoors a while longer. It is a terrarium I made a couple seasons ago. I created it around Halloween and used decoupage glue to adhere a skull print on fabric inside of it. I remember thinking it would look super cool with plants.

You will notice the white area, ironically resembling a mask, which is where the glue will get wet. It left a white area mark there – so my test of this fabric has a flaw, or does it? It looks super cool to me.

A terrarium with a creepy mask image, all coincidental, not planned!

I could leave this terrarium outdoors for a few weeks more here in Connecticut. Before any frost would hit it. But I wanted to move it indoors into my greenhouse before it gets waterlogged with rain. We initially had rain predicted for this Friday by our weather forecasters, but that seems to have changed to “chances of rain” now. Anyhow, the plants are thriving, there are no insect issues, so why chance it? It is easy to take inside to keep growing another season.

The key thing is things change fast in regards to weather this time of year. You may be humming along, enjoying your outdoor plants, and thinking it is so beautiful outside. It is warm, some flowers are still blooming, and the fall air is just right where you feel comfortable working outdoors in the 70 degree range. And the next day, it will be 80 degrees F out. Like summer! What’s the rush, right?

But there will be that night where it gets cold fast, like this Saturday, predicted to be in the 40’s. Still not freezing, still safe for many plants, but it is coming.

Determining what to move indoors has the factors of weather, upcoming freezes, but also, some of that determination is based on how you use the plants (or how you enjoy their show). As in the example of the herbs – still very much usable. Or, it could be how beautiful the plant is at the moment.

Supertunia annuals in full bloom and glory at the start of the fall season

Take for example, this dish garden, also at my clients’ site. Good Lord. Look at those hot pink Supertunia annual flowers. I gasped when I saw how much they grew from earlier this season to now in mid-September. Usually, I would take this dish garden away to take apart and store, but how could we? They are still amazing. And until they get hit by frost, might as well enjoy the show, right?

This dish garden also houses some amazing succulents. All look fabulousa. However, for succulents, I prefer to take special care with removing if you are taking them indoors. I prefer to move them before things get really damp and cold. With a drop in temperatures by the weekend at night, this could happen. Then tender succulent plants may start to suffer. If you are not taking them in, you may risk it and keep them outdoors. But most non-hardy tender succulents, in my opinion, should be moved in before it starts to get chilly consistently in the low 50’s and 40’s.

Succulents still thriving but Moving them in Before Cold Rains is Smart

What happens this time of year is we get temp swings. All will humm along fine and then BAM! It will turn cold and you will be taking out your favorite sweatshirt. As for myself, getting some of this moving in container work done early may be a bummer because you want to enjoy the beautiful creations a while longer, however, I never regret getting some of it done ahead (before warm gloves, sweatshirts, and my warmer hiking boots are required.)

A dish garden with annuals and succulents by Cathy T.

And another factor is the fall mums we have available around here in Connecticut this time of year. If you are going to display them, you might as well get them out soon so you may enjoy them throughout the fall season. There are tons of mums around to be had. Some places sell out of mums by mid-October, so you want to get them soon so you can enjoy them for a while before snow comes right?

Did I say snow, OMG, don’t even go there Cathy! LOL.

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Plant Blogger
Workshop Organizer
Plant Obsessor
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Don’t forget! Towards the end of September, it is succulent pumpkin creation time. I will have some succulent new stock available if locals are interested! I will post photos on my usual feeds. If interested in a custom made succulent topped pumpkin, now is the time to give me the order.

The Rewards are Coming In

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Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato is a new plant I grew from seed this year. I have been anticipating the ripening of its fruit, and one fruit finally changed to its golden yellow color with a pink blush on the bottom. It is also one of my first dwarf plants I’ve grown. The anticipation was greater than usual because I wanted to see how these taste, but this comes later in the day today. I wait to share the first taste with my hubby, Steve.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0001

It is funny how a person will get so excited to try new fruits from plants one grows themselves, especially this year, because I had some plants (not the dwarfs though) that experienced problems like blossom-end rot (as noted in a prior blog post). However, my first two dwarf plants are doing fine and the fruits are ripening now. I have another dwarf variety which I will blog about later as well. The other is called Mandurang.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Good things come to those who wait – and I did wait to see my first Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato fruit ripen. I expected the fruits on the plant to be a bit larger but so far they are small to medium sized. That is fine, the flavor will be just as good I am sure. I am saving this one for a taste test tonight with my tomato-lovin’ husband, Steve, as noted above. It is a fun ritual. He loves tomatoes.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Also, last night, I made my first batch of fresh pesto. It is ironic. I have eaten fresh pesto before, after all, I married an Italian and they have made it at dinners many times in the summer, so I know how good it tastes, yet, I had never taken the time to make it myself – which is just silly, because it takes so little time. It is easy. And I usually have fresh basil to make it with in the summer months.

Genovese Basil

 

I grew Genovese Basil from seed this year (again, as I did the last couple years), and it is a keeper. I gathered up a bunch from my planter, and used a small batch recipe primarily because I have a small chopper device that only holds about 1.5 cups of ingredients. It worked fine and was just enough pesto for two people.

The Pesto Recipe

The recipe called for the following:

1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 gloves garlic, peeled (I used 4 gloves, and it was very garlic strong, but we love garlic)
3 tablespoons pine nuts (which I picked up at Whole Foods the day before, but friends have since told me they use walnuts as a substitute)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (a must have to put in the chopper but also some to top off your pasta)
Salt (I used sea salt) and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
Your choice of pasta if you plan to mix it with pasta

Freshly Picked

When I picked the fresh Genovese Basil from my deck planters, I just guessed at the amount and then I removed the leaves from the stems and kind of pushed it into my measuring cup to the 1 cup mark. I’m not sure if you are supposed to push the leaves down into the cup but I just figured, the more basil, the better.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0004

I was sure to follow the 1/3 cup of the “extra virgin olive oil” measurement, as to not over do it with oil, and I drizzled it in thru the opening in the top cover of the chopper as I pulsed the mixture together in the mini chopper.

dwf tomatoes by C Testa Copywrite_0006

The Genovese Basil is a perfect pesto basil, that is for sure. The leaves are a deep green and leaves are medium sized to large. I started the seeds in my greenhouse early in the year (about 2-4 weeks before frost) and then transplanted them into medium sized terracotta pots. I water them at least once a day if the soil is dry, which it usually is in this heat. I also sold a lot of Genovese Basil seed packets this year to people as well as starter plants I had grown, which I plan to do next season again.

The basil plants grew huge and are healthy. I have topped them off – meaning snipped off the tops, constantly as I harvest for meals for at least a month now, and never let it go to flower. It is still growing strong and staying green. You may sow basil seeds at monthly intervals too, before we get a fall frost, but so far, my two plants are plentiful.

As noted above, I have a mini chopper and not a large food processor, but did you know you can make pesto with a mortar and pestle? I read in the seed packet that the word “pesto” comes from pestle. Interesting.

After mixing it up in the food chopper, it is just a matter of tossing the pesto into warm drained cooked pasta and voila. Of course, topping it with more Parmesan cheese is needed. And the better quality the Parmesan, the better it all tastes.

Pesto by C Testa Copywrite_0001

As they say, we learn something new every day, and I’m glad I learned how to make fresh pesto, as well as try new tomato varieties. Both the Summer Sunrise dwarf tomato plants and the Genovese Basil plants make excellent candidates for kitchen gardens in patio pots and container gardens due to their sizes and uses. In this case, big leaves for pesto from the basil, and controlled plant height of the dwarf tomato plant for snacking tomatoes. The dwarf plant stays to about 4 feet max and is perfect for a big pot. Both are keepers on my list.

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

 

 

More than Just Succulents

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My nephew, Ross, visited me recently and told me, after his first year of growing tomato plants in pots and purchasing tomato starts from me, that he had no idea I was growing tomato plants from seed and selling them before this year. He continued to say, “I thought you only sold succulents!”

Well, it is kind of ironic, isn’t it? That your own family member may not be aware, although I swear I post so much online, that I have been growing tomato starts the past few years.

It is true that I do a lot with succulents. In fact, I really want to start on writing some PDFs or an online book of trusted methods I’ve learned about succulents. But succulents are not my only plant passion or focus, that is for sure.

However, because succulents have been a highlight over the past few years, I thought I’d share a container garden I did this year for a client.

Slide1

The tall blue glazed pot matches other succulent dish gardens on their tables and this was a new addition to their list of beautiful embellishments on their balcony. I searched out a tall heavy pot and succulents are a perfect fit for this full sun location.

You can see in the photo above, the succulents are starting to bloom. The long stems are gracefully rising above the plants and the blooms are on the ends. Hummingbirds will visit the blooms but I’m not sure they go that high! Their balcony is up there!

However, the clients once told me that they heard a loud noise coming from another planter on their balcony, and low and behold, they found a tree frog. Sometimes tree frogs make their way into nursery pots. I can not imagine I planted a plant without seeing it – but it is either that or that darn tree frog made its way up high that is for sure.

Slide2

Here is a photo of the left and right sides of this planter with the succulents. I love mixing the various textures and tones of succulent plants, which are extremely drought tolerant, and love sun (most of them).

These clients take good care of watering their planters, and these plants will grow rapidly as a result of care, sun, and great soil along with a top dress of pea gravel to help with moisture retention plus it looks pretty and finished, in my opinion, and per my recommendations to the clients.

Slide3Every time I install plants for my clients, I also give them instructions, care tips, and plant information. But I do more than “just succulents” (as my nephew noted last weekend). Now he knows, and you know, if you are new to this blog.

I will be sharing more about the individual succulent plants in the blue pot above, but I also wanted to repeat – that I also sell tomato starts in the early spring (all grown from seed, certified organic, and unique varieties), and I also offer workshops (but those are all on hold this year due to COVID-19), and I create unique things with plants. And I install container gardens of many types of plants.

In the fall, I make succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces, and in the winter, I make custom wreaths and kissing balls with gorgeous mixes of fresh evergreens, and I also make custom unique plant gifts (dish gardens, hanging globes, succulents in small containers, or other types of containers, and more).

I work or should say, design, with big tropical plants, various perennials and annuals, succulents, cacti, and vegetables. I guess you could say I have dabbled in a lot of types of plant creations.

Ross discovered that it was more than just succulents this year. He said he had time due to COVID-19, so he started reading, researching, and learning about tomato plants. This could be just the start of his plant passion. Here is he in a photo below.

Ross 2020tomatoe

My nephew with one of his 15 tomato plants!

I am thoroughly pleased that my nephew, Ross, discovered my tomatoes. He told me of the plants he got, mine are performing the best – he said they grew faster than others. Of course, this made me very happy. And to see his excitement of having tomatoes on the plants is very rewarding. I guess he picked up the same gene from my father – the plant obsession gene. I told his Mom, enjoy this – he has a new passion. And now he and I have a huge topic to discuss at family gatherings. 🙂

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (this blog)

 

 

My Tomato Journey to Blossom End Rot

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I was going to write that my tomato journey started when I fell in love with the colorful art work depicted on seed packets, but that is not true.

It really started as a result of my father. He grew lots of tomato plants. He was known among our relatives of having the best, juiciest tomatoes in town. If you were invited to have some of his extra tomatoes, you were very lucky indeed.

My mother would have to can them into mason jars using her own method of boiling the jars in super-hot water and sealing them after stewing the tomatoes over the stove in a big pot. She didn’t put them through sieves to separate out seeds. She didn’t use a pressure cooker. She would can tomatoes for hours in a hot kitchen. But dang, were those the best darn canned mason jars of goodness ever.

So my tomato journey started with tasting them and witnessing my father growing them at my family home but it was sparked again in my own home when I saw seed packets at a flower show by Hudson Valley Seed Company. I immediately fell in love with how beautiful the seed packets were and are. They are designed by commissioned artists and each packet represents the goodness inside. It is an artistic depiction about the vegetable plant, seed, and variety. The art tells a story and this is what captivated me.

Basil by C Testa Copywrite_0001

This particular seed company also has cool varieties of tomatoes and other veggie plants, and herbs, etc. Not your typical “big boy” tomatoes as my dad would grow. They have purple tomatoes, tall tomatoes, and gigantic tomatoes, with cool names. It intrigued me. When I saw the Oxheart tomatoes, which grow 3 pound fruit, my eyes bugged out. Or the Mikado heirlooms with broad pink beef-stakes and exceptional flavor, I had to try them. The list goes on. It grew from there.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Mikado heirloom with Thai basil

No one taught me how to ‘sow’ tomato seeds or how to plan them out based on frost dates and timing. Not even my Dad. He was the type of gardening Dad, at least from my perspective of the 6 kids in my family, who did not explain the whole tomato growing thing at all. He just had us tag along or maybe we just visited him to watch while he was gardening. And sometimes he would ask us to do a tiny chore, like carry this basket of tomatoes to the house, etc.

It was all learning by unaware observing back then, when I was a kid at my family home. Unaware because I don’t recall purposely observing, just observing. Just being there, and also of course, remembering the flavors of his amazing tomatoes at my family home when young and until the day I moved out in my 20’s. Now I enjoy my own tomatoes grown in pots.

My Dad had an old rickety greenhouse he built himself. It was on wheels. I don’t remember him pulling it around with a tractor, but I do remember stepping up into it to see what he was doing during the gardening seasons. I remember the smell of dirt in there too. And of course him doing whatever in there, tending to seedlings or whatever it was.

His hand built greenhouse was made with old foundation forms (if my memory is correct), and it had two sides with boxed like tables filled with dirt (or whatever he was using for soil mix) and tomato starts which he started from seed. Some of his own seed and his traditional favorites. There was one space down the middle to walk back and forth which only one person could walk at a time because it was narrow. It was small but sufficient for his seed starting needs. At least by my observation. At least that is how I remembered it.

They say that most people who garden or have a love of plants, it comes from the fact an elder or parent or someone showed gardening during childhood or at home, etc. It comes from example. Or growing up with it. Being surrounded by it. I believe it.

My Mom would complain though, saying in her French accent, “I’m tired of canning tomatoes.” There would always be a wicker lined basket on the entrance back steps filled with fresh tomatoes waiting to be canned, or to be picked up by someone invited by my Dad to come get some. And some were always stacked in baskets in the house, or in various buckets, right by where we hung our coats, near the kitchen entrance.

If you ever had this scenario, you know what that smells like. Fresh tomatoes sitting there just waiting to be devoured or “canned.” Piles and piles of them in baskets. An abundance of tomatoes. All fresh, ripened, and soft ready to eat. Some of them dripping from being at that almost over ripe stage.

At my home today, I grow only a few tomato plants. Maybe 8 plants or so each year in pots or fabric grow bags. At first, I think I bought tomato starts, but then I started sowing my own after having fun selecting seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed company’s catalog or at the flower show where they have a vendor booth.

This is the funny part. When my Dad comes over, he doesn’t even go LOOK at my giant tomato plants growing on my driveway. Maybe he secretly thinks I’m nuts for even growing them in pots instead of in the ground. Whatever the reason, he doesn’t seem to be the bit curious of what types I have. This does not bother me. It makes me chuckle.

Heirloom Tom C Testa Copywrite_0002

Tomatoes on my Driveway

However, he has shown me his method of suckering the tomato plants, which I asked him about before, but I tend to not prune my plants even after he showed me how. I let them go wild and allow them to spread up and down and all around. This can lead to a messy look, but it is my style, and I like it. And I read somewhere, this method produces more tomatoes actually versus pruned plants, but pruned plants may have better air circulation and are tidy, etc.

Lining up tomato pots along my driveway’s wrought iron railing which runs east to west is one of the first places I grew my tomato plants. And that first year, wow, my tomato plants were absolutely amazing, and perfect. I don’t remember any major bug issues, the chipmunks didn’t take bites out of them, and my husband devoured many every time he got out of his car from work. Beginner’s luck perhaps.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0003

Now, fast forward to this year, after several seasons of growing tomato plants in pots. I guess this is probably several years of doing the driveway method of potting up tomato plants I grew myself from seed. Sometimes, I put them in pots on my side yard, some on the deck, and sometimes on the driveway or in-front of the garage. And each year, I have encountered a wild animal issue or a small bug problem, all easily fixed, but this year, my journey challenged me once more. This year, well, some of my plants got the dreaded blossom-end-rot. Nooooo!

But not all of them got this ailment. No chipmunks though this year (figures!), but they were there last year taking bites of my gorgeous ready to pick tomatoes. It is always something. It is like gardening will never ever cease to challenge you and make you require patience.

Back to the dreaded blossom-end-rot. Ugh. When I pulled those off with this symptom last week, which were green yet rotted at the bottoms, and threw them into my side yard like baseballs, I wanted to scream.

Yet, screaming is something you learn to suppress if you love plants and growing them. Because let me tell you, I could write a book on the, “I should scream moments!”

Suppression was learned through the challenges of gardening. In fact, suppressing your anger and frustration becomes an art form when dealing with plant challenges every year.

But the good part, the part that makes one continue trying, is passion and many, many successes too. There are lots of good stories to counter the bad. However, the bad stories are frustrating because of the time and effort involved, especially when it comes to growing tomatoes.

Of course, starting tomato plants requires starting the seed indoors. And you must plan ahead at least six to eight weeks before they will be placed outdoors to harden them off. Some of the interesting tomato varieties I chose require ten weeks ahead. It takes time. Lots of time before you start reaping the rewards of ripened fruits in the summer months. You sometimes start in March. Now it is July!

Seedlings early in the growing process are moved into larger pots. My typical preferred larger pot size is a 5” square. From then, they are nurtured, inspected, watered, and watched for weeks before they are moved outdoors after all danger of frost has past.

Then you have to eventually plant them appropriately, selecting a full sun location with at least six to eight hours of sun every day, with the correct potting mixes, compost, and large enough pots or fabric grow bags, as is in my case. And most importantly, watering correctly, evenly and adding fertilizer as needed at the right time.

All was growing and going splendidly, until one day recently, looking UP at my jungle of tomato plants on the deck from ground level, I saw a black spot on the bottom of a hanging tomato fruit. I thought, “Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Should I get my binoculars?” It is such a jungle up there so I was not sure I would be able to see it from the other side up above on my deck thru the many full stems of the plants all lined up together. Remember, I did not prune so some of the fruit growing were hidden.

Blossom end rot by C Testa Copywrite_0001

By it was not my poor eye vision! Oh, Please God, No! Not blossom-end-rot, but it was. Ugh. I saw it, I knew it, and now I had to acknowledge it – it happened to me, to the tomatoes I’ve been dying to bite into after all this time from starting seed to this very day.

Others told me within the same week, they had blossom-end-rot on some of their tomatoes too. I thought oh well, maybe they didn’t water evenly, maybe they didn’t use the right soil mix, maybe it was just bad luck, but then I saw it…here, on mine.

The first sign of it was a sunken, brownish hard area starting at the blossom end of the fruit. It was a dry brown area but then turns a bit softer black, and it grows and spreads up, like an ugly zit you remembered from high school, or I hate to say it, a very bad black toe nail fungus. It is THAT ugly. The ones on my plant on the driveway started with a black blotch but the ones on my deck started with a dry brown blotch. Ugh, either way, it is a blotch I didn’t want to see. And like toe fungus, is a challenge to treat.

Insert a “Big Sigh” sound here. And then, I remembered my professor in college talking about it – and I distinctly remember him saying, it is from lack of the ability of the plant to take up calcium due to watering inconsistencies. And that calcium may be in the soil but the water uptake is an issue – it getting to the fruit while it is developing.

Hmm, the condition is caused by “poor calcium uptake” is what I read as well, when I discovered it this year, and started reading various books I have on hand about tomatoe growing (one way I learn). And it read, it has to do with an “UNEVEN supply of water.” It may be from under-watering or over-watering.

Maybe I got too “water happy this year?” I was kind of watering a lot – maybe too much. What was I thinking? Or was it this crazy weather? I want to blame the weather too. We did have some weird spurts of hot weather, and to me it seemed the fruit grew fast, really fast – then the blossom-end-rot showed up. Hmmm??? It is probably all combined factors.

Oh well. Deep breaths: suppress, suppress that anger. Serenity now, I thought. Don’t try to beat yourself up. You are not a gardening God. You are only human. That is how gardening keeps you “grounded.” Tee-hee. And keeps you learning and trying.

They will tell you to mulch plants and to deeply and evenly water in some reference tomato gardening books. Then in another reference book, the next sentence in the solution section was…here it comes…it starts with the words…“NEXT SEASON, ensure the soil is fertile, with adequate calcium levels, and plant blossom-end-rot resistant cultivars.”

NEXT season!? Ack! I want my tomatoes to be perfect THIS season.

Also, recommended is taking off the bad tomatoes and tossing them. However, I also read you could end up with some non-affected fruit later, which did happen on one of my plants on the deck, at least it appears so for now, but the two tomato plants on my driveway – all of the fruit, which are all green and small, have it, the blossom-end-rot. Every single one. My poor heirloom Mikado, all of them have this dreaded issue.

Ho-Hum.

Bum, bum, bum.

Solving tomato problems requires that element of patience in gardening. I have yet to go buy a product to try to solve blossom-end-rot, and part of me doesn’t want to. I am almost at that point of giving up. But a switch in my mood could alter that easily. There are products to help from sprays to fertilizers with extra calcium.

And next time I see my Dad, I will ask him about how he dealt with blossom-end-rot, as I’m sure he had that challenge at some point in his tomato journey too. And maybe I will need to ask him if he has any extra tomatoes this year.

Update since this was posted:

Hi again all,

I decided to buy a product called “Rot-Stop” to help with my tomato blossom end rot issue. It comes in a ready to use spray bottle and helps correct the calcium deficiencies. It is applied to the foliage.

As I read the instructions on the spray bottle, a comment stood out: “This disorder often appears after a period of rapid growth followed by dry conditions, or in periods of heavy rain that caused calcium to leach from the soil.

What did I write in several paragraphs above? I wrote that I wanted to blame the weather. I had a sense of a rapid growth on my plants and then we had heat, and a heat wave. I noticed lots of tomatoes growing and all looked great, then we got hit by extreme heat.

Thus, in the end, this disordered is caused by a few things or a combination of factors: calcium deficiency (maybe in the soil or lack of movement due to inconsistent watering routines), aggravated by maybe too much nitrogen fertilizer (did you apply too much if you had this issue too on your tomatoes?), and dry conditions or even heavy rains leaching calcium.

That is the challenge with gardening, but we don’t want to give up that is for sure. The taste of fresh tomatoes is too worth it. Next year we may not have any of these issues at all and I never had this issue before. I say, don’t ever give up!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
CT Zone 6b

Heirloom Tom C Testa Copywrite_0002

This was last year – to prevent chipmunks visiting!

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

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

For Successful Container Gardening

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started:

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

DRAINAGE – Must #1

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

SOILLESS POTTING MIX – Must #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER – Must #3

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

WATERING – Must #4

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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BIG POTS – Must #5

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Workshop Yet

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Good morning fellow visitors!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to seeing my groups on Saturday…

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

Upcoming and Current Activities at Cathy T’s:

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

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First Day of Spring is Tomorrow

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And I can feel it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS SATURDAY: Seed Starting Sessions

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

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

So, this post in general is a quickie.

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

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

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

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

List of Upcoming Events

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

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

Thanks,

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

And the Sowing Begins…

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Good Friday Morning Everyone,

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

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

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

Over New Date Added

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

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

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

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

Over Photo Seed Starting

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

Dates of the Sessions

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

What interests you in growing your
own plants from seed?

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

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

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

Whatever the reason, I hope you sign up soon.

Thank you,

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

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

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

Planning Steps

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

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

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

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

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

So where do you begin if you are a beginner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seed selection is always key in regards to timing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Peppers Ready for Winter Recipes

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

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Matchbox Pepper for Hangers

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

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Lemon Drop Hot Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Oven at 180

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

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

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

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

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Taste Test Time!

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

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

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Easy to Grow in Pots or Hangers

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

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

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

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

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Seed and Plant Details

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

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

Couple Other Workshop Updates

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

Succulent Pumpkin Workshops and Demo’s

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

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

This Weekend’s Weather

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

Thank you,

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

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