Making Succulent Pumpkins

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I made my first two succulent pumpkin centerpieces for an order yesterday, and gosh, it was so much fun. I typically make these in my small hobby greenhouse and the “Zen” feeling in my greenhouse puts me into a total creative zone.

The leaves of the trees outside are starting to turn the color of yellow for autumn, and the wind was blowing around quite a bit. Every once in a while, I’d look outside from my work table in the center of the greenhouse to see if any bears would be there outdoors on the property – and nope! I have NEVER seen bears here in my yard, but there have been three sightings in my town last week of a momma bear with her two cubs. And it was nearby for one sighting so it makes me wonder, will they ever adventure here? I hope not!

Locally Grown by Nearby Farms

I picked up 9 pumpkin candidates from nearby farms in my town the day before. We had a drought year and I wondered how well the pumpkins would grow and this year they look great (last year we had too much rain). Number 9 was selected by a repeat customer right away along with a cheese pumpkin (not shown in this above photo) which I grew myself this year for the first time as a test (with the help of my cousin who grew veggies in her community garden plot in our town for the first time this year too!). She planted a couple of my pumpkin plants in her garden and I planted one pumpkin plant in a container here. I got about 7-8 pumpkins total for the smaller cheese pumpkins, but some had blemishes on the side but two were perfect – one has been used so far for a succulent pumpkin! Yes!

Succulent Pumpkin on a Cheese Pumpkin

And…here it is in the above photo. It is about 7-8″ diameter. I grew them from seed and kind of just experimented. I don’t plan to be a “big pumpkin grower” but it was fun to see how they would turn out. They arrived (were ready to pick) a little earlier than I would have liked so I will adjust my seed starting process for next year. But these pumpkins last a long time, can be stored and baked too. Anyhow, it was so very rewarding to make my fall themed arrangement on this pumpkin because it was home grown by me! The shape is perfect for the succulent pumpkin making process as well.

12″ pumpkin from a local farm

The other pumpkin I used yesterday was sourced from a local farm. I’m so fortunate to have local farms nearby! It is a blue-green color and very very heavy – you’d be surprised by the weight of some of these pumpkins. I carried it to the greenhouse and get into my “Zen” and create. Sometimes I listen to blues music and totally just zone out or sing along. I guess it is that space where some artists say they are at their best. To me, it is a pleasant time of creating and hopefully the end results reflects my Zen-mode. Also when in Zen, my tinnitus is not as noticeable which is another huge bonus cause I suffer from tinnitus.

Hobbit Jade

If you can believe it – the large pumpkin finished with 11-15 different plants of all sizes! It is quite the bargain when you consider the succulent plants may be transplanted later to keep going. So as a wonderful colorful living autumn centerpiece in your home, and then plants are maintained later. Anyhow, this customer wanted reds and orange themed décor. Oh and I forgot to mention, this year I also put a dwarf agave on each pumpkin which I think is pretty cool. The plant is rare and a nice find!

Ivory Whites, Beige

I really want to make a pumpkin with the color theme above for the décor embellishments. I like this neutral feel of the soft whites, cream whites, beige, brown, etc. Maybe I’ll make that one today. Even if not for a standing order, maybe as a gift, or maybe someone will purchase it after I make it – we will see!! It is a rainy day so it is perfect to be creating again, I hope.

Well, I better get to it – I have to pack my truck for a job tomorrow and then hopefully some time today make another Succulent Pumpkin. FYI, I’m located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. Thank you for visiting my blog and have a great day. Feel free to contact me with any inquiries or questions.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT

It’s Succulent Pumpkin Time!

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Just a real quick post – It is that fall time of year and I’m starting to make custom orders for the large to medium style succulent topped pumpkins. To learn details, please visit www.WorkshopCT.com and see the top post.

Next up! Photos of me taking down my largest Alocasia plant. Stay tuned!

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Connecticut US Zone 6b

Thank you!

Fall is Fantastic

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We are having a wonderful spout of good weather in Connecticut this year, 2021, during our fall season. The temps have been just lovely, no more rain (like we had all summer practically), and minus the mosquitos here, the fall weather has been fantastic to continue my various plant projects.

I am still taking down some of my tropical plants at home to store and overwinter, while finishing up some container garden installations for the fall season for clients, and also making beautiful custom made succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces for my orders.

I thought I would show some photos of various projects I’ve been doing, jumping from one project to another this month of October 2021 in Connecticut.

Cathy T holding a banana leaf Oct 2021

Well, here I am, holding a very long banana leaf from my red banana plant (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’). It is not hardy to our zone (6b) so I take it down every fall. It has become a ritual. I never had any issues with storing it as described on this blog via other posts (search Overwintering or Ensete), but this past spring, when I took the “stump” out of the storage bin, it was a little more damp than usual. I figured it was due to no air holes in my bins, so I drilled some very small air holes in the bin covers for this season. Or maybe it was the “new peat” I bought that stayed too damp, I’m not sure, but I have done this process again! Cutting down each leaf, chopping off the top of the plant, then storing the base. (See more photos below). People liked this photo when I shared it because it really shows the size of the planter, the plant’s leaves. I’m 5’6″…so, you can see how long these leaves grew this season in 2021. You may notice the plant is in a big black pot, I usually plant it directly into the big cement planter, but got lazy this year, and it did just as fine, the roots went thru the drain holes into the big planter below. I also fill this planter with Castor Bean plants, other Alocasia and Colocasia plants, and other perennials, etc.

Callicarpa Beautyberry Shrub Oct 2021

This is not a tropical plant above, it is a deciduous shrub, called Callicarpa. Just look at the purple berries this year! The foliage is a lime green (normal color). But this year, the berries have been abundant and really a deep purple color. I wondered if our abundant rainfall contributed to the color being so intense this season? I planted 3 of these side by side by my deck at the ground level years ago and I remember taking a measuring tape out to ensure I was giving it the recommended distance for spacing. People notice this shrub right now – it is beautiful. It makes a nice shrub for massing together as the branches arch and fill the area. I had cut it back in early spring and it performed nicely. I’ve never seen birds eat the berries, even though some sources say they do. I’ve never tried to grow it from seed, perhaps I should try to do so. Mr. Micheal A. Dirr’s manual indicates the seeds require 90 days cold stratification.

Cathy T holding a large Succulent Topped Pumpkin 2021

Yup, that’s me – trying to hold onto this very heavy and large succulent topped pumpkin I made for an order. Isn’t it beautiful – and so are the plants behind me! I could barely hold the pumpkin long enough for my husband to take a photo.

Ensete stump
Ensete stump

Referring back to the top photo of me holding the red banana plant leaf, here is the stump I dug out after chopping off the top. I use a machete. This stump was left in my garage for about a week, mostly because I was busy doing other fall plant project, but also to allow it to dry out somewhat. It is still moist from the water held in it, so a good suggestion is to tip it upside down and let the water drain out of it after removal from the pot or ground. I did have to cut off more of the top to fit it inside my storage bin which is about 3 feet long. The cover barely shut – this stump is a doozie! (That is heavy and big).

Container Garden by Cathy T in the month of October at a client site

If there’s one thing I will tell the plant Gods when I visit them some day, is, “THANK YOU!!” for offering me the wonderful opportunity to plant on a high rise. This is an October photo of just one of the many container gardens I install at this client site, and it is full and lush. I love how the fuzzy big leaves of the Lamb’s Ears plant grew extremely well, no blemishes, and as perfect as ever. It is called Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears” and I guess you could say, I do have a fondness for big plants which make a big impact. It is a perennial plant for full sun (hardy to Zone 4). The silvery soft leaves are low maintenance and used as groundcovers, or in containers as I did here. I paired it with two flowering plants, one an annual and the other a tropical lover for hot sun. They looked just beautiful but it was time for the take down process this month. The nice thing about using perennials in containers is if you wish to move the pot (not doable in this case due to the location), you may do so to an unheated garage and there is a good chance the perennial will return the following spring. Or you may dig out the perennial from the container garden and plant it in the ground in the fall to continue your plant investment.

Mop Head Hydrangea Bloom at my House

I guess you could say, this month of October 2021 has been a very colorful one. This plant above usually hasn’t produced many blooms for me before, but this year, it took off. I had these big colorful blooms and I cut them from the plant just yesterday. I read you may spray the flower head with hairspray (aerosol hairspray) and set it in a cool dark room to dry. I am trying that out this season with these Hydrangea mop-head blooms in purple, blue, and rosy tones.

At a Client Site

A pumpkin centerpiece I created (referred to as a succulent topped pumpkin) is shown above at a lady’s home. I absolutely love how she decorates her table, putting the Family piece and candle holders with the mums all around. And a nice photo she took, which I decided to share here. Isn’t this another beautiful fall color photo? And yes, that is a real pumpkin, one of a nutty brown color. Sourcing my pumpkins was a little trickier this year. Many local farmers had issues growing them because of our summer abundant rainfall. Some fields were flooded and ruined some of the crop. I had to hunt and peck to find good ones for my succulent topped pumpkin creations this season.

More of my creations above. I love making these in October. I have made some Halloween themed too.

Me in-front of a Wall of Mandevilla

That is me again, here I am standing infront of a wall of Mandevilla plants I installed in the spring. By October, they were full and gorgeous all the way to the top of the 7 foot wall situated above planters. I have to say, I was distraught early this spring because right after I finished planting these, there was an extremely freak cold rain day where temps dropped so low and it poured, cold rain. I was so worried it would ruin my work at the client’s site, but the Mandevillas did well, and the rain all summer encouraged their growth. The foliage was shiny, perfect and lush. Each year is different, and I was so thankful these performed well. They have white trumpet shaped blooms that last all the way into the fall. These plants are vine-like growing easily up when trellised. They will keep on climbing, reaching for the skies, which they did here on this high-rise garden. I have planted the red, pink, white types. All add a tropical feel to any container gardens outdoors in summer.

Plant Gifts by Cathy T

Well, I guess that is it for now. I’ll finish off today’s blog post to remind everyone I offer custom plant gifts, especially popular in the autumn and at the holiday season. Look me up on Facebook or Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I do all in containers, planters, patio pots, dish gardens, etc. You name it. This month I’m offering adorable succulents, bagged up and ready for pick up. If interested, DM me on Facebook or text me!

Thank you and enjoy the rest of this week’s perfect and fantastic fall weather.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Zone 6b
Broad Brook, CT
cell: 860-977-9473
email: containercathy@gmail.com

Today’s weather: 72 degrees F day, Lows at 48 degrees F at night (still safe for tropicals outdoors, I suspect the frost will arrive later next week!)

Tomorrow – partly sunny and Saturday and Sunday look nice during day. 37 degrees predicted for Sunday night.

Back to work I go outside today. Trying to make the most of this perfect fall weather, did I mention, it is fantastic?!

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Time

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Autumn Time

Hop on over to my site, called www.WorkshopsCT.com to learn about my custom made succulent topped pumpkins. They make wonderful autumn centerpieces, and now that there is a bit of fall in the air, these are my next fun endeavor. I love making them for orders. They are wonderful displayed inside your home for the fall and Halloween season, and last for months!

Winterizing Time

I’m also still taking down my tropical plants, probably working on them this weekend during the nice pleasant sunny cool fall weather. We have not had our October frost here yet, so there is still time but alas, my work must continue or I will be backlogged with plants! I have some Brugmansias which are blooming beautifully right now with huge yellow trumpet shaped flowers which smell wonderful in the evenings, as well as my Canna Lily plants, and I still have many elephant ears plants (Alocasia and Colocasia) outside in my larger container gardens. All will be taken down, pulled out of the soil, cut back and stored via the parts under the soil (corms, tubers, rhizomes, etc.) for storage during our winter months. I will show more photos soon but just enter search terms in the search box on this blog to locate directions and information and feel free to ask questions. I also have already collected my seeds from various seed pods by this time and stored them in cool dry places for use next spring to regrow some of my favorites. Pods should not get soggy and wet and be collected before that phase, or they will mold or rot on the plants outdoors at this time of year. I also put away most of my agaves, mangaves (one is shooting a flower stalk – it is 4 feet tall right now! So exciting!) And put my succulents in the greenhouse along with some of my larger house plants. The greenhouse is not being heated of course yet, and the natural air goes thru daily along with an auto fan as the temp rises on sunny days. Anyhow, the fun and plant work continues.

Winter Time

Boy, times are tough for small businesses. Every time I turn around prices are going up. This impact us greatly and we just can not afford to be “low priced” on our unique creations and please bear in mind, plants are perishables similar to vegetables from the grocery stores. Of course, you may make plants last for years, if not centuries, with the appropriate care, so it is a wonderful investment to have the beauty and company of plants surrounding us, but all the delivery costs, shipment fees and delays, materials and you name it, it has raised prices on materials for our industry, from the plants to the decorations we use for them. So thank you for supporting my small business – especially those who repeatedly visit me.

It brings me much joy, honestly, especially in the winter months to continue my work and custom orders. I guess my point is – I’m still planning to make my custom made holiday items as well as my succulent pumpkin centerpieces, but prices have gone up for me as a very small business owner. Custom is not cookie cutter, so if you enjoy unique, handmade, well cared for plant creations – I’m your girl! And also, the weather factors, this year our areas got hit hard with rain and floods – this impacted the availability of pumpkins locally. But this will not stop me from creating because it is my passion. Passions can not be stopped! 🙂

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b
USA
Posted: 10/7/2021
Today’s weather: 54 degrees F, Foggy, H: 73, L:50
Weeknight temps for next week are in the mid 55’s range.
Friday and Sat – Party Sunny – yes! Glad we will have nice weekend weather.
Next week, looking good too in the mid-60’s to low 70’s, but maybe some rain showers

Overwintering Agaves Early

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This will be a quick post. I am trying to document how I overwinter various plants from the outdoors to the indoors in my area of Connecticut as I work on them. This week we are having gorgeous weather, thus I am getting a head start on my plants at home because I will be busy the rest of the month working on clients’ plants.

Agave (ah-GAH-vay)

These plants are considered succulent perennials hardy in zones 9-11, some maybe hardy in zones 7-6, but in my case, I treat them as non-hardy plants and move them into a lower temperature greenhouse for the winter. The greenhouse is not heated right now because it is still warm enough outside, but by mid-October, we could get frosts and my agaves should not be subjected to any frosts.

During the summer, my agave plants are in full sun locations on my outdoor deck in individual pots. Some are super heavy and require a hand-truck to move them to my greenhouse, while others I can manage to lift and carry in my arms in the pot, although it requires a bit of muscle power to do so.

I usually allow the soil to dry in the pot as much as possible but we had so much rain and moisture this year, some of them are still holding damp to moist soils. However, it is best to move them indoors when the soil is dry if possible.

Over the winter, I suggest you do not water them at all and allow them to stay on the dry side. If the soil stays wet and you move them indoors, they may get root rot (especially if you are moving them into a house with air conditioning still on and in a non sunny situation).

Inspect the Plant

Steps

  1. Let the soil dry out as much as possible before you decide to move in your agave plant. As noted above, wet soggy soils only invites problems (i.e., root rot, insects that like moisture, and fungus sometimes)
  2. Inspect the plant for insects. Use the methods below to blow away any insects, debris, etc.
  3. Lift to inspect roots if possible (optional)
  4. Wash the outside of the pot with mild soapy dish water if possible

Inspect

Usually my agaves do not have any insect issues on the succulent foliage. You may find a spider in there (a good one), a cricket hiding between the foliage, maybe even a tree frog sitting on the plant! They seem to like one of my bigger agaves. I find one or two tree frogs every year hanging on them earlier in the season. Before moving them inside, check them over for any potential insects or debris (like fallen tree leaves or twigs, etc.). Ways you can handle the inspection are by:

Using a leaf blower to blow anything off of it.
Using a hose with a harsh spray to blast the leaves with water to dislodge any debris.
Use a little brush to brush away items caught between the leaves.

Lift from pot to look at roots – optional and if possible

This agave is in a plastic pot inserted within a glazed pottery pot. I decided to lift the plant out and inspect under. Yes, the soil is still moist, but otherwise, the roots look fine. When I lifted it up, a tiny cricket insect jumped out – so it is helpful to check and get all those little hiding bugs a chance to get out before they move into your home or greenhouse.

You can see here the plant is pushing out a side shoot (pup) which will eventually form another baby agave. Overall, the roots look fine, but the soil is staying so wet, I decided not to reinsert the plastic pot into the glazed pottery pot when I moved it into the greenhouse. This will allow the air to help dry out the situation. Also, right now, the greenhouse is nice and sunny and warm. It will help to dry out the soil.

Overall this agave showed no major concerns. It is now safe in my sunny greenhouse to await the cooler days of fall and then eventually winter where it will be protected until next year. I have written about overwintering agave plants before. To locate the posts, type the word ‘Agave’ in the search box on this site.

Thank you for visiting. Let me know if you have any questions.

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

Is it time to consider moving plants indoors?

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This morning, I noticed a question pop up on one of my plant posts asking when I move my tropical plants indoors? And when do I start to store my Canna Lily rhizomes?

I have written a few times about my overwintering plants processes on this blog website.

To search for the posts, use the “red box” on the right side of the blog site, under the banner picture on top, to enter search words such as:

Overwintering
Overwintering Plants
Canna Lily
Ensete
Red Banana Plant
Bringing Plants Indoors
3 Signs it is Time to Move your Plants in
Elephant Ears
Colocasia
Alocasia

Typing any of those key words should lead you to some of my past blog articles about my process.

Basically, tomorrow is the first day of September, and we still have plenty of time to enjoy our gorgeous plants outdoors on our patios, decks, and special places. I usually start to consider doing some of my outdoor work to move plants indoors around September 15th (for houseplants primarily).

If you have a busy schedule like mine in fall, or you wish to get a head start on your outdoor patios, you could potentially start moving in plants by mid-September. Some of these tips are outlined in the articles on my blog, as noted above. However, many plants may wait until early October. It depends on the type, the temps, and the condition of the plants. I basically have these types: succulents, agaves, canna lily, elephant ears, mandevilla, herbs, cacti, jades, houseplants, red banana plants, castor beans, and…, did I miss any?

I think, in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6), I usually begin around September 15th. I may start to harvest seeds which are ready (ripe) on some of my tropical plants, such as my Canna Lily plants. Look for dry papery pods on the plants and find the round hard seeds within them. Store them appropriately in cool dark places. I use old prescription pill bottles to store my harvested seeds.

I may start to inspect some of my outdoor houseplants (ZZ Plant, Jades, Mother In Law tongue plants, etc.) and spray them for insects (if needed) and/or wash the outside of the patio pots with dish soap water before I move them inside my house, one by one, over time. I usually like to move plants inside the home when the soil has had a chance to dry out too. I do not like moving them in when the soil is soaking wet – that only invites insects and other problems due to the lack of air circulation in the home compared to outdoors, and perhaps you have cool temps in your home due to air conditioning running. The soil may remain too wet indoors if the soil is soaked when you move them into a home.

Your herbs may be booming still, or perhaps they look ratty tatty and it is time to harvest the last of them. It is really dependent upon the conditions at your home and the exposure they get. My herbs are little on the sad side, but I’m gathering them up as much as I can when I cook each dinner every evening. They will stay a while longer on my deck. I could let them just go to blah, and throw the whole root ball out with plants later. No rush on the herbs right now. Again, all of my plants are in patio pots and large container gardens. They are not in the earth (gardens of the ground), so this process is plants in pots.

And my hot peppers are booming at this time (8/31/2021), so I take those in and freeze some or use them up in salsa’s, tomato sauces, etc. Yesterday, my husband accidentally chopped up one of my ripened to orange colored Jalapeños in his work salad. Good thing he can take hot spicy food! Our tomatoes are fading now and I probably will start cleaning up those big pots to get a head-start on my outdoor deck work.

I usually like to start moving my succulents into my greenhouse before any cold snaps and extremely wet conditions. This could start anywhere from 9/25 on. Last year, we actually had a firm hard frost on Halloween weekend, but we also got some quick cold frosty like temps over night before Halloween, on certain nights towards the end of October, before Halloween. I do not like my succulents to be soaking wet and cold before moving them in. Again, for the reasons noted above. Same with my agaves. The thing is with global warming and all our weather changes, it seems to be slightly different every year. I think frosts came earlier the year before.

Older photo but a succulent like this I may move in sooner than later.

Many large and showy tropical plants (like my Ensete, canna lily, and elephant ears) may be touched by frost on the foliage “if you are storing the underground tubers, rhizomes, corms” or whatever you want to call the underground storage organ from these plants.” But some of the work is just easier if done before frosts because the soil is not cold yet, and damp. I usually leave my showy tropical plants out in my big patio pots till early October. However, this year, I plan to be out of town the last week of September, which really makes me have to think ahead. Anyhow, they are fine to stay out if you want to do so. Or fine to start earlier towards end of September or early October to get a head start. If you don’t need a head start, just watch the weather for frosts in October. Also, if you are moving the whole plant intact, not cutting it down, leaving it in the pot – you must move it in before frost for any tropical plants like the canna lily, elephant ears, mandevillas, and banana plants, etc.

Another thing I might do early is start taking some cuttings of various succulent plants to propagate. It can take a long time to get those started, so I may take some healthy cuttings now. I inspect them for any insects first, make sure it is a healthy plant to propagate from, and follow my usual process for that at this time of year as well. I do not use damaged or unhealthy plants for any cuttings I may take. It just invites problems.

And lastly, I still have not cleaned all my spring and summer empty stock piled nursery pots! ACK! I started it a month or so ago and have some cleaned and piled nicely organized in my greenhouse – but the darn humidity really got to me this year. I just lost my motivation to tackle the rest of big pile of pots I need to clean and store for reuse every season. I still have to work on that. I try to do that now because it is more work for me in the spring when I start all over again.

So anyhow, one last big tip – always note on your wall calendar when your area of CT received light frosts and the hard frost of autumn so that the following season, you may recall when you did what. Watch the weather and think ahead so you are not caught rushing. And refer to this blog site for prior tips. I’ve posted for many years my processes and have shown videos too. You may find some of my prior videos of when I took down some of my big tropical plants on my Facebook page under Container Crazy CT.

Thank you for visiting my plant blog again!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT
Dated: 8/30/2021
Weather today: Cloudy, 66 degrees F at 7:32 am, into the 80’s today.
Observation: Hummingbirds are visiting my feeders a great deal this week, and some bees too.
Wed-Thursday: Lots of rain (A-GAIN!!)
Rest of month: 75 days, 57 nights (per my weather app)
In Bloom: My canna lilies, my mandevillas – they look amazing and still showy!
Looking large and lush: My Alocasias and My Ensete – huge leaves right now.
Pods on my Datura, Canna Lily for some, and Castor Bean plants (starting not ripe yet)


Dealing with Fungus gnats in Potting Mixes

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I picked up my bags of potting mix soil early this year. It felt even a bit crazy, to be driving to go get them, when there were very cold temps outdoors that day, yet, it was a very sunny winter day and I was enjoying that part of it. But I did pause to think, “Am I getting these too early?”

Last year, I used more bags of potting mix than I expected, and I am constantly potting up plants, moving succulent babies into small pots, repotting larger plants, then comes seed starting soon where both my potting mix and seedling mix is used in trays. I also use some in my container installs later in the season, and it is kind of endless. I even repot houseplants for people from time to time. So, I need potting mix, and lots of it.

One thing I have noticed a lot lately, on various Facebook group pages related to gardening, plants, and interior houseplants, is the constant frustrations by people, some are newbies, some are not, on how they get fungus gnats in their houseplant pots inside their home. Everyone suggests a remedy they have tried from putting cinnamon on the soil to using hydrogen peroxide, misquote bits, and other home remedies. Whatever their remedy is, there is a growing (no pun intended) frustration with issues such as fungus gnats in the pots of plants and it has to be difficult for people to accept, especially when it gets out of control. They want to succeed and keep their plants healthy, but they encounter something like this and it drives them nuts.

Here’s a fact sheet about fungus gnats from Cornell, if you wish to read about them in formal, technical terms: http://www.greenhouse.cornell.edu/pests/pdfs/insects/FG.pdf

No growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation, but fungus gnat numbers can vary among growing mixes. Adults are strongly attracted to microbial activity in soil/media. For fungus gnat management, avoid immature composts (<1yr old), including composted pine bark mix. Mixes with any compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats than pure sphagnum peat. Good sanitation is vital.

Fungus Gnat Biology and Control
J.P. Sanderson

I thought this statement above from the Cornell fact sheet by J.P. Sanderson was key, especially when he wrote, “no growing mixes are immune to fungus gnat infestation” and also the part about mixes with compost are usually more attractive to fungus gnats. In other words, to me anyhow, the more sterile and clean the mix, the less likely you will get the dreaded FGs (fungus gnats) in the potting mix when the conditions are right for them to start up in the pot (such as moisture and temperature).

For monitoring adults, yellow sticky traps placed horizontally at soil level are most effective. However, fungus gnats can be monitored along with most other flying greenhouse pests by positioning yellow sticky traps vertically just above the crop canopy.

Fungus Gnat Biology and Control
J.P. Sanderson

Many times, on these gardening Facebook pages, people will say, “I use those yellow sticky tapes” to get rid of them, but in my opinion, those do not get rid of them – they MONITOR them. As noted above, these are useful to keep track of the amount of a FG infestation you may have and they also should be placed relatively close to the plant’s surface area. If you have a yellow sticky cards filled with them and you see FGs flying all around your kitchen, you definitely have a major problem. Usually the best place to start is thinking about the potting soil mix you used in the first place, and also your habits on how often and much you water your plants in pots inside the home.

“However, the primary reason why fungus
gnats are abundant in homes is related to
changes in moisture levels associated with the growing media of houseplants. Fungus
gnat adults are highly attracted to moist growing media. Furthermore, as the growing medium ages or degrades it tends to retain more moisture, which will also attract fungus gnat adults. In addition, decreased day length and cooler temperatures slow plant growth and water usage. If watering practices are not altered….

— by W.S. Cranshaw and R.A. Cloyd*

The link for the quote above and the full article is from Colorado State University Extension.

But one reason I pulled this quote from the article above (in the black box) is because I feel I see more of the FG problem in the winter as well. As they are pointing out, three things occur: the FGs like moisture and they note growing medium (potting mixes) sometimes hold onto too much moisture (meaning if in a pot for years and it doesn’t drain well for whatever reason), and lastly, plants tend to slow down growth in the winter months inside the home, so less moisture is being used up by the plants now in the winter months (so it stays too damp and maybe even too cold).

Cathy T (me) in my greenhouse

Another article noted that people notice FGs more so in the winter because they are inside with their plants, versus the plants perhaps being located outside during the summer, or you are outside more in the summers than winter. Houseplants in particular grow slowly and roots may not take up as much moisture such as a big tropical plant would in the summer outdoors. You get the idea. But they are pointing out, you may just notice them more in the winter months than summer.

Whatever the reason, these FGs are a real PIA to people. And they ain’t pretty either when you get into sowing seeds in a few months for your warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, in your seedling trays. So, it is critical you pick the correct seedling mix in the first place. And have the right temperature, environment, clean pots, and good potting or seedling mix, in this case when you start your seeds. Perhaps correct is not the right wording, you want quality seedling mix.

Usually my number one rule, when you go to buy potting mix or seedling mix, is to be sure you are purchasing fresh mix that is in good standing condition in the bag. If the bag is a mess, at whatever location you are getting them from, I’d stay away. I’ve talked about this in the following post:

https://containercrazyct.com/2019/04/15/cathy-ts-5-must-dos-for-successful-container-gardening-and-patio-pots/

When I see people upset that they can’t get rid of the FGs in their planted house plants in pots (from these posts I’ve been reading), and they feel they’ve done everything right, such as let the soil dry out on the top (since the FGs prefer moisture), they bought reputable potting mix from a reputable place, they keep their pots and areas clean, their pots have drain holes, they been careful with watering, and they are truly trying to be the best plant parent they can be, I feel their pain. Why, oh why, can’t we count on potting mixes in the retail market place to be problem-free?!

I remember once telling a guy at a garden show years ago that when I get my greenhouse I’m going to keep it super clean, and he laughed and said, bio-diversity is just as important. True I’ve learned, and no matter how clean, you just can’t sometimes prevent nature from stepping in. That is true.

And I agree with the above article too, if the soil is too damp, AND cold, and in winter, I think there is more of an issue with FGs (fungus gnats) appearing. The best thing you can do is ACT on it immediately when you see the little buggers flying around your potted plant.

However, I do everything I can to start with good, quality potting mixes. And I see that question asked often on Facebook gardening like group pages, well, what is the BEST mix?

Oh boy, that one gets all kinds of responses. I know which I like and which I don’t. I don’t get any paid advertising on my (this) blog at all, so if I listed them, it would not be for the purposes of gaining that but I also sometimes don’t want to list them because they can seem like the best, and whack, you get FGs anyhow!

One year, I offered a Seed Starting Workshop and we decided to test various seedling mixes. Each attendee had 32 cell trays and we split up the rows by using a different seedling mix per row. We used some of my professional potting mix and other potting mixes on the market, and two different types of “seedling mixes”. One type of seedling mix, for some reason, completely failed. The seedlings in those rows were so tiny and did not grow much. All the other rows were just fine. All was sown at the same time and in the same growing conditions, and I was watering the seedlings after the class for a few weeks for the attendees. I was so excited that I even thought of testing out the various potting and seedling mixes in this experiment without knowing the results would show us a really good example of how you might think a mix is great (and I did think the brand and place I got from was reputable) but it failed. Why? Hmmm. One thing was that mix did have more heavy components (bark) even though it was listed as “seedling mix.” As per the note in the first listed article above where they said mixes with more compost are more attractive to FGs, so the mix was heavier and probably a bit more compost like. Where all the other mixes were primarily sphagnum peat moss and perlite.

Seedlings in Cathy T’s Greenhouse

I never went back to the retail store to say, hey, we used this mix – and it really didn’t work well compared to the others. But what would the store owner say? He’s probably think I was a nut job. Not knowing, I’m Cathy T. LOL.

For years, I’ve been saying, I’m going to write a full blog post about potting mixes and which are the best (in my opinion based on use). And make it very technical, but I still really haven’t done that. I always just repeat what I’ve always said, use a fresh bag of quality potting mix (or seedling mix if sowing seeds) and follow these watering instructions (provided with my kits or in my workshops, etc.) and all should be fine.

I think probably the most important thing is the potting or seedling mix needs to be fresh, sterile, and well-draining. Mixes with additional components are sometimes too heavy for container gardening, seed starting trays, and patio pots. It also greatly depends on what you are growing (seeds versus a perennial plant). Heavier potting mixes are needed for certain types of plants. But I’m generally referring to seedlings right now and smaller plants, or those in smaller pots, such as houseplants being a good example.

As you can see, it is a hard topic to narrow down.

Because I am vigilant at cleaning my greenhouse and keeping watch of my plants, and my pots, and picking up debris, using good potting or seedling mix to start with, I rarely have a potting mix issues or major fungus gnats. However, recently I had one big succulent plant in a single 6-7″ pot, and I saw them, saw those FGs flying around that particular plant, and I immediately put a yellow sticky pest trap card near the surface of the succulent plant on a little stake inserted into the pot, and yup, I knew right away that plant had an issue when I checked that card one or two days later. There were quite a few FG attached to it in places. I tried treating it, the soil, with various methods. Then I checked again, the problem was not going away. What did I do? I repotted the whole plant into new fresh potting mix and even a new fresh pot, and I’ll keep watching. I did it because I love that big succulent, and it was worth it to redo the potting of it, at least it was worth it to me. Plus I didn’t want it to spread to other plants.

Because this topic is big and is difficult to write about, I’m going to stop writing right here and continue more on this later. It is time for my second cup of coffee!

BTW, my seedling kits come with my professional well-draining fresh potting mix (the one I trust) and planting instructions, growing charts, when to sow timing, seedling trays and seeds! If you are local to my areas, check out my offerings on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. I am offering free delivery to areas near me!

Thank you,

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

I made this yesterday…

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All I really wanted to do yesterday was create. I had an idea in my mind to make a small wreath covered in small glass ornaments, bright red and white berries, and a couple succulent plants. I wanted to pack the wreath in a way so it would be colorful, festive and fun.

It really is amazing how long something like this can take to make by hand. In fact, I would start working on it but then had to stop to do an errand or get the other tasks around my property done, but all I really wanted to do was create.

I played holiday music from my Pandora holiday line up of Christmas music which I play every season this time of year. It started with listening to Micheal Buble’s “White Christmas” song and continues on from there to Elvis or Etta – You name it. Every song gets me into that holiday creation vibe, along with the pitter patter of birds or trees moving in the wind outdoors. In fact, a bird landed on the greenhouse roof to visit while I was in there. These moments make me pause while creating.

Yup, I did. I put on the holiday music playing from the tiny new Bluetooth speaker. So let’s see, holiday music on for the first time on Nov. 19th. I think that is my earliest yet. It does set the mood, along with warm sunshine casting upon me in my little heaven of a greenhouse, where I often create, if it is bearable outside for winter temps. Once it gets even colder, my hands get cold in my special greenhouse, kept at a low even temperature during the winter months. Sometimes it gets too cold to create in there, unless I’m bundled up from head to toe. But it is one of my preferred places to be.

After doing errands, I finally got back to making the trio set. One thing that really annoyed me was a sticker was on the bottom of the round hanging globe and it was stubborn. I was like, oh gosh, now I have to go up to the house to remove this sticker, as I don’t have a working “sink” in the greenhouse with hot water. I was thinking, just let me create – no more interruptions, which I found removing a stubborn sticker to be – an interruption. I had to find a spray adhesive removal product and finally was able to completely remove it.

After that, and getting back to my greenhouse and continuing on my creations, my stomach started growling and right then, my husband texted me he was on his way home from work. It was almost dinner time, and yet, I still wasn’t done. The sun would be going down soon, I thought. I need to wrap this up. I left everything there to ponder more for tomorrow, which is now today!

This little mouse, I knew would be adorable in the globe. I thought of the owl found in the Rockefeller tree in NY recently, as I placed my white little mouse ever so carefully in the center, being sure the tip of his red holiday hat with a tiny white pom-pom would point up to the top. I’m not sure why, but I can not get that owl out of my head. I thought, I wish I had an owl to put in here – it would be perfect, but I only had the mouse in the house. Imagine replicating the NY tree owl with that little brown blanket tucked around him and those big bulging adorable owl eyes. OMG! That would be irresistible.

Each of the three pieces have similar color themes and the red dotted ribbon. This would tie them together. Along with the mini brown pinecones with tiny red berries. If I’m not careful, anything could be damaged or not positioned just right, this is why it takes time. I would never rush them as it takes away that Zen of creating.

One thing I have found is in order to create, you need lots of various supplies and embellishments on hand. I just can’t do something totally cookie cutter, it would be like an artist having to limit their various colors of paints, which I think may occur out there, but I don’t want to limit myself when creating.

Because these each have live succulent plants in them, they need to be displayed indoors and near some sunlight or in a brightly lit room, although the succulent plants are very tolerant and may be moved into pots after the season of holiday decor is over. The globes have succulents which are very slow growing and are sturdy, so they won’t outgrow the globes for a very long time.

So that is what I did yesterday. And now I have this feeling I want to make another set. With another color theme. We will see. I will keep you posted!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
see also: www.WorkshopsCT.com

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Pausing for Pumpkins

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In between designing these wonderful pumpkin creations, I’m trying to continue working on overwintering plants from my home container gardens as well as for clients.

We still have not hit our hard frost here in my area of CT, but it has been a busy fall season, and I guess you could say, “I’m pausing for pumpkins!”

Custom Orders for Succulent Topped Pumpkins

I have been making Succulent Topped Pumpkins for customer orders and it couldn’t be more fun! Now is the time to get one or make one yourself.

They are the perfect item to dress up your table (make it the centerpiece of an autumn inspired table scape at home) or give one as a hostess or teacher gift.

Large Pumpkin with Live Succulents and Decor

I arrange for “Zero-Contact” Porch Pick-ups of these from my Broad Brook, CT location or some deliveries are available based on your location.

They are created on any size pumpkin you desire, from a small (the size of a grapefruit) to, what I call, an XL! A pumpkin of larger proportions than well, let’s see, a basketball. Each pumpkin is unique and has a beautiful mix of live succulents with decor. You may request prices via text at 860-977-9473 or via email at containercathy@gmail.com.

But, please order soon, as supplies will eventually run out and so will the pumpkins. I source the real pumpkins by visiting local farmers here in my area. Now is the time to request your order.

And, these wonderful and pretty Succulent Topped Pumpkins are very low-maintenance and easy care. Complete care instructions are provided with each order so you know how to make them last well beyond the autumn season.

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT. Holding a Large White.

No Holiday Workshops This Year

In addition to working on overwintering plants between pausing for pumpkins, I also made the big decision that I will not be holding my big Holiday workshop this year.

I can not thank everyone enough for being here every year for the past ten years on the special day of making wreaths and holiday kissing balls!

The memories will last forever and it will be missed, but due to COVID-19, this is the year I am retiring them. Yes, I used the word retire as I do not think I will hold them going forward.

Workshop Kits

However, as I retire my workshops, I am excited to be redesigning my services to offer WORKSHOP KITS.

If you wish to make an item at home, check out my WORKSHOPSCT.com site for the details which I’m announcing over the next few weeks.

Autumn Kits are currently available for the Succulent Pumpkins and holiday kits will be announced for the winter holiday season soon.

After all, if you have to stay safe at home, you might as well get into creating something wonderful with plants and decor for any season. Kits may be requested for groups as well. Get your friends together in small groups!

Steve and Cathy Testa from 2019 when we held our 10th annual Holiday Workshop!
Order a Kit for December to Make Your Own Wreath!

Custom Orders

And I will be taking custom orders for wreaths and kissing balls for December. More details will be posted on that, but for now, as noted, I am pausing for pumpkins!

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT


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.