For a Wall of Flowers, Use Mandevilla Tropical Plants in Container Gardens

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Mandevillas are amazing flowering tropical plants for full sun locations in the summer in container gardens and planters, and I always enjoyed looking at them, but for some reason, I didn’t plant them very much at my own home location, until a couple years ago, when a clients’ needs to cover a wall with flowers lead me to paying attention more to mandevillas.

Perfect for walls, trellises, arbors and more…

If you have an area to grow a beautiful flowering plant upwards, such as a wall, trellis, lamp post, arbor, stair railing, fence, mailbox, or in a pot with a support trellis, these plants are perfect candidates. In Connecticut, mandevillas will bloom profusely on upward growing vines with big dark greens leaves when provided enough sun and heat, and appropriate growing conditions. They work very well in containers, planters, patio pots, and don’t even require super huge pots to thrive.

Mandevilla at a Client’s Home

Above is an example of a wall located below an upper deck. The white blooming mandevilla vines were very lush and full, growing from a planter about 24″ diameter and just as deep. It was facing the sun most of the day, and it looked absolutely fabulous, reaching the top of their deck that year. These plants will twine fairly quickly onto supports with many funnel formed flowers opening over the course of the summer to fall season in Connecticut. They must be taken in before fall frosts or overwintered immediately after being touched by frost. See my “Overwintering” posts for more information on that aspect.

Cathy Testa with two Mandevillas at her home in Broad Brook

In the next photo, here I am in between two plants in blue pots at my home. The base plants (serving as fillers) are Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’ (annuals in CT). I put really tall trellises in each pot along this wrought iron fence, which is on the driveway where the plants got full sun all day and my watering hose was easily accessed. You will see they were growing taller than me and if the trellises were higher, they would keep growing up and up and up.

In a Pot Growing Up a Staircase Railing

And I wanted to grow one up my stair case railing to reach the overhead arch, it almost made it to the top. It helps to use garden twine to guide it along and give the vines something to reach and attach to as it twines up. The purple pot below used for it is probably about 2 feet deep, but you may grow these plants in even smaller pots. More on that later.

Side View on the Driveway
Cathy Testa standing in front of a Wall Planted with Mandevilla Plants

And here is a photo of me with the mask on, primarily because I wanted to show the timing of this photo, of a wall I just planted. It wouldn’t be long for the plants to produce more blooms. It does help if you start with taller plants if you are looking to gain the affect of covering up something like the wall in this city photo. They will grow as high as the support system they can attach to. If I had a higher wall here, it would keep growing up all summer. They don’t grow as fast as morning glories, as an example. The growing pace is moderate, so if you want to get one to really show off, get the taller specimens to start with. They may be a pricy but so worth the display and enjoyment you will get by using one or more in your outdoors spaces.

Reaching for the Heavens
Gorgeous Pink Blooms against dense foliage
Stunning Against Blue Skies!

Moderate climbers that keep on growing up…

Mandevilla vines will reach to the heavens, if you allow them to – they seem to never stop wanting to reach up into the skies. If you are able to acquire taller specimens to begin with, it is worth it in my book. They come in white, pinks, and reds for bloom colors. I haven’t grown the red ones yet, maybe this year will be the year.

Funnel Shaped Flowers
Masses of Pink Blooms

Inspecting the leaves

Some of the varieties have glossier leaves than others. The leaves on the white blooming one, in my photos, were about 4-6″ long. A good tip is to inspect the foliage when you are looking for one during out Connecticut container gardening growing season, and although you might experienced a stressed leaf or two based on when they arrived in Connecticut (cause most of them are shipped here from warmer states), they usually bounce back quickly when potted up and provided the right soil environment and sunny conditions in your planters. It is not to say they don’t suffer some minor issues, but a good tip, again, is to inspect your plants. See a healthy tall one – don’t hesitate to grab it.

Now that is a HEALTHY A** LEAF!

Sometimes I admire foliage of plants more than flowers, especially when they look almost perfect. Not always achievable because we are not plant Gods, but the leaves on this plant that year, wow, so shiny and healthy. To achieve good results, be sure to have well draining soil, use pots with drain holes (see my 5-Must Do’s for Container Gardening), and inspect the plant from time to time. Sometimes, during inspections, I may discover nice insect visitors, like bees, lady bugs, butterflies, and moths.

A very WELCOMED visitor – Lady Bugs are great for eating any bad bugs!
Bumble Bee Heading in for a Landing
Bee Deep in the Tunnel Funnel

Moth – Awakening from His Night Visit

Not damaged by serious pests, but bothered if conditions are not right…

So far, I have not encountered serious pest (bag bug) problems on mandevilla plants, but I do think they don’t like “inappropriate environmental stress” and things like too cold of temps, or too much wind, or neglect from not watering regularly. Those aspects will weaken them, and you should also avoid areas with high salt (maybe road side). Do not plant them in containers or your patio pots in Connecticut outdoors till well after all chances of spring frosts. So, you would plant them around the same time as you put out your warm season vegetables, like tomato plants.

Heat, sun, and well-draining soils…

The plants want heat and sun, well-draining soils, and appropriate watering. These are tropical vining plants and they don’t like the cold, so remember that on your timing in spring time. They want warmer temps at night so even if the an early spring day feels okay, the cold temps at night are not good for them in early spring before frosts. Also, for more blooms, get some bloom booster liquid or water soluble fertilizer and fertilize a couple times a month in the summer after the plants are established if you feel there are not enough blooms being produced on your plant. It is a good idea, like most tropical plants or plants indoors over the winter, to acclimate them to outdoor summer conditions.

Acclimating a Stock on My Driveway
The In and Out Year

One year, I had to pick up my mandevillas orders earlier than normal, so I literally moved them in and out of my greenhouse during the later part of April into mid-May before planting them at a location. I didn’t want to subject the plants to cold temperatures of the evenings, but I also wanted to give them natural sunlight during the days (on good early spring days). It was a “Mandevilla Workout!” As noted above, do not plant them until around Memorial Day in our area of Connecticut (Zone 6b). They are from areas of warmth, sunshine, and moisture – so remember these 3 environmental conditions for your mandevilla plants. If temperatures drop or if you put them out too early, your plant will experience stress, leaf drop, and potential diseases later, so be sure to protect them from the cold in early spring before frosts if you pick any up early in the container gardening season in Connecticut. An occasional drop in temps in the summer is fine however if we get some freak cold (like we did last year in 2021 on Memorial Day weekend!), they should bounce back from the heat of summer, which mine did that year.

Pretty with the Ornamental Grass nearby

Of course, you may plant them into the ground but I typically do not do that. In this photo above, the pink mandevilla is in a pot below my driveway climbing up and an ornamental grass is in the background, which I thought looked lovely together as a combination.

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

As you can see, mandevillas make me happy. I love planting them and watching them grow all summer long. They turned into a plant I barely gave a second glance to, to one I can’t stop admiring now. I hope you will admire them too.

Pots don’t have to be really big…

And I noted you really don’t need big pots. Sources will say keeping them in smaller pots will force the plant into growing the top part of the plant more rather than focusing on growing roots for Mandevilla. In my experiences, I’ve done both, repotting into a 22″-24″ diameter planter or inserted the nursery pots into a larger planter, but be sure to allow draining in either scenario from the base of the pots. And the soil is best on a organic side. I have amended the soil with aged compost in pots with potting mix. I tend to space them right next to each other when creating walls in big planters. However, in gardens, it is recommended to space them apart by 8″. Probably the best maintenance tip is to water them regularly and not let them dry out too much. They have thick chunky root systems, so if the pots is smaller, you may see the nursery growing pot expand as the roots are trying to move around, pushing against the sides. In those cases, I’ve used a razor knife to cut the pot off the root base before planting them.

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b
All photos are taken by Cathy Testa
See also:
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
P.S. I plan to get more mandevillas this year, if local, e-me!

Flowering Tropical Plants for Decks in Connecticut

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

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

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

Flowering Tropical Plants

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

Blooms all summer

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

Hot Pink Canna Lily Flowers

Canna Lily Plants

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

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

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

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

Speckled with red on yellow flowers

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

How to plant them…

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

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

Can be top heavy…

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

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

Make More Plants!

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

Thriller in Arrangements

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

Pair Them Up With..

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

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

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

Thanks for visiting,

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

Overwintering Canna Lily Rhizomes Part II

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In my prior post, I detailed my process for overwintering my canna lily plant rhizomes in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6). I’m continuing it here for those who have asked questions (some asked in person and some via Facebook recently).

Basic Steps:

As noted on my prior post, cut down all the foliage, dig up the root ball, brush or wash away the soil, and let the rhizomes with a stalk attached air dry. After the rhizomes sat in the sun for a day, it was much easier to pull them apart to separate the rhizomes from larger clumps.

These rhizomes with partial stalks were left out on the table for a day in the sun

When I showed a friend how to do this process in person, she freaked out when I pulled the rhizomes by the stalks to separate them and then I started tapping the rhizomes on the ground to knock off more dirt. She was worried I was damaging them, and I said, “Oh, don’t panic, they will be fine.” I thought it was kind of funny but I get it – you don’t want to ruin them.

How to separate the big clumps

Sometimes when you have Canna Lily plants growing in a container for several years, when you pull the root ball out, it is one big clunk of a mass of roots and rhizomes all stuck together. It can be hard work to pull them apart. It is better to separate the rhizomes so when you replant them, they will be individual plants. The big clump over time will just not produce as nice of plants and will reduce the flowers. What I find is I try to separate them as much as I can and if they are really stuck together, let them sit in the sun for a day or two, and after it is dried out, take a stalk in each hand and pull apart and usually they will come apart easily.

Big Clumps “before” they sat in the sun for a day. Above photo this photo is after.

See the larger clump on the top right? That clump was much easier to separate after I let it sit in the sun for a day and overnight. Sometimes you will hear a “snap” like noise as you pull the stalks and the sections cracked away, and that is fine within reason. You basically do your best to separate them cleanly, but if they don’t – one or two cracks in the rhizomes is not going to ruin it all. After I separated them, I also cut the stalks to be about 4″ from the top of the rhizomes and let it all sit in the sun again for another day.

Preparing the Storage Bins

I store my canna lily rhizomes in plastic bins. Narrow bins work better. The deep bins are not necessary and if you stack too many rhizomes in a deep bin, they tend to rot more. So the narrow boxes are just right. You want to lay the rhizomes next to each other versus piling them up on top of each other for best results.

Last fall, I made the big mistake of not drilling some air holes in the new bins I had purchased, and some of my elephant’s ear tubers had rotted (ack!). Never again. So get your drill out and make holes the size of a pencil eraser. Not much bigger than that. You want little holes, not big holes. Also, put the peat moss about 1/3 of the bottom. Do not fill the container with the peat. You only need enough to allow a nice bed for the rhizomes to sit on with some of the peat poured over the top lightly.

Narrow Bins Work Best
Rubber Maid Box Lid

When I asked my husband if the drill was charged, he responded with, “What size drill bit do you need?” My response was, one the size of an eraser of a pencil. He got it. I don’t speak measurements well. Everything is visual for me! I want the holes to be tiny and just enough for some air circulation to occur in the box. It needs to breath just a little while it sits in my unheated basement for the winter months.

Label the box

I can’t stress enough the importance of labeling the box with the date and the items you put in there. I wrote it down in a notebook one year and then couldn’t find the notebook later! It just helps IF you are storing several types of tropical plants underground storage organs (tubers, rhizomes, corms, bulbs, etc.).

Stalks cut shorter, and allowed to dry in the sun again

After I trimmed the stalks to be shorter, I let them air dry again because otherwise that open fleshy wound could invite insects in the bin. It somewhat cures the rhizomes, you may also want to turn them over mid day to let it dry on the other side. Doing this on sunny days is best because if it rains, they get wet all over again.

One of the separations

More plants next season

One of the best motivators for doing all this work is you will end up with many rhizomes to plant when you bring them back to life in the spring time.

About the peat

Peat with some Perlite

About the peat

Does peat confuse you? It used to confuse me – cause peat moss is also used for hanging baskets or other projects in the gardening world. Do not use “Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss” which is used in hanging baskets, it is a more light dull brown color, and it does not work appropriately. It can hold onto moisture too much. The “Long fibered” moss, like shown in this photo below, is useful in craft projects, etc., but I find it does not work well for storing tubers, rhizomes, corms, etc. It stays too wet and doesn’t repel problems.

img
Do not use this type for storing the rhizomes

Use the brown spaghnum peat moss that typically comes in bags or square bales. It looks like this:

It looks like this without the white perlite

Last year, I had some extra perlite (white round balls in the photo below) which I tossed into a bin. Perlite is not in peat moss (just thought I’d mention that for observant people! LOL.).

In Bales or Half Bales

Available in compressed bales or half-bales

I’m not recommending any particular “brand” but usually I buy a compressed big bale like the one shown above, put it in a wheelbarrow, and break it apart with a small shovel. This type of peat is used in gardens, as soil amendments, and in potting mixes. It is used dry and I find it maintains well for several years, so the peat in my storage bins is reused over and over again “unless I had some type of bug or rot issue” in the bin which hasn’t occurred too much over the years. Also, I’ve read the peat moss’s acidic nature helps to keep problems out of the bin and away from the rhizomes. But we won’t go into that here, as I am trying to keep it simple. It is a great item to use because it retains a tad bit of any moisture just enough but allows air too.

Air holes along the top edge too

You will notice I drilled a few holes along the top edge of the bin too. If you are stacking these bins in your basement, the airholes on the top may be covered by the box above it so side holes are helpful.

Now, I’ve been told these things by people:

I just put my whole pot with the plant in the basement. (Yes, that works, but over time a big root ball in a pot won’t perform as well so eventually it is time to divide those rhizomes.)

I just put it in newspaper. (I am guessing this works but I trust my process and just keep doing it this way).

I just leave the canna plants in the ground. (Years ago, we could not leave the canna plants in the ground. They would freeze and die BUT I have found some that I planted in the ground next to my fireplace wall where the woodstove is used inside the basement, the canna lily plants have regrown. I believe the soil being a warmer in that area and the fact we have warmer temps from global warming has led to “some” canna lily plants surviving our winter ground temperatures, but I wouldn’t bet on it for any in containers left outdoors as they would certainly freeze. If you want to store the whole pot in the basement and not remove it to divide the plants, that is another option.)

I can’t be bothered with storing the rhizomes and will just get plants from you next year. (Yes! Sounds good to me. I grow many canna lily plants in spring and offer them for sale.)

Waiting on Storing this one!

Timing

All of this work may wait if you want to enjoy your tropical non-hardy plants here in CT, like this one I’m standing next to. I am waiting to do this one till at least early October because I am in love with this Alocasia. I almost lost tubers I had stored of these because of the non-air hole situation described above. The biggest leaf on this plant seems to be just getting bigger and bigger.

Gorgeous Alocasia Leaf 2021

Well, that’s it for today. I am continuing my work today outside here at my home. My husband has a joke that before we know it, it will be Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas! I will say, “Stop saying that! Because I love my deck filled with plants and it depresses me to take all this down, but he is correct. Time flies when you are having fun.”

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening Designer
860-977-9473
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Today’s Weather: 75-79 degrees F. Cloudy till about noon.
Tomorrow Weather thru Wed – looks good, then rain at end of the week. Rain equals wet working outside. I’ll thank myself later that I did this in the sun and not fighting the elements!

What I do for work:

Install Container Gardens
Grow Plants from seeds (and rhizomes, tubers, etc.)
Create and sell Succulent Topped Pumpkins in fall (next month!)
Create and sell handmade greenery wreaths and kissing balls for the holidays (December!)
Write with typo’s – LOL.
Stare at plants as much as possible
Have a good day…

Canna Lily Overwintering Rhizomes 2021

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Yesterday, it began. My first disassembly of a canna lily in a pot to store the underground rhizomes for the winter.

This process may be done anytime between now (September) up to our October frost. Frost may occur anywhere from early to late October in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6).

Because I want to get a head start on my work of overwintering various tropical plants, I did this one yesterday.

It was in a black nursery pot which was inserted into a metal decorative pot. I usually, as a rule, don’t do this – I usually plant the plants into larger patio pots, but alas, I was just too busy and you can see how the rhizomes and root ball area grew so large, it started to burst open the black nursery pot!

I used large pruners to cut the foliage off first, then worked to remove the black pot out of the silver pot – it was tricky!

Since the pot cracked open, I used regular kitchen scissors to cut the pot so I could get the root ball out. Then the real work began, trying to take this big rootbound mass apart.

First, I cut it in half. The rhizomes are usually about 6-8″ from the top and I do my best to not cut any of the rhizomes, but if you do, do not panic. It usually won’t totally harm the rhizomes. However, you do want to avoid too many cuts because cuts are areas where rot or insects can set in later. I also cut off the bottom half of the soil by slicing it off but am very careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Sometimes you may see where the rhizomes are once you start removing the soil areas here and there around it.

After cut off the bottom half of the soil off, cutting below where I think the rhizomes are located, I keep trying to remove soil by hand, with a soft brush, with tools, being careful to not nick the rhizomes.

I usually use a hori-hori garden knife, but I decided to just grab a large kitchen knife to do the work, first slicing it in half. After that, I used my hands and a small butter knife to chip away at the soil mass. I was careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Then after, I took the hose and blasted it with water to remove as much soil as possible. You need a strong spray so this hose end worked perfectly, minus the mosquitos attacking me near the hose at that moment!

Because the roots were so tightly bound up, the hose was really helping to wash away the soil. I really wanted to separate this mass because over time, if they stay in a big clump like this, they just don’t grow as well or produce as many flowers.

After the soil is washed away, it allows for more ease to try to pull apart the rhizomes by grabbing the stalk and tugging. In some cases, they will pull away cleaning without breakage. (Note: The larger clump I am still going to try to break apart after it dries more in the sun.)

I will let these sit on a table for a day or a few hours, and then store them in plastic storage bins in my unheated basement with peat (see type below). I will show the bins later but they are standard plastic storage bins with covers. I drill small holes in the covers to allow air circulation (important). Also, I think shorter horizontal bins work better than deep bins. You don’t want to bury them deep, just enough to cover the rhizomes with peat to help them stay cozy, hold light moisture, and stay dry. All a balancing act.

This is what the canna lily looked like before. It is one of the tallest varieties I have and I want to save some of these rhizomes in good shape. Of course, can I remember the name of it right now? No! LOL. Am I getting old? It will come to me. It is actually not that healthy looking in this photo. It got stressed from being root bound. Next year, it will look much much better. You can store the whole root if you want and I’ve done that before, but it was time for this canna lily to receive more attention so it will grow better from individual rhizomes next season, plus I’ll get more plants that way!

So the one I took down is the far left one. See the one on the right in the blue pot. That one was repotted in spring into that larger pot from a nursery pot. It will probably be easier to pull apart when I work on that one next.

Basic Steps:

  1. Cut off the stalks of foliage. Use clean, sterilized tools.
  2. Take the root ball out of the pot. Cut off the soil mass “below the rhizomes.”
  3. Take off as much as soil as possible around the rhizomes and roots. Use tools like your hands, soft brush, butter knife (I did), to scrape away soil but be careful not to nick the rhizomes or cut them. A garden hose with a strong blast really works well.
  4. Break apart the rhizomes carefully by grabbing hold of the stalks and pulling. Sometimes they pull away easily. If they don’t, keep trying to remove soil, let it sit out and try again when drier.
  5. Let sit out to dry and cure. (A few hours or a day or two).
  6. Store them in bins with peat (or people have told me they use newspaper but I prefer sphagnum peat moss that is sold in big square bales. It is reusable year after year so I keep the peat in the bins after taking the rhizomes out in spring time.)
  7. Make sure the location you store them is a cool dark place with no chances of freezing. (35 to 40 degrees F is the recommendation). My unheated basement works well by the door inside.
  8. Next spring, plant the rhizomes in a standard nursery pot (1 gallon size) and use good professional potting mix to get them started again. Plant the rhizome about 6-8″ deep in the pot. March is a good time to get them started. I do this in my greenhouse but you can do it by a window in the home where it is warm, etc. Before my greenhouse, I placed them on the floor in the pots by a kitchen slider window.
  9. Grow them in part to full sun when it is after our spring frost time. Usually the same time you may safely plant your tomato seedlings outdoors. Remember, put in shade first for a few days to acclimate.
  10. The photo below is of a bale of the peat moss. It is not the stringy peat you see in hanging baskets – it is the brown peat that you may break apart in a wheelbarrow if you buy a big bale. I reuse it for years if there are no issues in the bins. It is long lasting.
Premier Soil Amendments #0092
Copy of Peat in a Bale from web – available at various stores (Agway, Lowes, etc.)

Before or After Frost Timing

From my years of doing this routine, you may do this either before or after October’s frost. If you wait till frost, the foliage will be blackened from the frost. The frost and colder temps probably helps to put them in a dormant state this way, but I always have done it before frost with no issues in September. If you wait till frost, it is just colder outside and sometimes wetter – and messier.

See my prior posts on this topic (search Overwintering or Canna lily in the search box). Some are linked below as well.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener and Designer
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Today’s date: Sat, 9/11/2021
Today’s forecast: 75 degrees F mid day, sunny with some fluffy clouds – yes!
860-977-9473
“Containercathy@gmail.com”

Xanthosoma Surprise

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I had ordered more of the upright giant like elephant’s ear (taro) tubers to grow this spring but some of them gave me problems. There were some soft spots on them but I planted some anyhow and waited to see the outcome.

It took a long time for them to sprout and they grew slowly. Later, however, I noticed two tubers I planted in starter nursery style pots were forming clumps and the leaves looked different than what was to be expected for the tubers I ordered. It turned out two of the tubers were not the type of elephant’s ears I had ordered. They turned out to be a surprise. The company sent me the wrong tubers.

Xanthosoma (zan-tho-SO-muh)

Thus, it looks like I have a new name to memorize! Maybe I will call it Xant for short when I point it out to friends. Upon researching the plant and looking it over, I am pretty sure it is an Xanthosoma. The leaves are shaped with an indentation in the middle (like a shield). It is definitely not the Alocasia (an upright type) I was expecting yet it turned out to be a nice surprise to add to my collection of elephant’s ear plants.

I looked over the veins on the leaves as they were forming and a vein runs along the outside edge of the foliage, a distinct difference compared to my large giant upright elephant’s ears which do not have this particular vein pattern. I’m happy that a mistake was made by the company where I purchased the tubers from because now I have two of these gorgeous plants started. They also form a nice mass or clump of stalks with many leaves.

Xanthosoma in the center on the steps

The location where I put two potted plants of these received part sun all summer since putting them outdoors after our spring frost. I love the way it added to the tropical vibe between the tall canna lily plants. I usually pot ALL my plants into large patio pots with fresh soil but I just inserted the Xanthosoma in a decorative pot (blue one) rather than repot it, and I made the mistake of using an outer decorative blue pot with no drain holes, so every time we had a downpour of rain (often this year in 2021), I would have to take the inner nursery pot used to start the tubers out and pour the rain water out of the outer pot which didn’t drain.

Close up of Leaves – Believe it is an Xanthosoma elephant’s ear plant
Rain drops on the leaves

This is considered a tuberous perennial hardy in zones 9-11. It grows about 2-3 feet tall and I will store it the way I do most of my other elephant’s ear plants, by either digging out the tubers and storing in my basement in boxes, or taking the whole plant into my greenhouse for the winter. I probably will put one plant in the greenhouse to see how it tolerates lower temps and store the other via the tuber method.

During the summer, I started to fertilize it weekly and the soil was kept on the moist side all summer because of our routine rainfalls this season, which is what this plant prefers (moist soils). Hopefully, I will be successful at re-growing this variety next season. Eventually the foliage color improved and got darker, etc.

Zingiberaceae (zin-ji-bah-RAY-see-aye)

Oh gosh, another long name to memorize! This also is a new plant I tried this season, but not a mistake, a purchase from a local nursery. I saw it and immediately had to have it. It is a ginger plant (variegated with the yellow and green leaves) and I knew it would fit in with my tropical plant vibe.

I know I have the plant tag somewhere in my office. I will have to locate it. I’ve read that gingers are cold-hard in zone 7b, but we are in zone 6, so I have to figure out how to over winter it. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Variegated Ginger Plant

Of all the new plants on my deck, this one is my favorite and a must keep. I don’t have room for it in the house and I am not sure yet if it will tolerate my low-temp greenhouse for the winter. I am considering dividing and and storing half by digging up the rhizomes and perhaps keeping half of the plant in tact, repot and put it in the greenhouse.

When I first got this plant, I planted it in a big blue planter but it wasn’t happy. The leaves would roll up and seemed to be coiling up from the sun’s heat. So I moved it and it still wasn’t happy mid deck where sun would hit it mid-day. Then I moved it further to the end where there is plenty of shade, and it thrived. It appears to do best in part shade. It also did not like drying out so I kept the soil moist. I always put time released or slow release fertilizer into my potted plants, but I also started to give it a balanced liquid fertilizer every couple weeks or so when I was pouring fertilizer on my other deck blooming plants. It definitely enjoyed that and took off. It is healthy and huge and I just love it. It did not flower however this season.

A Ginger Plant – Early Morning Photo
It’s Happy Place, where there was shade most of day except very early am’s.

Learning how to overwinter plants is often a trial and error process. Over the years, I have been very successful with overwintering various tropical plants. These two above will be new ones for me.

Another Agave

I also decided to repot an agave (another one) yesterday. It was in a green tall glazed pot and the pot was so extremely heavy, I knew the soil was staying way too wet. I wondered why, it had a drain hole and so I took the whole plant out and saw the soil was a very dark rich black color, so I think I may have put it compost. Again, rushing is not a good thing. I probably was rushing, grabbed some compost and planted it in that despite knowing agaves need well draining soil. That soil just retained way too much moisture, so I repotted it into a lower pot yesterday, adding perlite to professional potting mix, and put it in the greenhouse. This is a photo I took of it. You can tell the lower leaves are off color – a bit yellow – showing signs of just too much moisture. It should recover now.

Another Agave Repotted

I usually don’t get bothered by mosquitoes on my deck or in the yard, but this year, they are on killer attack. It has been difficult to work outside without getting dive bombed by them. They have bit me on the ear lobes, on my face and fingers, and legs. Why do I mention that, I’m not sure, but it makes me wonder how on earth landscapers do it all in this wet weather. For me, my motivations is the love of plants and how it makes me feel every time I look at them. Looking at my two new plants offered me curiosity and relaxation and I certainly want to do my best to keep them so I may regrow them next season.

What is next?

I will probably ask my husband to help me this weekend to move some of my bigger pots into the greenhouse so I don’t hurt myself! And we use the hand-truck and it is not too difficult. As mentioned prior, I’m doing some work early. I’ve already disassembled my tomato planters and I threw out some herbs too. I had to literally talk myself into taking out the herbs because some still looked okay but I had to repeat to myself, take them out – you will be too busy later. I also took down a long shelf style planter with several Mangaves and Agaves and moved them into the greenhouse and put the long two tiered planter in my home. My home doesn’t get enough sunlight for all of the plants, so the planter will be used for something else, we will see!

Next to do will be to disassemble some of my canna lily plants. I really need to take apart the rhizomes and un-crowd the pots. When you leave them in a clump year after year (if you store them that way), eventually they get too pot bound and won’t produce flowers. I also collect seeds this time of year from my Canna lily plants.

I’m also collecting Datura seeds for a new one I planted this season, it has purple upright flowers. Since collecting the seeds for this plant is new to me, we will see if I’m successful. The key is to wait till the seeds are fully ripened, and also to do some research. Each type of plant is different. I read you can put paper bags over the Datura seed pods and let them crack open and the seeds will fall into the bag. I didn’t use this method (yet), but it is a good idea – IF IT DOESN’T RAIN, which it did again last night. This means more mosquitoes! Ack.

One thing I just love about tropical plants is how fast they grow. They really make a show in one season. Years ago when my friends would visit, they would rush to my deck to look at all my plants and see what I had out. However, now I notice they just know I will have lots of plants and don’t seem as “surprised” as they used to, plus many have learned some tricks from me and have tropical plants of their own now. I guess they just expect Cathy T’s deck is always over loaded with plants – and I actually cut back this year. Giggle!

Well, I’m kind of rambling. Sorry about that. Hope this post is helpful or enjoyable – which ever is best for you!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Connecticut
860-977-9473
Lots of photos on my Instagram under Container Crazy CT
Date of this post: 9/10/2021
Today’s Weather: Mostly Sunny 68-70 degrees F
This weekend – sunny all weekend –YIPEE!!!

Protect Pots from Rain

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In most cases, we adore the days of rainfall during the summer because it offers a break from watering our container gardens and patio pots, but this year, 2021, we got our fair share of rainstorms and too much at times.

I found that soil remained wet too long in some cases. It stressed our tomatoes, however, most tropical like plants love the rain. For some of my succulents, it was just too soggy. They did fine, but with today’s expected downpours (due to Hurricane Ida remnants passing over Connecticut today, tonight, and tomorrow), once again my succulent plants (agaves, jades, echeverias, etc.) will get more rain pounded on them as they sit in their patio pots. They haven’t had lots of dry periods this season, so the soil has stayed more on the “moist” side than dry side for days.

Because of this, I decided yesterday to move some of my plants onto a deck table with a patio umbrella so they won’t get blasted again. Yes, it is a bit of a PIA (pain in the a**) to move them, but I just don’t want that soil water logged at this point as we transition into September.

I will most likely move some of them to my greenhouse too. I am only doing this as part of my overwintering process early because I have a busy month coming up and this is my only week to get come chores done early. So again, plants may stay outdoors for quite some time, even into early October “for some types of plants.” However, when it comes to my succulents, I don’t like them to stay in a water logged state too long. Fortunately, this weekend’s forcast looks fantastic. It is predicted to be in the mid-70’s with sun from Friday to Saturday (yes!). But it looks like more rain on Labor Day! Rain rain rain this year.

Plants not poorly affected by rain are my tropical plants, such as this upright Alocasia, which I adore. Tropical plants add a real feel of a jungle or rain forest, and I love having that look on my deck because it makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii. If you can’t be somewhere tropical, might as well try to get that feeling at your home.

This plant is showy and grows extremely large leaves. I took the time to measure the biggest leaf yesterday. It is 3 feet height and 3 feet wide with a 3 foot long stalk. In fact, it was hard to hold up the ruler as I tried to take a few photos of it yesterday.

These plants are accustom to dealing with tons of rain fall cause they are from the tropics and are used to it – it is in their genetics, basically. That is cool. With all the strong rainstorms we had this summer, the leaves just kind of tussled around and didn’t break or even tear. Also, the leaves have the ability to shed water droplets and also the texture of the Alocasia leaves allow the water to run off quickly.

Members of the Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma are always on my plant list. They grow huge. I love the heart-shaped elephant ear leaves and enjoy looking at them every single day. In fact, my jungle look is at the end of my house by my bedroom, so I see this via a slider door and have watched hummingbirds visit quite a bit this year as they go to the orange tubular flowers below this Alocasia shown above.

Another plant which has done well despite the rain is my Mandevilla. In fact, the Mandevilla twined around one of the stalks of the Alocasia this summer as it reached out for places to twine as it grew. This one is called, Alice Du Pont, and it is a plant which I overwintered last year in my basement in the pot. I took it out early to start growing in my greenhouse and then planted it in a big raised bed like planter on my deck. I fed it bloom booster water soluble food about once a week for a time in the middle of the summer and it has bloom beautifully. It is considered a tropical vine and works well when trying to create that jungle look with some trumpet like gorgeous hot rose colored flowers.

These tropical plants will grow well into early fall. I perform a combo of overwintering techniques from mid September till mid-October. Some are stored in their small pots in my basement or greenhouse, some are taken down (foliage and tops cut off) and tubers or rhizomes below are stored in boxes in my unheated but not freezing basement. And some are kept going by harvesting seeds and sowing them next season. The Mandevilla (and Dipladenia) can be a little tricky to overwinter and get growing again. It helps that I can start them early in the greenhouse. I started some others and they did not take off or produce as many blooms. You can’t win them all in the world of nature. There are just so many factors which are out of your control. Like rain for example, but then again, rain is a helper at times as well. Mandevilla are stored as dormant plants in a dark place at about 40 degrees F over the winter. The soil should not completely 100% dry out but stay more on the dry side than wet.

As for the Alocasia noted above, also known as Elephant’s Ear or Taro, I’ve dUg them up and divided off any side shoots as well as put the tubers in boxes in my unheated basement. I’ve detailed the steps in prior blog posts on this site. This spring, I did encounter a problem. Some of my tubers were soft in spots which usually doesn’t happen. I know what I did wrong. I used “new boxes and bins” and neglected to drill some air holes in the covers. I was rushing because I was busy. I planted them anyways in spring but they were really slow to grow AND I was worried the rotted parts would ruin the whole process. Some made it and some others were tossed. The tubers must be stored in a dry cool place, away from any chances of freezing, and after the plants go dormant for the winter. I hope I will be more successful this year. Time to get the drill out!

This photo is of my Ensete (red banana plant) with Castor Bean plant (left) and another type of elephant’s ear on the right. It is the first time in years that I did not directly plant the Ensete into the large square big cement planter. I planted it into a big pot and set it into the big cement planter. I got a little lazy and busy, but it is doing just fine. It still grew massive leaves and looks super healthy. I added compost to the soilless potting mix in the black pot. I grew the castor bean from seeds of last year and the elephant ear from a stored tuber. I won’t be working on these plants until early October.

Well, I think it is time to go work in the light rain before the harsh rain arrives later today and will be pounding overnight. We have seen a lot of flooded areas around here, ditches over flowing, damp lawns, and run off. We even got a huge sink hole down the road from rain this season. It is at least 6 feet deep. We are lucky compared to the people in NOLA. I can’t imagine what they are going through and they are in our thoughts.

One last thing – other methods for dealing with rain (drain holes are a must in pots, elevating the pots with plant saucers or trays, moving them under tables, and spacing them out so air flow circulates around the patio pots after the rainstorm, and maybe even a fan. Yes, I put a fan on my tomato plants this summer, it was that wet out there!)

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
9/1/2021
Today’s temps: 66 degrees F (100% rain at 10 am); 60% rain tomorrow (Thursday)
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT

Another huge pot with Canna Lily, Amaranth (from seed), and annuals – will blog on these later!

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 JalapeƱos 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)


What are these black spots on my plant’s leaves?

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I had a very nice afternoon seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time due to, we all know, COVID! But yesterday, we finally met and she gave me a tour of her houseplants, asking various questions. Some of her plants in her home are traditional houseplants, some are succulents, and a few plants are in her basement for the overwintering phases of plants in our area of Connecticut.

Canna Lily Plant in the Basement

She actually wanted to show me how her Canna Lily plant in the basement, still in its pot, was pushing out new growth and also had a bloom starting on the tip of one stalk, no less, but the leaves of the plant were covered in brown spots. My initial question to her on that issue, was did she have any water dripping down on the plant’s leaves by chance? She said, no, no issues with that, however, her basement is probably on the moist side and the leaves were suffering. My immediate suggestion was to cut all the foliage off, especially since the base of the plant was showing a new shoot coming up from the rhizome below the soil, so she will get new growth on it as soon as we can place our pots back outside this year, around Memorial Day. Plus damaged or foliage with issues will only drain the plant’s energy, so it is always a good idea to cut off anything unsightly or bad on a plant if possible, always using clean, sterilized tools so you do not transmit any issues later when using those tools again.

Black Or Brown Spots with a Yellow Halo

I was curious, however, about the spots. When you see this photo, they are somewhat in a pattern. That led me to suspect it was more than just a bit of winter stress. There is something going on here. I thought, I will look it up in one of my many gardening or plant reference books when I’m back home.

Canna Lily Leaves with Spots

I have many books on my shelves in my home office. Over the years, I’ve collected many but I have never really written about any of them here on this blog. Perhaps today is the day to start. One place which I’ve stopped in to get various books in the past is a small bookstore in Northampton, Massachusettes. I was just there about a week ago and popped in. They don’t have an extensive collection of plant related books, but I tend to always fine a “good one” in a little corner of the store, where a limited supply of plant related books are stocked. I think whomever picks them out has a good eye.

I prefer to review the books in person versus buying online because I kind of know right away if the book is a good fit for me. I’ve learned a great deal about plants over the years, and I’ve read lots of books to find answers, learn more, and for the pure enjoyment of reading about gardens and plants. Some books cover things I already know or are already in another book on my shelves, or maybe it is too complicated, but whatever the reason, I usually instinctively know if I will like it. And I did like this one.

A cute handy book

How Not To Kill Your Houseplant Book

A book I picked up at that cute little bookstore a year or so ago during a prior visit is called, “How Not To Kill Your Houseplant” by Veronica Peerless. It is a small book, easily held in your hands, with a yellow hard cover. I remember I flipped through the pages and thought, hmm, this one is cute and decent. It has clear photos of the plant and goes over how not to kill it, best locations, light, watering and feeding recommendations, and care, etc. It has some information on common bugs and problems but it is not overly extensive or technical but just enough information to quickly find what you are looking for. It is also a visual type book, where photos lead you to what you may need to research.

So this morning, I pulled this little book out and immediately spotted the leaf spot in the book’s Plant Diseases section. Granted, Canna Lily plants are not technically houseplants. Out here, in our area of CT, I view them more as great tropical plants we put out in the summer months in container gardens or gardens. They are not winter hardy here. They grow tall, bloom summer into early fall, are easily stored by moving the pots into your basement as is, or by digging out the rhizomes from under the soil and storing those in boxes during our winter months. And I should note that some Canna Lily plants do suffer from various virus type of diseases, and some are not curable. In “some” cases, you may have to toss the whole plant.

Whole Pot of Canna Lily in the Basement

My friend, Linda, has the whole pot in the basement. The plant is pushing out new growth from the top of the soil, sensing the arrival of spring, and there is a window nearby too, so it did get a bit of light during the winter months. But, as I read the description of the Leaf Spot in the little book I picked up in Northampton, it said the problem is often caused by bacteria or fungi, which are more likely in damp conditions. Most basements are damp, so that made sense to me. Also, the fact each of the brown spots on her Canna Lily leaves had a “yellow halo” as described in the book leads me to believe it could be a Leaf Spot issue (or it could be a virus of the canna plant).

Book Image of Black Spot on a Houseplant

How to Treat Black Spot

My recommendation to Linda was to just cut it all down, stems and all, and it will regrow fresh growth when we move our plants outdoors in late May. Also, I suggested to her that if we get a spring tease day soon, put the pot outdoors for fresh air to allow the soil to dry out. But this may not solve the issue and she may need to treat it with a fungicide, which the book (or author, I should say) of the book recommends.

The book doesn’t specify any type of fungicide or particular brand. That is something you may want to ask your nursery person about when you go shopping this season, or when you order it online, be sure to read what the spray treats before clicking “add to cart.” However, Canna Lilies plants are easily dug out. Perhaps another route is to take the root ball out and pot it fresh in the summer. Without researching it further, I can’t say if a spray will fix it completely. It could be an incurable virus, and well, more research from my other plant books is required to make a more thorough assessment.

Other Plant Problems are Featured

Again, one of the reasons I enjoyed this little handy book, I think is partially their photos and images are well done. It shows other houseplant diseases such as, gray mold (Botrytis), Crown and Stem Rot, Powdery Mildew, Oedema, Sooty Mold, and Root Rot. Ack, those all sound horrible, don’t they? And of course, it shows the Leaf Spot issue discussed above. But a photo or diagram of each is depicted in this book.

Nice Visual Aid

This book is a nice simple visual aid. In the front, rather than your typical table of contents, are photos of each plant featured in the book with the page number and plant name. So, if you are unfamiliar with technical or botanical names of plants, you may easily recognize your houseplant from the photo, and then flip to that page.

Sometimes, I never get to read a plant book in it entirety. However, I super enjoy those days when I can sit in my greenhouse with a plant or gardening related book from my stock and flip through to read it or review sections of it. I recommended this book to my friend because I saw many of the houseplants she has in her home in this little book and thought this will be a handy reference for her.

BTW, I get no monetary payback from anything I post on this blog, so the book review is just my humble opinion. My payback is being able to help a friend with their plant questions. Feel free to ask me anytime and if I don’t know the answer, I will try to look it up for you.

Thank you for visiting today.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT

Overwintering my Alocasia Plants

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There are many tender tropical plants which I overwinter each year around this time of year in October. They are either dug up and packed up in a cool, dry, frost free place, moved into my home as a houseplant, or moved into my low-temperature greenhouse for the winter.

Today, I will share how I overwinter my newest favorite tropical plant, Alocasia macrorrhiza or Alocasia macrorrhizos (Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears).

Here is a photo of me standing by it around mid-September 2020. It is quite tall and an impressive specimen showcasing dark green huge leaves, big enough to serve as a patio umbrella.

Cathy Testa standing next to her Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plants in 2020

Each leaf reached just slightly over 3 feet long from tip to the start of its rigid stalks, which were also 3 feet long. Thus, the plant towered over us at 6 feet tall total. The width of the leaves reached about 2-2.5 feet across.

Measuring the leaf after it was removed in the fall from the planter

This plant is not winter hardy here in Connecticut, so it must be removed from the planter to store the tubers (or rhizomes) for the winter. This may be done after the plants get touched by a light frost (which will damage the leaves and make them turn yellow) or immediately after a hard frost (which will completely kill the top parts of the plants and its foliage.)

I prefer to move them in before frost for two reasons: (1) It is not cold out and easier to work with the plants. And (2), sometimes if you leave the tubers in the soil too long, when they get cold and wet this time of year, rot may actually start on the tuber before you dig them out. The tuber will be soft if any rot has started. BTW, the tuber is referred to as a rhizome as well. For the sake of this post, I will use the term “tuber.”

Cathy Testa holding a leaf from the Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plant in October 2020

While working this weekend to continue my overwintering chores, I asked my husband to take a photo of me with a single leaf to show the shear size of this dramatic foliage plant. I obtained the tubers in 2019. That year, the plant grew more clumps of leaves, but this year, in 2020, the plant grew much taller stalks and bigger leaves. I always tell my followers and customers, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant.

This planter going into my greenhouse

If the plant in your container or patio pot is small enough, you may bring it into your home for the winter, or even into a greenhouse. However, I typically choose to store them by digging up the tubers, after cutting off all the foliage, and storing them in my basement, which is unheated but does not freeze.

The location is key. You need to consider the place you are putting them. A cold closet in the home may work. You need to experiment the first time you do this and hope for the best. A garage (unless it is attached and gains some heat from the house), does not work. The tubers would freeze and die.

Okay, here are my steps:

(1) Chop off all the foliage. You may use either a sharp long kitchen knife or a machete, which I often use the machete when it is a very thick stalk or stump. Just be sure your tools are clean to not transmit any disease or insect problems. I usually start with removing each leaf stalk individually, then cut across the whole stump area if it happens to be large.

(2) Dig out the bottom part with the tuber from the soil. Do this by digging around the plant with your shovel or garden trowel and pushing down around in a circle. You should hear the roots snapping as you are cutting them during this process. Then lift the whole clump together out of the soil. Try to be sure you are not breaking the tuber below the stump area.

(3) Lay the bottom parts in the sun. The bottom part of the plant will either have a visible tuber, or not. Either way, lay them in the sun for a minimum of one day to dry (and/or cure, as they say). Sometimes, I let them sit in the sun for a few days but do not leave them out if you get a hard frost after digging them out. If the bottom piece you dug out is thick and fleshy, turn it upside down to allow the excess water to drain out. These plants hold lots of water. You may gently brush away any excess soil or use a garden hose to blast off the soil, but sometimes I prefer not to add any more moisture to them if I can help it.

Lay the tubers out in the sun

(4) Snip off any long roots. Notice in this next photo how long the roots reached. Because the soil was fluffy and dry in my planters, I actually pulled the roots out of the soil because I wanted to see how long they were. They almost reached the bottom of the gray tall planters. The reason I snip off the roots is to eliminate as much fleshy material from the pieces. Fleshy, wet materials may rot in the storage box.

Showing the root lengths

(5) Put the stumps (for lack of a better word) and or tubers into a storage box and cover it with peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss may be purchased in large square bales or in bags in smaller amounts. It is a natural and organic ingredient that absorbs moisture and aerates around the tubers in the box. Pour some of the peat moss in the box in the base, lay the tubers and stumps on it, and then pour dry peat moss over and around them. Do not over do this. You are only lightly covering them with the peat moss. BTW, the peat moss is reusable every year. It lasts a very long time.

(6) Place the box in a cool, dark, dry location that doesn’t get below freezing and is somewhat unheated. Such as my basement. If placing the box on a concrete floor, place a tray or something to elevate it a bit off the floor because as that floor gets cold in the winter, it may create condensation in the storage box. My basement does get some woodstove heat from time to time, but the woodstove is way at the opposite end of the basement from where I store my overwintering boxes. And the woodstove is not used all winter, just on some nights. So the area where I put all my overwintered plants in boxes stays colder. It has become my sweet spot for this process. It is okay to stack your boxes on top of each other. I use plastic bin type boxes with a lid. Do not use clear plastic boxes, use those that will eliminate any light. Sometimes I have drilled holes into the lids to allow some air to enter. The tubers tend to stay dry but just slightly moist by the peat around it – but not wet. Do not store them in a very wet state. This will lead to rot. If your basement is too hot and dry, they will dry up and shrivel and may just rot away to a dry state which is not usable. If your basement is super cold, the tubers might freeze and die.

(7) Label the box with a sharpie marker, date it, and note what you stored so you will remember in the spring. If the tubers make it, you may recognize them, but if they don’t, you will be wondering what you stored, at least I have, because I store many types of container garden plants over the winter months.

An Alocasia in a large pot

You have other storing or moving options as well. You could just move the pot with the plant into your basement and hope for the best, but you may not have the space, or the muscle power to move a big pot. And usually a big pot is too big for a home. But that is another option to mention. If you move the entire pot with the plant into your basement, you will need to monitor it for insects and add water to the plant, but at a very minimal fashion. You are not watering it like you would during the summer season.

Left – See the Tuber?

In this above photo, the tuber on the left is covered in brown papery like material, which you leave on there. However, on the photo on the right, you really only see a stump. Storing either works for me.

This storing process allows the plant to go into a dormant state. They will not grow in the dark boxes and will usually do fine. When spring returns, you may bring them out of the darkness by starting them in smaller pots inside the home to awaken them. They should not be planted outdoors in your patio pots or container gardens again until all chances of spring frost has passed. These tender bulbs will bring back repeat performance year after year by following my steps above.

If you found this post helpful, please comment below or share my site with others.

Thank you.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT 06016
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Other sites: www.WORKSHOPSCT.com and www.ContainerGardensCT.com
Container Garden Designer, Plant Lover
and a little “Crazy” about plantings in containers!

Currently taking orders for custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins. They are created with live succulent plants, fall or Halloween decor, and are amazing on real pumpkins. They are low maintenance, easy care, and last for months. Porch Pick-ups and some deliveries arranged. Inquire for current prices. 860-977-9473 texts are welcome.

3 Signs it is Time to Move your Plants In

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Here are 3 signs it is time to start thinking about moving your plants in:

You closed some windows in your house this morning because the chilly morning air is making your fingers cold as you type on your laptop in your home office or as you reach for your cup of coffee! (ME, this morning.)

You have a cat you allow outdoors, but he or she is screaming to come back in because the temps have dropped outdoors. (My Cat, this morning.)

Your nose is sniffling because the cool air gives you the some fall allergies. (Me! Yes, this morning. Where’s the Kleenex tissues?)

Well, those are definitely 3 signs for me. I feel the cool air this morning. It is 45 degrees F right now as I type this. It is chilly out there, but it won’t freeze your plants (yet). Your tropical plants can take it and so could some of your succulents, BUT, if we got rain with this type of chilly temp drops, it makes all go chilly and damp.

Damp, chilly, cold, and especially wet soils in container gardens or patio pots this time of year in Connecticut usually leads to issues when you move the pots inside the home for the winter.

This is something I’ve been repeating, I think because to me it is intuitive, and difficult to describe in scientific terms. If my hands are cold right now, so are my plants outdoors on my deck. In fact, if you went outside right now, and touched the side of a patio pot, it would feel cold. If they are cold, they are ready to start being moved in soon. But there’s still time.

Yesterday, I spent most of my day packing up items to use at a client’s site later today. I will be starting to disassemble their container gardens and I would rather work in good conditions, which it will be today, and also before all gets cold, wet, and damp. It is way more messy to work on the projects when it is in that colder situation, even though I’d work on container gardening anytime, anywhere. I have worked in rain, cold, wind, you name it. But, hopefully today, I will bask in the sun while I work this afternoon on beautiful container gardens which are now ready for phase two – autumn installs.

Yesterday, I only did a few small things at home for myself, my plants, that is. I decided to move in a small plant of my Upright Alocasia. It is one of the off sets from the bulbs I planted last season of this plant. Called Alocasia macrorrhiza or Upright Jumbo elephant ear. These gorgeous elephant ear plants are a favorite on my list.

Upright Elephant Ear Plants

The bulbs for the upright elephant ears are spring planted bulbs and they are tropical. They can not be left in the container gardens or patio pots outdoors for the winters here because the upcoming freezing temperatures would kill them. They are considered “tender bulbs” of tropical plants.

This time of year, these plants may stay out in the containers or patio pots until they are hit by frost (usually mid to late October) around here. If hit by frost, the foliage will droop, turn black, and die back. But that is okay if you are storing the bulbs inside over the winter. Since the tops of the plants will be cut off and tossed.

I usually take my tropical plants down (cut the tops off and remove the bulbs from the soil) either slightly before or right after a frost hits in our area of Connecticut. I store the bulbs in my unheated basement in various boxes. The place you pick to store the bulbs should never freeze and stay dry. And the place you pick to do this is very important.

For years, I selected a spot right next to the basement door in a corner. I put a 5 tiered shelf there and placed the storage boxes on each shelf. It was just perfect. They always make it and stay dry enough and cool enough there.

However, last fall, I decided to move all the boxes along the foundation wall in the basement, and it was under a big bench. I lost some of my bulbs. The area is only a few feet away from the shelving system, but the boxes were placed on the floor. The condensation created too much moisture in the boxes and some of the bulbs rotted by springtime. This year, they will be placed back in my “safe” storage spot on the shelves.

However, this plant below, is in a smaller pot. I know the chilly air will hit on and off during the evenings this month, and I thought, you know, I can manage to move this one on my own. As noted before, sometimes I ask for the assistance of my husband to move bigger plants.

Using the hand-truck to move it indoors

I grabbed our handy dandy hand-truck to carefully rolled it to my greenhouse and put it in there for now. Usually, I dig these up and store the bulbs, but I am thinking maybe I will leave this one in this pot since the size is not super large like my other Alocasias for now anyhow. It is in a more protected location for the fall. I could work on it later if need be.

Moved into the greenhouse 2020

In my other two very large pots on my deck, I have more Upright Alocasias that are 6 feet tall right now. The leaves are gigantic (3 feet tall and wide). I will document my take down process and show it here for my followers when I take those bigger plants down from my container gardens. As noted, I can wait on those till mid October. By the way, these bulbs can not be left in the ground either through our winters. They would freeze and die.

I plant these types of tender bulbs in the spring in starter pots and place them in my greenhouse early to get them growing. They take a while to really kick in and get started. I plan to offer some next season. People have been asking, when they see how magnificent the plants have become with their tall upright growth, towering leaves of 3 feet in length and almost as wide, if I will have them for sale next season, and I think I will.

Photo of last year’s Upright Alocasias

Other types of tender bulbs are Canna Lily, Begonia, Caladiums, Gladiolus, etc. They are planted in containers in the spring and keep growing and showing off right up till our CT frost. This has always been one of the reasons I adore tender bulb plants! They put on a show right to the very end of our growing container season. When we start putting our pumpkins outdoors, they are still showy. In fact, if you have ever attended the Big E (a huge multi-state exposition) near our area (which is sadly cancelled this year due to COVID), you will notice there are tons of Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, and Begonias in the planters areas around the fair grounds. They are so showy in September. I always noticed that when we attended the Big E this time of year.

Later this week or month, I will post lots of photos of my Upright Jumbo elephant ears to show you the size. The plant can reach up to 6 feet (which mine has this year) or 8 feet (probably next year). They like light shade and develop dark green leaves. I noticed on the smaller plants (which were off sets from last year’s bulbs), are a darker green than the larger plants.

I usually let them get hit by frost or take them down right before frost, but for the ones in smaller pots, I may move some into the greenhouse and see how they do (for now). If they appear to be suffering at all, I will dig them out later when I have time for those moved into the greenhouse.

Mammoth Magenta Celosia

On another note, check out another big plant – my mammoth magenta Celosia, grown from seeds. The first thing I find fascinating about these plants is how tiny the seeds are. They are like a speck, for lack of better wording. Yet they grow to massive sizes from one tiny speck of a seed.

My mammoth Celosia is finally blooming. These are another type of plant, an annual here, which provides a great late season bloom. It is called Celosia argentea var. cristata and shows off deep magenta blooms with green and orange foliage. It grows up to 5 feet tall, and mine is a bit taller than the leaves on my giant Ensete (red banana plant) in the same pot where the Celosia is planted. The stalks of the Celosia are super thick and strong. I have to look up to see the intense magenta blooms right now. It is very pretty.

Ensete (red banana plant) is to the right

Ensetes (red banana plants – see the burgundy red foliage to the right) are another plant I store each winter. I don’t move them into the house or greenhouse in tact. They are far too large, towering up to 10-12 feet each year usually. I’ve documented my storing process several times of my Ensete plants. Here are some links to prior posts on that:

https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/

https://containercrazyct.com/2013/08/22/my-monster-cement-planter/

https://containercrazyct.com/2014/05/09/ensete-ventricosum-maurelii-a-big-red-banana-plant-revived-again/

My cousin asked me recently, how do you get that big red banana plant out of your huge cement planter? I responded with, “I climb up there into the planter (it is a huge cement planters) and dig it out with a shovel!” Yes, I do! LOL. Seems crazy but I love those plants so much, I use the little muscle power I have to get ‘er done.

Last year, I did a fast motion recording of my work on that particular large cement planter and removal of the Ensete plant and showed it to my followers. I may do that again. Will keep you posted.

Last year’s Pro photo of an Upright Alocasia

As for now, I am going to sign off but I will be back showing as much as possible my various storing methods of my container gardens for those interested.

I appreciate you visiting and sharing my blog.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Container Garden Designer
CT Location: Broad Brook in East Windsor
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com

Note: I will be making custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins this year and will have various “new” succulents available at the end of this month. If local and interested, please reach out (860-977-9473) or email me at containercathy@gmail.com. Photos will be posted as usual.