Repurposing Prescription Pill Bottles as Seed Containers

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Recently, I decided to use the plastic pill bottles provided by my pharmacy for our prescriptions as small storage containers for my collected seeds. The pill bottles are small enough, have a label on them already which I can write the plant and date on with a sharpie marker, and the amber color of the plastic pill bottles are dark enough to prevent light exposure.

Pharmacy containers are made from light resistant plastic and meet USP light standards for light transmission and USP tight standards to protect the contents from contamination for pills, so I figure they must offer the same protection for seeds. Plus, it feels great to repurpose these pharmacy pill bottles rather than tossing them into the recycle bin.

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Before taking seeds from plants that you want to try sowing next year, it is important to know that several changes take place in seeds as they mature and ripen on plants. Sometimes, you may notice the outer parts covering the seeds start to become dry and brittle. Eventually, as it dries, the seeds fall naturally from the plant or the coverings crack open to reveal the tiny seeds held inside.

Seed Coat Colors and Moisture Content

The colors of the seed coats will change as well as they mature. They may change from a light color to a dark color such as brown or black. But what you may not realize, since it is not visible to the naked eye, is the moisture content in the seeds reduce during their maturation process.

Some seeds need to retain moisture while others can tolerate a higher percentage of moisture loss as they naturally dry. It depends on the species of plant. Each is different. Fortunately, we can leave the moisture content percentages to the professionals as they know when to harvest their seeds for optimal germination.

Seeds may dry some more after harvest and/or before you store them in a container. If the seeds become too dry, they may not germinate the following year.

It is difficult to determine what is going on with the moisture content, but it is helpful to know because many people get frustrated when they sow a whole tray of harvested seeds – only to find out they won’t germinate. Feeling frustrated, they think they lack a green thumb, but it could be just the reality the seeds have gone bad because they did not mature fully on the plant before harvest, or because they were stored inappropriately.

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You may notice seeds or their outer coverings are hard on some species of plants. A good example, which comes to mind because I just collected them, are Canna seeds. They are as hard as rocks or marbles. They need to be chipped in order for water to enter the seed when sowing them.

How Seeds Travel

In nature, animals will eat seeds and carry them to different places, the first being their digestive tract which will soften the seed coats as its pass through their gut. When released to the ground, the seeds will most likely germinate if the environmental conditions are right (light, temperature, water, oxygen, etc.).

Other seeds have interesting spines which become attached to animal fur, and our clothing when we do gardening work. This is another way in which plants modify their parts to make sure they are successful at getting off the plant and into the ground to grow.

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An example of seed coverings that are spiny are the seed pods of Castor bean plants. When broken open, you see the seeds within but the outer parts are covered in spines. Another modification to seeds are the wings we see on maple tree seeds which make them fly. They are called ‘Samaras’ and are on ash and elm trees too.

Then there is the method of moving seeds by water – think coconuts. Even explosions are used by plants to burst seed coats open which shoot seeds out and about to disperse. Clever those plants are in their strategies. No high speed WiFi needed for them.

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As noted above, if seeds are taken off plants too soon, they may not be fully developed. They may still germinate but the plant may not be of good quality or short-lived. Additionally, if seeds are not stored appropriately, they may loose their ability to germinate.

Storing Seeds at Low Temperatures

Seeds should be stored at low temperatures and low-humidity. You may have heard about how seeds can remain good for many, many years, even up to 75 years. This is true, but usually it is with the case of seeds with very hard seed coats. They will not germinate unless the seed coat is nicked, scratched, or chipped so it can take in water. Fires are another way in which hard seed coats are broken or damaged. Nature always finds a way.

Some people will keep their seeds in their refrigerators to keep them long term which works, but if the seeds have too much moisture content at time of harvest, the moisture inside the seeds may freeze. Moisture proof containers help this situation.

As for myself, I haven’t done much seed collecting over the years, just a bit here or there. I’ve stored them in envelopes before but this new method of using the pill bottles is handy and convenient. So far, it has worked.

Just a little tip!

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

 

 

 

How to Make Kissing Balls for the Upcoming Holidays

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Container Crazy CT offers several classes and workshops year-round where Nature with Art are combined.

There are several classes offered every season, such as the annual Container Gardening Workshop in May and a Kissing Ball and Holiday Creations Workshop in December.

And this weekend is the Storing Tropical Plants Demo where steps will be demonstrated on how to overwinter plants such as Canna, Elephant Ears, Angel’s Trumpets, and banana plants.

During the months between the spring and winter, special guests artists are invited to hold various hands-on style classes with the the mission to educate, share, and create – and most importantly, have fun with friends.

On the drop down menu under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” from the top of this blog, you will find descriptions for each workshop scheduled in 2015 and upcoming in 2016.

Starting Early – Kissing Ball Workshop Dates

We realize that many of us don’t like to start thinking about Christmas or the Holidays until at least early November, but when you have workshops to setup, some things need to be ordered in October so we are ready when December arrives to make our wonderful holiday creations. This is why places like Hobby Lobby are stuffed with Christmas crafts already, where you may find decor to add to your kissing ball or wreath at the workshop.

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KISSING BALL & HOLIDAY CREATIONS WORKSHOPS

The December upcoming hands-on workshops have been scheduled. Seats are limited for the first big workshop date of December 5th, so register early. We gather to make beautiful holiday creations with a mix of fresh evergreens and socialize. It is a fun day and a great way to make your own kissing ball just in time to place it on your porch or hang it in a hallway.

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See How It’s Done

Kissing Balls Shown on TV by Cathy T. See how they are really fun to make and require a bit of time, but they are beautiful and unique when hand-made with your special touches – and the fresh evergreens smell wonderful – not to mention, when you hang them outdoors, the birds like to perch on them – so pretty when snow is falling upon the kissing balls. You can find steps on how to make Kissing Balls on the web, or watch the video linked above, but when you gather with a group – it makes the whole process extra special because you are with a large group of enthusiastic attendees, the mechanics and amazing greens are here for you, and you learn from Cathy T and attendees with their own unique ideas, such as adding lights to the balls. If you live in East Windsor or surrounding towns in Connecticut, come on down and join us – we have attendees all the way from New Haven joining us annually.

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Open Studio Days and Mini Session

Additionally, there are other opportunities to craft away and make beautiful round kissing balls with a wide mix of evergreens to adorn your home indoors and out. An Open Studio week is offered where you may schedule your own appointment to make an evergreen creation at a time convenient for you. Lastly, we have a Mini Session on December 12th. We also make square or round wreaths, candle centerpieces, and mail box swags at these workshops – you pick the one you want to make.

How to Register

All you need to do is fill out the Contact Form. Cost is $30-$45 (+ sales tax) based on item you select to make, and pre-payment is required. Once you sign-up here, you will receive the 2015 price list and details with instructions. Location of the workshops is East Windsor, Connecticut.

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CALENDAR OF WORKSHOPS

For a handy view by month, click on the CALENDAR menu.

An Attendee Listens to Cathy T's Instructions at the KB Workshop

An Attendee Listens to Cathy T’s Instructions at the KB Workshop

ARTISTS ARE INVITED TO TEACH

Artists are invited to teach and a page shows the Featured Artists for the upcoming season. If you are an artist utilizing any aspect of plants, nature, or the environment in your designs and would like to introduce your product along with DIY instructions for Container Crazy CT’s attendees, please contact her at 860-977-9473 or containercathy@gmail.com to arrange a date and discuss your ideas.  All classes are taught by professionals and artisans with years of experience to share with the interested attendees.

We hope you will join us.

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

Overwintering Red Banana Plants – Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

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Hello Visitors,

Every year, several tropical plants from my container gardens and patio pots are overwintered. In this post, you will see how I helped a client, Laurie, who attended my May container garden workshops, dismantle her pots in September. She did an amazing job with watering and care all summer. Her plants grew very large and were extremely healthy, and now she knows how to store the root bases to attempt regrowing them next season. By the way, she wanted to dismantle her pots early because she was ready for the fall season and putting out mums on her deck. This process can be done much later however (end of October or early November) depending on how you wish to overwinter the plant.

A Client's Container Garden with Red Banana plant as a thriller

A Client’s Container Garden with Red Banana plant as a thriller

As you can see, her red banana plant in this pot grew quite large. It started as a small plant in May. This is a plant for planting zones 9-10 so it is not hardy in Connecticut but it is a great specimen to grow in pots – it grows large fast and the root base can be stored over the winter.

Take note the other plant on its left side is an Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) and during the summer it bloomed orange red flowers next to the rich red coloring of the big banana plant. The height of the butterfly weed worked well next to this very big red banana plant.

By this time in September, the Asclepias formed seed pods. The blooms on this plant are a major source of food for Monarchs.

Cathy T uses a bow saw to say "Timber!"

Cathy T uses a bow saw to say “Timber!”

You will see how I used a bow saw to cut off the top of the plant. It’s pretty straight forward, make a clean cut, do it about 15″ from the base, and let it fall. The hard part is making the cut because the plant is so beautiful. A bow saw works terrific for this – it slices thru just like you would a giant stalk of celery which is how this plant grows, pushing through new shoots/stalks of leaves from its center. Don’t cut it down too low – this can damage that growing center. Some people will make the cut even higher, more on that in the Oct 17th demo (see info below).

Top Removed

Top Removed

Even though I am smiling for the photo, my client was not. She cringed. I asked if she was okay and she said it is so hard to see it taken down. I don’t blame her. She did a great job of watering and watching her plants.

Red banana root base

Red banana root base

Can you guess what this is? It is the root base of the red banana plant. It was a bit of a job to get it out of the soil but after we did, we put it upside down to allow excess water to drain from it. The water collects in the center, and this root base is quite fleshy too. You want to air dry it a bit (few hours or 1/2 a day) to get a lot of this moisture drained out – but you do not want it bone dry either. Then it gets stored in peat in a box. More on that to be shown later.

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Laying down a tarp or old blanket is a good idea when you do your work of dismantling your container gardens because there will be a lot of foliage to take away to your compost bin.

Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet)

Next was the Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) which is another beautiful, fast growing, showy tropical plant with 6-10″ gorgeous trumpet shaped flowers, also hardy to zones 9-11. It must be dealt with “before frost” in the fall. However, as noted above, the red banana plant may be left out until frost hits it if you store it as shown above.

Brugmansia with Coleus

Brugmansia with Coleus

This picture doesn’t do it justice. For a first time container gardener, my client did an amazing job with this plant too. She and her husband enjoyed the highly scented pink trumpet shaped flowers in the evening. You have a few choices with this plant in regards to overwintering it in Connecticut. You may take it inside (if you have space) and treat it as a houseplant. Or you may store it in your unheated basement that remains cold but not below freezing. It will drop leaves and look unsightly, but rest assured, when you take it back out next season, it will boom again. You may also cut back this plant hard too if you wish to reduce it in size for space considerations. However, if you leave it tall, you have the added bonus of it being much taller next season. We decided to cut Laurie’s back a bit.

Brugmansia trimmed back with loppers

Brugmansia trimmed back with loppers

Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) is a plant which can grow to the size of a small tree in the right conditions in the ground. It will bloom all the way into November if you wish to keep it going. It will grow a bit smaller in containers, or a big bigger in really big pots. It’s a keeper on my plant list.

Canna on deck

Canna on deck

Next was the beautiful pot of two Canna plants on her mini deck. Her husband graciously carried the pot to a better working location for us after we cut back all the stalks. Again, Laurie whimpered as we did so. The next photo shows what the pot looked like after all was cut off.

Canna with tops off

Canna with tops off

Her blooms were rising so high which is something Laurie commented about as we worked. She was impressed, and did see hummingbirds visiting the blooms this summer. And again, the plants were stunning. It was sad to see them go but the plus side is after storing the rhizomes, they will be ready to be regrown next season.

Rhizomes removed from Canna pot

Rhizomes removed from Canna pot

Here’s a test for you? How many rhizomes do you see above?

I count 17 at least – this means she now has 17 new plants from one potting!

Private Sessions

It took some time to dismantle three large container gardens but we enjoyed every minute. This service of showing you how the process is done and working with you is available up until our frost date, so if you wish to hire me for a private take down session, send me an email soon at containercathy@gmail.com or fill out the contact form below (private sessions are $25 and held at your home).

Castor Bean at End of My Driveway

Castor Bean at End of My Driveway

To close today’s post on overwintering plants from container gardens and patio pots, I’m sharing a photo of my castor bean plant at the end of my driveway (noted in yesterday’s post). It is Giant Zanzibariensis and provides quite a show – it grew to a monster size. The seeds are collected as a way to regrow it next season. More on that later.

And lastly, I wanted to share a photo of my Crocosmia since I referenced it yesterday and planted it into the ground this week from my blue pot. The best thing about this plant is how the hummingbirds visited it often. They loved the red blooms and would chirp away. It was replanted in a very large container which is almost the size of a smaller garden bed for next year’s enjoyment – so this year on the deck, next year in the garden – recycling the good way.

Crocosmia

Crocosmia

Overwintering Demo

On October 17th, Saturday at 10:30 am, the overwintering process will be demonstrated. If interested in attending, see the links on this blog under the “Nature with Art Programs.”

Workshops and Classes

Every season, Container Crazy CT offers workshops and classes. Some are plant related, some are arts related. This spring, we had a wonderful windchime making class. This May was repeated Container Garden Workshops. And every winter is the annual Holiday Kissing Ball and Evergreen Creations workshop where you may learn how to make them with fresh evergreens! Don’t miss out – we are always adding programs.

Red banana plant in my backyard

Red banana plant in my backyard

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

About this blog:

Container Crazy CT is about sharing the passion of growing plants in container gardens and about combining nature with art. Cathy Testa offers classes and workshops and regularly shares information about growing plants in pots. She is located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. To learn more, click the tabs on the top of this blog site. Cathy Testa also speaks at garden clubs, women’s groups, farmers markets, and special events. See Garden Talks above if interested in having her speak to your group.

 

Overwintering Canna Plants from Container Gardens

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Hello Visitors,

As noted yesterday, I am beginning to disassemble, dismantle, and take apart my container gardens and patio pots.

As I do, I will share with you the photos and steps in the event you can not attend my demo on Oct 17th, Saturday.

Yesterday, I took apart one pot of Canna plants. I selected the tall red one, figuring it would be easy to show you what I do.

Canna plants may be kept in the pot and stored inside, but today’s post shows you how to store the rhizomes.

Rhizomes

Rhizomes are the storage organs which are swollen stems under the soil that usually grow horizontally, below the soil about 6-8″ from the top of the soil line in the pot.

Mature rhizomes may be cut into sections to produce more plants, but you don’t need to do that step now. Just remove them from the soil and store them in peat moss.

Other Overwintering Options

Option #2: If you have a nice sun room in your home, you have the option of continuing to grow your Canna in the pot. However, I find if you keep your Canna plants in the same container for several years in a row, they start to get crowded and tend to not bloom or flourish as much.

Option #3: A third option is to leave the Canna plants in the pot and move it to an unheated basement where it remains cool all winter, but not below freezing. The plant will go dormant and may be revived the following spring after spring frost. In this case, however, you will need to watch for insects and water it sparingly so the soil does not go completely dry during the winter.

Canna Rhizome Removal

Tools: Clean pruners, loppers, or if you are not a full time gardener with various garden tools, use a long kitchen knife (like one you would use to cut bread).

When: You may wait until the Canna plants get hit by our fall frost later in October, and many references will say wait until it gets hit by frost. However, I’ve stored rhizomes in fall before frost and all works out fine as well.

Canna Australia in a Tall Red Pot

Canna Australia in a Tall Red Pot

Cleaning: Using sharp, clean tools is important to prevent pests and diseases from being transmitted to your plants or storage organs (rhizomes). It is also a good practice to wear gloves and wash your hands as you work, and wash your pots when you are done dismantling everything.

The Steps

Step One: Cut the stalks at the base, leave a little 5-6″ stub if you want. Most important – make a CLEAN cut. Do not tear, pull, tug or make a jagged like cut – the cleaner cut the better. If the stems are thin, pruners work. If not, I like using loppers for a clean cut. If you use a kitchen knife, remember to make the slice/cut as clean as possible.

Clean Cut at Base

Clean Cut at Base

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Step Two: Remove other plants in the pot and save as needed or toss. Then remove the root ball. Usually, if the pot does not have a edge on the top rim, it slides out just by turning it over or rolling it on a table (unfortunately, for this red pot, I had to work at removing some soil inside to get it out).

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You can see a rhizome poking out of the soil here in this photo above. This can help to locate where they are but you will not always see this in every case.

Step Three: Cut off (slice off) the bottom half of the soil mass. Be careful to not cut the rhizomes which should be about 6-8″ from the top of the soil line.

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Step Four: I placed my hand to show about the distance from the top of the soil to where the rhizomes are in the soil. Start to remove the soil away from the rhizomes using your hands or tools. If you use tools, try to not damage the rhizomes accidentally — but if you do – don’t panic. Rhizomes are often cut into sections for propagation, it won’t kill them if you break one by accident.

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Step Five: Pull the stems a bit apart, they may break away freely, meaning the rhizomes will separate. Take one stem in one hand, and another in the other hand and pull them away from each other, you will see how they break away. Then clean off as much as the soil as you can. You may use a garden hose to wash them off with sprays of water, but I don’t always do this because then the rhizomes get super wet. In this case, I did to show you how they looked.

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Step Six: Trim off the stem stalks. I do this because any fleshy material stored has the potential to rot in the box of peat moss. I even trim the roots if they are super long with sharp pruners. Then let them air dry a bit (couple hours).

The last step is putting them in a container (box) with peat which I will show in tomorrow’s post.

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In this particular case, the rhizomes were on the small side, but that doesn’t matter. Each piece you save is another new plant for next year.

Crocosmia (perennial)

This summer, I put a Croscosmia perennial in a blue pot. The hummingbirds adored this plant’s blooms. It was amazing to see them zip by every day. So, you have choices with perennials too on what to do with them if you grew them in your container gardens and patio pots.

They may be removed now and put into the ground to have in your garden or if you have a garage, some perennials will come back if you store the whole pot with the un-removed plant over the winter in the garage.

You may also bury pots with perennials in the ground, but I don’t like that idea because the pot will get dirty and probably worn out more – but this is an option. This information was noted on the container garden workshop handouts in May as well (for those attendees reading this information).

Before I cut back all the foliage from the Crocosmia perennial, which was tattered by the end of the summer, I collected the seeds from this plant for next season. They may be scattered in your garden or stored for next season.

I put seeds in prescription bottles. Its a great way to recycle the bottles and the label is available – with a quick sharpie marker, I write the plant’s name and date, and store the seeds in a cool, dark place until next spring.

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The seeds are stored in pill bottles as shown above.

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The root ball was removed from the blue pot. I decided to plant it in my big cement planter after doing a bunch of cutting back of the existing perennials in the cement planter, which also has some huge castor beans growing.

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Then I put some stones around the Crocosmia to help me remember I moved it there. Even if I don’t keep it in this spot permanently, it is now saved for next season.

Crocosmia Blooms from a Prior Season

Crocosmia Blooms from a Prior Season

I love my big cement planter because the soil is so healthy and easy to work in, and dig in. Yesterday, I noticed some worm castings in the soil. This is what they look like below. It a sign the little critters in the soil are doing a great job of keeping the soil healthy. Worms increase air and water movement in the soil and help break down organic matter when they eat, leaving these worm castings behind which help the plant’s growth.

Worm Castings in Soil

Worm Castings in Soil

As noted in yesterday’s post, I sometimes put old soil balls/masses from dismantled containers into “big” pots or into gardens as a filler in the base – this is one example. The soil in this big cement planter is from former container gardens, and the worms moved in quickly. The soil is rich now.

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Begonia from Tubers (see yesterday's post!)

Begonia from Tubers (see yesterday’s post!)

By the way, yesterday I wrote about storing tubers from tuberous Begonias. Here’s a photo of the plant from this summer (see above) which I found this morning in my files.

Note: The details about appropriate storing temperature, methods, and specifics by type of plant for overwintering various plants will be covered in the demo session on October 17th. If I were to write all the details here, this would be a very long post – and I’m wordy enough! But this shows you the basics. It is fairly easy to overwinter plants but there are other tips to be learned.

Keep tuned in – more tomorrow…

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

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The Container Garden Take Down Process Begins

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Hello Visitors,

I’m posting some misc photos this week of the work I will be doing here and there as I take apart my container garden plants. This is for the friends and workshop attendees who are probably ready to do the same – and I hope the information is helpful to you. As always, ask questions if you have them!

Tuberous Begonia

For the first time, I grew a tuberous begonias from tubers. They were started in early March indoors by placing the tuber’s hollow side up in moist peat. They must be kept warm and carefully watered to not over water or under water (keep moist). Shoots began to form, but it took a while for the plant to kick in and later produce blooms, but it was worth the wait.

Three of the plants were gorgeous and showed off orange flowers shaped like peony flowers (male flowers) and rose shaped flowers (female flowers) on the same plant. The stalks of these types of begonias are very fleshy and one plant leaned over from the weight of the plant by the end of summer, and from the force of the wind during last weekend’s rain storm.

I chopped off the top of the plant using clean pruners, and then tipped over the pot and got the soil base out carefully on a table. It was fairly simple to locate the storage tuber. I will allow it to dry a bit on newspaper then it will be stored over the winter in a cool dark place. These tubers should be checked to make sure they don’t dry out during this process in the winter months.

Tubers of these types of begonias must be dug up before our fall frost hits and dried slowly before storing them in peat moss at about 45 degrees F. Wish me luck – I hope to grow even more of these plants next spring!

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Recycling the Soil

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

If you have attended my workshops in May on container gardening, you heard me go over the soil-less mixes and what I find has worked well over the years. I’ve also mentioned that reusing soil mix is not recommended, at least not for many, many years – and especially when you keep the mix in the pot with the plant. It just doesn’t retain water well or hold nutrients as nicely when it is worn out – BUT you can use it for a year or two, or put it into a compost pile, or sometimes – I will put it in a huge pot (like my big black pot with my red banana plant – see prior post on that). Putting it into bins like shown above is helpful. I remove all the foliage and make sure none of that it is the soil bin, and I put the cover on, but I also remove the cover from time to time to let it breath as the water condensates. These bins will be moved into my garage or growing room soon to stay over the winter and will be reused next year.

Castor Bean

Castor Bean Seed Pods

Castor Bean Seed Pods cut away from a huge plant!

If you are my neighbor or you drive down my road – you have definitely noticed the crazy size of my Castor Bean plants (Ricinus) at the end of my driveway.

A woman pulled in one day, drove down my long driveway to inquire what the heck was growing there. “She had to know,” she said.

This plant made me laugh every single time I left or returned home. It is massive! I’ll share pictures of it later.

This plant is easy to grow from seed. I got my seeds from Comstock Ferre in Old Wethersfield, CT this year. The plants reached about 12 feet tall at the end of my driveway. I also grew some in the ground in my backyard.

The leaves of this giant would be perfect to make leaf castings for birdbaths! This huge tropical can be impressive and comical, as mine was this season.

Just yesterday, I thought I better chop down one because it is becoming a hazard. It is blocking the view of oncoming cars as we leave our driveway.

As I cut it down with big loppers, my neighbor yelled out, “Cathy, What did you feed that THING?!”

Ironically, I gave it the ‘liquid blue’ only 3 times the entire summer, and it was only to the one growing in the pot. The other two grown by it’s side in the ground did not get watered or fertilized at all.

The potted one got watered daily however. I would fill a bucket in my car with water every time I drove out and stop to pour the bucket of water in the potted castor bean plant.

This plant gets huge stalks, which resemble bamboo. Its odd alien like flowers turn into seed pods with burrs on them, as shown in this one clump I chopped off yesterday. It did compete with other plants in the bed part though – my white lavender plants and bee balm were hurting later in the summer as the castor bean plants took over.

Castor beans do well in full sun – which the mailbox specimens were in most of the day, but they can take part sun too. The only other thing is that bed was filled with compost when it was edged with stone, so that is another reason why the plants probably did very well in the ground there too – good soil base.

And it is a fast grower, so if you decided to give it a try next year – take note of where you place it for it will take up space and compete for nutrients and moisture of other plants in the same bed.

Also, take note – all plant parts are poisonous. It is not overwintered by plant parts – but you may save the seeds to regrow them again next year. Or just see me in May.

Red Banana Plant with Two Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus (Alabama on right, Icky Fingers? on left)

Okay, so I don’t always instantly remember the cultivar names, but on the right side is Coleus ‘Alabama’, which I love. And on the left side, it looks similar to the cultivar, ‘Icky Fingers’. These plants can be saved by taking tip cuttings and rooting them in water, then potting them up to save a small portion for reuse the following season. Or they may be cut back somewhat, dug up, put in a pot and grown as a houseplant over the winter by a semi-sunny window.

As for the red banana plant, I will be showing how to store what I call the “root base” of these plants at the October 17th session. This banana is a look-alike (not a true banana plant) but who cares, right?! This plant is gorgeous when it grows large especially. The leaves are broad and this cultivar ‘Maurelii’ (red Abyssinian banana) are reddish and lush colored with trunks of red coloring. They are relatives to Musa (true bananas) and I grow, overwinter, and sell these every year, obtaining stock from a local Connecticut grower.

These plants grow tall and large in our warm summers in big pots but must be overwintered since they are not hardy. You can move it indoors (if you have the space somewhere) — And remember, if you do move it indoors as a houseplant – do it before frost. Once it is hit by frost, the leaves turn black and to mush.

Or you can dig up the fleshy root base to store it over the winter in a cool place, just like you do with canna rhizomes. You can even store it in its container, if it didn’t grow too large, in a cool dark place until our spring arrives.

The steps on how I do this will be shown at my informal session on October 17th, Saturday. It is also shown on my blog post, step by step, from last October. I recognize you may want to take apart your’s at home now, so sharing all in advance as well.

Begonia ‘Gryphon’

Begonia 'Gryphon' Zones 9-11 - A Winner!

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ Zones 9-11 – A Winner

This begonia, at the base of this container garden, impressed me this season as a container garden filler. I ordered them from a local CT grower for spring, and sold this plant at my May workshops – and it turned out to be very impressive.

The leaves grew bigger than my hand, and the dark green leaves with little bits of white were showy – and healthy, all season. It was very reliable – and low maintenance. I just loved it.

It is considered a tropical plant – for zones 9-11, but is wonderful in our patio pots in during summer seasons. This type is best saved as a house plant. I will dig it out carefully with soil around its roots, and re-pot it into a nice pot to keep inside this winter. It should be kept by a brightly lit window area; not full harsh sun, but bright area inside the home. Be aware of drafts by windows in winter as well.

Lining Them Up

Lining them up

Lining them up

Besides moving 3 wheel barrel full loads of compost, which sat on my driveway all summer, I moved the pots which were carried down from my deck last week by my nephew and his friend to be lined up like soldiers. Somehow, they look taller here than they did on the deck all summer. I will decide which to tackle today and which to keep as demo’s for the workshop on the 17th.

Check-in tomorrow to see what gets done this afternoon.

Thanks,

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

 

 

What Should I Do with My Container Gardens and Patio Pots right now?

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You – like me – probably thought you better move in some of your deck pots as a result of the gusty winds and cooler temperatures hitting us right now.

I decided to spontaneously text my brother and nephew yesterday –> “Want to make a quick $20 bucks? I need some help moving my big pots from the deck.”

He immediately responded with, “How about right now?”

Well, long story short – It was a blessing they happened to be free at that very moment for about 30-40 minutes. They came right over. I quickly got my garden gloves on and moved some debris from an ornamental grass I had left lying on the ground in the way.

As soon as they arrived, Ross and Joe started picking up some of the medium sized pots in their arms and walked them to an indoor location for me.

I was washed over with relief as I watched them walk down my deck stairs with the pots hovering over the shoulders and my big plants bobbin’ over their heads.

When Joe picked up the Agave in my urn, I kept repeating – “BE CAREFUL, it is a weapon and the spines on the tips could take your eyes out.”

When showing Ross one of my prized plants – I pointed out a stem while indicating it is easily damaged. “I really don’t want it to break,” I said. He was super careful.

“Don’t drop the pots hard when you put them down – This can cause the pot to crack especially for pots that are thinner resin pots.” Another statement I was saying quickly because these two young guys were moving fast.

Ross asked several questions along the way. “Wow, what is this purple plant?” he asked.

“That is Persian Shield, and it is called, Strobilanthes,” I replied.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant - the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant – the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Ross then started taking photos with his phone before he picked up the next pot.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

After all was moved into an enclosed growing space or onto my driveway for ease of taking them apart later, the guys wanted to pose by my big red banana plant in the backyard. This plant will be part of my overwintering demo in two weeks (and may be published in a catalog. More on that later.).

What To Do with Your Pots Right Now

Some of your tropical plants in container gardens and patio pots (banana plants, Canna, elephant ears) are still safe out there however. The temperatures are in the 40’s to 50’s degree range, and with the 30-35 mile hour winds, it will feel like we are hovering in the mid to lower 50’s. It will feel cold but we are not getting frost.

The gusty winds will tear leaves of big banana plants probably and the cooler temps will make some of the leaves start to turn yellow. Plus, all the cold rain will cause dampness around your plants. This will make your pots heavier as the soil gets soaked.

Some of your tall pots may fall over from the winds. My tall red pots with towering Canna plants already did – so if you are concerned with breakage of pots or plants, move those to a sheltered location.

Even though, I am offering a session on October 17th to demonstrate how I store the root bases of red banana plants, and how to store Canna rhizomes and elephant ear corms (bulbs), I’m shooting off some tips right now quickly.

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Tip # 1:

Get help – if possible. The best part of my 3 amigo’s spontaneously helping me yesterday is they refused payment when they were done. I almost cried. I suggested some cocktail treats – and they responded with, “Yah, let’s go to Broad Brook Brewery soon.” If you can’t get help, use a handtruck to move heavy pots – and take your time. Try not to rush, bend those knees, etc. If a friend is helping you, please remind them to be careful to not rush – this results in hurting your back or straining something when moving heavy pots.

Coleus 'Dipt in Wine' is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them.

Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them if you don’t have a growing location inside.

Tip #2:

Coleus – If you have some in pots, take some tip cuttings and put in water in a cup or vase. This is a way to save a bit of the plant. It will root eventually and you may pot it up in a small house plant pot to keep over the winter.

Agave in Urn - Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Agave in Urn – Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Tip #3:

For succulents – as I have said in the past, move them inside the house. They will get wet now for sure – and it can rot the tender foliage because the temperatures have dropped down. Get them inside the warmth by a window and let the soil dry out.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

Tip #4:

Move your big pots into a garage if you don’t have time to tend to them right now. They won’t get totally soaked by the rain if you plan to dissemble them later this month.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color - they want to stay warm.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color – they want to stay warm.

Tip #5:

Leave the pots right where they are outside. It is colder out but not a frost situation yet. The plants will change color and look a bit off, but if you are planning to chop the foliage down to remove the underground parts from the soil for storing over the winter, then it is okay if the foliage gets a bit of cold damage. However, if you want to take it in as a house plant, I say do it now.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Reminder: I’m primarily speaking about Canna, Banana plants, and Elephant Ears for this post for those in container gardens in my CT Zone (Broad Brook/East Windsor). The cold temps will signal the plants that dormancy time is coming. If you want to keep any of these as inside house plants – moving them in now is a good time to do so because the foliage will get damaged a bit from the cold and winds. We may see warmer days again, but the plants won’t get as stressed if moved inside. If you want to store the root bases, storage organs, corms, bulbs, or rhizomes, it is okay if the plants get hit by frost later this month. (Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) plants should not be hit by frost.)

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

That’s all for now. If I think of anything else later, I will add it on. If you have questions about a specific plant, just fill out this contact form below.

Thank you,

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

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete genus)

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete)

 

 

NEXT UP: How to Overwinter or Store Plants from Your Container Gardens

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In about five weeks or so from today, it will be time to disassemble and clean-up your container gardens and patio pots, which includes overwintering or storing your plants to reuse/regrow the following year.

Smaller Pots

I already started doing some of this work – starting with smaller pots and window boxes that had lettuce and cucumbers growing in them. My first step is removing any tidbits of stems from the soil, pulling it away with my hands. Then I dump the soil on a table and break it up with my hands. The soil gets placed into a big plastic bin because I plan to grow more lettuce, parsley, basil, and kale this fall and winter in my growing room – so I will reuse this soil. I think it is important to break up the soil to revive the air spaces. Big plastic bins work well for these types of pots for me for the soil storage. They are easy to move and keep things tidy. The empty window boxes and small pots get washed a bit by using my garden hose, and if they don’t clean up easily, a bit of soapy water is used. Cleaning is an important step in the process to avoid any disease transmittal and to maintain the life of your containers and window boxes.

Tropical Plants

In October, either before our frost hits plants or immediately after, I put away my Canna and Banana plants (Note: Some tropical plants should not be hit by frost before moving them inside or storing the storage organs or root bases). I plan to demo my process of storing plants from container gardens and patio pots on October 17th and will be offering it as a demo day. Anyone whom wishes to witness the process is welcome to come to my house at 10:30 am. A small attendance fee applies. If for some reason the cold weather arrives earlier however, this may get moved to October 10th – I will keep you posted if you sign up (see the Contact Form below).

Seeing is Believing

Seeing is believing, and seeing is learning. Many friends prefer to see how this process is done to learn it – but you may also read the how to’s in my prior posts. For example, when I stored my red banana plant one year, every step was documented with photos (and yes, this is the same red banana plant I’ve been posting photos of this summer, growing in my big black pot this year). It was a very cold day at the end of October when I documented the process, requiring a thick pull over and warm gloves, but I enjoyed every minute regardless, because it was worth it. This particular plant has been regrown in a container for the past 4 years. It just keeps getting bigger and showier.

STORING MY BIG RED BANANA PLANT POST

Holding an leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Holding an leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Perennials in Pots

This year’s theme for my Container Garden Workshops in May was perennials in pots. So, if you have some in your containers, you may start any time from now until the end of October to start moving them from your pots to your gardens. Transplanting perennials is best done in the spring so they have time to establish, but it will work out fine if done in the fall for many hardy and tougher perennials – I’ve done this many times with container plants – and they survive. There are other ways to overwinter them (leave in the pot and move to a sheltered spot such as your garage, or sink pots into the ground). But you may do this now or up to end of October before the ground starts to get too cold to work in. I’ve moved perennials even in early November with success. More will be discussed on the demo day too.

Base of Canna Roots

Base of removed soil mass from a big pot

Succulents

One thing I have emphasized in my workshops is moving succulents (cacti like plants, Jade plants, Agaves, Aloe, etc.) into the home before it gets too cold during October. Think of days when we start getting some cold rain falls and the nights begin to get cooler. I find when the foliage of cacti like plants or succulents get hit by cold wet rain and the soil stay damp, they start to rot. Sometimes I move them inside before this type of weather pattern begins in the fall. While these plants may still survive a bit of chill before it gets really cold, it leads to trouble. For example, I have a beautiful Jade plant in my red head planter, I plan to move it in soon.

Red Head with Jade

Red Hed with Gem Dangling – Gets Moved Inside before Chills – Photo by Joyful Reflections Photography of Ellington, CT.

Save Your Pots for Winter Decor

Another good tip is pots with soil are handy in the winter if you wish to stuff them with live evergreen cuttings and stem tips as a winter themed decoration on your deck for the holidays. So, empty all the plants, but leave the soil in the pot, store it, and when the “Holiday Kissing Ball and Evergreen Decorations” workshop comes up in early December, you will find this ‘soil filled pot’ handy to insert your green decor. The 2015 dates for these fun holiday workshops are December 5th and 12th. See the link for all the details or click on Nature with Art Class Programs on the blog’s top menu bar.

Barrels in-front of Joe's Fine Wine & Spirits by Cathy T

Evergreens in a big container garden for holiday displays

October Demo Information

If you can’t make the demo day noted above (and see more information below), you also have the option of hiring me by appointment to show you how to disassemble and save your container garden plants. We will work together.

Have Me Do It for You

And the thought occurred to me recently, if you wish to hire me to do it for you – feel free to ask! As I know days are busy and you may have difficulty getting to the task yourself. But book me soon, time is running out fast. An hourly rate applies (see below).

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant above photo.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo/Workshop

Date: Saturday, October 17th, 2015
(Note: If frost arrives early – this date “could get moved” to the weekend prior, October 10th)

Time: 10:30 am to 11:30 am (end time may run over a bit)

Location: 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $8 per person (pay at session)

In this session, Cathy T will walk her property and demonstrate how to take down tropical plants from various container gardens to show you how to store (over winter) the plants for reuse the following season. You will learn which tools to use, what products to store them in, and misc tips on the how-to’s.

If you wish to see the process to learn the hands-on how to, this session is for you – and especially for attendees of Cathy T’s May Container Garden Workshops.

Plants to Be Demonstrated: Red banana plant (Ensete), Canna, Elephant Ears (Colocasia), and Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia).

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

Private Appointments:

Available at $25 per hour where I work with you to store your plants from your container gardens. To schedule, email containercathy@gmail.com.

To sign up, complete the form below:

Infographic – The Devil’s Greenhouse – Shows Poisonous Plants

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The Devil’s Greenhouse – A Great Title of a Great Infographic
by Ava’s Flowers

Infographic - The Devil's Greenhouse

An Infographic caught my eye this morning via a Tweet. This one is posted on Avas Flowers website at http://www.avasflowers.net/infographic-the-devils-greenhouse.
Would you think Foxglove or Lily of the Valley has poisonous plant parts or scary flowers? Both are common and used in gardens. However, don’t let the fact plants are poisonous scare you though – unless you plan to learn the chemistry behind them to cause harm, or eat them as an appetizer to your meals – I think there is nothing to fear and many of these plants are interesting looking and dramatic in container gardens, BUT – of course, if you have animals and they are chewers of plants, there is cause for concern and you should always investigate any plant they may be tempted to eat. This Infographic depicts many and you may find it helpful.

For more of Infographics I find helpful – See my Pinboard:

Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT

A plant blogger obsessed with container gardening, patio pots, and combining nature with art for outdoor living.

Cathy T in Hawaii, spotted big elephant ears on road side, pulled over! A plant that is poisonous if not cooked properly.

Cathy T in Hawaii a few years ago, when she spotted big elephant ears on a road side in an area with invasive plants, and of course – pulled over to get this photo. Some parts of elephant ears (the tubers) are edible – but it must be cooked properly. Don’t eat any plant without investigating and getting advise from an expert – otherwise, grow it in a pot for its beauty and dramatic affects.

The “Don’t Do This” List for when you Plant your Container Gardens and Patio Pots

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During my container garden workshops, I’ve seen some things attendees will do as they start to assemble their container gardens and pots. It is not intentional on their part. They are so excited to get started selecting plants and putting them into their container gardens after my talk that they will move quickly and do some little things I try to catch them on before they continue. It reminds me of things they should not be doing because it can harm the plants or make the container look unbalanced.

So, I decided to create this list – and will share it at my future workshops too. Here are the things you should not do as you put together your container gardens and patio pots.

#1) Do not fill the pot to the rim with soil mix.

Filling the pot with soil mix up to the rim of the container will cause the soil to spill out when watering, or the water might roll off the top somewhat. There should be about a 2-3” space from the top of rim to the top of soil line. If the water is not flowing well into the soil, it will not permeate down to reach the plants’ roots, plus it looks a little odd to have the plants sitting at the very top of the pot. Aesthetically, they are better placed a few inches down. Additionally, the base of the plants are somewhat protected if they are not exposed at the very top – reducing things like toppling over due to wind, etc.

#2) Do not press down hard on the soil after you have inserted the plants into the container.

Out of habit or belief the plants should be pressed firmly into the soil, I’ve seen attendees do this at my workshops. They will push down on the soil, sometimes very hard, after they inserted the plant into the pot. This is not a good idea because you are compressing the soil which may reduce the air pockets required for oxygen in the soil to be used by the plant’s roots. Unless the plant is very top heavy or was root bound (thus a little weighty on the bottom), avoid pressing down hard on the top of the soil after planting. If you need to press, do so lightly and gently. You don’t want to smash the roots or crush the base of the plant by pushing down hard onto the soil.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post3

#3) Do not grab the plant by the leaves and tug it from the starter pot.

When you take the plant out of its growing pot to put it into your container garden, use one hand to place over the soil at the stem base, and the other hand to turn it over carefully so it slides out of the growing pot. Try to not pull or tug at the plant by its leaves or stems. If the plant has been growing in the pot for a while, it may not slide out easily. Squeeze the growing pot a little to loosen it up or roll it gently on a table. Conversely, if the plant has been recently potted up in its growing pot, the soil may fall away from the root ball as you take it out because the roots have not grown into the new soil yet. Be careful to not damage the plant or its root system as you remove it to put in your container garden. If the plant is extremely root bound, and it is impossible to remove it from the starter pot, cut the pot at the bottom about 1” from the base to remove the closed end of the pot, and then push the plant’s root ball and soil through to remove it. A Hori-Hori garden knife or a razor knife works well for the cut.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post 2

#4) Do not put a plant with circling roots directly into the container garden.

When roots are tightly circling around the root ball, this is referred to as girdling. The plant has been in the growing pot for a while, and the roots have nowhere to go except to encircle the root ball as it hits the sides of the inner pot. Do not put plants with tightly bound girdled roots directly into your container garden without first detangling the roots by hand if possible. If the roots are so tightly bound (really tight like they are hard to pull away or tease apart), you may use a clean sharp knife or pruners to cut them apart by cutting here and there. The roots need to be released, so to speak, to move freely and easily into the new fresh soil of your container garden.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post

#5) Do not put the plants into bone dry potting mix.

When you container garden, you should lightly moisten the soil mix before you put your plants into your container garden or patio pot. Otherwise, the moisture in the starter pot will be drawn into the dry soil in the container garden thus taking it away from the plant’s roots. If the soil mix is dry, use your watering wand to moisten it – the key is to moisten, though – not to waterlog the soil, or turn it into mush. Just wet it a bit and then take your hands and mix it around lightly so the moisture is distributed. This will help the plants to adjust easily from their growing pot to their new beautiful soil environment.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post4

#6) Do not put dry plants into the container garden without giving it a drink first.

It is a good habit to water your plants in their growing pots before putting them into your container garden or patio pots – preferably the night before, or the morning of, or at least a ½ to 1 hour before you assemble your container garden if its soil is “bone dry” in the growing pot. Another tip – be sure to water everything in after you finished assembling your container garden – but the key is, again – don’t over water. You want everything to settle into its new environment in a well-balanced slightly moist but not waterlogged state. Do not walk away before doing this final step. And direct the water at the soil line, not on the foliage if possible, with your watering wand or watering can.

#7) Do not put your plants in full harsh sun right away.

If your plants were grown in a greenhouse and not transitioned to the outdoors yet, you need to “harden-off” your plants. This term means to move the plants, or better yet, ‘transition’ the plants into the great outdoor sunlight carefully – otherwise, they may burn. Be sure to harden them off first if grown in a greenhouse by placing them in shade to part shade for a day or two. In many cases, hardening off is not required if the plants you purchased were already outside at the nursery. You will know if your plants were not hardened off first when you see the leaves turn white if you put them directly into sun – as is the case with houseplants or plants you overwintered inside, they must be hardened off first as well when you move them outside.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post5

And finally, another tip – when I plant my container gardens, I tend to make pockets in the soil mix to insert each plant. In other words, I don’t fill the pot half way with soil (like I’ve seen done), place or position all the plants, and then backfill around the roots. I personally believe the pocket method makes the plants more comfortable and allows the roots to make easy contact with the new soil in the container. But that’s being a little picky perhaps – all I know is this method has worked for me for years.

To see photos of the above “Don’t Do’s”, please visit my Instagram feed or Pinterest boards where I show examples, or better yet, take one of my workshops in the future to learn and see hands-on more tips by ContainerCrazyCT.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (cell)
containercathy@gmail.com

Round Two – Container Garden Workshop in Broad Brook on May 23rd

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During this busy month of gardening preparations, this is a short quick post to first say THANK YOU to the wonderful attendees of Workshop No. 1 on May 16th.

It did not rain, we had tons of fun, it moved so fast, and everyone’s container garden creations with tropical plants, perennials, and annuals are beautiful.

And the second reason for this post is to remind anyone interested in Workshop No.2 on May 23rd.

Hands-On and Fun

Hands-On and Fun

To Register, fill out the Contact Form below
or text at 860-977-9473

Each Attendees Receives Instructional Booklets and Plant Catalogues

Each Attendees Receives Instructional Booklets and Plant Catalogs – Plus a GIFT bag

It’s DIY, Educational, Plant Filled, and about Potting Passion!

Cathy T shows how to work with color echos in your pots.

Cathy T shows how to work with color echos in your pots.

We Make Big Pots – for Big Statements!

Beautiful Creation by Attendee Donna at last week's class - Love the dark tones and textures!

Beautiful Creation by Attendee, Donna, at last week’s class – Love the dark tones and textures!

Cathy T talks about why Big Pots are important for Container Gardening

Cathy T talks about why Big Pots are important for Container Gardening

Attendees Get into the Zone - The Pot Planting Zone

Attendees Get into the Zone – The Pot Planting Zone

Talk about FOCUS! :)

Talk about FOCUS! 🙂

Awaiting Delivery After Class - So Pretty

Awaiting Delivery After Class – So Pretty

More photos will be posted in the near future – Stay Tuned.  Enjoy your Containers and Patio Pots!

Cathy Testa

Container Crazy CT

For More Information:

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