How to Determine which Plants to Bring Inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MatchBox Peppers Grown by Cathy T of Container Crazy CT

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

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

Skull Terrarium with Succulents and Cacti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dish garden with annuals and succulents by Cathy T.

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

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

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

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

Bringing Plants Indoors

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I usually call this process, “overwintering plants,” but I figured that is a term which may be unfamiliar to newer gardeners.

Thus, this post titled, “Bringing Plants Indoors,” is referring to just that. I’m starting to bring in some plants this week (Sept 7th, 2020).

Some plants, like hardy succulents, are able to stay outdoors all winter here in our CT planting zones. They are able to tolerate frost and winter temperatures, and are referred to as, “winter hardy.”

For example, Sempervivums (a.k.a., Hens & Chicks) succulents. However, if you decide to keep any of these hardy succulents, which were grown in containers, patio pots, or hanging baskets outdoors, be sure to put them in a protected location, such as under a porch, in an unheated garage, or shed. They are more sensitive to winter conditions if in a pot versus grown in the ground in a garden.

If they have been growing in the ground, they will be fine over the winter, and do not need protection. They will go dormant when the time is right as temperatures drop in the fall and winter, and come back alive next summer season.

This particular hanging basket (shown above) is filled with Sempervivums which are looking perfect right now. There is no damage, no insects, and they are as happy as can be. I just love how they filled this hanging basket in fully. The color intensified recently, as many succulents do when they get a bit of stress of cooler temps.

I decided to move these Sempervivums in a hanging basket into my greenhouse yesterday, however, it is not because they can’t remain outdoors for another few weeks (or all winter in a protected location), but because they look so healthy. I want to keep them that way.

Tip: Move them in while healthy!

I find the best time to move some plants indoors, especially succulents and houseplants, is while they are looking great, are free of insects, and haven’t been stressed by a drop in temps during the fall season, which is usually accompanied by rain fall. When this happens, the soil, the pot, and the plant get cold and damp. This starts to invite issues such as rot, insects, and stress.

This plant above, a Jade in my red head planter, is another example. It could tolerate a few more weeks outdoors. Once it is consistently 50’s degrees at night, they should be moved in however.

It probably won’t go into the 50’s for another week or so, and even if it did – it still might be okay for one night or two of 50’s lower temperatures if our day temps stay warm (60’s, 70’s and maybe even another day of 80’s!).

But, it must be moved in before it gets hit by frost. Frost would kill it. It is not “winter hardy.” It can not tolerate the CT winter temperatures. Frost usually hits in early October.

However, because this Jade plant is so healthy right now, this week of September 7th, I wanted to take this gorgeous red head planter in before the beautiful Jade plant in it experiences any fall weather related stress. It has grown so much and has done well in this planter.

What do I mean by fall weather related stress? Well, when it drops down to chilly, 50 degrees F or below, in the fall season, we usually also get rain. Then the planter would be damp, cold, and this will affect the plant and the soil. It may not kill it – but it most likely will stress it. The soil gets cold and damp, and I find this scenario to not be ideal for plants you are moving indoors.

Tip: Move them in before major rain fall during a temp drop. And let the soil dry out in the containers outdoors before moving them inside.

Additionally, I advise my plant followers to let the soil dry out in your container gardens and patio pots before you move them indoors, AND, move them in before they get too chilly (before there is a consistent temp in the 50’s in the evenings.) A succulent is able to tolerate drought, so let that soil dry out before moving it in.

The plant got tall enough, so I had to remove the top shelf of this south facing kitchen window that extends out. It will be good enough sunlight to keep this plant happy all winter. The window area sometimes gets a little chilly in winters, but this plant is able to take 55 degrees “indoors” during the winters at night. It won’t get too cold here for this type of plant.

Before you move it indoors, here are other things you should do:

  • Don’t water it before moving it indoors for a few days if possible or even a week. Drier soils are better for moving in plants.
  • Inspect it for damaged leaves or any signs of insects. Treat if you find insects with the appropriate spray or treatment.
  • Remove any fallen debris from the plant (I found pine needles in there.)
  • Remove any damaged leaves if possible. Wiggle them back and forth to pull away if you see leaves with holes or damage.
  • Inspect under the pot. (I did this. I found a small round insect cocoon.)
  • Wash the outside of the pot with soapy water (mild dish soap is fine).
  • Move it before it gets 50 degrees F or below at night consistently. (This could happen anytime between now and the next couple weeks.) Watch your weather app for night temperatures.
  • Pick the appropriate home location. Some plants need some sunlight, others are able to tolerate low-light.

The next plant, shown above, is an Alocasia called ‘Tiny Dancers.’ When I saw it at a growers, I had to have it. I have lots of huge monster size Alocasias but I never had a dwarf sized one, like this one. It is too cute!

It started off in a tiny 3″ square nursery black pot. I potted it into a new terracotta pot and had it outdoors all summer. Usually, I store Alocasias by storing their tubers (round like bulbs located under the soil) only, but this is a tiny Alocasia, in fact, more along the lines of a dwarf. It makes it a houseplant candidate in my book, at least, I can test it out as such this year.

I decided to move it in and give it a spot by my south facing kitchen slider. It will receive sun light only a portion of the day during the winter which should be sufficient.

I don’t think it would do well in a north facing window which does not receive much sunlight at all. Another good place for this plant, if there is sun light in the room, is a bathroom because this plant likes a bit of humidity.

This Alocasia has been is pushing out new growth and is very happy. This one will be treated as a houseplant this winter rather than storing it like I do with my giant Alocasias (which are tropical plants and can not withstand winter temperatures). Sorry repeating myself.

I followed the same steps above: inspect, look it over, remove any damaged leaves. I did not wash this pot because it is terracotta and porous so the soap could go into the pot and although probably not too harmful, I just used a rag to wipe away any debris.

But this Alocasia ‘Tiny Dancers’ did have some signs of insects. When you inspect your plants before moving them indoors, look closely.

I did see, in the cups of one leaf, that there were little spiders in there. I am not sure if they were spider mites, but I decided to “lightly” spray the plant with Neem Horticulture Oil in a spray bottle as a precaution.

Tip: Please read the label or ask a nursery staff about insecticides, fungicides, or other products before you treat your plants. You could damage a plants’ leaves if you use the wrong product.

Check any treatments you use on plants by reading the label first. Make sure it is appropriate for the plant type! If you spray a plant with the wrong product, you will damage the plant, not help it.

Another plant I moved in to the house is considered a houseplant, the ZZ Plant. It has been thriving under a patio umbrella and had no insect issues, and is also pushing out new growth. When you see the growth, this is a good sign your plant is happy. Moving them in when happy is a good idea.

Tip: And I can not emphasize this enough, the best time to move plants inside as fall approaches is when or if they are healthy. If they have no issues, get them in before they do. Colder temps often times invites problems.

I carefully cleaned each ZZ Plant leaf with a wet paper towel to wipe away any debris or dust, washed the outside of the pot, and this one was placed in a north facing window that receives very little light. Since this plant is able to tolerate lower light, I think it will be fine in my north facing window this winter. This plant is marketed as being easy and care free, so the north window is its home for the rest of the year. Water this plant less as it does not like overly moist soils.

To recap, plants may stay outdoors for the most part, but some I start to work on early, partially because I have the time this week to work on my own plants before overwintering my clients’ plants from their container gardens. Also, sometimes working in mild and comfortable temperatures is better on me.

Also, I believe plants perform better indoors over the winter when you move them in before they get stresses from drops in temps in the evening. This is especially true for “non-hardy” succulents, such as Echeverias. I will be showing those as I work on them in future blog posts as well.

Tropical plants, like my Canna Lilies, Elephant Ears (Colocasias and Alocasias), and Banana plant (Ensete) may remain outdoors all the way up to frost (early October) or just after frost (IF you plan to store the under the soil bulbs, rhizomes, corms, or tubers only). If you want to keep the plant indoors as a house plant, move them in before frost.

Succulents plants, just to recap, may remain outdoors all winter if they are winter hardy. However, if they are not, they must be moved in before frost in October, and I recommend (sorry repeating myself) to move them in before they get cold, damp, wet, and chilly (BEFORE it gets consistently 50 degrees or below at night). Again, you may wait till we get the temp drop, but I prefer to do it a bit at a time before that phase.

Houseplants, well, I would move those in now too. While plants are healthy, strong, and not stressed out. It is a difficult thing to do because we want to enjoy every last minute of outdoor goodness (and so do the plants), but if they are doing well, might as well capitalize on that because they will be more likely to do well indoors if healthy now.

I already took down my tomato plants, by the way, and herbs are dwindling down so I am trying to use as much as I can before they are goners, and made pesto with my basil. I am considering sowing more herb seeds this fall in the greenhouse however. Maybe have a fresh batch available in a month or so. Sorry, that is a side bar comment. LOL.

Here’s a recap list:

  • Tropicals – Can wait til frost or after frost if storing tubers (specifically Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, and Banana Plants). Mandevillas you should move in before frost if keeping the plant in tact or storing the plant.
  • Non-Hardy Succulents – Can wait till the evening temps hit 50′ degrees F, but I recommend moving them in earlier, for reasons noted above.
  • Hardy Succulents – Can leave outdoors all winter. If in a pot, move to a protected location before winter. If in the ground, no worries, leave and let it be.
  • Houseplants – Move them in now while healthy. Each houseplant is different on lower temp tolerance, but treat them like the non-hardy succulents above.
  • Herbs and Tomatoes – Already took down my tomato plants because they are not producing fruit now and it is too cool at night, and herbs are starting to dwindle so collect what you can now. But that is up to you based on your own gardening veggie habits.
  • Agaves and Cacti – Can take drop in temps and tolerate it but can not take frost. Take them in before October frost or treat as I do with non-hardy succulents. The Agaves and Cacti I will leave out for a while longer probably, or take them in “if healthy” and cherished. Again, if they are “healthy” with no issues, I like to move them in before any chance of issues.

Hopes this helps if you are considering on working on your outdoor plants too. And please share my site with friends who may find this information useful. Feel free to ask for any clarifications, and also, note that these are all my opinions based on my years as a container gardener.

Thank you and enjoy your Wednesday!

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

P.S. Unfortunately, I am not offering my typical Autumn Succulent Pumpkin Workshops due to Covid this year. However, I will be taking custom orders around the end of September. Reach out if local and interested. Thank you for visiting my blog.

This is a tough one

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This is a tough one.

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

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

I thought, I see their point.

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

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Bird Houses are Garden Art too

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

Conundrum

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

I am not going to answer that question.

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

But, I don’t know.

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Hopefully you have some soil on hand!

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

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

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

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

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Micro-greens on a window sill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clean Your Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stalk of a Red Banana Plant starting to push out growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enforcing policies if you have to go:

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

And please people, don’t rush to judgement.

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

Article stated above:

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

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

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

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

 

 

Finding the Bright Spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Thank You Card

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

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

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

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

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

Bright Spot #2 – My nephew face-timed me

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

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Bagged Seed Sowing Kits 

Bright Spot #3 – Seed Sowing Kits

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

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Sealed Seed Packets for Mailing

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

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The Tiny Bright Spot making a Big Impact

Bright Spot #4 – Seeds Actually Sprouting

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

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

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

Bright Spot #5 – Hubby working from home today

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

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

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

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT by C Testa Copywrite_0002

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

 

 

First Talk Coming Up, and First Workshop Posted

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Good Morning Everyone,

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

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

tomatoe 2018_0002

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

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend!

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

 

Top Nine

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

I caved and did it – and here it is:

Top Nine 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0002

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

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

My Photo Grid Explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good start to your first week in 2020.

Best regards,

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

Other Cathy T sites:

www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

 

 

 

 

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

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

For Successful Container Gardening

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started:

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

DRAINAGE – Must #1

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

SOILLESS POTTING MIX – Must #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER – Must #3

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

WATERING – Must #4

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

Ensete Red Banana_0001

BIG POTS – Must #5

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Workshop Yet

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Good morning fellow visitors!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to seeing my groups on Saturday…

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

Upcoming and Current Activities at Cathy T’s:

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

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