Moving Container Plants In

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For those of you who (or is it whom?) may be new visitors to my blog site, I thought I’d let you know that my recent posts are related to storing, overwintering, and moving container gardens and patio potted plants at my home from the outdoors to the indoors in preparation for autumn and winter.

I live in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor in Connecticut (Zone 6a/b). We usually get a light frost in early October and most of my plants in pots are not winter hardy in this area. Therefore, they must be overwintered before frost in order to save them to reuse next season. I have been sharing my methods of keeping these non-hardy, tender plants alive for years inside the home or in a greenhouse.

From the web: Covering most of the state is Zone 6, split into colder 6a and warmer 6b with average temperature minimums from -10 to -5 degrees and -5 to 0 degrees, respectively. Connecticut’s new zone, 7b with temperature minimums between 0 and 5 degrees, runs along the shoreline from New Haven westward to the New York state line.

I’m starting a bit earlier to move my plants in than is required (we have not hit any frosts yet here, which would kill my tender plants) but because I want to get a head-start on my container work, I am moving in some plants now during the mid-month of September.

For many years, most of my container plants were moved into my home for the fall and winter seasons, yet, I don’t have a big house. Eventually, I built a greenhouse and I keep it at a low temp in the winters (around 50-55 degrees F), and only some plants are able to tolerate lower temperatures and survive. It is very expensive to heat a greenhouse, so my most treasured prized babies (or I should say mamma plants) get moved in there for the winter season.

This past weekend, I moved the following plants in:

Agave ‘Kissho Kan’

The story behind this mamma, of about 20-22″ in diameter, is I acquired a few trays of them to sell at an event, of which I was part of putting together with a group of other women with their own small businesses, many years ago. I ended up keeping one of the plants and have owned this “mamma” for about 8 years. I’ve lost count. I’ve collected off sets from it before, and I keep the biggest two in my greenhouse in the winters.

Agave in the bedroom

For years, I put this agave in my bedroom by the glass window slider, which is at the southeast end of the house. It gets some light during the day but not full sun all day. It did fine there every winter, but I had to be mindful of those sharp spines at the ends of the leaves when I walked by it in the middle of the night. My brain would know to not bump into it even when I was half asleep.

Agaves can take lower temps and they will do well in a cool or warm room, as long as they get sufficient light during the winter months. I do not let my agaves be subject to frost outdoors, as most are not frost tolerant. It would ruin the plant, in my opinion.

In the case of my bedroom location, where it was put during winters for many years, it got just enough light to hang in there. Most agaves are hardy in zones 9-11, and we are zone 6. I’ve yet to meet one that would survive our winters outdoors, but if I find it, I will let you know. I believe there are some more winter hardy types out there, but I haven’t found or experienced those yet.

Anyhow, after years of taking care of this particular agave plant inside during the winters, I was finally able to utilize my greenhouse instead.

Moved into the greenhouse

For the past 3 or so years, it has been moved to my low-temp greenhouse during the winters. There it will receive plenty of light (when the sun is shining in the winter months as sometimes days are cloudy) which is better for the plant (the more light the better) but it is cooler than it was in my bedroom, of course. I keep the greenhouse temp to about 50-55 degrees F. As noted above, they are able to tolerate low winter temps if kept in a sunny location.

This mamma plant gave me plenty of off-sets over the years which will pop up around the mother rosette over time. I have never had a bad pest on any of my agave plants, except last year, I found an ant trail going to the soil of this plant when it was in the greenhouse in early spring, so I re-potted it before moving it outdoors. I wasn’t happy about having to do that because it was fully rooted in a new pot already from the prior season. Here is my blog posts on the ant incident and how I re-potted it prior and took off many off-set plants:

https://containercrazyct.com/2020/04/08/ants-on-my-agave/

Yesterday, I used the hand-truck (a handy garden tool for container gardeners) to move it to my greenhouse. Actually, my husband helped me. I told him, “Be careful to not damage the spines,” as I walked beside him. He has probably heard me say that every time we have moved that plant! LOL. After 30 years of marriage (side bar: our wedding anniversary is tomorrow), he just doesn’t respond back. He knows how an*l I can be about my plants, but he seems to cherish them almost as much as I do too.

I hosed it all off with a harsh spray of water and looked it over and watched to see if any ants would come out of the bottom of the pot. No signs of that – so I let it sit outside for the evening and will move it in, maybe later today. It could stay outside all the way up to “before” frost but I’m moving it in early.

You may be thinking, oh she has a greenhouse, but remember, I was able to keep this plant inside for years during the winter months – just be sure you give it as much light as possible, and remember to reduce watering greatly.

I barely water this agave in the winter months. You should keep the soil in the pot very dry during the winter months. In fact, I probably give it about a coffee cup size of water maybe once or twice the whole entire winter, if that. And it does just fine. After all chances of frost in the spring time, back outside she goes. One day, I would love to see this agave flower, but that takes years before it occurs.

Ficus elastica (Rubber Tree)

The story behind these tall beauties shown below is I acquired a tray (sounds familiar?) of them when I was offering a container garden workshop focused on houseplants one season.

These rubber tree plants are hardy in zones 8/9-11 but in my zone, are not and must be overwintered indoors. If I had a huge house, I would put these in a nice spot by a window as a houseplant candidate, but there is no room for that in my home. They have grown rather tall.

This plant surprised me. First, if you put it into a bigger pot, it just gets bigger. They grew several feet each year. The one on the left is 5 ft tall from the soil line to the top of the plant and the one on the right is 4 feet tall. I need to learn how to propagate these. I know there is a method to do so via “air layering.” I will have to give this a try in the spring time.

This rubber tree plant has darker foliage, I believe it was called ‘Ruby’ for its cultivar name, but now I don’t remember, and I don’t feel like digging out my log book this morning, but will do so later for my readers. Running out of time is why, so free flow typing this morning!

The large oval deep burgundy leaves on it are just gorgeous and when it pushes out new growth, there is bright red tip from the tip of the stems, which is just lovely. I had no idea, to be honest, what a wonderful container plant these make in the summer time. They like part shade to part sun but I’ve seen them do well in full sun situations also.

Because the red pots would be top heavy with a tall plant like these, I did put a generous amount of gravel in the base. It has sufficient drain holes, but the gravel makes it a heavy pot to move, thus, my hubby helped me with the hand-truck again. I am getting to that age, I need that help! Thank you hubby!

Anyhow, it is just gorgeous. I hosed it all down with a very strong spray of water, and I inspected all the leaves, before moving these two pots in. I found a little round cluster of white tiny insect eggs on one leaf. I pulled that leaf off with a tug. (Note: Ficus trees release a white sap when you do this, pull a leaf off or nick the plant, so I just let it (the sap) run out and it is fine. It will make your hands sticky if you touch it and some people may be allergic to the white sap.)

Then, as a precaution, I decided to spray it with NEEM horticulture oil. Ficus trees can be prone to scale insects, so I thought, I will do this. The NEEM oil, by the way, makes the leaves all nice and shiny. I sprayed it till it runs off a bit and let it air dry before dragging these into the greenhouse. But as a whole, there were no signs of plant damage from insects or critters. The foliage on this plant is big and bold, and I love that, and now the plants are big and bold as well. I can only imagine what they will look like next season outdoors again.

Mangave

I was superbly thrilled when I spotted two Mangave plants at a nursery because I wanted a show-stopper plant for my client’s site. And this is a new hybrid on the scene. It was expensive, but I grabbed the only two available.

Unfortunately, one of them, after being planted at the client site was suffering. I remembered the soil in the nursery pot being extremely wet when I potted into their container gardens, and even smelled rot, and thought, the nursery was possibly over-watering them. However, I thought, well, it is hot and sunny here, it should be fine. Turned out it was not.

When the plant showed issues later, I pulled it out and found round types of worms in the soil. They were probably eating the roots. I took it back home and put it into my tender care area, and it took a long time, but I revived it. It actually got moved into different areas, as I tested out its responses to more sun, less sun, and of course it was re-potted into fresh soil.

This plant is very sensitive to breakage when moved. The tips break or snap very easily if bumped into, so it was tricky moving it but we did so. This plant is new to me, and it will be the first year I test it out in the greenhouse during the winter. It has a rubbery feel to its leaves. It is a cross between agave and Manfreda. The cool spotted patterns on the leaves are from the Manfreda side of the plant. It is interesting and a new find, so I’m liking the whole process of testing it out in containers and will see how it does this winter.

I will treat it in the same manner I treated my treasured mamma agave noted above, such as no watering in winter, etc. I have an article about the person who hybridized this new interesting plant, but I would have to dig that out to add more here, maybe later, as I know I can’t be blogging all morning. I have work to do today. Plus, my computer crashed on me while typing earlier, so now I’m even more far behind.

Carissa shrub

The story about this plant, which is also one I was unfamiliar with, is one I found while in Maine two seasons ago when helping my older sister move into her new home. She had work work to do during the day, so one day, I ventured off in search of nurseries in her area of Maine. I remember, I drove a lot. I found a cool nursery and saw this shrub. I thought it was so pretty so I grabbed one.

It has super deep shiny green foliage and it produces white starred flowers from time to time. It has had no problems in the same pot, and I move it into the greenhouse for the winter months before frost. The only little downside is during the winter, it will drop leaves and it makes a mess, but each spring, I put it out on the outdoor deck and it turns beautiful again, deepening in a rich green color. People will ask me what it is as they admire the beautiful green richness to it and plus it is not common in our area. It is not hardy in CT but it is a keeper.

I also inspected this plant before hosing it down with water to wash away any dust or whatever, I also sprayed it with NEEM horticulture oil as a precaution, and top dressed the soil in the pot with fresh potting mix. The roots are starting to come out of the drain holes so it is ready for re-potting which I will do at a some point. During the winters, I water it lightly from time to time, mostly because it has outgrown its pot and isn’t holding on to moisture well.

So far, I’ve been focused on moving in agaves, succulents, cacti, non-hardy shrubs, and I still have more to do, of course. My Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, Banana Plants, will not be worked on until probably later this month. They may stay outdoors here until frost or after getting hit by frost, if you are planning to store the tubers, bulbs, rhizomes, only (the underground bulb like structures). If you want to keep the whole plant in tact, they should be moved before they get hit by frost. Keep your eye on the temperatures.

As I look at my weather app, I see temps from 48 to 39 (Sunday), so we are still safe, but it is always a good practice to watch the weather people on tv on the news. They will give us a heads-up when the temps will drop lower.

I also will be showing how I move in my Mandevilla plants. I am reluctant to do them yet cause they are so full and lovely, filled with flowers right now, but I also have to budget my time and do it before it becomes a rush.

I hope this information is useful. If you have questions, please feel free to comment or email me. And I apologize of any typo’s or grammatical errors, but I have to go, I don’t have time to edit. Time to get back outside working on my plants and saving them as best as possible.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Designer of Container Gardens
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com

I am not offering my workshops on Succulent Topped Pumpkins this year due to Covid, but I will have new succulent stock by end of September for Custom Orders and some succulents for sale. Stay Tuned! Thank you. Cathy T.

Ants on My Agave

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Yesterday, when I was in my happy place sowing seeds in a nice warm sunny greenhouse, I saw some little tiny ants on my Agave plant.

They were traveling from a leaf, up along a spine on the tip of a leaf, onward to a column on my shelving for my seedlings, and traveling up under the seedling heating mat.

I thought, “Oh gosh. Here we go. I have to stop my happy sowing to address this issue.”

For the most part, ants don’t really harm much; meaning they don’t eat plants, thankfully. I suspect they were in search of moisture in the soil.

Sometimes ants will be on plants due to aphids. They like the aphid’s secreted honeydew, but that was not the case here. No aphids in sight, thankfully, and I have never seen aphids on agave plants anyways.

I treasure this agave in particular, because I’ve owned it for years and just re-potted it last summer, thus, I had to deal with it right away. It could not be avoided.

Last Summer’s Repotting

You see, last summer, I had finally moved it out of an urn it grew in for at least 8 years, separated the side baby plants (off-sets), and then re-potted it into a big blue plastic pot.

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In the Urn before Re-potting Last Summer

My husband, Steve, assisted me at breaking the urn (a sacrifice I had to make). I thought banging the urn with a hammer would do the trick but he had to get a chisel and hammer to do break the urn pot.

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After we managed to get it out, separate the side babies, and all of that – I managed to get it into a new blue plastic pot without stabbing myself anywhere (including my arm pits).

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It sat outside all summer and was moved into the greenhouse before fall time.

This has always been my typical routine, actually for many years, I just moved it into my bedroom because the slider doors are right there – and this plant is big and heavy!

But last year, I thought, time for you to join the others for winter in the greenhouse.

Ant time!

Now fast forward to yesterday, early April.

To see the ants trailing on it was disappointing because of all the work we did last summer.

But, I thought, I want to see if these ants have an ant farm in the soil. They did not, by the way, from what I could see when I took it apart.

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Photo in the greenhouse last fall

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Moving it outside when discovering the ants

Because it was a decent day, finally now in spring, I moved it out. Lugging it was not easy.

At first I thought, let me flush it with water. I’ve read also the pot may be inserted into a bucket of water with soapy solution to kill the ants, but you can imagine with the size of this beast, I did not do that.

I figured that flushing it with water from the garden hose may help, but I still saw ants a bit later rushing around confused, as I let it sit it out for a couple hours.

I thought, gosh, I will have to take this darn thing out and re-pot it if I want to avoid having these ants in the greenhouse. I forced myself to do this process.

I also had to clean my seedling heating mat, move all my seedlings aside for the moment, inspect the shelves, and clean that as well, then move the seedlings back.

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Upside down root ball of the Agave

Now here is the good news. I discovered the agave grew roots all the way to the base of that blue pot from the time I had re-potted it last summer (end of summer) to now.

Wow, the roots are healthy and really down to the bottom, as shown in the photo above of the upside down root ball.

The bad news was I had to break some of those roots to get the darn agave out. What a bummer after all that re-potting work accomplished before.

More bad news – and this is really bad, because of how many times I have said to be sure you make sufficient drainage holes in your pots. I discovered my blue pot did not have sufficient drain holes.

In fact, this rule is one of my 5 Must-Do’s of Container Gardening, but what did I see? That I did last summer?

I had only drilled 2 big drain holes in the center and some around the perimeter but those are way too small of a hole size, thus, the water collected at the base of this pot, and there was a lot of moisture held down there in the pot. I think this is why the ants found it.

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I think because I was tired from a busy season on that day of doing the summer work on the plant and pots, I probably got lazy and didn’t drill enough holes. I remember I had to get that plant re-potted and forced myself to get the job done before summer was over.

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New temporary pot for now

Here it is in a new pot – a galvanized bucket with sufficient drain holes in the base, that I had on hand.

The white powdery stuff you see on there is diatomaceous earth. I dusted the top of the soil with it and some fell on the bottom of the leaves.

I am not going to water this plant for a while so there is no issue right now with the dust getting wet. It should kill any remaining ants still trying to locate their trail of buddies.

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Before putting it in the pot – I hosed the plant off really well and allowed it to air dry

It is the first time I’ve used this dust product this way, and I heard through a friend this worked for her when she had issues with ants in her pots.

As far as I know, the dust will not harm the plant. It is not poisonous but caution must be used when handling.

I wore my bandanna scarf over my mouth and had my sunglasses covering my eye glasses, and wore gloves both for the dust and to avoid the spines pricking my hands.

I’ve also read this product is helpful for fungus gnats; which is why I had it on hand. I was in the midst of researching it and grabbed a bag of the dust power of it a few weeks ago, the type made for horticulture use, so I was lucky I had it on hand in my garage.

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Last year – before re-potting – Love this!

By the way, last year, when walking by my agave, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

A tree frog! It had been hanging out on it. A good memory, for sure.

I posted lots of photos of my agave on SmugMug recently.

Agave – Other Facts:

I believe this one is Kissho Kan. Actually, I’m 99% it is – I had bought a tray of them one year, many years ago, to sell at a plant and art show. I kept one for myself, of course.

Division is best from spring to summer, which I did, of the offsets, as shown on the urn photos above. The underground stems or stolons are where the off-sets are produced.

Agaves tolerate a minimum temp of 41-50 degrees F, which is why they do just fine in my low-temp greenhouse over the winter.

Most agave species die after flowering. They are monocarpic. If I ever see it push out a flower stalk, I’ll be posting many photos of that. And probably hold a ceremony. LOL.

The common name of agave is century plant. They are slow-growing plants hardy in zones 9-11 but for our zone 6, they must be overwintered inside the home or greehouse before fall arrives.

They prefer full sun and well-drained soils. I added some perlite to the new soil mix after the ant incident to increase the porosity of the soil.

They really don’t need much fertilizer, which I did not provide much to this plant over the course of 8 years, and look at it – it is a monster. But I do follow the other 5 Must Do’s, except as noted, goofed on the last re-potting of the drain holes.

The soil in the pot should be allowed to dry out between waterings. And in the winter, keep it dry, which I did but I happened to be hose happy due to spring arriving and started to give it water recently – thus the soil was moist for the ants.

They do well as houseplants, which I can attest to, since it was in my bedroom over most winters over the years, which the slider door faces south so it received enough light.

Over all, they are easy care plants, minus when you have to re-pot them or they get ants – which I hope doesn’t happen to your’s or happen again here.

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

P.S. If you are in search of seeds during this COVID-19 time, I have seeds in stock for sale. Details are on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. They are mailed upon ordering. Mostly tomato, hot peppers, parsley, basil, lettuce, and some misc other types.

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Seed Packets Wrapped to Mail