Photos of Me, Cathy T

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I remember a friend not wanting any photos of herself on her garden website, and I get it, some people just prefer privacy, but as for myself, I felt it was an important aspect of my plant blog or websites to show who I am, after all, I know if I’m looking up a service person of some kind, I like seeing who they are. And often times, if working as a container garden installer in particular, it is nice to see who you will be entrusting your plantings to. Anyhow, today I decided to share some photos of me with plants from the past to present for fun. I was clearing out some file storage and came across a few photo memories!

Photo Shoot for a Feature in Go-Local Magazine

This is me, making a terrarium in my greenhouse. The editor of Go-Local came by with a photographer to take some “action” shots of me for a feature of my small business in their magazine issue. Go-Local is a cool mag! They feature small businesses in various towns and I love seeing their magazine still today. I offer Terrarium Kits and used to do Terrarium Workshops as well. In this photo, I’m sprinkling some horticulture charcoal in the bubble bowl, or perhaps that is the soil. I was surrounded with all kinds of plants which some I stared myself.

This one didn’t end up being used, which we can see why – my eye looks weird, but the rabbit with plant was cool. I made it as a plant gift around Easter. There is moss in the base with cute little dwarf like plants inside. It was just adorable. Sometimes I will spot cool and unique containers, and the red shiny bunny things were perfect as a neat pot of tiny plants.

Cathy Testa with a Tray of Castor Bean Seeds Just Starting to Push Out Leaves

Happy Camper Here – also by Go-Local, of me holding a tray of Castor Bean seeds which were just pushing up their first leaves. I wrote all about this plant, here’s the link. Anyhow, the greenhouse is my ‘heaven on earth’ as I am always happy in there, especially when the sun is shining. What is neat about Castor Bean plants is you can clearly see the cotyledons shaped differently from the first set of true leaves. It is an easy seed to sow and the plant grows massive.

2014 – In-front of my Chicken Coop

The chickens had quite the chalet back then, but I didn’t end up keeping the chickens, as they were unable to free range (too many wild predators in my yard with the Scantic River near by). The birch tree in the background is gone now (probably fell from a storm) and the Magnolia to the right of me is much taller now – probably as tall as me now, and has some intense rosy pink flowers each season. The outdoor chicken pen is covered with Kiwi Vines – they grow super fast and must be pruned often to not allow them to wander too far. They do produce kiwi fruit (takes about 5 years from planting with a male and female plant) and they are hardy in Connecticut. I usually don’t eat the fruit – they are small and a little bitter. Even though the chickens are no longer here, I love this area still with the shed and outdoor pen. I always try to think, what can I do with that outdoor pen? It is all shade now in summer due to the Kiwi Vine covering the top. If I had grandkids, it would be turned into a fairy garden.

Little red table with the Red Blooming Canna Lily

That little red table was a freebie find on the side of the road by my sister’s house and I spray painted it red. It was just coincidence the red canna lily plants in the background were blooming red too for this photo shoot. Those canna lily return each year now because the wall is located above an indoor basement woodstove, so the soil stays warmer in winter – that is my theory anyhow. There is a honeysuckle vine to my left, which I chopped all the way down last year because it was getting aphids a lot the past two years and I thought, heck, I’ll just chop it all down – it grew back healthy. And the red head planter was purchased while on vacation, and I still have it today. For some reason, no matter which plant I put in that red head planter, it thrives. Right now it has a hobbit jade that is doing super well in my home. I put it outside every summer. You can see some catmint (blue flowers), lamb’s ear (silvery foliage), a yucca plant with spent flower stem (that blooms every other year), along with other things, it is kind of a messy area now that needs work!

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

I don’t remember what year this was but many years ago. We always attended the North Atlantic Blues Fest in Rockland, Maine, and one year, we went to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on our way up or back, can’t recall, but I do recall the magnificent Delphiniums in the background at the gardens. Could you imagine having those at your home?!! Just beautiful.

Ah the Younger Me!

Sometimes when I see photos of me, the younger me, I think that was before I got the annoying tinnitus ear ringing issue! Anyhow, I look happy, don’t I? Who wouldn’t with a stash of plants like this – but they weren’t for me – they were for attendees of my container gardening workshops. Aren’t they beautiful plants? I used to pick up plants from Sunny Border in CT at that time. I haven’t been there in a long time, but years ago, it was a fav of mine. They used to have some cool tropical type plants but I am not sure if they do anymore. It is a massive wholesale grower.

Me at The Garden Barn in Vernon, CT

This is me, gosh, I think 10? years ago, really? Time flies. I worked there for two or three summers and this was me before I was about to do a presentation about perennial combinations for container gardens. If you haven’t been to The Garden Barn and Nursery in Vernon, CT, I highly suggest you visit them. They are a huge garden nursery and packed to the gills each season. I still go there from time to time, and always know I can find something I need. They are closed right now for a short time in the winter but are always packed with plants all year otherwise.

Outside of the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA

Going to the Boston Flower and Garden Show was always a routine for me. My husband, Steve, would indulge me for a weekend in the Seaport World Trade Center area in Boston. We’d have Mexican food mid-day, go back to the flower show, and usually go out to dinner for Italian food. This area has changed a lot in regards to buildings, etc., and this year, they are not holding the flower show at the trade center, as it is undergoing renovations and they are looking for a new location. Many buildings around this area have been torn down and replaced with high rises and such. Remember the old run down Irish Bar, what the heck was it called? It is gone now. Anyhow, I just loved going with Steve. I am holding plants I could not resist buying at the show with pink tropical flowers – and guess what? I can not recall the name of them right now.

Presenting in my Garage

LOL! I look so serious, I can only imagine I was talking about big pots during a container gardening presentation in my garage.

Me holding a Floral Arrangement

I coordinated a floral arrangement class once with guest speakers, and they did a wonderful job for my group of attendees teaching floral arranging and everyone made a gorgeous bouquet. It was around Valentine’s Day too. I made one too. Here I am, a happy camper. I have to note “floral arranging” in vases is really not my forte. I don’t know why, but I find it a bit challenging. Whereas container gardening and other plant related creations are not difficult for me. Not sure why I can’t do floral arrangements with cut flowers. Plants attached to roots and soil are not a problem for me – maybe that is what it is, something about the stem positions? Who knows!

2021 Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Finally, here is a recent one of me. I’m in my truck getting ready to head out to plant some plants at a container gardening site. This is those selfie types – you know all about those! I was happy to have a beautiful day to do some work and enjoy the sunshine, which I’m terribly missing right now during the winter. February is tough for me and why I got distracted with photos as I was organizing my office and office files.

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire

One of my winter hobbies is snowshoeing. I really do enjoy it and we went off on a trail for hours one day in Jackson Village, New Hampshire. Yes, that cooler has food for lunch. The beer was my husband’s. LOL. It started to snow heavily and we were covered in snow by the time we returned to our vehicle that day but it was lots of fun and the snow is so pretty. It is one way I keep myself distracted in winter – snowshoeing. The place we went to had many many trails, linked above, and I recommend it. There were lots of choices for trails. You could spend many hours there. They also have cross-country skiing there.

On a High Rise

I’m super happy to have a few high rise customers and do lots of planters and pots for them every season. In the foreground is a Mangave, on the right. Isn’t it spectacular?! I loved using it in a very tall planter one year in the summer there. I will write about this plant more. I have one that shot up a bloom stalk about 10 feet tall in my greenhouse which started in October and is still standing. More on that later. After working on a high rise for a few years now, I have learned a lot more about what works well. Sometimes I think I should write a mini-book about my experiences of working on high rise outdoor spaces. It is fun, unique, challenging, and rewarding.

Well, if you are not bored by now, I’m glad. I hope you enjoyed the me photos. It is a way for me to look back and seeing flower colors beats the dull and gray wet day outside right now.

Have a good weekend,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Zone 6b, Connecticut
860-977-9473
containercathy at gmail.com
Dated: February 4, 2022

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

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

Perfect for walls, trellises, arbors and more…

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

Mandevilla at a Client’s Home

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

Cathy Testa with two Mandevillas at her home in Broad Brook

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

In a Pot Growing Up a Staircase Railing

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

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

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

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

Moderate climbers that keep on growing up…

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

Funnel Shaped Flowers
Masses of Pink Blooms

Inspecting the leaves

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

Now that is a HEALTHY A** LEAF!

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

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

Moth – Awakening from His Night Visit

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

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

Heat, sun, and well-draining soils…

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

Acclimating a Stock on My Driveway
The In and Out Year

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

Pretty with the Ornamental Grass nearby

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

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

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

Pots don’t have to be really big…

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

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

Flowering Tropical Plants for Decks in Connecticut

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

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

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

Flowering Tropical Plants

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

Blooms all summer

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

Hot Pink Canna Lily Flowers

Canna Lily Plants

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

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

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

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

Speckled with red on yellow flowers

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

How to plant them…

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

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

Can be top heavy…

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

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

Make More Plants!

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

Thriller in Arrangements

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

Pair Them Up With..

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

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

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

Thanks for visiting,

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

How I start to Plan in the New Year

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Happy (or is it?) New Year 2022!

After waking up from the foggy mind, after our confusing holidays, I start to pull out my calendars from last year, which includes two (if not 3) wall style calendars, notebooks with key dates, reviewing my own blog posts from the past year for key dates, and going thru client binders to get my new 2022 calendars started.

Yes, I have all those various sources to track activity by dates. I want to remember the odd things that happened because it helps me to be prepared, or to try to plan ahead, and to remember, in the gardening world, lots of variables come into play (timing, weather, pandemics, etc.).

Unexpected Snow Fall in April?

For example, do you remember when we had a snow fall in April of 2021? I do. I purposely took a photo of the date scratched into the top of my fire pit cover, and I also noted the date on my 2021 wall calendars. The notations are reminders of things that can happen when you least expect it, or we should be expecting it, cause it probably happened the year before, or it may again…

Cold Rains on Memorial Day?

Like for example, do you remember the cold temperatures and crazy rain we had on Memorial Day weekend last year? It traumatized me because I literally finished planting a site the week before! I was so worried about the plants and how they would be impacted by the freak cold rain we got the whole weekend after I finished my job site. I went silent. My husband even asked me why I was so quiet as we drove out for a weekend at that time, and I told him, “I’m super disappointed in the weather we had over Memorial Day.” Then I stayed silent for the rest of the drive.

Flooding of Summer Fields…

Also, what about the floods we had in farmers’ fields in 2021 during the summer months – which impacted the availability and quality of pumpkins I use when I make succulent pumpkins in October, and of course the rain during the summer that messed up the ripening of our tomatoes?! Need I say more…?

And dare I say it, Ugh, COVID. As my friend posted recently, “We all want to say bye-bye to Covid!”

The darn Covid world. It is everywhere it feels like. We never thought it would last this long or rebound, right? How many challenges must we face? Let’s not get into how it impacted everything, shipping, staff, uncertainty, availability, etc. And the very sad and depressing things, such as many people getting sick, hospitals overwhelmed, it just seems hard to rise up again. My blood pressure has risen. From the stress (or too many sweets over the holidays.)

In the world of gardening, you do face challenges. I told a grower once, “Every single year, it is different.” They agreed. It was very hard to plan and predict in our usual manner.

Global warming impacts us too. We see lots of changes in weather. It is so unpredictable. Thus, my calendaring routine is even more critical. Or is it? Because sometimes, its been difficult to take a deep breath at times, and start again. But alas, it is January, and I must start again.

Today, is January 6th, 2022. It will be sunny (thankfully, because I have to take down some outdoor holiday decor) and it will snow tomorrow, but then be clear on Saturday (unless that changes). I’ve started to come out of my holiday brain fog and started looking at key gardening and planning ahead dates.

Sowing Information

I remember that last year, around this time, people started searching about sowing information for their seeds. So I’m going to re-share the link below where shared some tips from last year around this time:

Last Year’s Post in January 2021 above

I have to admit, I’m still not done reviewing things, but I’ve started, and it reminds me of this: January is about “planning” and probably early ordering (at least for me), February is “ramp up” month, March is “sowing” month, and April is “growing month” which goes into May. And hopefully this year’s end of May will bring better weather when we are ready to put all plants outdoors for our vegetables gardens and tropical plants, etc.

I know this post is a little choppy, but I needed to get it out there to let you know, I’m here and I guess I will take on the unexpected challenges yet again. Because when I’m in my greenhouse on sunny days in the winter, it revives me. I see the plants not giving up, despite being on the temperatures cool side in the winters, and some plants will even bloom. I’ve been witnessing, in fact, my Mangave plant blooming. It shot up a 10 ft tall stalk and the buds finally opened. They are still opening. The very top of the stalk is almost touching the roof. I have to step up on a ladder to get photos or look up as I did this this photo below taken a few days ago.

Mangave buds opening into 2022

In the meantime, I hope this post is not too blah, because besides all the gardening challenges of last year, I still encounter enthusiastic plant lovers and I still am very passionate about plants – and it makes it all worth it. I think I’ll be ready to go at it again. Stay tuned.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardens, Plants, Plant Gifts, Seeds, and More!
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy at gmail.com
See also:

www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now).

Frost on Plants

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It finally arrived here in Connecticut. Frost on our plants. Last week, it dropped into the 28 degrees F range in the evenings of Friday and Saturday (Nov 5-6th weekend).

For months, I was putting away frost tender plants from my container gardens, because I wanted a head start and it takes a lot of time to dig up plants from pots to store underground portions (rhizomes, corms, bulbs) for frost tender plants, as well as move containers into my garage or basement for the winter months, or just doing cleaning of empty nursery pots for use next season.

The frost of fall appeared a bit later than last year in 2020 (it was on Halloween weekend in 2020), but this year, in 2021, it decided to arrive about a week later, and we could feel it. As I walked out of my house the other day to check my greenhouse to make sure the heat was working well, I saw frost on my truck.

Frost 2021 Nov 5-6 weekend

I carefully walked on the frost covered grass and carried my flashlight to point here and there, hoping I wouldn’t stumble upon any wild animals, on my way over and down to my greenhouse. It is kind of pretty to go out at an early hour, think it was like 5 am, and see all the glitter on the plants outside from the overnight frost. But it was very cold and I didn’t stay out there too long in my slippers and PJ’s with a very thick bathrobe!

Later, when the sun was finally up, I got a glimpse of a rose bush near my house and I thought, look how pretty that is with the glittering frost on the roses!

While it may look pretty on the outdoor plants, we definitely do not like seeing our tropical plant toppled from frost, which is why I did all my overwintering chores early. It seemed to take forever. My list pretty much consists of Canna Lily plants, elephant ears (Alocasia and Colocasia), red banana plant (Ensete), some Mandevillas, and of course, I move in all my succulent and cacti plants early as well.

This year, I made a note on my calendar to check my stored tubers, rhizomes, corms in about a month. I want to make sure there is no rotting or problems. Last year, I ran into that and I think it was due to not having some air holes in new plastic storage bins I used, so I drilled very small holes into the covers of my storage bins which are kept in my unheated basement, stacked up in a corner, where it stays cold but not below freezing during the winter months.

And as I noted above, I check my greenhouse in the early part of the winter heating phases to make sure all is going well, that the heat is on, and I will sometimes take the flashlight and look at the plants. Did you know, some critters (insects) come out at night. Not common in the winter months cause the greenhouse is kept at a low temp (around 50 degrees F), just warm enough to allow my low temp tolerant plants hang in through the winter months.

In the winter, I pray for sun during the day hours. Not only for myself but for my plants in the greenhouse, so they may stay toasty warm during the winter days (and not utilize any heat). The cost to heat it is getting a bit too much. But so does a good dinner out! LOL. Choices!

My greenhouse also doubles as a creative space for me to make items with plants for the decorating seasons, such as upcoming holidays. It can be cool in there in the midst of winter however, requiring me to wear a thick coat, etc, but on the days when the sun is in full force with no clouds, it is like a sauna at times and I try to capitalize on those days. It will warm up your bones in an instant. On sunny winter days, it feels like the tropics.

On rainy days, the greenhouse can bring me some relief too. I suffer from tinnitus and the rain pouring down hard on the roof top is the most soothing sound to me, as it drowns out the ear ringing. Also, distractions drown out the ringing, so when I am creating or working with plants in there, it also brings me relief because I am distracted and in the “zone.”

We just did the ol’ “fall back on the clocks,” and this is a time of year of transition. It will be darker out at dinner time and dark out when we get up. I will try to not let that bring me down. The thing that keeps me up is knowing the holidays will be near and that I will be making wreaths soon, right after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Wreath by Cathy T

While times are tough, there are shortages of supplies, and also many prices increases for us all around, I still will attempt to make the most beautiful wreaths possible. If you are looking for a hand-made wreath, kissing ball, or boxes of greens, look me up if you are near me. All is arranged as porch-pick up’s and are noted on my site called, www.WorkshopsCT.com.

Well, not much else to report today. I basically wanted to make sure I record the date of our fall frost, because it is important for next year to remember when it comes around. Each year is slightly different.

Enjoy today’s sunny weather!

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

Fall is Fantastic

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

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

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

Cathy T holding a banana leaf Oct 2021

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

Callicarpa Beautyberry Shrub Oct 2021

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

Cathy T holding a large Succulent Topped Pumpkin 2021

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

Ensete stump
Ensete stump

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

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

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

Mop Head Hydrangea Bloom at my House

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

At a Client Site

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

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

Me in-front of a Wall of Mandevilla

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

Plant Gifts by Cathy T

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

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

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

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

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

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

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Time

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Autumn Time

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

Winterizing Time

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

Winter Time

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

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

Thank you for visiting.

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

Making Crushed Red Hot Pepper Flakes

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One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.

Serranos

I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).

Place on a cookie sheet

Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).

Dried in the oven

I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.

Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp

It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.

Mini Grinder

Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)

Do not use any that are mushy

Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)

Grinded

After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.

Ready for winter recipes

Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid

It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.

Growing Hot Peppers

I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.

Great Container Garden Plants

It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.

Starting from Seed Indoors

Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.

Care

Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).

Uses

Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.

Starter Plants

Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Container Garden Installer – for hire!
Hot pepper grower
Today’s date: 9/22/2021
Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Canna Lily Overwintering Rhizomes 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Steps:

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

Before or After Frost Timing

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

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

Thank you and enjoy your weekend!

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

Xanthosoma Surprise

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

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

Xanthosoma (zan-tho-SO-muh)

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

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

Xanthosoma in the center on the steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variegated Ginger Plant

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

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

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

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

Another Agave

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

Another Agave Repotted

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

What is next?

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

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

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

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

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

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