Yesterday was our first fluffy snow fall, which I have to admit, made me happy. I can picture the soft white snow on the items I made for many holiday orders this year at people’s homes, such as Kissing Balls hanging outdoors, Patio Pots filled with holiday greenery, Garlands, Wreaths, and more. The snow is also a great way to add some moisture to the greens on the wreaths and such.
The past two weeks were extremely busy. As a one woman owned business, with a very helpful special Elf Helper, my hubby, we did it – installed and created holiday scenes for everyone. Today, I hope to make a nice big Boxwood Wreath. I show all my photos on my Instagram page under Container Crazy CT handle.
I want to take this morning to say THANK YOU to all the people who hired me to work on their holiday scenes and patio pots, and also to all who ordered a Wreath, Kissing Ball, or Garland this year. It puts me (and hopefully them) into the holiday spirit. I finally got to do some of my own outdoor decorating yesterday a little bit before the snow started to fall. But it is a real treat and a special thing for me to create Holiday Items for people – THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT – and pick-ups.
I also have to admit, I do stay inside a lot when people pick up their orders cause I’m so busy and can’t talk too long, plus I really really didn’t want to catch any colds or COVID during my work of holiday crunch time. But I find the “Pick-ups” are extremely useful and helpful to people when they are also doing their own rush holiday errands and they may pop by to get their handmade wreath with fresh greenery and other items quickly (Grab and Go!).
Next on the list is making some unique holiday pick-up gifts which are great for last minute shoppers, me included! I haven’t shopped at all yet for Christmas gifts on my own to-do lists. I never have the time in early December.
Hope you are enjoying this snow fall – it sure looks pretty from my office window – I can say that!
Cathy Testa Container Garden Designer located in Broad Brook, CT 860-977-9473 firstname.lastname@example.org
My holiday creations and wreaths are usually featured on my other blog site, WorkshopsCT.com, but I got in the mood to review some past creations and thinking about what will be the new creations for this upcoming holiday season.
Last year was the year of the half-wine bottles as an adorable, easy-care, and fun holiday gift. I made these with soil, a beautiful succulent, and holiday bling. So fun. They sold quickly and I was happy to create them.
Silver pine cones with Mr. Santa in white was the theme which developed. I called them “Grab-N-Go!” gifts last season.
Then was the year where I became obsessed with the Rockefeller owl, the little owl discovered in the tree put up in Rockefeller center in NYC. I thought so much about that little adorable owl, and it just hit me to create these larger globes and bubble bowls with the owl as my inspiration.
I purchased an ornament and coffee cup from the organization who saved and rehabilitated the owl and it just was some kind of thing with me where I couldn’t stop thinking about how cute that owl was, and the fact, the owl survived stuck in that wrapped huge tree heading to the city for display!
I ended up making quite of few of these as people ordered them. Each little owl was wrapped in a very soft material I acquired to match the photos of the real owl. I put decor, mini succulents, and some evergreen tips in each. So fun to make. Loved this so much. And it was just one of those “organic” ideas that popped into my head.
Several years ago, I made one of those holiday themed mannequin skirts with fresh greens during the holidays. It was a test, and I cannot claim credit for this idea. I started seeing them on Instagram feeds, and after I finished making custom wreaths for orders, I decided to give this a try!
It was a little tricky to make. I used chicken wire underneath to work with and loved how it came out but I thought you sure would need a nice location to display it and keep it fresh, and how would one transport this? – it would have to be made on-site, and it was time consuming as well. I loved it though. I almost purchased a bunch of those mannequin clothing display stands from a warehouse once, but then I stopped myself, because I didn’t think I’d really get many orders for these. So this was just a first trial test.
These moss holiday balls with mini tapered candles were from last season. Aren’t they just adorable. Could you see them lined up on a table for a holiday fancy dinner? Little things like this make perfect hostess gifts too and are nice used in groupings with other decor you may have on hand.
I’ve made other glass hanging votives with matching mini baubles wreaths shown below. The creative juices will start to flow at times. This one was so cute because the mouse was so cute with his little red Santa hat. How could anyone resist him?!
I called this one the “Ho-Ho-Ho” globe – what really made it was the perfect bow on the bottom. And the ribbon on the top. A friend ordered a set of these for her best girlfriends – which I think is super sweet.
Every year, a spontaneous gift related idea for the holidays pops into my head – those are the best, the ones that just arrive in your mind for whatever reason. It could be a unique little animal I saw somewhere, or whatever. Those are the fun, spontaneous, unique ones for me to make. I don’t know yet what will spur a new idea for this Holiday but I am planning to go look at some inspirations. Maybe something new will come to me – we will see.
And of course, there are my custom made wreaths. I like to make them full and fluffy – that is just my style, with a nice mix of greens. I will be taking custom orders again this year which are picked up from my home base location.
My kissing balls take a really long time to make and use up a lot of greens, but I’m always happy with the result. They are rather large too. Here I am holding one up which is good arm exercise. My husband is always so helpful with taking my photos for me so I can show others what the kissing balls look like – this was one before being decorated.
Here’s an example of a rather large and full and fluffy wreath I made. I love the white snowy background.
And another, made for a customer, with a bow with cute red, white, and silver colors.
And here he is, my willing hubby, always helping me to take photos and sometimes to install the larger wreaths at sights.
And here is what I called, or should say my customer called, a Winter Wonderland! It was freezing out the day we put this all together but somehow my love of holiday greens kept me working away until my fingers needed thawing.
A few wreaths laid out on a table before installing them. I’m so lucky we built a larger garage when we built it many moons ago because it comes in handy for setting up and laying out all my materials while I work.
Well, today is a beautiful, sunny autumn day, but I started to think about the holidays ahead and that got me into these photos. I’m looking forward to a weekend of autumn right now however, and I’m sure you are too!
Cathy Testa Container Gardener Plant Gift Creator Plant Enthusiast 860-977-9473 Located in Broad Brook, Connecticut email@example.com
I like finding cool and unique plants for my clients’ balcony gardens every season, so when I spotted two rather large Mangave plants at a local garden center, I had to grab them despite the price. I was excited to plant them in two large upright planters and I asked my husband to take a photo of me standing right behind the planters.
The mask wearing was on purpose, to show a timeline history of my plantings, and this had to be when masks for COVID were still required. Anyhow, I wore a pink mask and I loved how the photo came out. We were still required to wear masks at this time so I think it was 2020, or 2019.
Mangave is a Cross between Manfreda and Agave
I’m a big fan of Agaves, so when I spotted an article about the new Mangaves, which I read about prior to finding the only two available at a local garden center, it elevated my excitement of getting them and planting them as a unique and dramatic specimen at this location. I love the outlines of the plant, the speckling on the leaves (spines), and the fact it was not something commonly found at that time.
Taking the best from both genera, Mangave have the accelerated growth rate, spotting and softer spines from manfreda, mixed with the durability and large architectural forms of agave. Mangave hybrids bring the potential of hundreds of new colors and habits not previously seen among agave in a product that’s more grower-friendly, with a quicker finish time and less prickly spines.
As the principal breeder of Mangave, Hans is the perfect source for the story behind the succulent, his experiences with the crop and how he sees it contributing to the world of horticulture.
It is true, the spines are less prickly than typical Agaves. In fact, spines on Agaves are so sharp, they could be used as a weapon! And the spotting patterns on these new Mangaves are very interesting on the spines, and it has a wonderful architectural form, and yes, they grow fast! My two specimens were already rather large so I knew they must have been growing somewhere at a growers for a while before making it to a local garden center in my area to be offered for sale. In fact, when I spotted them at the garden center, they were sitting on the floor in their large nursery pots under a bench, as if almost hidden from sight, near other succulents and cacti. I lifted them into my shopping cart at warp speed, let me tell ya. I knew I had to have them.
They served as wonderful candidates all summer long at the clients’ site, and I think the only downfall to these plants is the spines are extremely flexible and soft, thus with one bump, the tips break off. I don’t like that aspect because it feels like a break to the overall form and architecture of the plant, so they are somewhat difficult to move, especially when you are moving plants up to a high-rise, but the effort was worth it. When moving them, use caution to not break any of the spine tips when possible, as I did the more I experienced observing, growing, and using this plant. It turned out to be more useful than I had expected.
In September of 2021, I noticed a bloom coming up on one of the Mangaves, which I had returned home earlier from the client site. Sometimes plants are taken back, and in this case, one of the Mangaves at the client’s balcony had started experiencing growing issues, so I took it home, inspected the roots, and sure enough, there was some type of pillbug in the soil. Because I cherished this plant, I removed all the soil and repotted it in new fresh potting mix that is well draining and more on the coarse side. Agaves typically don’t like wet soil, and I suspected the soil was probably wet prior to even planting it. I watched it for a while outdoors to see if it would improve, which it did, then in the autumn season, before frost time here in Connecticut, I moved it into my greenhouse. It was around that time, in September, that it suddenly started to shoot up a bloom stalk.
A Bloom Stalk Surfaces in 2021
When the bloom started, I was super excited about this and posted a photo to my Instagram feed (seen above). As some plant people may or may not know, Agave plants do not commonly flower. Some will bloom after several years, while others may take as long as ten years or even a hundred years to produce a bloom; this is why Agave plants are referred to as century plants. And the flowers will grow on the tip of a very tall stem, solo rising up from the middle of the plant, and the stem/stalk will grow super tall, reaching for the skies, or in my case, reaching for the ceiling of my lean-to style greenhouse. Knowing this, I was pretty excited to see how long it would take the flower stem (referred to as a candelabrum or wand for Agaves) to grow and how high it would reach in my greenhouse before it would produce flower buds. The stem (or wand if you wish to think of it that way), has no leaves on it and to me, it resembled an asparagus stalk.
Photo Taken As It Kept Rising
Within 7 days, you can see from the next photo how much the stalk rose from the center of the Mangave. It was growing up, and every day, I’d walk in to take a look, and I started to have to move it around because as it got taller, it was reaching the lean-to style of the greenhouse’s roof. I wondered if it would soon hit the ceiling.
It got to the point, the stalk was so tall, I couldn’t get the whole thing in a photo. Here is a photo (above) where I moved it in-front of an old silver locker I picked up at a vintage shop, and it was about as tall as that cabinet by this point. As you can see, it definitely looks similar to an asparagus stem.
Then the next phase was starting to reveal. Side shoots on the top started to form with flower buds. I knew I was in for a big surprise soon. And fortunately, the very tip of the stalk was not touching the roof of the greenhouse. It appeared I had just enough space to keep it inside for the rest of the winter.
The flowers started to feel like a fireworks show to me. That is just how my mind works when it comes to nature’s surprises. The flower clusters started to form to the sides of the main cluster on the top and as they opened, pollen was visible and I thought it was a shame as it would not be pollinated inside my greenhouse during the winter months, but just the same, it was a fun experience to witness all the buds opening over time.
By December, 3 months after I first noticed the stalk rising from the center of the plant, it had buds and the stalk was about 10 feet tall. In reviewing some of the posts I was sharing, around December 11th, it was 6 feet tall. Later in December, it grew to ten feet. By the following spring, I decided to chop off about 1/3 of the stalk and it was time to get it out of my way so outside it went. I put it on my deck, and to my surprise later in the summer, more side plants formed at the top of the plant’s flower stalk (where I had cut it off). It also produced many pups on the sides at the base of the plant, which I decided to use to top off my succulent pumpkin centerpieces; it made a nice spikey looking thriller on the top of the pumpkins.
This plant ended up surprising me in many ways and kept on giving. It did not die off as some plants do after flowering for Agaves, and retuned to my greenhouse yet again this fall. Not only that, I repotted some of the pups earlier, and they grew rather quickly into larger plants (as noted by the breeder above, Hans, they grow quickly).
Agave and Mangave plants make wonderful specimen plants, are beautiful in larger pots, and they handle full sun and don’t require lots of fertilizer, and they may be kept inside the home over the winter, if not too large, or if they haven’t grown a major flower stalk of 10 feet tall, and they over winter well in a low-temp greenhouse too from my experience. It is pretty cool when you start off admiring something and witness many returns and uses which were unexpected, like how I used them on my succulent pumpkin centerpiece creations this season.
I like collecting various Agaves and now Mangaves and will continue to do so. I find they are easy care plants and you can obtain various sizes and styles if you keep your eyes open for special finds!
This year I’m trying a new method for storing my Alocasia corms (sometimes referred to as bulbs or tubers, but they are not true bulbs). I have seen Alocasia corms referred to as “tubers” in many garden reference and technical books, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with corms as the term used for these Alocasia plants I am putting away for the winter months in Connecticut.
For years, I stored the bases of underground parts from my elephant’s ears and canna lily plants in plastic bins with covers (air holes drilled in the covers) with peat. When I say “parts”, I’m referring to corms for the elephant’s ear (Alocasia and Colocasia) and rhizomes for the Canna Lily plants).
The peat (only a small amount below; used almost like a bed below the corms/rhizomes, and some peat lightly sprinkled over the tops of the corms and rhizomes) helped maintain a bit of moisture but kept the tubers in a dry but not too dry or too moist state.
However last year, some of my Alocasia corms had rot areas on them when I went to take them out in the spring to start growing again. They were too damp. Plastic bins will hold onto some moisture (versus a dry cardboard type box) but this problem of rot really had never occurred before. Since I want to make sure I am able to save these dramatic large Alocasia plants’ corms, I’m trying this new method this year.
In last week’s post, I showed how I dug up the Alocasia plants from a huge cement planter, cutting off the foliage about 4-6″ from the top of the corm area, and laid them out in the sun for one day. Then I moved them to my basement in laundry baskets.
I also dug up a very large Alocasia plant prior to these, from a big tall patio planter, and laid out a huge corm with top part of the plant (stump like stem area) in a bin about a week before these above.
The ones in the laundry basket were still too damp when looking them over yesterday, so I laid them out on a table in my basement, and spread each corm on the table so they are not touching, and decided I will wait a few days longer before packing those up into boxes. I will leave these on a table another few days to air dry in my unheated basement.
However, I decided to pack up the others that were dug up prior from my gray patio planters. One of them is super large and heavy. It isn’t draining out any more water or moisture now, feels like it has dried enough, and there are no rot or damp areas on the corm area. It was placed in a bin in my basement about one week prior to those dug up from my cement planter so it and its side shoots have been drying longer.
In doing a bit of research, I’ve read Alocasia corms may be stored in newspaper and put in a cardboard box with air vents. I happen to have some boxes available and used a large sharp knife to make slits in the boxes around the perimeter of the cardboard boxes for the air vents.
I placed crumbled up newspaper sheets in the base of the cardboard box and used the original plastic mesh bags, which were around each corm when they were originally shipped to me. I placed individual corms into these mesh bags for those that would fit. My largest “stump” shown top right of this photo below is too large for any of the mesh bags I kept on hand.
I loosely wrapped a couple sheets of newspaper around this mesh bag once the corm was inside and put it in the box. I am careful to not have them stacked or touching too much with other corms handled the same method because if anything is damp, that moisture will transfer to any touching corms. However, these were all fairly dry and not moist. The idea is to not overpack any boxes and keep air around each.
Now for the larger Alocasia stump. I keep calling it that because it is so much larger, it is more like a stump size! This one I had to find a larger long box and I have no mesh bag for it. It also has a large green area (the top part of where it grew) still attached which is not wet at all when I decided to lay it into the long cardboard box. Again, I crumpled up newspaper below in the box, and then I used a paper bag to cover it like a blanket and close up the box. I did not tape the box closed, as air circulation is important. I just overlapped the covers and I also put vents in the sides like with the other cardboard box prior to laying it in there.
The root area is dry with dry soil a bit still on it, the corm area is dry, and there is still green life on the top part but there is no dripping water coming out of it – it seems like it is dry enough. I labeled all the cardboard boxes with date and placed it in the usual corner of my unheated basement (by the door where it is like tucked in a corner, stays cool, dark, dry and it does not go below freezing here.)
I have read the optimum temperature for storing Alocasia corms is 40-45 degrees F. Again, my basement is unheated. The only time it may get warm in there is when we use a woodstove at the opposite end of our basement, which is only occasionally. It does not go below freezing (32 degrees F) so they will not freeze. They are kept in a consistent cool 50 degree range or a bit below that for the whole winter. I will check on these in one month by making a note on my calendar to go look at the corms in these cardboard boxes and seeing if they look good (no rot, no moisture, no wet newspaper).
Again, this is the first time I’m trying the cardboard box method for these. I also wish to note, canna lily rhizomes tend to not survive if they completely dry and wither up, so I don’t think I’ll use this method for those plants, only for my precious upright huge Alocasia plants’ corms. I’ve read more about how these are okay more on the dry side. Makes sense because when I purchased the corms about 3-4 years ago, they showed up in a card boad box, with the white mesh bag, shown above, and only the brownish corm with no plant at all attached.
You see the big plastic bin near these two cardboard boxes, that was the bin I last used for my big red banana plant (stump), the Ensete, I had for over 10 years. It failed this year, so there’s nothing in that box right now. I also put a plastic shelf section below the boxes so it is not directly on the concrete floor which may lead to dampness on the bottom of the boxes.
I just hope this works well this year and will keep you posted. Next up will be to dig up my canna lily plants from containers outdoors. Sometimes I don’t bother anymore with those as they may be easily grown from new plants next season, but it is always a great feeling to reuse and regrow plants to save money on purchasing new ones, but sometimes I run out of energy to keep digging up these things. Each year, I seem to do less storing because of the effort. Sunny days help!
Thank you for visiting,
Cathy Testa Connecticut Planting Zone 6b Date of Post: 10/18/2022
P.S. I also want to note, many references will indicate to let the plants get hit by frost first before storing underground parts like the corms or rhizomes, etc. because the freeze will induce dormancy to the plants, however, I often do this process just before a hard frost. The weathermen indicated frost may be happening this week. Wednesday’s forecast indicates about 34 degrees F overnight – so that is chilly!
Overwintering Alocasia (al-oh-KAY-see-uh) plants, dug up from a large cement planter in my yard yesterday 10/11/22.
Since this plant is not hardy in my Connecticut planting zone (6b), they must either be dug up and stored (tubers) in a cool, dry place. Alternative options, if the plants are small enough, is overwintering them as houseplants in small pots where you have a sunny room. Or just moving the pots with the plant in tact into an unheated basement and letting them go dormant, but check to add moisture to the pot’s soil from time to time, and check for any insects on the foliage if moved in the pot. In this case, I dug up the plants, removed the foliage, and air dried the tubers yesterday outdoors.
The Planter – Cement
Because yesterday was sunny and warm, I wanted to get to the elephant’s ears in this planter. I was already tired from being on my feet all day, so I rushed getting these out. Luckily for me, the soil is super soft in this big cement planter due to worms and just great healthy soil. Rather than cut all the foliage off first, like I typically do, I dug around the tuber areas in the soil to break free some roots and just pulled them out one by one from the plant stems.
The soil and exposure
The soil in this planter stays relatively moist and receives the east morning sun, so it primarily gets partial sun or dappled sun, it doesn’t get too hot in this area. I do not fertilize – literally – I do not in this cement planter. Over the years, I’ve added recycled soil (from other pots), maybe some compost, but not often, and it is possible some wood ash from the woodstove in our basement, that is used only occasionally, was tossed in there by my husband, but I asked him not to do that after a while (wood ash changes the pH of soils). It is apparent when I dig in the soil, it has worm castings and the soil is very soft and easy to dig into. This is why I was able to pull out the tubers with the plant on the top rather easily after I broke the roots around the base with a trowel. I didn’t even use a shovel.
I do, however, water this planter by using a garden hose from above and showering it every time I was out there watering my other patio pots above on my deck. We had a very dry season this summer here in Connecticut so I’m sure the tropical plants in this cement planter enjoyed the moisture I gave them. These tropical like plants like moist soils, part shade or some full sun. After getting them out, I laid them on the ground and got my machete, which I finally found where I had stored it!
Chop off the foliage, then lay in the sun
It was super easy to chop off the foliage and stems with my machete. One whack and it was done! Then I put them in a laundry basket to sit in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, later, I moved the laundry basket to my basement. It will sit there drying a while before I move them to bins or paper bags for the winter. Some references will say to wait until the foliage dies back or wait till the foliage is hit by frost to dig and store the tubers, however, I like to work on nice days and yesterday was it – sunny and warm. I store mine in the basement, in a corner by the door, which is an unheated basement but it does not go below freezing in winters. We have a woodstove at the other end of the basement, but it is only used on stormy winter days when we feel like it. We do not use the woodstove to heat the house, only to warm it up sometimes. This means those tubers in the corner stay cold, but they never freeze there. It must be cold, but not freezing, and not too warm either. If warm, they may get soggy or start growing.
Notice my logo on the left side of this photo above; do you see the brown original tuber? The plant this season grew from the side of this tuber (a side shoot) which is attached on the right. Sometimes there are smaller side shoots which you may pull apart to create separate plants and replant those side shoots. Also the green parts above the brownish tuber is this year’s plant and I cut it about 4-5″ above the brown tuber in most cases when I remove them. I usually leave the green plant (like a stump or root base) on there but I am not absolutely sure that is required, because when I received the tubers, there was just the brown dry tuber to plant.
It probably took me only a half-hour to get those elephant’s ears (in this case, Alocasia macrorrhiza, known as giant elephant’s ear or giant taro) out of the cement planter. I was lucky I think it was easy. I know rain is coming tonight and some parts of Connecticut got hit by a quick light frost already, but no hard frost here yet in East Windsor, CT. When it is a true frost, all the foliage will blacken and flops over. Next is to get to those tall Canna lily plants on the ends of this planter dug out and store the rhizomes or the whole root base.
Note: A. macrorrhiza is hardy in zones 8-10 from what I’ve read, but here in Connecticut (zone 6b for me), they are not hardy (will not survive in the ground over the winter months). Also, when I dug these out – there was no rot on any of the tubers, which is good news. Sometimes, if I wait too long to dig these out, there may be rot spots on the tubers because of cold, wet soils later in October. This is another reason why I like digging them out now. I don’t want any soft rotten spots on the tubers, rot only leads to storage problems as the rot may continue on the tuber, which is what you don’t want.
Sit to dry out a bit more before storing
Because these plants get huge and are gorgeous, I had to take the time to save them. I will let those tubers sit in a bin, spaced out for air, probably for another five days before I store them. I have always typically stored them in peat in bins with air holes in the lids, but last year, as noted on prior posts, they rotted a little. I am going to try storing them in paper bags in cardboard boxes this year with air holes. Plastic bins can trap moisture and for some reason, it just seemed they were too wet last year (maybe I was rushing too much last year, and stored them too wet). I have found when my rhizomes for Canna Lily were too dry stored, they didn’t make it. I have always balanced a bit of moisture from the peat and air, but I believe the Alocasias prefer more on the dry side. Everyone has different techniques for storing from what I’ve seen and read over the years.
Prior was making pumpkins
Prior to doing all of this quickly yesterday afternoon, I made a few more orders of my centerpiece succulent topped pumpkins. They were so fun to make and took me a few hours – and my feet give me a hard time, now that I’m getting a little older, standing for hours can be rough. I even put foam on the floor – below my feet, but I felt it later. I tend to make these centerpiece arrangements standing up, and anyhow, these are what I made for some requests. It was a perfect day to do them – sunny in the greenhouse. It’s that time of year when I’m making pumpkin centerpieces and still putting away plants and supplies.
If interested in a custom pumpkin, now is the time to order since it is pumpkin season. They last for months!
By now, many of my outdoor plants have been moved inside the greenhouse, or if it is a smaller houseplant, into my home, but I am not finished yet. I still have a bunch of elephants ears to dig up out of some larger planting areas to store tubers, corms, etc., and doing things like covering outdoor furniture soon.
In the meantime, I make Succulent Topped Pumpkins for custom orders! This is fun and I love making them. This year I am focused on making medium to large size pumpkins and each is very unique. People will ask, how long do they last – the answer is for months. They make a beautiful centerpiece, or to serve as focal point of a table-scape in your home, and make wonderful hostess gifts.
Between making succulent topped pumpkins and running other errands, etc., I go back to my deck to do more outdoor winter prep work. Maybe it is emptying a patio pot of soil and then washing the pot with soapy water to put it away in a clean state for use next year, or perhaps it is asking the help of my husband to use a hand-truck to take down heavier pots, like the one with a giant Agave in it. We did a few of those bigger pots on Sunday morning while it was nice yet very chilly out. It appears that some of Connecticut got a “touch of frost” per my friends comments here and there, but my tropical plants were not blackened from frost which usually happens with a true hard frost, so there is still time to work, and this week is looking good.
Some things I do to the plants in pots being moved are blowing off leaf and debris by using a leaf-blower, this helps to push out stubborn debris in between the plants’ leaves. I also wash the outside of the pots with soapy dish water and inspect the plants to make sure it doesn’t have any visible insects (or a frog or snake, LOL). I also like to move in pots when the soil is dry so I try to do that (move before a rainfall and avoid watering). I keep an eye on all the plants moved in because as they warm up on sunny days indoors, those insects may decide to show up. A key thing to do is scouting. I know one lady friend who puts all her plants in her garage and does a bug bomb routine each fall season. I don’t do that but I will always have a handy insecticide bottle in case I suspect any insect danger. And I have a rule, if the plants is really badly infested by insects, I don’t keep it – but I am so careful with my plants, thus, this situation is not encountered often here, but my advice is, don’t bother if it has a major problem with insects at this point.
I also moved one of my outdoor cozy chairs into the greenhouse this year with the comfy cushions. In the winter, there is no better therapy on a sunny day than to sit in the warmed up greenhouse with a gardening magazine or book. It totally heats up your bones just like as if you were sitting on a beach on summer’s sunny day! It doesn’t work when cloudy but sure does when sunny. It is a special space and I had to make room for a cozy chair (it should be an exercise bike, but you know, that would just turn into a plant stand).
It turned out the chair is my photo spot too for the succulent topped pumpkins I’ve been making for some orders. It sits perfectly on the chair for a quick photo before pick-up by the customer.
It is very expensive to heat a greenhouse in the winter here so I keep it at a low temp, just enough to keep tropical plants or tender perennials (some of them rather larger) alive until next season. They are able to endure the conditions in a semi-dormant state. I almost considered shutting the heat down completely this year due to the expense of everything, but I’m very lucky that my husband insists I keep my routine going because, as he says, “This is your passion.” Plus, I think he likes sitting in there on cold sunny winter days too. Sometimes we play a few games of cards.
Another thing I do is take cuttings or collect seeds from plants (I did most of the seed harvesting already a weeks ago). I never ever run out of tasks I need to do – there are always nursery pots to wash and store, debris to toss from jobs, and items to organize, or repair work. I sometimes feel like I will never finish it all. It is a circle that never stops revolving for me and I’m sure most gardeners understand this, plus I have a small little business, so there are also those tasks related to plants. I hope to get more done today due to the warm sunny weather expected.
This is part one – showing my process of disassembling my largest elephant’s ear plants from containers or planters. I purchased the tubers in 2019 for this Alocasia, which I refer to as an “upright elephant’s ear” because the leaves point upwards towards the sky. It is often referred to as a Giant Elephant’s Ear, Giant Taro, or Upright Jumbo). Official name is A. macrorrhiza. They grow from 71 to 96 inches (6-8 feet tall) from summer to frost and prefer partial shade. The leaves are very dark green, glossy, and impressive! It prefers partial shade but will do well in more sun with appropriate moisture. In my zone, it must be stored, but warmer zones, I suspect you may keep them outdoors or protected somehow.
As you see here, I’m peaking behind two of the leaves. The leaves are at least 3 feet long with the stem an additional 3 feet as well. They tower above me in my planters and put on quite the big tropical show in summer. Now, on to how I disassemble them in preparation for our Connecticut winter months:
Gloves: Definitely wear garden gloves. These plants release a sap that will make your hands itchy – believe me, I regret when I don’t wear them. Even digging around the soil, I found my hands will itch later.
Hori hori knife: I really like this tool, heavy duty, serrated edge, perfect for cutting the roots in the soil around the base of the plant to release it. I find this to be one of my most useful overwintering tools.
Bin: A clean bin to put all the tubers and root bases in to let dry outside if it is pleasant weather, or inside if it is rainy.
A Large Kitchen Knife or Machete: I couldn’t find my machete, so a long, clean, sharp knife is a great back up.
Clean Up Tools: A leaf blower works to blow away dirt that will fall everywhere.
Ruler: Yes, measure those babies!
Cut away all the foliage by using the knife to slice each stalk off individually at the base of the plant. The main thing is to cut away from the plant so the angle of the slices are able to drain away excess moisture. At least that is how I do it. I’m also very careful to not nick surfaces with my knife tip – always avoid any damage while I work.
As you slice off each petiole at the base, be sure to do a clean cut, avoid tears or anything which would allow entrance of mold or insects later on. A clean cut is recommended. If you mess it up, cut it again below where you just cut it.
I always measure so a ruler is handy, or measuring tape, and then take photos. Because sharing is caring – LOL. Everyone loves to see how massive these leaves get. It is fun to Instagram the photos!
Here are two of the biggest leaves above. It is too bad I am not set up to make leaf castings of these babies, they would make impressive art for the garden!
As you can see, the slice is downwards and away from the center of the plant. I slice each stalk individually and pile the leaves to the side.
After removing each stalk, I use my Hori hori knife to cut around the base of the “stump” in the soil. As I push the knife around in the soil, I hear the crack of the roots being cut. Then I will push on the stump back and forth to help loosen it. Once I feel it is ready to be “delivered” from the soil, I start to pull it out – It always makes me feel like I’m a doctor delivering a baby – hahahaha. I have quite the imagination at times!
I will put it in the clean bin and trim the roots with clean sharp pruners or cutters, and slice the top off a bit if it still too big to fit into the bin. Leaning it upside down, or on the side to help drain excess moisture is helpful as well. Some folks may recommend not trimming the roots but I always have. New roots grow when it is replanted. My theory was less “fleshy” material the better. Fleshy material has the tendency to rot sometimes over the winter months.
After I got the massive big base out and laying out to dry, I worked on the planter next to it which had more off sets from the same type of Alocasia. I then let this dry in the house for about 6 days. Oh, I also removed as much soil as possible from the tuber areas. I used my gloved hands and kind of just rubbed or pushed off the soil. You may use a garden hose with water blast but that will only make the tuber wetter, so I didn’t do that. In the past, I have used a soft painters type brush to get soil off.
In Connecticut (my planting zone is 6b) you may do this process either before or after we get a fall frost which could happen anytime now, but sometimes I like to start this while things are dry and temperatures are not too difficult to work in, so I started on these two planters last Thursday (9/29/22). It was a cool, breezy, day with little sunshine but that would be better than the rainy cold days expected the days following. The date if this post is 10/4/22 and no frost yet, but there are some talks it could happen this weekend, I hope not, cause I have lots more to do!
I placed the bin in the house for a few days and then moved it to a table in my basement. The next phase is storing them. For years, I stored all my tubers, rhizomes, corms in peat in bins with air holes drilled on the tops. But this past spring, I had rot on portions of my tubers. This year, I plan to store them dry in paper bags for some at least. I will most likely test the paper bag process and see the results. I will post photos of this soon. I also saved some mesh netting bags (like those used for Avocado’s in grocery stores) to put some tubers in.
Oh, when I took these apart last week from the gray planters, they had NO ROT anywhere on the tuber areas (brown area at the base) which is good news. No rot means they won’t have rot as they dry for a few more days. When I store the tubers, I will share it here as well.
The tubers need to be sored in a cool, dry place. I use my basement which does not drop below freezing but is unheated so it stays cool. It is recommended that you do not store them in plastic bags which would only trap moisture. If stored in a paper bag, make sure it has holes for vents. Again, for years, I stored them in peat moss in bins, but had rot issues this year in spring, and I didn’t want to loose these tubers of this super big Alocasias, now that I’ve regrown these plants each year. These particular tubers were from 2019 so it has been replanted 4 times now. A definite pay back from the investiment!
PLANT IN SPRING
Next year, after all danger of spring frosts, I will replant these Upright Elephant’s Ear tubers to grow again. Many tropical loving plants may be handled this way, such as Canna Lilies. For years, I stored my big red banana plant, Ensete, the same way as shown above. In fact, here is the link to the Ensete post if you are searching for it on my blog site: https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/. Unfortunately, I lost my big red banana plant this year in 2022. It was the first time it rotted too much.
NEXT OVERWINTERING PROJECT
Ack, I have to dig all of these up soon – anyone want to come help me?!
Cathy Testa Connecticut A Container Garden Designer Also make custom orders, grow tomatoes in spring time, make succulent pumpkins now in fall season, wreaths during the holidays! Thank you for visiting and your support.
DIASSEMBLY ALOCASIA QUICK STEPS:
Get your tools ready (knife, gloves, bin, hori hori knife, cleanup tools, etc.). Cut away each leaf stalk at base cleanly. Cut around base of plant in the soil area to break free roots with hori hori knife. Pull out stump (base with the tuber) out of the planter, and let dry for several days to a week. Store in an unheated, dry, cool area that does not go below freezing in winters.
Just a real quick post – It is that fall time of year and I’m starting to make custom orders for the large to medium style succulent topped pumpkins. To learn details, please visit www.WorkshopCT.com and see the top post.
Next up! Photos of me taking down my largest Alocasia plant. Stay tuned!
Cathy Testa Container Garden Designer Connecticut US Zone 6b
Green Zebra: Tangy flavor; green color to green and yellow striped colors as they ripen, medium sized round fruit (about the size of a tennis ball), and a good long yielder. Indeterminate so it grew to about 7 feet tall and keeps branching out further. My plant on my deck still has fruit hanging on it as of this date, August 25, 2022.
Planted with: Professional potting mix by SunGro with “Espoma Tomato-Tone with Calcium added” to soil upon planting (Tomato-tone is a dry fertilizer powder mixed into the soil; comes in a bag) and I also fertilized the plant later in the summer, maybe once or twice with Espoma tomato food (liquid feed) with a 1-3-1 NPK ratio (comes in a bottle and mixed with water) as needed.
Planted in: A black fabric grow bag (I believe it is the 15 or 20 gallon size) and placed on the east end of my deck facing south, bag located against the house. The plant has reached the gutters and expanded so much, it looks like a Christmas tree from the inside of my house by the end of August. I kind of get a chuckle when looking at it right now.
Taking Notes: When I planted my tomato plants here, I made notes of the potting soil used and fertilizer upon planting as noted above. In my other planters, I added compost to the base of the pot and mixed it in somewhat, but I did not add compost to the Green Zebra fabric grow bag components. The Green Zebra fruit never got the dreaded blossom end rot, and another bonus – it did not get munched on by squirrels or chipmunks, which I’m guessing maybe because they are green and not red, thus less visible to them as a sneaky snack. Lastly, as noted, it is still holding some fruit while my other tomatoes like the Cherokee Purple and Goldies are done fruiting now.
When to pick it: For the folks who bought the Green Zebra plants from me in spring time, a couple texted me to ask when they should pick them? I responded with, “The packet says when soft to the touch,” but what I found is the flavor was better when I saw the yellow stripe coloring within the green color of the fruit.
Pruning: The packet also indicates to prune it to have no more than 3 main branches for a healthy harvest, but I pruned it just to reduce the size a bit and started to attach twine to light fixtures and other things on the deck and would take branches and train them along the twine. It looks rather messy and silly, but that is how I roll. I like it – it adds a jungle affect to my deck and this is fine with me. I was happy the plant experienced no major issues, no blossom end rot on the fruit, no bites from critters, and no blemishes or blight on the leaves.
Size of Fruit: I did expect in my mind to have bigger fruit but most of them didn’t grow larger than a tennis ball. Maybe one or two about the size of a baseball. All smoothed skins, soft to the touch when nearing ready to pick, no blemishes, and rather interesting patterns made it a fun one to try. I like putting tomato slices on pretty plates and adding slices of mozzarella or other red tomatoes. This makes a colorful appetizer! Oh, and many of the fruit produced in clusters too on the Green Zebra plant. They start off looking a bit like cherry tomato clusters but grow much larger than cherry tomato fruit.
Its Unique Flavor: Now, for the true test! The flavor. My husband will eat any tomatoes of any kind. He loves tomatoes. And he slices, gobbles, and grabs as many as he can and approved of the taste of the Green Zebra. (He also asked me one day why they weren’t turning red yet so I reminded him these are green new ones I was trying out this year for the first time.).
As for myself, I did think it was “tangy” and I just wasn’t sure how to use them other than adding them in for a beautiful color affect with cheeses and or with red tomatoes, but then one day, I decided to toss them with chopped up fresh cilantro and a couple small cherry red tomatoes, and OMG! That is when I decided these are a keeper on my list. The flavor with the cilantro was very delicious. And by this point, the tomatoes were the juiciest too. Some people don’t like the flavor of cilantro but I absolutely love cilantro and this was the best taste to me with these tangy juicy tomatoes. Perfect as a salsa too or to put on taco’s on taco night!
I probably won’t take down this plant for another few weeks but I’m starting to feel like I need to say good-bye to the other indeterminate plants with no more blooms or fruit. My cherry tomatoes are still producing and turning red right now and I’ll write about those later. Hope you are still enjoying your Green Zebras too if you got some from me!
Cathy Testa Container Crazy CT Blogging today Other websites:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
LOL! I look so serious, I can only imagine I was talking about big pots during a container gardening presentation in my garage.
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!
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.
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.
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