That is what two televisions station weathermen said last night (5/9/23), that we may get “possible pockets of frost in some areas” of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
If you look at my prior posts and some from past posts about when to expect our last spring frost date, I always use May 12th. The possible frost in some areas of CT (and MA) was announced for last night.
I am not going to count my chickens before they hatch, but this could mean we are fairly safe to put out warm season annuals, at least during the day, like Petunias.
Tomatoes and peppers wait till Memorial Day still for me – but it is a great time to harden off plants outdoors that you have started indoors from seed to acclimate them to the sun and temperatures gradually – remember shade first for those baby seedling starter plants and gradually into the sun every day for a few hours, back inside at night. If you put them directly into sun, the leaves will get sun scald/burn, and you will see white patches on the leaves the next day. And avoid windy days as you harden off plants.
As for the tropical plants, I still wait on some, like I won’t put out my Mandevillas yet, but other plants are going out! Yippee. Oh, and I don’t put out basil yet either – they like warmth like tomatoes or peppers do.
Last night, I used a bed sheet to cover up some Yucca plants which have been in pots in my greenhouse all winter. They are hardy but they were inside all winter, so with every plant I take out of the greenhouse, I introduce them to shade for a couple days first or dappled sun, then move them into full sun if they are sun lovers.
All the deck furniture is out – the patio umbrellas are out; the cushions are out! Just waiting to glam up all with my plants!
Hope you are enjoying this fantastic weather this week. (P.S. I saw a couple hummingbirds this week, so I put out the feeders too.)
Cathy Testa Broad Brook, CT Zone 6b Container Gardener Date of this post: 5/10/23; Wednesday Potential Frost Pockets: 5/9/23, Tuesday evening
As we age, things with our bodies change and some things are out of our control. I recently found out I have an eye condition which could potentially lead to loss of vision in the center of one eye. Today I go see a specialist. I really dread this appointment because I envision a needle coming my way. But then I tell myself, stop obsessing and all will be fine.
But this had led me to think about what if I did lose my vision. What if I couldn’t see my plants, all the amazing flower colors, and the beauty of what plants bring to my eyes, and my heart?
Being a “what-iffer” is not a good thing and maybe my eye issue won’t be severe and allow me to be free of vision problems for several more years. I won’t know till after today’s assessment, or perhaps for a few years, who knows.
My Mom lost partial vision in one of her eyes many years ago too. I remember going to the doctor’s appointment with her and the process they explained for a surgery at that time involved lying face down for several weeks at home after the surgery for the recovery process. It was an insane scenario to me. I remember thinking how anyone can lay face down for that long? She didn’t do the surgery back then.
She managed a very long time with partial vision in her eye, but today, as she is more in her elder years, she cannot drive due to her vision issues. She used to crochet a lot but said she cannot do that anymore, and that she can’t even read the newspaper now.
I often browse my plant photos and it really brings me a feeling of good vibes. I love colors, I love looking at the colors of flowers. Even simple Pansies are amazing when you really look at the flowers, and think, how on earth could God, Nature, whomever is responsible for these colorful wonders do such an amazing job. It is such a gift to us. Truly. Just look at these purple Pansies in the photo below. The outer edges are a lighter purple than the centers. The color is two toned! Nature does that!
If you think about the colors of the world, so many come from plants, flowers, fruits, and of course, the sea, ocean, sky, etc. Colors paint our world. Can you imagine a world without flower colors? I cannot. I am always amazed at the beauty of gardens and plants. And color patterns of birds and more.
Recently, I started playing around with needle felting and I really enjoy it. I started to think, what if I couldn’t do this if I was vision impaired. What would I do to replace this creative therapy.
Could I envision plants and their amazing colors in my mind. I guess if someone said, oh this photo of your planter with x-y-z has this and that, I think I could envision it. I could see it in my mind, hopefully.
Again, I’m not in the gloom and doom phase – don’t get me wrong, just it got me thinking about it. Certain scents can bring you back to a moment in time. I remember the scent of sugar canes in Hawaii. I will never forget that – and if I smelled it right now, it would zoom me back to that moment.
Our senses are all part of the equation.
In a jewelry class I took this winter, a woman moaned a bit and the instructor asked if she was, okay? She replied that her darn arthritis was bothering her hands. I guessed she was probably the same age as me. I thought to myself, we all have our struggles as we age. For me it is my eyes, for her it is her hands. I have heard how painful arthritis can be.
I suppose you just have to adjust and deal. Heck, my hearing is already having issues. I joke with my husband that there should be a special form of sign language for people who start to lose hearing in their later years. He said, there is, it is called sign language. I always told him; we will learn and use sign language if we ever lose our hearing.
Anyhow, until any of those days come, I will try to “focus” (no pun intended) on enjoying colors even more than I already have. I will enjoy listening to the tree frogs, birds, crickets even more than I already have, and try not to think about those what-ifs!
To see photos of some beautiful flower colors, visit my SmugMug Gallery of Flowers.
Blue and White pinwheel morning glories. Grown from seed one year. Absolutely stunning and fun.
Yellow blooms with red speck of Canna Lily. Love growing Canna Lilies and using them as big tropical thrillers in my container gardens every year.
Deep red Canna Lily blooms with purple flowering annual behind it. I think the purple is annual salvias. I love how this spontaneous photo I took came out. Truly – does it not bring joy to your eyes, and then your heart? It does for me!
Almost all photos on my blog are photos I took with my iPhone. Yes, it’s an obsession!
Every year, from February to April, my hands are usually very busy sowing and growing tomato plants from seed in my greenhouse. I begin in February with planning out dates, looking at the required timing for each seed type, and doing other tasks such as gathering up my seedling soil mix, seedling trays, and sowing tools.
Usually, in March, some of the seed sowing begins! I get all my seedling trays prepared by washing them appropriately, selecting locations on shelves in the greenhouse, getting my seedling heat mats lined out as well, and hanging seedling grow light fixtures above some of the seedling tray locations.
But this year, I am not going through this set-up and sow process (except for some flower seeds) because, for a period of time in April, I will be away due to some travel planned. To be away and not be here at my home to monitor the sprouted and growing seedlings in my greenhouse would be disastrous because seeds require constant moisture and other small steps for growing success.
If it is your first-time growing tomato plants from seed, remember that once the seed is planted in your seedling mix and waiting to germinate and sprout from the soil, you cannot simple walk away and forget about them. Each day, you should monitor the moisture of the seedling mix, and if the soil is dry, remoisten carefully. I usually use a watering can with a shower head type spout which gently flows out water as I carefully move the watering can over the top of the seedling trays to apply just enough moisture to keep the soil slightly moist. I often move the trays off the heating mats, water, and let it drain, then return the trays onto the heating mat under the grow lights.
Then we wait. We wait for that first little green sprout to appear above the soil mix. It is always a little boost when I see it there, and it gives me a feeling of happiness. I know it sounds a bit corny, or silly, but it truly does. Soon that baby sprout will grow into a seedling. During this growing phase, tomato seedlings are just like babies, they require care and watching.
If you ignore seedlings by leaving them for a week at a time, or even a weekend, they will surely dry up and wither. There are some exceptions to this perhaps, like using clear covers to maintain a bit of humidity and moisture, but my style of sowing and growing tomatoes from seed involves reviewing them each day and monitoring their needs. Do they need a bit of moisture, do they need a new location in the greenhouse to receive more sunlight, do they need to be removed off the heat mats? All of these questions come to mind as I watch my baby seedlings start growing.
Some seeds require anywhere from ten weeks before your last spring frost date to two weeks before your frost date to be sown indoors. Here in Connecticut, I use a timeframe of about May 12 to serve as my last spring frost date, and then I count backwards on the calendar and mark each timing. For example, 10 weeks would fall on March 3rd, and 8 weeks before the May frost date would fall on St. Patty’s Day, March 17th.
Let’s take for example an amazing tomato plant I grew from seed for a few years now called Oxheart. It grows tomatoes the shape of a heart and the fruit grows to three-pound sizes! They are incredible. The seed packet for Oxheart tomatoes indicates they may be started anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date in your state. You need to know what the estimated frost date is for your state and count backwards. Once I asked the seed company where I obtain my seeds from why some packets have such a long span, for example some packets will say sow the seeds three to eight weeks before the frost date. That is a long span, right? Eight weeks would be around mid-March while three weeks before falls around the end of April.
Their response was that it is because they provide a range. And you may go for some date in the middle of that range. Due to local climates, planting conditions, temperature, water, light, soil make up and more, all plays into how long it takes to grow your seedlings. Also, if you prefer more mature plants to transplant, you may start your seeds on the earlier side of that range. If you may be putting your seedlings into a cold frame outdoors, you may be starting later. I think for the past few years, I started them on the early side of the range and ended up with plants about the size big enough to put into one gallon nursery containers. And I’m happy with that size. One other thought is if you start on the early side of the range, you will need to pot up your seedlings into larger pots as they get bigger before they may be transplanted outdoor at the end of May. Just like babies needing new clothes as they grow. If you prefer not to pot up and have smaller plants, just start your seed sowing on the later end of the range indicated on the seed packet. But don’t go beyond the last week indicated on the packet. Say it is two to four weeks before the frost date, if you want till one week before the frost date, you may create a situation where your plants will not produce fruit on time. The reason you are starting the seeds indoors is because the growing season outdoors is not long enough to direct sow tomato plants due to our climate. So, you must start them early indoors to get started, then transplant after danger of spring frost and when it is warm enough outdoors.
To keep track of the timing on when to sow your seeds, I have created charts and I also note the dates on my wall calendar. This I have found to be very useful and helpful. Take the time, if you are starting seeds for the first time, to look at the “weeks before your spring frost date to sow” and mark the date on a wall calendar. Start with the expected spring frost date for your state, mark that and count backwards.
Memorial Day is the timing I use to plant the tomato plant outdoors. So, think about that span, anywhere from March till May, you are working on growing your seedlings and getting them prepared for the great outdoors. I like growing various tomatoes. Many are heirlooms which are some of the most delicious tomatoes you will ever eat. Some of my heirloom seeds are sown six to eight weeks before the frost date, some are sown four to six weeks before, and some are two to four weeks before. I suppose those I may sow around the end of April may make it on my sowing list because I will be back by that time from my travel, and let’s be honest here, I can’t resist sowing some – I just have to!
All of the tomato plants I start from seed usually are grown in container gardens at my home in fabric grow bags, large patio pots, and wooden large planters. I enjoy watching them grow and usually have to keep the squirrels away or pick the fruit before they fully ripen otherwise those little wild animals in my yard end up taking a bite or two. And of course, I’ve sold many tomato seedling, otherwise known as starter plants, to friends and family. They already told me they are going to miss my tomato plants this year. I don’t blame them!
And it is also important to remember that everyone has their own unique process and style to sowing and growing. I’m sure more advanced growers would have their own tricks of the trade perhaps, but for me, this calendaring process has worked out. You may find many more posts about my journey with tomato seeds on my blog site called, http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com. Please feel free anytime to ask questions. Oh, and by the way, I have seed packets available if you are local and interested.
Thank you for visiting and enjoy your weekend. Below are photos of some of my tomatoes!
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.