Storing Corms, Tubers, Bulbs, Rhizomes for Winter

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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.

Bins Years Prior Used

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.

Dug Up about a Week or few days prior

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.

Making 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.

Mesh Bag with Corm inside

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.

Largest Alocasia “stump”

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.

Label the boxes
Corner in Basement

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.

Pic of corm inside a mesh bag

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 Elephant’s Ear Plants

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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.

10/12/22 Before Removing the Elephant’s Ears plants

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.

Side Shoot on Right

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.

After Photo

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.

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Centerpieces by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

If interested in a custom pumpkin, now is the time to order since it is pumpkin season. They last for months!

Thank you for visiting!

Cathy Testa
Connecticut Zone 6b
Container Gardener and Plant Enthusiast
Custom Creations for Seasonal Decor
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now!)
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

Stay tuned for more information on holiday creations for later in November!

Date of this post: 10/13/2022

Pre-Planted Elephant’s Ears Tubers in Planters – My Take

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It’s always interesting to see new ideas in the plant world, and of course, one caught my eye recently. It is a planter preassembled with elephant’s ear tubers, boxed up for easy handling, and ready for the consumer to just water and wait for growth.

How I’ve Stored Tubers and Grow Them:

I’ve grown elephant’s ears from tubers over the years. I typically store them (the tubers only) over the winter in my unheated basement in bins with some peat to wait out winter until spring time. Because the plants are not hardy here in our winter planting zone (CT Zone 6b), I can not leave them in the ground or in pots outdoors over the winter. I dig them out of my planters (the tubers that is), clean off the soil from the tubers, and store them. Usually I am successful with opening the box in spring time to find them in tact. I’ve blogged about my process many times, search the word “overwintering” for more on that.

When I’ve Started Them:

I typically start them indoors around end of April or early May as spring is approaching. For years, I started them in my house by planting the tubers in pots with potting mix and setting them by my kitchen glass slider door. It was sufficient to get them started. Within a few weeks or so, a growing tip would appear above the soil and start to grow. When all chance of frost passed, out they went into larger planters and containers in my yard or on my deck, etc. These plants reach huge sizes (4 to 6 to 8 feet tall), so larger pots are always my aim to show them off in the right places.

Tried to Start Them Earlier:

However, last year, I wanted to try to start them earlier. I attempted to start some in March in my greenhouse (years ago, I didn’t have a greenhouse). It didn’t really work out as I had planned. My greenhouse is heated only to about 45-50 degrees F in the winter (to over winter other plants). It is a low temp because heat is a huge expense (especially this year), and elephant’s ears (Colocasia) require warmer soil temperatures (65 degrees F or warmer). They didn’t take off any faster than they would in my home, in fact, it was probably a bit slower going. They weren’t popping out of the soil and when I inspected them under the soil, some rot had started as well on part of the tubers (or bulbs if you prefer that wording). I learned a lesson, the soil needs to be warmer. I somehow overlooked a fact I knew due to being anxious to start them.

I considered maybe it was too soon to even attempt growing them earlier. What ended up happening is the potting soil remained too cold (because it was too cold in the greenhouse) and too wet because the tubers weren’t actively growing yet. Cold temps + damp soils leads to rot of the tubers. In fact, storing them is usually at a temp of 40-45 degrees F so the whole situation was it was just too cold still in my greenhouse, despite those rapid warm ups during winter days when the sun is out – the evenings were still a bit chilly.

How they Do This in the UK:

I’ve seen posts by people in the UK (via the wonderful sharing of posts on various tropical pages) usually start their elephant’s ear tubers in what they refer to as a propagator or cupboard. Terms we don’t use here in CT. From what I can tell, many of them put the tubers in plastic bags and place them in a warm spot (a cupboard or propagator) until they see some growth coming from the tuber – and then they put them into soil mix – or the ground perhaps (I’m not sure). Makes sense, they give them a head start but don’t subject them to cold wet soils. I remember asking someone one day via a comment on a post about this, what is a cupboard? If I recall, it is like a warm cabinet you have in your home somewhere to serve as a place to start tubers, or perhaps some seeds. I have some places like these (over the fridge I have a small cabinet that stays warm) or a cabinet in a corner near our heat source, which actually, I did use that cabinet to start sprouts years ago and that was one of my things then – starting and eating sprouts. Maybe this will be a location to kick start the tubers first – I may give this a try this year.)

Anyhow, I think the message here is if you start them too early in the wrong conditions, it could lead to issues, which was the case for me last year. Thus, when I saw those pre-planted tuber pots at the local big box store (just yesterday), I had some initial thoughts. I like the idea but I also know of what could go wrong with them, but I’m not saying it would go wrong (see disclaimers below!). And I also thought about what was right about these pre-planted tuber pots.

Pre-Planted Pots with Tubers

I have always been somewhat addicted to elephant’s ears because of their large showy heart shaped leaves which point down (or up as in the case with many Alocasias). They give a wonderful vibe to a space and I have used them everywhere in planters. I even hired a photographer a few years back to take photos (check her out at jmsartandphoto.com).

One year when I got into skulls, LOL! Note: The Human One is not REAL! LOL!

Elephant’s ears are just so very cool. And grow large and tall. The wave around in the wind, they create shade for plants below them, and they look good from the tops or bottoms and are relatively easy care. I just have to share another photo here of them. I typically plant some around my big red banana plant (Ensete) as well in this massive concrete planter at my home. Over time, it becomes lush and dramatic looking. I find they work in sun or shade, if more sun, more watering is required. They also make excellent thriller type plants in pots. They can even be grown in water – they are versatile plants for a tropical look and you may propagate them too.

Cathy Testa’s Large Cement Planter with a Mix of Elephant’s Ears and Other Tropical Plants

Digging them up for storing them is a fall gardening chore, but re-growing them in spring time is not so much of a chore, but I did take notice of those pre-planted tubers in pots with soil at the big box store yesterday. I didn’t see a price tag on them, and believe they were freshly delivered to display and sell so the price was not on there yet, I was curious about how much they cost.

My Take On the Pre-Planted Pots Seen Just Yesterday – Just my opinion!

Pluses: Talk about convenience. All was so well packaged and boxed up, it would be very easy to plop into your store cart and go. The pot size was good; usually I start my tubers in a one-gallon nursery pots. These black pots were bigger and nice enough to use for the summer as your planter, basic black color. The plant care information on the side of the packaging was decent, indicating they should not be planted outdoors until frost has passed (true), and to “water sparingly” and to keep the mixture “moist, not wet.” But they didn’t say why on the moisture, nor was there any botanical information on the packaging. Since I could not see the inside, not sure if more details are provided. They do not give Latin names for example, but did indicate there are 2 plants (bulbs) inside pre-planted, or that is the impression I got.

The Minuses: What are you getting inside? The top of the pot is closed off with more cardboard, and I wondered, hmmm, how big are the tubers in there? How much soil, is it half full or filled all the way, are the tubers in the soil or do you have to plant them, what does the soil look like but I bet the soil is perfectly fine as they are produced by bulb or plant producers, most likely but I kind of wished I could peek inside. And the price tag wasn’t on them yet, and I’m curious on that part as well. How much does this whole package cost?

The Timing: It depends what you have for getting these started? If you have a warm home with some place to set them down where the soil will be warm enough (see noted above), you could start to water them and see them pop up over time. But it is still February, so you would be maintaining them perhaps as a house plant all the way until the end of May when all chances of frost outdoors are passed. I did consider the “what if” you just moved them as is (don’t unpack the box, don’t water them) and keep them in your basement. Will they be okay? They probably put the tubers in there with dry soil, so nothing will happen until moisture is provided, usually. I guess I pondered that because what if you just wanted to get it but not start them just yet.

Another plus, you don’t have to go buy a whole bag of potting mix soil if you want to grow these from these planters. Everything is all set for you. Another minus, what if they get wet at the store while they sit there waiting for the purchaser? They shouldn’t but if they did, then the soil gets wet and they may start to grow, or if the soil gets wet, it could lead to soil problems, if they are not in the right temperature conditions. And another minus, it is not technically supporting the local small businesses, but we all go to these big box places from time to time, don’t we? In fact, I feel like anytime someone creative comes up with a cool plant idea, these big box places are very quick to copy it – which is good or bad, depending on who you are supporting, a local small business or plant passions overall – I won’t go there, but any how, perhaps a minus is buying this is not supporting a local grower who takes the time to grow it themselves to a proportion and health readily available at the right time. It is just a matter of opinion, give or take. A matter of timing. A matter of preference, but anyhow, innovations and new ideas are cool overall. Maybe this is not a new idea either. It was the first time I saw it though.

Anyhow, I’m sharing it cause I spotted it, and thought I’d give my thoughts! What do you think??

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
A Container Gardener
Location: Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b

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Beautiful Photo – Really Captures the Beauty below the Elephant’s Ear foliage – Cathy Testa’s Planter

Autumn Brings Beauty and Overwintering Work for Gardeners

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I think everyone in our area of Connecticut would agree – the fall foliage colors are absolutely spectacular here this year – what a treat for the eyes to see the bright golden yellows and reds against clear blue skies. There are trees in my yard which never looked so vibrant, even the kiwi vine over my chicken coop pen is beaming more than ever, but alas, the leaves will fall and the holidays are right around the corner.

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#autumn at the beach yesterday!

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In preparation for the fall, I have spent the last three weeks putting away many of my tropical plants and conducting a mini workshop on the famous succulent pumpkins. It was the first workshop offered at Container Crazy CT’s on this new fashion – Pumpkins covered with succulent plants and decor! The workshop was conducted with an Insiders Club members – what fun we had. We are testing our results based on the techniques we used to assemble and design them, and all of this will be shared in next year’s workshop – I know this workshop will grow. These succupumpkins are addicting.

Yesterday, a stink bug was still sitting on one of my succulent pumpkins in my house. I had to laugh – these guys are slow moving but he didn’t move for 24 hours. There is a black plastic spider on the top and I thought, “Does he think the spider is real?” LOL.

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#succulentpumpkin #autumn #stinkbugs #succulents

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Part of my autumn overwinter process included collecting seeds from Canna, Castor Beans, and other misc perennials which are stored in plastic pill bottles and kept in a dark cool place in my home for use next season. Here’s a photo of the Castor Bean (Racinus) which look like ticks! Oooooh! I also take various cuttings and do some propagation, as well as divide and repot plants to keep (as shown with the lemon grass in my prior post).

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#castorbeanseeds #racinus

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If you have been watching my posts this year, you surely saw the container filled with a huge green elephants ear (Colocasia), and I had to finally take it down, such sadness, but one of my workshop attendees asked me for the leaves because she is doing some leaf castings – and so that helped soften the blow – knowing the leaves will be used for an art related project. And, just maybe she can teach us when she perfects her process of leaf casting at my workshops. I can’t wait to see her results.

The elephants ear grew very very large, at least 3 ft long leaves. Here is the bulb located at the base of the trunk shown below when I dug it up. I call it a trunk as I type here but technically base of the stems, but it looked like a trunk because that elephant ear grew very lush this year. I just adored it.

Now, I will store this bulb to reuse next season. All the steps, tools, process, and products used to store my tropical plants were covered in my “Overwintering Tropical” plants workshop earlier this month. We had lots of fun as you can tell from our smiles in the above workshop photo where we are holding leaves of one of my red banana plants (Ensete). We covered everything you need to know and enjoyed a sunny day following a morning frost.

And I have to be honest, I was getting tired of storing bulbs, rhizomes, tubers – you name it – I had a lot of plants this year. Here’s a photo of the stack of boxes I was about to hand-truck to my unheated basement for the babies put to rest for the winter. The only good news was the weather was cooperating – it was nice and sunny almost every day – so I wasn’t working with cold hands as in years past. We had a frost on the same day I held my “Overwintering” workshop – which was perfect timing. But about 3 days later, we had a day in the 80’s – when I snuck out to go to the beach! Why not?!

Next on Container Crazy CT’s workshop list is my first ever Growing Nutritious Soil Sprouts workshop – We decided to add a week night workshop by request – so it looks like this one is underway with a few sign-up’s. I can’t wait to show this process – to grow sprouts all year round, starting now in the fall – is a great way to have fresh sprouts which are oh so healthy on your salads, on appetizers, in soups – all perfect for upcoming Thanksgiving meals, or for those moments when you want a nice warm soup on a cold winter day. I could go on and on about these sprouts but I will save that for the attendees of this workshop in November. See my http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site for all the details.

But as busy as I’ve been the past few weeks, I still take the time to go have some fall fun – stopping by Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT to see their scarecrow competition – it was a PERFECT day – and they did such a wonderful job. I have to enter next year – my brain is already brewing with a scary container garden scarecrow.

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#scarecrows #autumn #farms #halloween

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And to cap off this quick post – I have to share the photo of my beautyberry shrubs (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’). I post a picture every year around this time – these purple berries can not be beat. They are so pretty right now. I planted three of these shrubs many years ago – and I remember I followed the spacing instructions exactly, but they can be maintained easily with a good pruning every season. They are deciduous, cane-like shrubs. The branches tend to arch and the color of the leaves is a bright light green color. The purple berries are clustered and they reach their beauty in October. In winter, the leaves will drop off but the berries do hang on a long time. Seeing them makes me consider if my May 2017 workshop should entail beautiful shrubs such as this one.

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#autumn #fallshrub #berriedshrub #callicarpa

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#callicarpa #berriedshrub #fallshrub #autumn

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Well, that is all folks for this Friday morning. Enjoy your Halloween Festivities if you have them on the agenda for the weekend, and don’t forget to visit my Instagram pages for many more photos of all the activity discussed above.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy@gmail.com

 

Autumn Brings Closure and Changes

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Good morning everyone,

It has become quite the busy month as I started to dissemble my various container gardens around the property in preparation for the cooler season, and held an impromptu pumpkin succulent session with my Insiders Club workshop members.

Usually our frost date hits around mid-October, so there is still time to enjoy many container gardens filled with your tropical plants, perennials, and maybe a still producing vegetable plant, like peppers – but soon enough, all will come to an end when the frost hits the foliage of our tender plants.

However, one of the beauties of container gardening is not all is lost. Many plants may be overwintered by storing their storage organs (rhizomes, corms, bulbs, etc.) or by taking cuttings and rooting them. Or by moving them (perennials) to your gardens. Some plants make good house plants too, such as succulents, begonias, etc. The list goes on.

Another thing that will keep me busy this month is planting my fall bulbs, as soon as I clear out my favorite place for them, from the lush tropical plants enjoying their last moments in the great outdoors. There is much to do still.

Lastly, the annual Holiday Kissing Ball and Wreath Making Workshop is in my beginning planning stages. Orders will take place very soon for the beautiful mix of fresh greens to be provided in my workshop for all the registered attendees.

Additionally, I’m investigating adding ‘horse head’ wreath frames, due by popular demand by my repeat (non-newbie) attendees! This is always an exciting time for me. It will be my 7th Annual Kissing Ball Workshop. It is one of my most favorite things to do as part of my business and it closes off the year absolutely perfectly. Don’t forget to register early. Details are on my WORKSHOPSCT.com website.

 

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#containgardening #lemongrass #thaifood

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Lemongrass harvest (above) after dissembling two big pots of them. These can be rooted or cut to put in teas, soups, and I bet even soaps! As you work at splitting the root of this plant, the aroma is oh so good.

The rooted divisions may be potted up into 12″ x 12″ pots and grown to serve as next year’s thriller plant in your container gardens. Or, the edible lower portions saved may be frozen and used for months on end – great for teas to treat coughs and colds too, I read. I showed all the steps on how to take it out of your container gardens and save the pieces via my Facebook feed this week as Facebook Live videos and on Instagram.

The removal of this plant (Cymbopogon citrathus; lemongrass) should be done before frost, by the way, unlike the Canna or Elephants Ears (Colocasia) which may be done either before or after frost if you plan to store their storage organs.

Using my handy-dandy hand truck, I’ve managed to move some rather large pots into my garage to start some the work of taking cuttings of Coleus, digging out the elephants ears, and whatever others I can save for next year’s season. I showed it all on my video feeds, and I have to say, this elephants ear, Colocasia ‘Black Magic’, was just stunning with 3′ long stems and 23-28″ leaves! Say Ah. One client requested the leaves for her leaf casting project, and I am happy to help her out as a repeat workshop attendee. Maybe she will teach us a class on the leaf casting when she perfects her technique.

This plant’s rich black leaves are luscious. Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ can take sun to part shade, and I had this one more in shade this year, facing north. The total height was about 5′ feet by the end of the season, and the soil was kept moist, which is preferred by elephants ears. Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ is a wonderful tropical plant, and probably will be on my list again for the annual May Container Gardening Workshops.

In my Facebook Live videos this week, I also went over cuttings, how to clean your tools, and using rooting hormone to stimulate growth. Cuttings do best when they are in warmer temperatures – so inside the home or if you have a grow room or greenhouse is best this time of year. Always important to use “healthy” stock and take them from the tips of the plants (below nodes, etc.). Of course, the types of plants, species, etc. differ on how to handle propagation, but once you learn how, you may be reusing your mother plants again and again for freebies each season. Beware of plant propagation laws, however, if you are a seller of plants – a license is required!

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#overwinteringplants #autumn #containergardening #coleus

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One container garden which is very hard to part with at this moment is this one. OMG. I just love it – it is soooo full. It is the apple of my eye this season. I removed the variegated Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus coleiodes). My friends, this plant is a real keeper in my book. No bugs, no diseases, no problems. It is the one dripping down the front of this pallet planter box salvaged from a company that tossed it out.

Variegated Swedish Ivy can grow to a foot or more with a trailing in habit. It keeps going and stays strong. It has a funky smell but it doesn’t bother me at all. My nephew told me it smells like a cologne. OK, whatever, it is a keeper, and handles cooler temps in my low-temp grow room over the winter. I still have to work on the rest of this container which has an elderberry, coleus, begonia, and more.

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#carex #overwinteringplants #containergardening

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In my first Facebook Live video, I showed Carex grasses and how I’ve had it in these pots along my driveway for at least 3 years. Sometimes plants which may be aggressive in the ground are excellent candidates for containers, thus this was one to show how I take care of it and store it over the winter.

And alas, it was succulent pumpkin time prior to all of this. My goal was to have a huge workshop on October 8th, but not enough attendees signed up. So, I spontaneously offered a special workshop to my Insiders Club workshop members, and the results were fantastic.

There are a couple ways to approach making these which I detailed in our workshop session. We will be testing the longevity of these and report back next year when I hope to repeat this workshop with an even larger group. In addition, during this workshop, I went over how to propagate succulents and keep them healthy in season and over the winter.

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#sempervivum #agave #pumpkindecorating #succulents #autumn

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Above made by an attendee. Love the little glass acorns and the pods she brought along as embellishments.

This one above is the winner for the evening. Absolutely gorgeous, great colors, well designed. Good job, Diane!

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#crafting #diy #autumn #succulents #pumkins

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Here’s a photo I took of one I made as a prototype before the workshop.

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#pumkins #succulents #autumn #diy #crafting

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Yes, it is so adorable. I can’t part with it!

Well, I still have much, much more work, and thankfully I am not dealing with a hurricane. The poor folks in Florida are facing this battle and along the way I thought of them often this week as I worked on my containers. I remembered when we experienced our crazy winter storm in October years ago, and well, probably not nearly as devastating – but it did impact us a great deal with loss of electricity and other damage, and I had to rush to put away my plants at that time as the snow began falling. I saw posts of Florida friends not only boarding up their homes, but they were rushing to take care of their gardens too in preparation for the hurricane. And some had to evacuate! We are all praying they did not face as much devastation as predicted.

If you wish a hands-on experience of the overwintering steps, feel free to join me on October 15th for the workshop where I will show more.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

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Bugs, Drought, and Out and About

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Hello Everybody!

Yes! The heat has “officially arrived” in Connecticut and I’m sure you have noticed how your plants react. They may be stressed from lack of watering – or under attack by insects.

For starters, you may have seen more critters eating foliage or even flowers this time of year. My method for dealing with this is watching and looking over my plants as I water them, a daily routine. Inspect first and identify the problem when you are out and about.

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Good morning caterpillar. #insects #bugs #caterpillar

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Just recently, I spotted an amazing caterpillar on an elderberry plant and it is eating the foliage daily, but you know what? I decided to let him be because it appears he will turn into a beautiful and large silk moth per my research. See my Facebook posts or Instagram feed for photos of him. However, if he tries to move to other containers, he may be a goner. I hope he will stay where he is on this plant. I have been taking photos daily.

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#caterpillar

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I also spotted but holes in my rhubarb plant – this bummed me out more because my rhubarb in my big pot is spectacular. I LOVE the large showy leaves, reaching at least 12″ in size, but an easy method to dealing with the damage, clip them all off cause new growth arises on this plant continually – and so, I did the BIG haircut on it yesterday. I have not been able to “see” the problem insects yet on this plant – so, not sure it is Japanese beetles- out this time of year, or if another culprit. If you can’t find the bug on damaged foliage, try looking at night. It could be a night visitor.

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Black Diamond elephant's ear. #containergarden #colocasia

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As far as Japanese beetles, they definitely have been on my Canna plants in one spot, ugh. I hate that – I see them and their damage, so I will probably do the same routine as the rhubarb, and not reach for the spray but be patient because they do not stay all summer. Just cut off the damaged leaves and hope for improvement. Try to stay patient.

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A woodpecker did this. Canna seed pods. #birds

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One day, I spotted woodpecker pecking at the round spiny pods of my Canna plant. He left some large holes in it – and he was either after something in the pods perhaps, or he was just confused. I have a big sunflower right next to it and they were visiting the flower head for the seeds.

Anyhow, my main thing is to try to determine which insect (or animal) it is before proceeding with steps to remove them or deal with them with sprays. This year has been critter month. We have many chipmunks this year – I’ve seen posts by friends on Facebook too of this problem. They even broke down a rock wall at my neighbor’s property, they are everywhere. I found one in our cloths dryer vent – one day, a scratching noise was happening as I was loading, and thought – what is that?! Well, yup – the poor chipmunk somehow made he was down the tube and got trapped. Yuck.

This time of year, especially with the heat on the rise, will encourage more insects. I also believe, the more plants you have, the more visitors you get! Shake the leaves to see if anything falls off, look at the underside of the leaves if you see holes or round specks of foliage damage, and look inside the plants, meaning push the stems or leaves aside and look into the plant’s areas if you have a full container garden with plants with problems. I did this the other day and found two snails. If you have a very badly infested plant in your container, cut it all the way back to the base – many will regrow from the base with new fresh growth. Toss the infected plant parts into the trash.

Another issue is yellowing on my red banana plants – ugh. I have been trying to really narrow this down – was it the new compost I used this season? (which I was told is organically certified), is it a lack of nutrition – when these plants show signs of weakness, you may want to start adding fast release soluble fertilizer weekly – but usually, when I have good soilless mix, a big pot (like this one above), some good compost – I don’t get this yellowing I’ve experienced here in this photo – which is a 5-6 year plant I put out every year. Perhaps it is STRESS of no rainfall – which we have not received much of – note the dry grass everywhere. Or it could be “too much watering” because the compost may have reduced the drainage ability in the soil, so I cut the yellowing leaf off, reduced my watering in this case to every other day, and so far, no more yellowing. But rest assured, I keep investigating these issues – and I’m testing out new products this year which I will share at my container gardening workshops in May of 2017 with my attendees.

See the bit of asparagus poking out of the foliage of this mixed container garden, the other day I found tiny black caterpillars on it – so I just cut those stems off. Haven’t seen them since. This container has repeat ‘plants’ in it. The blue flowering Ceratostigma (Hardy Plumbago) is a perennial and it has been in this pot for 3 years now. Talk about a nice filler. And the Colocasia is also one which I had overwintered and it is getting really full now.

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Little #beetle on Coleus 'The Line' #insectdamage

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I also noticed some plants in my landscape with a bit of yellow tones and stressed looking – and it can be a sign of struggle due to lack of rainfall. At least, this is my suspicion. Plants and gardening always keeps you challenged, learning and finding solutions. This year’s challenge has been managing insects and learning about new fertilizers.

FOAM PUMP FERTILIZER

For example, there is a new fertilizer on the market that is a foam pump. You just pump and put it on the soil next to the plant, and then water it in. I tried it out on succulents – and the color on my succulents improved within a week. However, I read “stress” can induce color changes in succulents but the timing was too near the application. I think the fertilizer improved the growth on these right away. Notice this photo, even the Jade plant got red edging on the trim of the leaves. The pumps are cool cause they are easy to apply and measure – reminds me of pumps of hair foam styling products! Read the directions always when using fertilizers or insect sprays, and remember to follow them appropriate. Less is more in some cases, overdoing applications can harm your plants.

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#succulents

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Again, I will be sharing all the products I’ve tested out this year at next year’s workshop. There are many new items out there – including new organic types. I also show and tell products at the farmers markets each week.

NEW WORKSHOPS ADDED

Speaking of workshops, I just updated my WORKSHOPSCT.com blogsite with a Soil Sprouts class, and I will be sharing this information tonight at the Windsor Locks Farmers’ Market at the town’s public library located on Main Street. The market is held every Tuesday from 4 to 7 pm on the lawn in the back area of the library. I’ve really enjoyed being there the past couple weeks, and will be there again next week too.

For tonight’s market, I will be selling some alpine plants, great for rock gardens, crevices, and may be used to cascade over walls, and in rock garden scenes of unique container gardens. Sedum ‘Coral Carpet’ is one of the plants I will have available – this is great in rock gardens, and they are very drought tolerant – great for this type of weather we are experiencing, and also a beauty in hanging succulent balls – which is a new creation this season. And a new workshop for next year too!

I mentioned drought in the title of this post – because it seems we are experiencing one – the water is low in our rivers, the plants are not getting much natural rainfall, and this can be rough on plants. I’ve been watering my plants in my container gardens daily, sometimes twice, but remember – don’t water log your soils, allow it to breath between watering, and do the finger test if you are unsure. Insert to your knuckle to see if the soil feels moist or dry and observe your plants habits and look for insects, of course.

Enjoy your day everyone!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool nights, Ants, and Plant Care Updates

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Updates on workshops, some plant care tips – and ants!

Floral Design Workshop Cancelled this Month:

First, the Floral Design Workshop for this month (June 25th) has been cancelled. We had low sign-ups and needed a minimum to proceed. However, we will offer this workshop again in February 2017 as the Valentine’s Day option because that was very popular this past February. See our workshops blogsite, WORKSHOPSCT.com, for more information.

Mini Workshop on Hanging Succulent Balls tomorrow:

Second, I am offering a mini first time workshop on making a “Hanging Succulent Ball” tomorrow at 5 pm, June 7th. If interested, contact me on cost and details. We have beautiful Chick Charm succulents, more perennial cacti-like and succulents for this creative project, and hanging dripping succulents, such as Delospermas which look beautiful on these balls.

While many places will make these balls using strictly moss balls (with no soil) which need to be misted regularly to keep the succulents alive, I don’t feel this would keep the plants growing over the long haul, so we are making ours with soil filled in fiber balls and contained in hanging wire baskets. It is not an easy project, but we have all the steps and parts prepared for anyone willing to give this project a try for the first time here at Container Crazy CT’s.

We will show our results too. Again, if interested, contact me soon at 860-977-9473 (text or call) or email containercathy@gmail.com.

Plants Available Here for You:

Third, if you are local and still in need of plants, feel free to contact me as well. I have a few goodies left in my stock, such as lemon thyme, red and green banana plants, elephant ears, pepper plants, succulents, greek oregano, basil, chives, fuschia, creeping Jenny, more perennials, etc. There are a few blueberry dwarf shrubs available, go-ji berry shrubs, and Sambucas elderberry (great for jam making).

Also, I will be at the East Windsor Farmers Market on July 10th. It is located at the Trolley Museum grounds, off Rt 140. Their opening day is at the end of the month on June 26th.

Ants in Pots

I potted up two huge container gardens this past weekend and the next day, noticed tiny ants in one of the pots. They found it fast.

Hmmm, I thought – “What brought them here?” – I believe they were in the ground (area is very dry where I put one pot) and they found the moisture. Tiny little ants were running around the top of the soil. It was my niece who was here this weekend whom noticed them first – and pointed it out to me.

Ants don’t harm your plants per se, but we don’t like them crawling around much either, especially if in a potted house plant. No need to have those ants in the house.

Also, ants are friends with aphids and hang around them due to their desirable honey dew which is secreted from their aphid butts! If you see ants in your container gardens, check for aphids which are sucking insects themselves, but they suck the life from your plants and are not a good thing/bug. Many are green and visible if you look closely and they come in other colors too!

Investigate to see if you see any of the tiny aphids on your plants (and especially check the underside of leaves) to make sure that is not the reason ants are hanging around.

I use insecticidal soap by Garden Safe if I see aphids on a plant, and it takes care of the problem immediately. It is important to resolve the bad bugs right away, and when you water your plants, that is a good time to be Inspector Clouseau and look at them closely for any harmful bugs.

Another option, if you see aphids on a part of a plant, is to just cut that part of the plant off if doable with clean pruners, and toss it away somewhere far from your container gardens.

At first I thought maybe the compost I used in the soilless mix was the culprit for these tiny ants appearing, but it was not the case as I used the same compost in another huge pots – no ants there.

You can ignore the ants if you wish or there are several methods to take care of them. Here’s one article with ideas from Gardening Know How:

http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/pests/insects/ants-in-flower-pots.htm

Cool Nights Slows Growth of Tropicals

Have you noticed the recent cool nights we have experienced? It is a welcome feeling through our windows and enjoyable during the evenings when we are sleeping, but this will slow down the growth of tropical lovers just a bit, such as the elephant ears (Colocasias).

A couple people have commented on this (the elephant ears not being big yet) – be patient, after a few warm temperature days over the course of a couple weeks, your Colocasias will take off. You probably have seen how large they grew in my photos of past container gardens, but remember, this was after a few weeks of summer as well.

For example, I noticed my plants of Begonias really pop recently in my pots, while the elephant ears are slowly pushing out new leaves, taking longer. You can sense when a plant has taken root, it perks up and you can see it expand in size if you pay attention.

Elephant ears and other tropical plants need warm evenings too – so we will see them really rise fast when our summer fully kicks in, and the soil is warm at night.

Also, a couple people said they were concerned about yellow leaves on their banana plant – this can be a sign of over watering – especially if the yellowing is on the lower leaves. Just cut them off with a clean pair of scissors or pruners. New leaves arise from the center of the plants, so taking one or two off the bottom is not harmful. And reduce your watering if you see yellowing leaves on the lower part of your plants.

Red Banana Plant Care Info:

Red banana plants sometimes have brown on their leaves. There are several causes for this – I believe it is when moisture is trapped in the center of its thick trunk like stalk called a pseudostem (this is the trunk basically that is very fleshy and contains moisture in between each new leaf), and it can make a brown spot there as it unrolls from the center if it stays too wet. Usually, this is temporary and as summer gets the plant going, this minor symptom disappears. If you have well-draining soil, you won’t see this problem much, why soil draining is critical in most container gardening situations.

As I’ve discussed during my workshops this May, watering your plants is a balancing act, and too much can cause problems as well as too little. Water logging the soil is not a good thing either – You should allow moist soil to dry out between watering somewhat so the roots get the oxygen needed to survive. The type of plant matters as well as the type of pot but once you get familiar with their needs and create this balance, all is perfect.

Also, if you move your plants from a greenhouse or from inside the home into the sun immediately, that will cause sunburn on the leaves (white patches usually), as also reviewed in our May Container Gardening workshops. Most of you know to move your finished container garden into the shade first before transitioning it to full sun if you potted up sun lovers for plants which were not hardened off previously at home or by your nursery sources.

Red banana plants (Ensete genus) seem to do great in dappled shade (when under over head tall trees or a patio umbrella) as it casts some shade but they are getting sun. However, they are okay in full sun, but you have to water more often, etc. So if you see your leaves suffering, change the position of the pot if possible to more shade for this plant if you feel it may be getting too much sun.

Lastly, the cool damp temps and returns back to full hot sun and heat will sometimes stress tropical plants which may create brown areas on red banana plants leaves – and that is what we had the past few days for weather patterns.

See this Banana Plant Care link for more information. Overall, I feel these plants are easy to care for, grow quickly, and in most cases, don’t show problems, but it is worthy to note here if you have any concerns. Don’t panick, think about the weather patterns, watering patterns and exposure first. Or contact me and send me a photo.

Otherwise, all seems to be progressing well based on emails and comments from attendees. Many have written to say they are happy with their container gardens and beautiful plants, and are enjoying them – all good news. 🙂 And many have been going container crazy, like me. Welcome to the club! 😉

Please Share Your Container Photos

I would absolutely love to see the progress of your plants, so if you can shoot me a photo, please do so. I will be sharing mine, as always on Instagram and Facebook.

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

http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.CONTAINERGARDENSCT.com

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The Container Garden Take Down Process Begins

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Hello Visitors,

I’m posting some misc photos this week of the work I will be doing here and there as I take apart my container garden plants. This is for the friends and workshop attendees who are probably ready to do the same – and I hope the information is helpful to you. As always, ask questions if you have them!

Tuberous Begonia

For the first time, I grew a tuberous begonias from tubers. They were started in early March indoors by placing the tuber’s hollow side up in moist peat. They must be kept warm and carefully watered to not over water or under water (keep moist). Shoots began to form, but it took a while for the plant to kick in and later produce blooms, but it was worth the wait.

Three of the plants were gorgeous and showed off orange flowers shaped like peony flowers (male flowers) and rose shaped flowers (female flowers) on the same plant. The stalks of these types of begonias are very fleshy and one plant leaned over from the weight of the plant by the end of summer, and from the force of the wind during last weekend’s rain storm.

I chopped off the top of the plant using clean pruners, and then tipped over the pot and got the soil base out carefully on a table. It was fairly simple to locate the storage tuber. I will allow it to dry a bit on newspaper then it will be stored over the winter in a cool dark place. These tubers should be checked to make sure they don’t dry out during this process in the winter months.

Tubers of these types of begonias must be dug up before our fall frost hits and dried slowly before storing them in peat moss at about 45 degrees F. Wish me luck – I hope to grow even more of these plants next spring!

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Recycling the Soil

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

If you have attended my workshops in May on container gardening, you heard me go over the soil-less mixes and what I find has worked well over the years. I’ve also mentioned that reusing soil mix is not recommended, at least not for many, many years – and especially when you keep the mix in the pot with the plant. It just doesn’t retain water well or hold nutrients as nicely when it is worn out – BUT you can use it for a year or two, or put it into a compost pile, or sometimes – I will put it in a huge pot (like my big black pot with my red banana plant – see prior post on that). Putting it into bins like shown above is helpful. I remove all the foliage and make sure none of that it is the soil bin, and I put the cover on, but I also remove the cover from time to time to let it breath as the water condensates. These bins will be moved into my garage or growing room soon to stay over the winter and will be reused next year.

Castor Bean

Castor Bean Seed Pods

Castor Bean Seed Pods cut away from a huge plant!

If you are my neighbor or you drive down my road – you have definitely noticed the crazy size of my Castor Bean plants (Ricinus) at the end of my driveway.

A woman pulled in one day, drove down my long driveway to inquire what the heck was growing there. “She had to know,” she said.

This plant made me laugh every single time I left or returned home. It is massive! I’ll share pictures of it later.

This plant is easy to grow from seed. I got my seeds from Comstock Ferre in Old Wethersfield, CT this year. The plants reached about 12 feet tall at the end of my driveway. I also grew some in the ground in my backyard.

The leaves of this giant would be perfect to make leaf castings for birdbaths! This huge tropical can be impressive and comical, as mine was this season.

Just yesterday, I thought I better chop down one because it is becoming a hazard. It is blocking the view of oncoming cars as we leave our driveway.

As I cut it down with big loppers, my neighbor yelled out, “Cathy, What did you feed that THING?!”

Ironically, I gave it the ‘liquid blue’ only 3 times the entire summer, and it was only to the one growing in the pot. The other two grown by it’s side in the ground did not get watered or fertilized at all.

The potted one got watered daily however. I would fill a bucket in my car with water every time I drove out and stop to pour the bucket of water in the potted castor bean plant.

This plant gets huge stalks, which resemble bamboo. Its odd alien like flowers turn into seed pods with burrs on them, as shown in this one clump I chopped off yesterday. It did compete with other plants in the bed part though – my white lavender plants and bee balm were hurting later in the summer as the castor bean plants took over.

Castor beans do well in full sun – which the mailbox specimens were in most of the day, but they can take part sun too. The only other thing is that bed was filled with compost when it was edged with stone, so that is another reason why the plants probably did very well in the ground there too – good soil base.

And it is a fast grower, so if you decided to give it a try next year – take note of where you place it for it will take up space and compete for nutrients and moisture of other plants in the same bed.

Also, take note – all plant parts are poisonous. It is not overwintered by plant parts – but you may save the seeds to regrow them again next year. Or just see me in May.

Red Banana Plant with Two Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus (Alabama on right, Icky Fingers? on left)

Okay, so I don’t always instantly remember the cultivar names, but on the right side is Coleus ‘Alabama’, which I love. And on the left side, it looks similar to the cultivar, ‘Icky Fingers’. These plants can be saved by taking tip cuttings and rooting them in water, then potting them up to save a small portion for reuse the following season. Or they may be cut back somewhat, dug up, put in a pot and grown as a houseplant over the winter by a semi-sunny window.

As for the red banana plant, I will be showing how to store what I call the “root base” of these plants at the October 17th session. This banana is a look-alike (not a true banana plant) but who cares, right?! This plant is gorgeous when it grows large especially. The leaves are broad and this cultivar ‘Maurelii’ (red Abyssinian banana) are reddish and lush colored with trunks of red coloring. They are relatives to Musa (true bananas) and I grow, overwinter, and sell these every year, obtaining stock from a local Connecticut grower.

These plants grow tall and large in our warm summers in big pots but must be overwintered since they are not hardy. You can move it indoors (if you have the space somewhere) — And remember, if you do move it indoors as a houseplant – do it before frost. Once it is hit by frost, the leaves turn black and to mush.

Or you can dig up the fleshy root base to store it over the winter in a cool place, just like you do with canna rhizomes. You can even store it in its container, if it didn’t grow too large, in a cool dark place until our spring arrives.

The steps on how I do this will be shown at my informal session on October 17th, Saturday. It is also shown on my blog post, step by step, from last October. I recognize you may want to take apart your’s at home now, so sharing all in advance as well.

Begonia ‘Gryphon’

Begonia 'Gryphon' Zones 9-11 - A Winner!

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ Zones 9-11 – A Winner

This begonia, at the base of this container garden, impressed me this season as a container garden filler. I ordered them from a local CT grower for spring, and sold this plant at my May workshops – and it turned out to be very impressive.

The leaves grew bigger than my hand, and the dark green leaves with little bits of white were showy – and healthy, all season. It was very reliable – and low maintenance. I just loved it.

It is considered a tropical plant – for zones 9-11, but is wonderful in our patio pots in during summer seasons. This type is best saved as a house plant. I will dig it out carefully with soil around its roots, and re-pot it into a nice pot to keep inside this winter. It should be kept by a brightly lit window area; not full harsh sun, but bright area inside the home. Be aware of drafts by windows in winter as well.

Lining Them Up

Lining them up

Lining them up

Besides moving 3 wheel barrel full loads of compost, which sat on my driveway all summer, I moved the pots which were carried down from my deck last week by my nephew and his friend to be lined up like soldiers. Somehow, they look taller here than they did on the deck all summer. I will decide which to tackle today and which to keep as demo’s for the workshop on the 17th.

Check-in tomorrow to see what gets done this afternoon.

Thanks,

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

 

 

What Should I Do with My Container Gardens and Patio Pots right now?

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You – like me – probably thought you better move in some of your deck pots as a result of the gusty winds and cooler temperatures hitting us right now.

I decided to spontaneously text my brother and nephew yesterday –> “Want to make a quick $20 bucks? I need some help moving my big pots from the deck.”

He immediately responded with, “How about right now?”

Well, long story short – It was a blessing they happened to be free at that very moment for about 30-40 minutes. They came right over. I quickly got my garden gloves on and moved some debris from an ornamental grass I had left lying on the ground in the way.

As soon as they arrived, Ross and Joe started picking up some of the medium sized pots in their arms and walked them to an indoor location for me.

I was washed over with relief as I watched them walk down my deck stairs with the pots hovering over the shoulders and my big plants bobbin’ over their heads.

When Joe picked up the Agave in my urn, I kept repeating – “BE CAREFUL, it is a weapon and the spines on the tips could take your eyes out.”

When showing Ross one of my prized plants – I pointed out a stem while indicating it is easily damaged. “I really don’t want it to break,” I said. He was super careful.

“Don’t drop the pots hard when you put them down – This can cause the pot to crack especially for pots that are thinner resin pots.” Another statement I was saying quickly because these two young guys were moving fast.

Ross asked several questions along the way. “Wow, what is this purple plant?” he asked.

“That is Persian Shield, and it is called, Strobilanthes,” I replied.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant - the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) is a purple plant – the color is fading due to cooler temps.

Ross then started taking photos with his phone before he picked up the next pot.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

After all was moved into an enclosed growing space or onto my driveway for ease of taking them apart later, the guys wanted to pose by my big red banana plant in the backyard. This plant will be part of my overwintering demo in two weeks (and may be published in a catalog. More on that later.).

What To Do with Your Pots Right Now

Some of your tropical plants in container gardens and patio pots (banana plants, Canna, elephant ears) are still safe out there however. The temperatures are in the 40’s to 50’s degree range, and with the 30-35 mile hour winds, it will feel like we are hovering in the mid to lower 50’s. It will feel cold but we are not getting frost.

The gusty winds will tear leaves of big banana plants probably and the cooler temps will make some of the leaves start to turn yellow. Plus, all the cold rain will cause dampness around your plants. This will make your pots heavier as the soil gets soaked.

Some of your tall pots may fall over from the winds. My tall red pots with towering Canna plants already did – so if you are concerned with breakage of pots or plants, move those to a sheltered location.

Even though, I am offering a session on October 17th to demonstrate how I store the root bases of red banana plants, and how to store Canna rhizomes and elephant ear corms (bulbs), I’m shooting off some tips right now quickly.

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Tip # 1:

Get help – if possible. The best part of my 3 amigo’s spontaneously helping me yesterday is they refused payment when they were done. I almost cried. I suggested some cocktail treats – and they responded with, “Yah, let’s go to Broad Brook Brewery soon.” If you can’t get help, use a handtruck to move heavy pots – and take your time. Try not to rush, bend those knees, etc. If a friend is helping you, please remind them to be careful to not rush – this results in hurting your back or straining something when moving heavy pots.

Coleus 'Dipt in Wine' is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them.

Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ is stunning still, taking cuttings of the tips with stem and leaves will save them if you don’t have a growing location inside.

Tip #2:

Coleus – If you have some in pots, take some tip cuttings and put in water in a cup or vase. This is a way to save a bit of the plant. It will root eventually and you may pot it up in a small house plant pot to keep over the winter.

Agave in Urn - Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Agave in Urn – Watch those spines by your head, Joe!!

Tip #3:

For succulents – as I have said in the past, move them inside the house. They will get wet now for sure – and it can rot the tender foliage because the temperatures have dropped down. Get them inside the warmth by a window and let the soil dry out.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

By garage, will be taken apart this month at my session.

Tip #4:

Move your big pots into a garage if you don’t have time to tend to them right now. They won’t get totally soaked by the rain if you plan to dissemble them later this month.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color - they want to stay warm.

Alocasia was moved inside, see the leaves turning color – they want to stay warm.

Tip #5:

Leave the pots right where they are outside. It is colder out but not a frost situation yet. The plants will change color and look a bit off, but if you are planning to chop the foliage down to remove the underground parts from the soil for storing over the winter, then it is okay if the foliage gets a bit of cold damage. However, if you want to take it in as a house plant, I say do it now.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Reminder: I’m primarily speaking about Canna, Banana plants, and Elephant Ears for this post for those in container gardens in my CT Zone (Broad Brook/East Windsor). The cold temps will signal the plants that dormancy time is coming. If you want to keep any of these as inside house plants – moving them in now is a good time to do so because the foliage will get damaged a bit from the cold and winds. We may see warmer days again, but the plants won’t get as stressed if moved inside. If you want to store the root bases, storage organs, corms, bulbs, or rhizomes, it is okay if the plants get hit by frost later this month. (Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) plants should not be hit by frost.)

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

The big red banana plant (Ensete) to be part of demo day.

That’s all for now. If I think of anything else later, I will add it on. If you have questions about a specific plant, just fill out this contact form below.

Thank you,

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

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete genus)

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete)

 

 

NEXT UP: How to Overwinter or Store Plants from Your Container Gardens

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In about five weeks or so from today, it will be time to disassemble and clean-up your container gardens and patio pots, which includes overwintering or storing your plants to reuse/regrow the following year.

Smaller Pots

I already started doing some of this work – starting with smaller pots and window boxes that had lettuce and cucumbers growing in them. My first step is removing any tidbits of stems from the soil, pulling it away with my hands. Then I dump the soil on a table and break it up with my hands. The soil gets placed into a big plastic bin because I plan to grow more lettuce, parsley, basil, and kale this fall and winter in my growing room – so I will reuse this soil. I think it is important to break up the soil to revive the air spaces. Big plastic bins work well for these types of pots for me for the soil storage. They are easy to move and keep things tidy. The empty window boxes and small pots get washed a bit by using my garden hose, and if they don’t clean up easily, a bit of soapy water is used. Cleaning is an important step in the process to avoid any disease transmittal and to maintain the life of your containers and window boxes.

Tropical Plants

In October, either before our frost hits plants or immediately after, I put away my Canna and Banana plants (Note: Some tropical plants should not be hit by frost before moving them inside or storing the storage organs or root bases). I plan to demo my process of storing plants from container gardens and patio pots on October 17th and will be offering it as a demo day. Anyone whom wishes to witness the process is welcome to come to my house at 10:30 am. A small attendance fee applies. If for some reason the cold weather arrives earlier however, this may get moved to October 10th – I will keep you posted if you sign up (see the Contact Form below).

Seeing is Believing

Seeing is believing, and seeing is learning. Many friends prefer to see how this process is done to learn it – but you may also read the how to’s in my prior posts. For example, when I stored my red banana plant one year, every step was documented with photos (and yes, this is the same red banana plant I’ve been posting photos of this summer, growing in my big black pot this year). It was a very cold day at the end of October when I documented the process, requiring a thick pull over and warm gloves, but I enjoyed every minute regardless, because it was worth it. This particular plant has been regrown in a container for the past 4 years. It just keeps getting bigger and showier.

STORING MY BIG RED BANANA PLANT POST

Holding an leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Holding an leaf and cut off top of my red banana plant.

Perennials in Pots

This year’s theme for my Container Garden Workshops in May was perennials in pots. So, if you have some in your containers, you may start any time from now until the end of October to start moving them from your pots to your gardens. Transplanting perennials is best done in the spring so they have time to establish, but it will work out fine if done in the fall for many hardy and tougher perennials – I’ve done this many times with container plants – and they survive. There are other ways to overwinter them (leave in the pot and move to a sheltered spot such as your garage, or sink pots into the ground). But you may do this now or up to end of October before the ground starts to get too cold to work in. I’ve moved perennials even in early November with success. More will be discussed on the demo day too.

Base of Canna Roots

Base of removed soil mass from a big pot

Succulents

One thing I have emphasized in my workshops is moving succulents (cacti like plants, Jade plants, Agaves, Aloe, etc.) into the home before it gets too cold during October. Think of days when we start getting some cold rain falls and the nights begin to get cooler. I find when the foliage of cacti like plants or succulents get hit by cold wet rain and the soil stay damp, they start to rot. Sometimes I move them inside before this type of weather pattern begins in the fall. While these plants may still survive a bit of chill before it gets really cold, it leads to trouble. For example, I have a beautiful Jade plant in my red head planter, I plan to move it in soon.

Red Head with Jade

Red Hed with Gem Dangling – Gets Moved Inside before Chills – Photo by Joyful Reflections Photography of Ellington, CT.

Save Your Pots for Winter Decor

Another good tip is pots with soil are handy in the winter if you wish to stuff them with live evergreen cuttings and stem tips as a winter themed decoration on your deck for the holidays. So, empty all the plants, but leave the soil in the pot, store it, and when the “Holiday Kissing Ball and Evergreen Decorations” workshop comes up in early December, you will find this ‘soil filled pot’ handy to insert your green decor. The 2015 dates for these fun holiday workshops are December 5th and 12th. See the link for all the details or click on Nature with Art Class Programs on the blog’s top menu bar.

Barrels in-front of Joe's Fine Wine & Spirits by Cathy T

Evergreens in a big container garden for holiday displays

October Demo Information

If you can’t make the demo day noted above (and see more information below), you also have the option of hiring me by appointment to show you how to disassemble and save your container garden plants. We will work together.

Have Me Do It for You

And the thought occurred to me recently, if you wish to hire me to do it for you – feel free to ask! As I know days are busy and you may have difficulty getting to the task yourself. But book me soon, time is running out fast. An hourly rate applies (see below).

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant above photo.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo/Workshop

Date: Saturday, October 17th, 2015
(Note: If frost arrives early – this date “could get moved” to the weekend prior, October 10th)

Time: 10:30 am to 11:30 am (end time may run over a bit)

Location: 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $8 per person (pay at session)

In this session, Cathy T will walk her property and demonstrate how to take down tropical plants from various container gardens to show you how to store (over winter) the plants for reuse the following season. You will learn which tools to use, what products to store them in, and misc tips on the how-to’s.

If you wish to see the process to learn the hands-on how to, this session is for you – and especially for attendees of Cathy T’s May Container Garden Workshops.

Plants to Be Demonstrated: Red banana plant (Ensete), Canna, Elephant Ears (Colocasia), and Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia).

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

Private Appointments:

Available at $25 per hour where I work with you to store your plants from your container gardens. To schedule, email containercathy@gmail.com.

To sign up, complete the form below: