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.

#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.

#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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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.

#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).

#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.

#containergardening #tropicalplants #autumngardening #ensete #overwinteringplants #workshops

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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.

#colocasiaesculenta #colocasia #autumngarden #overwinteringplants

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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.

#tubers #colocasia #elephantsears #autumn #overwinteringplants #bulbs

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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.

Next workshop. #sprouts See WorkshopsCT.com. Two dates Nov 5, Nov 10. #containergardening

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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.

#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.

#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.

 

#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.

#autumn #overwinteringplants #lemongrass #tropicalgardens #containgardening

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#lemongrass #tropicalgardens #containgardening #coolplants #lushgardens

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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.

#overwinteringplants #autumn #movinginplants #containergardening

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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.

#overwinteringplants #autumn #movinginplants #colocasiablackmagic on Oct 5 before frost

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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.

#takingcuttings #containergardening #movinginplants #autumn #overwinteringplants #colocasia #coleus

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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!

#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.

#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.

#sempervivum #agave #pumpkindecorating #succulents #autumn

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#pumpkindecor #succulents #autumndecor #containercrazyct #workshops

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#containergardens #autumn #succulents #pumpkindecorating #agave #sempervivum

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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

#pumpkindecor #succulents #autumndecor #containercrazyct #workshops

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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#workshops #containercrazyct #autumndecor #succulents #pumpkindecor

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

#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.

#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.

Lots of #overwintering #overwintering #overwinteringplants #tropicalplants #canna #colocasia #ensete

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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

#autumncleanup #overwinteringplants #containergardening #colocasiablackmagic #colocasia #colocasiaesculenta

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Cool app transforms photos from your iPhone to this!

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.

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.

#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.

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.

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.

Don't like that yellow leaf! #containergarden #enseteventricosum #ensetemaurellii

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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.

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.

#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!

Succulent ball I put together a few weeks ago. #succulents #delosperma #hensandchicks

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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:

Pondering Ponds ‘Walk and Talk’ Reveals Many Unexpected Surprises

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Hi Everyone,

First, thank you to our hostess and guests!

First, a great BIG thank you to our host, Rhonda Rafferty, for sharing her personal experience of starting her pond garden with one level, and then growing it by adding two more levels, as explained during our most recent “Walk and Talk” garden event, held last weekend.

Rhonda’s pond gardens are situated in her backyard, and they are visible from her deck patio area adjacent to her house.  At the base of her pond gardens is a beautiful sitting area flanked with a pergola.

Cathy T and Rhonda's reaction to a funny intro story!

Cathy T and Rhonda’s reaction to a funny intro story!

The sounds of the water trickling from decor spitting fishes and fountains in the ponds are enough to draw you from inside her home to the great outdoors in her backyard.

We had 15 attendees which made this tour a great success. Many of the attendees were from local areas, some folks from a new South Windsor church gardening group, and several attendees from Cathy T’s Classes.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0012

Started with a kit, and built two more sections

Rhonda explained how she started her adventure with pond gardening by using a pond kit to build level one, or the very first tier of the current 3-tiered pond garden area in her yard. As soon as it was ready, her husband bought ten goldfish and put them in it, and of the ten, seven goldfish survived. All of the other goldfish in her ponds today, hundreds of them, are the offspring of the initial seven goldfish.

When Rhonda had shared pictures prior to the tour of her pond gardens, I had assumed the fish were Koi fish. They are rather large and very active in all three levels of her pond gardens, rising to the surface quickly and swimming around rapidly as you approach the water’s edge.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0007

Rhonda explained the first level of the pond garden is rather shallow but the middle level is approximately 5 feet deep and 20 feet long.  Each pond section is structured a little differently, and they are not connected but adjacent to each other in a three-tiered pattern.

Attendees Listening to Talk by Rhonda

Attendees Listening to Talk by Rhonda

Spring and Winter Cleanup Routines

For maintenance, Rhonda drains the ponds completely in the spring.

The goldfish (which stay dormant in the winter months in the bottom of the ponds) are relocated to a 100 gallon horse troth until she’s done performing spring clean-up activities.

Easter is when Rhonda usually opens the ponds if the weather is warm enough.  She can tell when the lilies start growing that it is time to get moving and working on her ponds.

Water lettuce, Lilies, and Lysimachia near goldfish

Water lettuce, Lilies, and Lysimachia near goldfish

All the muck, which built up and decayed in the bottom of the ponds over the winter, is removed with a special muck vacuum she purchased because her ponds are so large.

Also, Rhonda noted using ‘Microbe-Lift‘ in the water filter to add good bacteria to the water.  This will keep her pond healthy throughout the season.

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0001

At one time, Rhonda used a power washer to clean the liner, but she no longer uses a power washer because she wants to keep the algae growing on the liner, and the power washer was removing it – so she uses a garden hose instead.

The algae helps the natural ecosystem get established after a complete water change, and provides food for the fish because you can’t feed them until the temperature of the water reaches a consistent 55 degrees.

There is a special ‘Spring & Fall’ food for cooler temps of approximately 55 – 75 degrees.

However, once the temperatures reach 75 degrees, Rhonda changes to feeding the fish a summer staple food.  Rhonda also noted she uses special UV filters to control bacteria so that the water stays clear during really hot temperatures in season.

During the fall season, the food is changed again when it gets cooler outside, and she stops feeding at 55 degrees.  She also turns off the filters when she stops feeding for the fall and winter months.

Standing at Level One, Rhonda talks about products used to keep water healthy

Standing at Level One, Rhonda talks about products used to keep water healthy; Photo by C. Testa

In the winter, she leaves all the water in the ponds, but will remove the filters and clean them for storage.  She basically washes them down with water because she avoids getting any chemicals in the filters.  She also cuts back all the hardy water lilies and plants, and sinks them to the bottom of the pond in her deepest tier.  A small low watt pond deicer, which floats on top of the water for the winter, is used.  This will create a small patch of open water in the ice to allow gases to escape in the winter.

Water Plants, Floating Plants, Perennials and Tropicals

Rhonda has a mix of plants in and around her pond gardens, and she noted, many have appeared on their own. Some self-sowed or got there perhaps by bird droppings of digested seeds, and even a few ferns arrived to her garden naturally. It is as if the plants know this is the right spot for them.

Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

Elephant Ear (Colocasia)

In the water of her pond gardens, she has water lettuce, elephant ears (one showing off a bloom on it during our tour) – Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustrious’, canna plants, hardy water lilies, papyrus (herbaceous perennial), and mosaic plants (Ludwigia sedioides, an aquatic perennial grown as an annual).

Some of the plants she overwinters by placing them in a fish tank in her home, and others are stored by division of rhizomes or corms, such as done with the canna and elephant ears, or by saving off-sets.  And some are allowed to sink to the bottom to decay or regrow the following season if hardy (as she noted above in maintenance comments.)

Rhonda mentioned Garden’s Dream in Enfield, CT as one place she purchases plants from because they started carrying water type and aquatic plants.

Other plants and bees

There is no doubt the bees are enjoying the plants, for not only could we hear water trickling, see fish moving, there were also many bees visiting the blooms of her coneflowers and other plants surrounding her pond gardens.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0002

Perennials, such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), and various ornamental grasses are planted in the ground near the ponds, and one plant many attendees noticed planted in a pot sitting on a rock in the center of the pond was Amaranthus tricolor, an edible annual with bright red and yellow foliage, which grows rather tall and is showy.

Plant with red and yellow foliage in pot seen in background -Amaranthus tricolor

Plant with red and yellow foliage in pot seen in background -Amaranthus tricolor

When everyone asked me what it was, I drew a blank on the plant name, but Rhonda said she got her first plant of this variety from me a couple years ago and loved it – fortunately, she remembered the name of it.  Rhonda said she’ll never forget seeing this annual at my home in a container garden because she uses Amaranth flour as one of her gluten-free ingredients in her recipes at home.

Papyrus tops

Papyrus

Other plants in the pond gardens, as noted above, were the elephant ears (can sit in water), papyrus (not technically a water plant but also can sit in boggy like water or on water’s edges in pots), and the aquatic water lettuce, hardy water lily, and more.  One we all found fascinating, and is relatively new in Rhonda’s pond gardens, is the mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides).  It is an herbaceous perennial (winter hardy to Zone 10) which floats and rests somewhat flat on the surface of the water and has a pretty mosaic like pattern to it.

Mosiac Plants - Photo by C. Testa

Mosiac Plants – Photo by C. Testa

Root Mass Demonstrated 

Another surprise is when Rhonda reached into the water to pull up a huge mass of hardy water lily plants bound together by one root system, explaining how quickly plants grow in her water gardens.

Root Mass of Hardy Water Lilies

Root Mass of Hardy Water Lilies

She also noted another plant found by her husband in the wild, upon with, I gave a little caution to the attendees to be very careful with water plants or any plants you may find out in the wild if you do not know what it is.  There are invasive species in the wild or in natural ponds, which you should never relocate to your pond or home gardens by mistake, especially if it can run off to another water system nearby your home.  So just a note – know what you are planting, and if you decided to get rid of a rampant plant growing your gardens because it became out of control, and don’t know what it is, toss it in the garbage and not in the woods where it could potentially spread.  This is something I learned more about as a kayak-er, where you must be careful to not accidentally bring home an invasive aquatic plant after visiting a lake with your kayak or boat, as discussed in a previous blog here.

Floating Containers – Another Big Surprise of the day 

I’ve written about all types of containers to use in and around the gardens, but have never considered the type Rhonda had in her pond garden.  There was one container floating around in the pond garden, moving here and there gently in the water, and without hesitation, Rhonda lifted her floating container out of the water to show our attendees.  It is made of a black Styrofoam base with individual open sections where pots may be inserted easily.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0006 Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0007 Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0008

Garden Art is wonderfully displayed around her pond garden — this little pig in the corner, spitting fish here and there, and other surprises as you look and observe.

Pig by Pond; Photo by C. Testa

It is an adventure to spot them.  We all could imagine the days or evenings when she and her family has sat there to enjoy all the hard work put into the pond gardens at her home.

Pondering Ponds Photos by Debut Cinematic_0005

Sources for Pond Supplies

AZPonds.com is an online source Rhonda uses to order supplies. She gets her liner, filters, pumps, and water treatments from them. Shipping is pretty fast.  Orders arrive within 5 business days.

Rhonda started her first pond garden 12 years ago, and continues to learn and expand it.

We all could appreciate the amount of effort but how her efforts also equals the relaxing moments by the pond gardens enjoying nature, goldfish, and sounds.

Pond Gardening is Not for Weenies

Water or pond gardening is not for weenies – it takes some effort to get it cleaned and prepared every season, but the payoff is grand. And if you were wondering, one of the reasons we were laughing in the above photo is because I shared a story of how Rhonda and I met during our corporate days – when we decided to take a motorcycle riding course together, and how we would ride into work side by side on our Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Rhonda still rides today, I, however, gave it up so you can see – she’s no weenie!  Makes sense to me that she manages to maintain such a diversity of plant life, fish, and more in her pond gardens.

Hostess Rhonda; Photo by C. Testa

Hostess Rhonda; Photo by C. Testa

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0013

Also, as for pH of the water, Rhonda noted she doesn’t monitor it – she lets nature take its course.  That sounded good to us – and fits the overall rule of the ‘Walk and Talk’ Garden events – it doesn’t have to be perfect for us to enjoy hearing and seeing what any homeowner has created in their backyards.

Pesto and Passion Flowers

The last big surprise of the hour was the handing out of freshly made pesto by one of our attendees — Thank you Linda C.

Pondering Ponds ContainerCrazyCT_0015

What a treat, and additionally, we all saw, on the way out for the day, Rhonda’s beautiful blooms on her passion flower (Passiflora) vine located at the front of her home. She said it returns every year via self-sowing (or perhaps she has one that is noted to be survive winters, Passiflora incarnata.)  It certainly looks like it!

Passion Flower; Photo by C. Testa

Passion Flower; Photo by C. Testa

She has seen fruit growing after the flowers pass, but wasn’t aware it is passion fruit until we discussed this fascinating flower further.

See here to also learn about this plant’s religious significance, which I looked up via my iPad and pointed out to everyone – each part of the flower has a special meaning – and is believed to represent symbols of Christ’s passion and cross.

Next Walk and Talk 

Our next ‘Walk and Talk’ event is scheduled on August 16th in East Granby, CT at 10:00 am.  This one will feature a sunny hillside garden where the homeowner will share her experiences on what thrived and what didn’t when it comes to the plants she has tried in a very informal, loose and spreading garden on a full sun hill which receives lots of heat in the midst of summer, and wind.  As per our rules, the garden is not perfect but a great place to learn directly from a home gardener with a particular passion.

For more information on planting aquatic plants, check out this post by thegardengeeks.com.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473
ContainerCrazyCT.com

P.S. If interested in showcasing your home garden on our Walk and Talk tours, please feel free to contact Cathy Testa, author of this blog, and coordinator of these events.

Special note of thanks to Professional Lifestyle Photographer, Karen Ladany of Debut Cinematic, for attending to take various photos of the gardens.  She is currently located in East Windsor, CT.

Two-Tiered Container Garden with Portulaca and Elephant Ears on the Side

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This two-tiered container garden has been impressing me all summer, and received lots of likes on my Facebook page, so I decided to share it here too.

Two Tiered Love

Two Tiered Love

It is two containers stacked, the smaller one sitting on top of the soil of the larger container.  I wasn’t sure what would be planted in the bottom level at first until I spotted some nice looking six packs of Portulaca grandiflora MOJAVE Tangerine Purslane at a local nursery. I could tell the plants were fresh and healthy, so I grabbed two 6 packs and planted them around the base when I got home. They were small sizes and easy to tuck into the soil.

I also knew this annual was a great candidate for the location of the containers, because Portulaca can take hot sun and is drought tolerant. The color of the blooms are a bright to soft orange, and with some Nepeta (catmint) planted in the ground below, the color combo of orange and blue blooms of the Nepeta would be complementary. Portulaca has a spreading habit and grows to 6″ to 8″. It blooms from early summer to frost. Definitely a hard working annual for our CT planting zones.

Orange with yellow centers of Portulaca

Orange with yellow centers of Portulaca

Elephant ears (Colocasia) were planted on each side of the container in the ground.  Using some kept from my overwintered stock, I thought they were Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ but the color got so rich and lush, and at the right time of day, the leaves shimmer like a silky black negligee. So I was considering that maybe they were ‘Black Diamond’ but now I’m just not sure because ‘Black Diamond’ has pointy tips to their leaves.  Its possible the color intensified due to the location, which faces west.  I decided this was the case as I watched it grow larger all season and is still showy in fall.

Because it is against my house, it has nice shade in the morning, and the sun gradually warms up the area mid day, but by mid afternoon, it gets hot sun. As long as you water your elephant ears regularly, they can take the sun too. It turned out the rich dark color of the elephant ears look amazing against and near the showy orange of the Portulaca. It made the Portulaca stand out more with the contrast in color plus the leaf textures of both, the Portulaca being fine and Colocasia being coarse, worked.

Colocasia elephant ears, tropical

Colocasia elephant ears, tropical

The only downfall of the Portulaca is the blooms roll up tight for the evening. So, around 3 pm, the bloom show closes for the day.  The disappointment was my guests missed out on how incredibly beautiful they are if they visited later in the day. I had forgotten these flowers do this. In fact, a friend told me recently she has some at her house, and her husband asked her what happened to their plant when he came home one evening to see their’s rolled up tight too.

Closed by mid afternoon

Closed by mid afternoon

The top part of the two-tiered container let me down a tad. I expected the Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet) to grow taller along with the Canna next to it. However, the Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum filled in nicely. Known as Fountain Grass, it is always a great filler or thriller in a container garden.  It is an annual in our region. But the coloring of red blades can’t be beat, and worth replanting every year in containers. It reaches 2-3 feet tall and its fuzzy plumes are showy into the fall season.  It looks great with fall decor for some reason, guess because it has movement and has a nice rich color against the yellows, reds, and oranges of the autumn season.

Planted to the right of the pot were also some Canna plants with red blooms. Sometimes when I was admiring the Portulaca blooms, a buzz from a hummingbird would go by my ears as it visited the Canna. I call the Cannas, my ‘Rene Cannas,’ because my friend, Rene, gave the rhizomes to me last season.

My Rene Cannas with red blooms

My Rene Cannas with red blooms

For the spiller, the reliable Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato) vine was planted on the left side.  This one is Sweet Georgia Heart Red.  And on the right side is Sedum makinoi, which is new to me. It has a nice shape to its leaves and dark coloring so it fit in with the rest. Lastly, a little decorative Gnome was tucked in for fun.

Protecting my containers

Protecting my containers

The fact my containers are old and a bit worn did not matter because the plants created a lush and full look hiding the scratches on the pots. As one Facebook friend posted, it is “Beautiful, rich, luscious, heavenly.”  I, of course, agree!

Written by Cathy Testa

One more photo:

On second tiere

PORTULACA LOVE

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ has alluring powers…

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Can a plant possess alluring powers, so insatiable, the yearning for more overwhelms your ability to resist?

“I want some more,” says Claudia, the fictional character in the movie, “Interview with the Vampire.”  She is completely seduced from her first taste of blood offered by the devious vampire, Lestat.  And although his immortal companion, Louis, witnesses the transition with regret, he does nothing to stop Claudia’s unthinkable awakening.

Maui Magic Front Ear

Yes, a plant can also possess similar powers that lure you into its plan of seduction. And…, “Of course, you want some more.” After you have experienced its offerings, your senses awaken, the desire to achieve the same feeling or response is sought out, and you ultimately thirst for more of the same, as much as a vampire thirsts for blood.

This is how I felt about Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ last season as I witnessed this plant grow long stems and big leaves as rapidly as Claudia’s hair grew right before she opened her eyes.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’

This tropical plant, commonly referred to as an elephant ear or elephant’s ears, drew me into its clutches deceptively, then captured my desire to always want more as it grew into an impressive size while maintaining its beautiful attributes from the beginning of spring to early autumn.  If I didn’t decide to order it last minute, I may have missed out on its powers to grow quickly, create a climactic effect in a container garden, and arouse with its dark-sided hues.  It started with admiring its abundant ornamental leaves, followed by adoring its long stems.  Each held their ears up like a trophy on their tips, making it stand out in the container garden.

August photo; back of 'Maui Magic' leaf

August photo; back of ‘Maui Magic’ leaf

Dressed in a cloak

The heart-shaped leaves of ‘Maui Magic’ snuck-up out of the soil like a vampire appearing from the dark alleys of the streets.  Before I knew it, the leaves grew to two feet long and about half as wide in the center.  The leaves wavy-edged margins are soft and subtle, and provide an elusive cloaking effect as it gently moves by the wind.  The leaf stems, or more appropriately stated, the petioles, grew to three feet tall, lending to an upright exotic thriller bobbing above the container garden’s companion plants.  The mid-ribs were very visible on the backside of the leaves.  By the time August arrived, this plant, started from a small plant in mid-May, was substantial enough to draw me into a complete trance, and kept me there. I couldn’t keep my eyes or hands off it.

Rain drops on the leaves

Rain drops on the leaves

An unnatural pale complexion 

The plant’s foliage coloring starts off as a dark plum-purple, and then fades into an olive green with purple tones.  Having less color is not a sign of ill health as with a vampire, but a transition to maturity.  This did not create a lack of appreciation; the color was still stunning. The leaf stems carried a deep purple tone all the way down to the base of the plant throughout the season.  The look was visually stimulating, but you also wanted to touch the stems.  It sounds weird, but there is a soft texture to the plant, making it smooth to the touch.  I found this irresistible, charming, and as I said, “alluring.”  Taking it down for the fall was as difficult as chopping the head off a vampire in rest, but it had to be done and with good timing.

Yard Stick with Ears

Not harmed by the sun

Unlike vampires, the exposure to sun does not harm this cultivar, so long as you keep it well-watered.  Water to this plant is like blood to vampires; it thrives as it receives more.  But for my container garden, I decided to place it in a shady location, on the north side of my house, where it received more shade than sun.  However, this did not deter it from growing large and showy.  The plant can take either exposure. The leaf stems extended as if reaching towards the edges of the steps in search for the afternoon sun, adding more drama to its presence.  This shady exposure also helped to keep the soil moist, appreciated by many types of elephant ears.  Birds perched on it occassionally, and it never failed to produce new leaves.  When the wind caused some movement, it startled me from time to time because it was as tall as a person and could be seen from inside the house.

The lure of wanting more

The lure of wanting more

Its mysterious origin

As many ponder the true origin of vampires, you may ponder the growth habit of this plant. Whatever you choose to call the base of this plant, a corm, cormel, bulb, tuber, rhizome, or root, the leaf stems arise from the base of a root-like structure.  Even its circumference amazed me, as it reached a good size and produced potential divisions or cormels from the mother plant.  This plant is treated like a tropical in Connecticut; it is not hardy to our zone and requires storage in a cool, dark place, like the coffin of a vampire.  So get out your tools of destruction, chop of its heads, clean of the base, and create its resting place for a return next season when you certainly will “vant some more.”  If handled appropriately and according to specific procedures, this plant will have immortal life in your container gardens.

Tubers at base of stems

Tubers at base of stems

Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473

Pronounced:  Koal-oh-KAY-see-uh  ess-kyou-LENT-uh; sounds like some weird vampire language.

Zones:  9-11, tropical and subtropical tuberous perennial.  Used as a tropical plant and stored for winter in CT Zones.  Can be used as an aquatic plant in containers.

Size:  3-4′ tall, rounded form up to 6′ size all together under warm growing conditions. Big, tall, showy, and overpowering.

Exposure:  Full Sun, part sun, part shade – flexible.  Easy to grow, and grows quickly.

Introduction: 2008 by John Cho and the University of Hawaii breeding program.  Propagation is prohibited.

Color combinations:  Try this plant with contrasting vibrant colors since the plant’s tones are on the darkside.  Use different leaf textures, from fine to medium against this coarse and bold statement in your container or garden.  (Shown in this post are a Coleus, Astilbe, and Rodgersia for a shade combination.)  For a sun combination, try Canna with bright, golden yellow, or chartreuse leaf colors, add a blooming annual, like Zinnia or Verbena, for some pops of color.  Select a bright colored spiller, like Lysimachia nummelaria ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) or Ipomoea batatas (Sweet Potato Vine) annuals.

Container/pot size:  Be sure to use a very large container or pot for this elephant ear due to its size, and to provide adequate soil volume, helping to retain moisture, and nutrients.  And don’t overlook – this plant can make a wonderful statement in the garden too.

After Care:  To learn how to overwinter tropicals, sign up for Cathy T’s fall class, which is hands-on, and held on a dark, gloomy evening with a full moon – just kidding.