The “Don’t Do This” List for when you Plant your Container Gardens and Patio Pots


During my container garden workshops, I’ve seen some things attendees will do as they start to assemble their container gardens and pots. It is not intentional on their part. They are so excited to get started selecting plants and putting them into their container gardens after my talk that they will move quickly and do some little things I try to catch them on before they continue. It reminds me of things they should not be doing because it can harm the plants or make the container look unbalanced.

So, I decided to create this list – and will share it at my future workshops too. Here are the things you should not do as you put together your container gardens and patio pots.

#1) Do not fill the pot to the rim with soil mix.

Filling the pot with soil mix up to the rim of the container will cause the soil to spill out when watering, or the water might roll off the top somewhat. There should be about a 2-3” space from the top of rim to the top of soil line. If the water is not flowing well into the soil, it will not permeate down to reach the plants’ roots, plus it looks a little odd to have the plants sitting at the very top of the pot. Aesthetically, they are better placed a few inches down. Additionally, the base of the plants are somewhat protected if they are not exposed at the very top – reducing things like toppling over due to wind, etc.

#2) Do not press down hard on the soil after you have inserted the plants into the container.

Out of habit or belief the plants should be pressed firmly into the soil, I’ve seen attendees do this at my workshops. They will push down on the soil, sometimes very hard, after they inserted the plant into the pot. This is not a good idea because you are compressing the soil which may reduce the air pockets required for oxygen in the soil to be used by the plant’s roots. Unless the plant is very top heavy or was root bound (thus a little weighty on the bottom), avoid pressing down hard on the top of the soil after planting. If you need to press, do so lightly and gently. You don’t want to smash the roots or crush the base of the plant by pushing down hard onto the soil.

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#3) Do not grab the plant by the leaves and tug it from the starter pot.

When you take the plant out of its growing pot to put it into your container garden, use one hand to place over the soil at the stem base, and the other hand to turn it over carefully so it slides out of the growing pot. Try to not pull or tug at the plant by its leaves or stems. If the plant has been growing in the pot for a while, it may not slide out easily. Squeeze the growing pot a little to loosen it up or roll it gently on a table. Conversely, if the plant has been recently potted up in its growing pot, the soil may fall away from the root ball as you take it out because the roots have not grown into the new soil yet. Be careful to not damage the plant or its root system as you remove it to put in your container garden. If the plant is extremely root bound, and it is impossible to remove it from the starter pot, cut the pot at the bottom about 1” from the base to remove the closed end of the pot, and then push the plant’s root ball and soil through to remove it. A Hori-Hori garden knife or a razor knife works well for the cut.

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#4) Do not put a plant with circling roots directly into the container garden.

When roots are tightly circling around the root ball, this is referred to as girdling. The plant has been in the growing pot for a while, and the roots have nowhere to go except to encircle the root ball as it hits the sides of the inner pot. Do not put plants with tightly bound girdled roots directly into your container garden without first detangling the roots by hand if possible. If the roots are so tightly bound (really tight like they are hard to pull away or tease apart), you may use a clean sharp knife or pruners to cut them apart by cutting here and there. The roots need to be released, so to speak, to move freely and easily into the new fresh soil of your container garden.

Dont Do Photos for Blog Post

#5) Do not put the plants into bone dry potting mix.

When you container garden, you should lightly moisten the soil mix before you put your plants into your container garden or patio pot. Otherwise, the moisture in the starter pot will be drawn into the dry soil in the container garden thus taking it away from the plant’s roots. If the soil mix is dry, use your watering wand to moisten it – the key is to moisten, though – not to waterlog the soil, or turn it into mush. Just wet it a bit and then take your hands and mix it around lightly so the moisture is distributed. This will help the plants to adjust easily from their growing pot to their new beautiful soil environment.

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#6) Do not put dry plants into the container garden without giving it a drink first.

It is a good habit to water your plants in their growing pots before putting them into your container garden or patio pots – preferably the night before, or the morning of, or at least a ½ to 1 hour before you assemble your container garden if its soil is “bone dry” in the growing pot. Another tip – be sure to water everything in after you finished assembling your container garden – but the key is, again – don’t over water. You want everything to settle into its new environment in a well-balanced slightly moist but not waterlogged state. Do not walk away before doing this final step. And direct the water at the soil line, not on the foliage if possible, with your watering wand or watering can.

#7) Do not put your plants in full harsh sun right away.

If your plants were grown in a greenhouse and not transitioned to the outdoors yet, you need to “harden-off” your plants. This term means to move the plants, or better yet, ‘transition’ the plants into the great outdoor sunlight carefully – otherwise, they may burn. Be sure to harden them off first if grown in a greenhouse by placing them in shade to part shade for a day or two. In many cases, hardening off is not required if the plants you purchased were already outside at the nursery. You will know if your plants were not hardened off first when you see the leaves turn white if you put them directly into sun – as is the case with houseplants or plants you overwintered inside, they must be hardened off first as well when you move them outside.

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And finally, another tip – when I plant my container gardens, I tend to make pockets in the soil mix to insert each plant. In other words, I don’t fill the pot half way with soil (like I’ve seen done), place or position all the plants, and then backfill around the roots. I personally believe the pocket method makes the plants more comfortable and allows the roots to make easy contact with the new soil in the container. But that’s being a little picky perhaps – all I know is this method has worked for me for years.

To see photos of the above “Don’t Do’s”, please visit my Instagram feed or Pinterest boards where I show examples, or better yet, take one of my workshops in the future to learn and see hands-on more tips by ContainerCrazyCT.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 (cell)

Cathy T’s Container Gardening Services – What I Do for You


Good morning everyone,

It always surprises me when someone isn’t aware of what I offer as part of my small business called, “Cathy T’s Landscape Designs”, and under the umbrella of, “Container Crazy CT.”

This situation just happened the other day. I was chatting with someone I’ve known for several years, and she asked if I was into banana plants?

This question was a surprise to hear because I’ve blogged about them, sold them, and especially like tropical plants.

Before I could answer, she started to tell me how she was growing some in her home for a garden club event.

As soon as I started to tell her about the big red banana plant I grew in a large planter a couple years back, she paused to listen.

This discussion reminded me of how I once told a garden center owner that many of my friends were not aware their store existed. He kind of listened but I don’t think he believe me – because they are well established.

Funny how that happens.

So, today I’m sharing what I shared at my last garden talk – some quick highlights of what I do. Hopefully you will join me this season for any of the following:

Cathy Testa

Cathy Testa

First – A little bit about my style. I tend to like showy foliage plants, and big tropical plants because they are exciting and grow fast in container gardens. I enjoy storing tropical plants over the winter months so they may be reused each season as well, so as part of my classes and talks, I often share how to do so – store tender plants.

Taking Down a P

Taking Down a big Red Banana Plant – All Steps are On my Blog!!

Storing tender plants (or tropical plants) is something I enjoy. On my blog — this blog, you will find prior posts which show how I do this – The photo above, from a prior blog post, shows me holding a 7 foot long leaf of a red banana plant (Ensete) and the trunk after it was chopped down following an October frost two years ago. It was amazing how this plant grew that particular year in a very large cement planter.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (1)

As you can see, in these two photos above – the red banana plant grew to about 12′ – 14′ feet tall! I was so in love with how lush and tropical it looked, I kept taking photos of it. So, my style is kind of like that above; I like to create outdoor oasis like places in my surroundings, where you escape to a feeling of the tropics. And I tend to enjoy using unusual plants, like cool looking edibles in container gardens. I spoke about edibles quite a bit last season at garden clubs and farmers markets.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (3)Container gardening or arranging plants in patio pots is my favorite thing to do and offer as part of my services offerings. I’m a small business located in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT.

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

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

Store front seasonal container arrangements, such as various plants in spring, summer, and fall – and then changing them out for winter displays with fresh evergreens, and even fun off-season decor for the holidays is what I offer to local store front type businesses. This dresses up the store front, welcomes customers, and even encourages friendly communications with your visiting clients. For referrals or more information about the container garden installations, feel free to contact me or complete the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog post. Or click on Testimonials above on this blog’s menu bar.

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I also offer container garden installations at homes. And for special outdoor events, such as weddings, graduations, or any type of special celebrations at your home. The container gardens filled with lush plants are available for purchase or rent. To read about my Container Garden Services, click HERE.

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Consider this alternative of enhancing your outdoor space with container gardens filled with beautiful plants the next time you are throwing a special party or event. After all, container gardens are enjoyed for months to follow in season, and are long-lasting compared to other outdoor decor which is there just for the day – and never to be seen again. Containers make wonderful gifts and decor for events. For more information, contact me or fill out the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog. It is important to plan early and in advance for special events.

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Fun gatherings where attendees learn hands-on is another service offering by my business. It started with offering classes in the winter months, and transitioned to workshops on container gardening and other classes related to combining Nature with Art. Last fall, we had a special guest speaker come in to teach us how to make hypertufa pots, and this spring, we will be making eclectic windchimes. The topics vary but they all focus on combining nature with art. The 2015 class schedule is posted above – via the menu bars – on this blog. Click on CALENDAR to see the upcoming events by month.

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First on the 2015 list is an April class on making eclectic windchimes. And every May, a Container Garden Workshop is offered. This year’s theme is, “Powerful Perennials in Container Gardens.” To see the complete class listings, please click on the menu bars of this blog and look over the drop down menus by month. Sign up is via the contact forms on the blog pages.

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The workshops are held in Broad Brook, CT. They are convenient, educational, and a great way to network with other gardening friends. But most of all, they are fun! Last year, we held two sessions on Miniature Gardens with special guest speaker, Rondi Niles of Gardening Inspirations – it was held twice because everyone enjoyed them. This year, the Container Garden Workshops will be held twice as well. I hope you will join us and share the events with your gardening friends.

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In the warm season months, classes are held outdoors. During the winter, inside a classroom. Every December, I offer a class on working with evergreen plants to create amazing holiday decor, such as evergreen kissing balls, wreaths, and candle centerpieces. It fills up fast and is an event everyone enjoys as well – organizing groups is one of my passions – and is a great way to network and meet new gardening friends, or those who enjoy creating and making items for their home’s outdoor surroundings.

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (9)

Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (10)

And last year, a new activity was added to the Cathy T’s offerings – Walk and Talk Home Gardens tours – Very informal, fun, and the hosts are homeowners willing to share what they have done in their gardens – with the rule that there “are no rules!” It can be informal, messy, or amazing – it is a way to share and learn from each other. Last year, we toured a pond garden in Enfield, an urban veggie garden in Wethersfield, and a sunny hillside garden in East Granby.

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Edibles Container Gardening 2015 (12)The Walk and Talk Home Garden Tours for 2015 are underway. We have two lined up so far for 2015. Again, see the menu bar with drop down menus of all the activity. If you are interested in sharing your home garden, please reach out – it is a great way to exchange gardening tips, meet new gardening friends, and share what you know, how you have created a garden in your special spaces, and it doesn’t matter if your garden is big or small, perfect or imperfect – we want to hear from you! To contact me about a tour, e-mail or fill out the Contact Form at the end of this post.

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So there you have it – in a nutshell: Container Garden installs for homes, businesses, and special events. Lots of nature and plant related classes which are all DIY and include taking home your creation – and educational! And Garden Talks at Garden Clubs, appearances at farmers markets (Ellington and East Windsor again in 2015), Garden Tours at People’s Homes, and more.

My business is based on 8+ years of growing from my inspiration and passion of plants and container gardens, experimentation which lead to knowledge and taking courses over the years, and knowing the right way to care for plants in container gardens and patio pots, circling back to more experience. It starts with having a passion and inspiration! Let’s meet to share the passion together.

Cathy Testa

To learn more about Cathy Testa, see her BIO.

A Succulent of a Different Kind is Rescued – Aeonium arboreum


I recently rescued an Aeonium suffering in the confines of a small square terracotta pot at a garden center.  It was tucked on the floor below potting benches where it stood solo with no others like it nearby.  Spotting its dish plate sized rosette, I stopped to look it over.

Hand shows size of  rosette

Hand shows size of rosette

It was apparent this showy and tall succulent plant had been sitting there for a very long time.  The pot it was growing in was very small, much smaller than the diameter of the plant’s terminal rosette which was growing from a single stem of 15 inches tall.  And although the plant looked great overall with no signs of problems, the pot was tattered and was barely holding up this plant.

This particular succulent could easily be overlooked at the garden center if you are not a scouter of plants, such as I am.  Additionally, there was no plant label in the pot, so if you are unfamiliar with this different kind of succulent, you may have decided to leave it where it sat. However, I decided to return to the garden center to go get it and bring it home.

Original Pot - Ready to be Potted Up

Original Pot – Ready to be Potted Up

I instinctively assumed it was a variety called, Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartkop’ or Aeonium arboretum var. artopurpureum, because of its dark plum colored foliage, but now I am not sure.  Only because the rosette is so large, I thought perhaps it is a cultivar unknown to me, or just a very mature ‘Zwartkop’ growing for some time.

Either way, the technical plant name is of no matter because the large size of the plant’s rosette is so spectacular, I know it will be a showcase in a container garden at my home this summer.

Potting It Up into a New Home

These plants should be repotted every two to three years. When Aeoniums get pot bound, they may send out additional aerial roots from the base of their stem, which was the case with mine.

The new pot selected should be a size up in diameter of the existing pot, or the plant itself.  Or it can go into a larger container garden with other mixed succulents sharing the same exposure and soil preferences. Either way, the container must have a drain hole, or perhaps two or three, for free drainage of water through the soil profile.

It helps to keep the soil moisture level regular for Aeoniums because their roots are fine and can dry out easily.  This is not to imply you should over water the plant. You do not want soggy soils for any succulents because they have the tendency to rot at the base when the soil is wet.  Most succulents or cacti can handle heat, drought, and dry soils from time to time because they store moisture in their leaves or stems during drought periods – which this one does, but it also is a bit different in regards to moisture levels because of its fine root system.

New Glazed Pot and Soil Mix

New Glazed Pot and Soil Mix

To help keep the soil at its best, use quality, fresh soilless mix specifically for container gardening or patio pots.  You may use soil mix labeled for growing cacti, but Aeoniums can also grow in regular potting mix for containers because it likes a bit of regular moisture.

Be careful when moving the plant to be repotted so you won’t bump into anything.  Gently remove it from the pot by holding the base of the stem.  The stem of this plant is fairly strong, but you do not want to risk damaging it during the repotting process.

As I removed it from the terracotta pot, it was very apparent there were some critters in the soil, such as sow bugs and centipedes.  These bugs like warm moist locations in the soil. I wanted to eliminate them as much as possible, so I gently removed away most of the soil from the plant’s root system.

Removing, inspecting the soil, and seeing the sow bugs

Removing, inspecting the soil, and seeing the sow bugs

In addition to seeing critters in the soil, there was an indication the soil was not taking in moisture anymore.  When potting soil is not renewed, it can actually repel water.  The soil in its original pot was moist only around the edges, and not in the center, so it was not permeating through completely.  It was just another indication the plant needed a new fresh growing environment.

Filling my new glazed pot almost to the top (about 2” from the rim) of fresh potting mix is the process I typically follow when potting up plants.  After it is full, I scoop out some of the soil to make a nice comfy pocket for the plant being transplanted.

Some people may fill the pot halfway with soil, place the plant in there, and then fill around the plant by adding soil up the rest of the way in the pot – but I prefer to make a pocket so the roots come into contact all the way around the plant.

Holding it down with stones

Holding it down with stones

This pocket process was especially important for this Aeonium because the rosette is so large, it was a little top heavy – especially because I removed the old soil from the roots.  To secure the plant better, I placed two large stones on top of the soil, adding a bit of weight there to help keep it stable until roots take hold.

I also added some slow-release fertilizer to the soil, and lightly mixed it into the top.  Always water any transplanted plants right after you are done.  Don’t leave it until later to give it a sprinkling of water – it will help to awaken the roots to the new fresh soil and get them established.

In a shady spot to drain after lightly watering in

In a shady spot to drain after lightly watering in

Succulents are Easy to Grow

Succulents can handle heat and drought, but as mentioned above, this species prefers some light shade for part of the day as it doesn’t really like super hot summers or very humid weather.  They like a mild cool weather which may seem odd because many people think of succulents as heat lovers, but some do well in moderately cool weather, and Aeoniums are one of them.

If you see the leaves curl when this plant is outdoors in summer, it may be an indication you have it located in too hot of a spot.  Relocate it to where it gets a break from the heat, a part-sun area or where it will get bright sunlight such as under a patio umbrella, and all will be fine.  And also remember, moving any tropical like plants outdoors after being inside for the winter should be done so with care – putting them in a shady spot for a day or so.  Foliage can burn when put into direct sun immediately.

The many different textures and forms of succulents are fun to combine in mixed container gardens and patio pots.  And ‘Zwartkop’ cultivars are especially useful because they have a dark coloring which works nicely against other light colored succulents, from the soft silvers of Agaves and Senecios, to bright yellows typically seen on succulent plants, such as Sedums.

The older, lower leaves on most Aeoniums will wither and fall off.  If they turn yellow and are unsightly, you can easily snip them off with a pair of common household scissors before they drop if you prefer – and sometimes they pull off easily by hand.

Tight Rosette in the Center

Tight Rosette in the Center

The top of the rosette stays tight in the center, and the foliage directly below it is usually more spaced out.  A lovely feature is the very center of the rosette.  It can have a tone of yellow or green, more prevalent when the plant is grown in part shade.  When in full sun, the coloring is more on the darker plum to black side.  Water droplets on this plant’s rubbery foliage can be very pretty too.

Different Growing Habits

Aeonium plants may be trained into looking like a topiary by removing side branches, such as the one I took home, and some cultivars grow very low to the ground.  They also grow like a shrub with side branches reaching out from the main stem with rosettes appearing on their tips.

The dramatic shape of the rosettes is useful in container gardens, adding interest and uniqueness to a composition.  And the branches offers an architectural appeal as well, resembling a large bonsai form.  And if you are lucky, you will see their amazing blooms.

I have yet to see an Aeonium bloom from my prior stock of these succulents because I usually get them when they are young plants.  Blooms grow on mature plants. The blooms are an excellent yellow color which contrast nicely against its attractive dark colored foliage.  But witnessing a blooming show has a double-edge sword because some succulent plants will die after they bloom.

To see the different growth habits and blooms of this interesting succulent, see my Pinterest board titled, “Succulent Sensations!” which is filled with examples.

Making More Plants

Propagating this plant is an easy process to do, so long as you are patient enough to wait for it to root and start a new plant.

Snip off rosettes with about 5-6” inches of the stem intact (still attached) with a clean sharp knife, and insert it into a small pot of fresh soil to take root.  This should be done during the active growing period of Aeoniums for it to be successful.

If your Aeonium has many branches, you have the capability to start a whole family of them by snipping and inserting cut stems into soil.  It helps if you allow the cutting to sit for 24 hours to dry a bit before inserting it into the soil, or just set it on newspaper to sit overnight.

The soil for the cuttings may be regular potting mix or one amended with fine sand and drainage material – but I find either works easily.  Moisten the soil before inserting the cut stem into it so it is slightly moist.  Cuttings can also be inserted into container gardens mixed with other plants in fresh soil – it will eventually take root.  This is a great way to capitalize on your purchase of an Aeonium, or other succulents easily propagated by cuttings.

By the way, Aeonium is pronounced like ay-OO-nee-um.  Get practicing so when you show off your specimen, you will sound like a pro.  Or you can just refer to it as a black rose succulent or black tree succulent.

Written by Cathy Testa
860-977-9473 cell

Hardiness Zone:  9 or warmer; grown as a tender perennial in Connecticut during the summers, and as an indoor house plant in the winters.

Upcoming Cathy T Class:

To learn more, register for Cathy T’s “Big Container Garden Party (Class)” on Saturday, May 24th – there’s still time to sign-up!  See “Garden Talks” on the menu of this blog for more information.  Succulents will be the key feature for this class.  Some Aeoniums will be available too.

Returned Inside Until Temps Warm Outside

Returned Inside Until Temps Warm Outside

Five Ways to Protect the Tender Plants You Put Outdoors Too Early

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Photo Attribution Below

Photo Attribution Below

You know you should have waited to put out tender plants or seedlings, but you got anxious and planted them outdoors anyways.  Whether in a container garden or a garden of the ground, they are now subject to the upcoming chills expected during the overnight hours this week as predicted by our local forecasters.

It’s not too difficult to understand why you tried to cheat the planting dates – after all, we had temperatures in the 70’s last weekend here in Connecticut.  It got our gardening juices flowing, and you may have impulsively planted tender seedlings in your gardens, such as tomatoes or peppers, or have potted up some summer like annuals in your mixed container gardens and patio pots.  Perhaps you even put a few of your houseplants outdoors for some fresh air and sun exposure for the first time this season.

But as of today, we have rain, strong winds, and a drop in temperatures coming.  It is expected to be in the low 30’ for the next three evenings.

So, you may be wondering what you should do now to protect the tender plants you put outdoors too early.

Here are five suggestions you can try – some may be better than others – due to the rainfall and winds occurring today:

#1 Cover them with a light-weight bed sheet

Protect the plants by carefully placing a light-weight bed sheet over the garden bed where you put them in or over the container garden or patio pot.  Use some stakes to tent the cloth up so the now wet tender plants will not get bent or be pushed down by the weight of the sheet or blanket.  Use rocks or bricks to hold the sheet down if necessary.  However, this may be difficult to do tonight especially because we will have rain overnight, and some areas in Connecticut may get sleet (Litchfield).  Ugh, but this trick does work well to protect tender plants from late spring frosts – so take note, or avoid the situation next time by doing Option #2, setting up temporary plastic tunnels.

#2 Use temporary plastic tunnels

If you planned ahead and ordered, you can use low tunnels made specifically for plant protection like those available from  They are easy to use, expand like an accordion over your plants, and come with curved hoops made of bamboo used to brace the tunnel in the ground.  Push the hoops into the soil and you should be all set.  This is a great way to protect plants, but you are not going to be enjoying doing this now with the downpours.  Another reminder of why we should wait for the tender plants, or plan ahead.

#3 Roll out floating fabric row covers

Similar to temporary tunnels noted above, fabric cloths or frost blankets specially made to protect plants are available from many garden supply manufacturers or at your local nursery.  They will hold in the warmth and protect any new plants without damaging them.  As with a light blanket, you may need to pin down the edges so it won’t be blown away by the wind.  Again, there’s wind tonight – Sorry!  Such is the way of gardening in the Northeast.  But these are handy in other situations, such as use for the last spring frost.

Photo by C. Testa

Photo by C. Testa

#4 Move the container garden back inside

Move your patio pot or container garden potted up with tender plants inside to a warmer place or sheltered location, such as your garage or shed, for the cold evenings.  A hand-truck works great for this process.  Also, if you put any small seedlings or your houseplants that were kept inside during the winter out on tables because you thought the plants should enjoy the warm weather last weekend, you should have moved those back indoors, especially now with the overnight low temperatures coming.  As noted in my Spring e:Pub, tropical plants, cacti like plants, and many houseplants must wait to go outdoors when things have warmed up after the last spring frost date.

#5 Be patient and wait a little longer

Most reputable nurseries put out only those plants which can take the cooler temperatures of the early spring, while tender plants are kept inside their large greenhouses for warmth and protection until warmer temperatures arrive.  Just watch out for stores that don’t follow the rules – and we tend to know which they are.  Usually their plants look injured a day or two following exposures to low or freezing overnight temperatures.  Wait a bit longer to put out the tender plants, and remember to watch for our last frost date of the spring season.  Otherwise, you risk damaging the plants’ foliage and flowers, or the plant will die and ruin your ambition and expenses.  Be patient and wait a tad bit longer.

Other Interesting Ideas

Christmas Lights on Fruit trees – I’ve heard you can string large styled Christmas lights around apple trees limbs near the buds to help keep them warm.  Buds can get damaged or killed if they freeze, so this is one holiday styled technique. Interesting!

Make a Camp Fire – Just kidding!  But some nursery growers of fruit trees actually light small fires under fruit trees.  Hey, anything to save those buds from frost, right?  However, not recommended or needed in home garden environments typically.

Water Fruit Trees – This may sound contradictory – but growers will water fruit and citrus trees, and some nurseries will water (sprinkle) specific plants, as a shield from the morning’s sun following a frost or freeze.  It serves an insulator for the growing buds and foliage – but it gets more technical which I will not expand on this topic here because of “timing” of this post.  However, if you’re interested, check out the “frost protection fundamentals” by FOA Corporate Document Repository where they explain it isn’t the cold temperatures per say that affect the plants, but how the plant tissue are injured via dehydration.

Water the Soil – Your outdoor plants (including the trees and perennials) are being watered right now by the natural rainfall, which is good for the plant’s roots because dry soil tends to pull moisture from the roots during frost or freeze periods.  Wet foliage however is not a good thing; when the foliage and stems of tender plants get wet and cold, this may lead to rot, flopping over, and general damage.  Antidessicants may be used on evergreens (rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies, boxwood, etc.) to help reduce dehydration of the foliage.  A commonly type is called Wilt Pruf, and it is organic and biodegradable and primarily applied in the fall.

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First and Last Freeze/Frost Dates by Zip Codes

Go to Dave’s Garden website to enter your zip code for a first and last freeze/frost dates for your area based on averages.  For Broad Brook, here are the results received via this site:

  • Each winter, on average, your risk of frost is from October 9 through April 26.
  • Almost certainly, however, you will receive frost from October 22 through April 11.
  • You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from May 10 through September 26.
  • Your frost-free growing season is around 166 days.

Overall, it is best to plant the cold-tolerant veggies, plants like pansies, and your typical spring bulbs like hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils.  For the rest, hang in there. It won’t be long until we can enjoy all – I promise.

Written by Cathy Testa

Lady's Mantel Leaves Pop Up on April 15th, 2014

Lady’s Mantel Leaves Pop Up on April 15th, 2014

Upcoming Events:

Don’t forget to check out Cathy T’s Container Gardening Class on May 24, 2014 in Broad Brook, CT.  See also Cathy T’s Garden Talks.

Please share or join this blog by entering your email on the sidebar, you will get updates via email and special offers or coupons of upcoming classes as a Cathy T blog follower!

Photo attribution:  “Weather Icon” by bandrat;

New Page: Container Garden Pot Types

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Photos by Cathy Testa

Photos by Cathy Testa

Do you ever wonder if a particular type of container garden pot is worth the investment or how it helps or harms the growth and habit of your plants?  On this new page, I share my experience based on my use of various pots over the years.  See Container Garden Pot Types listed under the Container Gardens page on the top of this blog.

You will find terra-cotta, wood, concrete, and more listed and posted routinely.  There are so many choices and the options are limitless. Containers are the shoes to your plant’s roots.  And roots remain healthy and strong when growing in the right environment.

Containers and patio pots hold the soil and moisture, but the type of material from which they are manufactured can vary the temperature, water retention levels, and evaporation rate – so knowing a bit about the pots’ impact can help you make decisions on what to use for your plants.  You will want to also consider the size, drainage capability, durability, and overall look of the container or pot you select.

Finding a pot to suit your home’s exterior or interior is also a consideration.  There are many styles, colors, and sizes to choose from.  When you select the type to fit your decor, it results in an even more impressive display for your plant combinations.  It all starts with the pots.

Written by Cathy Testa

I Wish I Was as Strong as An Ant

Image Courtesy of Sweet Crisis

Image Courtesy of Sweet Crisis

When I take down my container gardens for the season.

Lifting objects fifty times my weight would be handy right around now when I start taking apart my large container gardens and patio pots on my deck for the close of the season.

Years ago, I had no problem whatsoever doing this process, but as one ages – well, you know, if you don’t keep up with those muscle building routines, it can become difficult.  In fact, when I gave talks on container gardens and why “bigger pots are better,” some ladies in the classroom would ask, “How the heck did you manage moving all those big pots?!”

Sometimes I get so excited about container gardening, I instantly find super power energy enabling me to lift heavy bags of container garden soil or other items needed like the big pots. However, during this year’s take down process for my container gardens, I felt a little weak at times.

In fact, I started to tell myself, stop feeling frustrated about taking down your plants in your container gardens!  It is part of the process and get into the spirit.  So I did some of my work of breaking down the 20+ or so large container gardens on my deck yesterday, and as I was doing so, I thought I’d share some of the things I found frustrating or helpful during the process.

Soil from Containers

Soil from Containers


Last year I was lucky. I had a new huge cement planter near my deck and I tossed the left over soil into that, but this year, I had to use my wheel barrel.  At first, however, it fell over from the weight of the soil falling from the deck level above into the barrel as I tossed it over the railing.  So I attempted to move my pick up truck to the deck, well, that didn’t work.  It was too difficult to maneuver the truck to the corner of my deck.

photo (7)

So, it was back to using the wheel barrel.  After getting a big lump of a root ball or two into the barrel, it stabilized and I was able to continue dumping the soil into the wheel barrel receptacle from above.  I will use this soil in the ground somewhere to recycle it as it doesn’t do well being reused in my container pots next year – It is best to have fresh container gardening soil each season, in my opinion, but to use it as a top dress to a garden bed or for a new garden bed is a good idea.


In my container garden demonstrations, I show folks how to line their containers and patio pots with plastic liners (which must have slits and holes cut into them for drainage).  The reason I started doing this many years ago was more to keep the containers in good shape, but it also turns out to be a very effective method for slipping the whole root ball out of the containers at the end of the season.  The roots circle a bit around the edges within the liner, and it forms a nice ball or chunk when you are ready to take the plants and soil out.  It is a great tip for plants like Canna plants because they get large rhizomes and roots in the soil, making removal difficult. So I was happy my liners were working perfectly as I was removing the soil from my pots.

Foliage being Tossed into a Bin.

Foliage being Tossed into a Bin.


Before slipping the soil out of the pots with the liners, I cut off all the foliage and stems to about 4″ from the base for plants I’m tossing in the compost pile. The little stub of a stem helps to lift the root ball out of the pots, at least in sections or chunks. The key here – use good sharp pruners or a serrated knife for large stems, and make sure to clean or disinfect them so you don’t spread any yuck (diseases) around, even during the take down process, clean tools are important.  I tossed my cuttings into a large bin on my deck, another item which came in handy as I was working.  It is easier to take all the foliage off before trying to move pots to a location or to the spot where I was tossing out the soil into my wheel barrel. Seeing the cut off stems of my elephant ears made me sad, and also made me think that I should have setup a station to make leaf imprints in a concrete mix as a side project at this time, especially because I have plenty of leaves to use, but that’s another crafty project requiring time.


Sometimes I feel a little lazy, but I force myself to wash the pots with a little soapy water, and a soft brush to clear away any soil residue left in or on the pots.  Then air-dry the pots completely before moving the containers into a garage or shed.  It is important to not skip this step. Cleanliness is so important for your plants when you begin again next spring to replant your containers.  It greatly reduces, if not eliminates, potential plant diseases or problems and you will be happy you cleaned them the year prior.

My Big Kalanchoe, Going to a Foster Home.

My Big Kalanchoe, Going to a Foster Home.


For container plants which I can not fit into my home (yup, read my blog earlier about greenhouse procrastination), I stand there contemplating where I can fit this – or should I give the plant to a friend or family member with a bigger house? The one I’m struggling with right now is my Kalanchoe (paddle plant).  It is HUGE. I know I can easily propagate some with cuttings, but I keep looking at it saying, should I cram it in my bedroom again to keep it alive all winter? Or give it to my sis in law with a big open bright living room with lots of windows?  Oh gosh, the challenges!!  I don’t know.

Hypertufa at End of Season.

Hypertufa at End of Season.

I also have a beautiful hypertufa stuffed with Sempervivums (hens-n-chicks).  They are pretty tough, can go really dry all winter with little watering, but I don’t have room in my kitchen garden window because I put my head planters there.  Gosh, where will this one go?

These are the challenges I face, never mind the fact I just don’t want to stop admiring my container garden plants outdoors, but winter is coming.


Another downfall, or plus depending on your point of view, is that I started feeling like I wanted to have a glass of wine and enjoy my deck.  It is one of my favorite spots at my home. If you were to ask me – What is your favorite spot? Well, it is our deck.  I always feel like it is a vacation spot or oasis with all my big tropical plants every summer.  I get to decorate it with all my garden decor, and it faces a private backyard, so it is really a retreat.  So because I was out there on a nice, sunny fall day, and being around my beautiful plants, I felt like, gee, I should relax and have a glass of wine.  So I did after I disassembled about five or so of the smaller of my big containers.  Today, I will tackle the bigger ones.  This will require a hand-truck, some patience, and strength.

Wish me luck!

Cathy Testa

New Way to Reach Cathy T

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Hey Fellow Fans, Bloggers, and Gardening Friends and Clients,

I FINALLY setup a new email id to reach me regarding my business.  It is appropriately called,

Just a heads-up it is available and primarily for communications regarding the plant-world and my business, Cathy T’s Landscape Designs.

Have a question about a plant or garden? Feel free to reach out anytime at this new id. I’m happy to help.

Or, click on the RED LEAVE A COMMENT box in any blog post (top-right) to add feedback here too.

By the way, my “Spring 2013 e:Pub” for my clients and gardening friends will be posted on my website soon, and will be sent out from this new id, so be on a look out for it.  My website name is still

Oh – Check out my very first POLL on this blog too – Your input, opinions, and thoughts count to me, so place your vote by scrolling down the right-side bar of this blog to click an entry – about your favorite container garden location at your home.  I will share the results with all of you regularly, or you can see the results instantly as soon as you enter your’s.

Now, as for the weekend, let’s enjoy the slow warm-up expected – another “finally.”

See you outdoors!  Container Crazy Cathy T

A good sign

A good sign

Face Pots

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Face planters - My Fav!

Face planters – My Fav!

I love finding unique pots with faces on the front, and at the Boston Garden & Flower Show last weekend, I spotted these cute Garden Guardian pots handcrafted by Valerie McCaffrey.  I picked up two small ones immediately.  If I wasn’t being lazy, I would have purchased the larger sizes, but they are available online.  Aren’t these cute? Faces are positioned to point upwards, so if you place these within a garden bed or container garden, you will see them as you walk by.  Funny expressions with slanted noses!  (P.S. If any of my local fans are interested in these, let me know, I can work on a group order for us.)

Container Crazy Cathy T