Bringing Plants Indoors

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I usually call this process, “overwintering plants,” but I figured that is a term which may be unfamiliar to newer gardeners.

Thus, this post titled, “Bringing Plants Indoors,” is referring to just that. I’m starting to bring in some plants this week (Sept 7th, 2020).

Some plants, like hardy succulents, are able to stay outdoors all winter here in our CT planting zones. They are able to tolerate frost and winter temperatures, and are referred to as, “winter hardy.”

For example, Sempervivums (a.k.a., Hens & Chicks) succulents. However, if you decide to keep any of these hardy succulents, which were grown in containers, patio pots, or hanging baskets outdoors, be sure to put them in a protected location, such as under a porch, in an unheated garage, or shed. They are more sensitive to winter conditions if in a pot versus grown in the ground in a garden.

If they have been growing in the ground, they will be fine over the winter, and do not need protection. They will go dormant when the time is right as temperatures drop in the fall and winter, and come back alive next summer season.

This particular hanging basket (shown above) is filled with Sempervivums which are looking perfect right now. There is no damage, no insects, and they are as happy as can be. I just love how they filled this hanging basket in fully. The color intensified recently, as many succulents do when they get a bit of stress of cooler temps.

I decided to move these Sempervivums in a hanging basket into my greenhouse yesterday, however, it is not because they can’t remain outdoors for another few weeks (or all winter in a protected location), but because they look so healthy. I want to keep them that way.

Tip: Move them in while healthy!

I find the best time to move some plants indoors, especially succulents and houseplants, is while they are looking great, are free of insects, and haven’t been stressed by a drop in temps during the fall season, which is usually accompanied by rain fall. When this happens, the soil, the pot, and the plant get cold and damp. This starts to invite issues such as rot, insects, and stress.

This plant above, a Jade in my red head planter, is another example. It could tolerate a few more weeks outdoors. Once it is consistently 50’s degrees at night, they should be moved in however.

It probably won’t go into the 50’s for another week or so, and even if it did – it still might be okay for one night or two of 50’s lower temperatures if our day temps stay warm (60’s, 70’s and maybe even another day of 80’s!).

But, it must be moved in before it gets hit by frost. Frost would kill it. It is not “winter hardy.” It can not tolerate the CT winter temperatures. Frost usually hits in early October.

However, because this Jade plant is so healthy right now, this week of September 7th, I wanted to take this gorgeous red head planter in before the beautiful Jade plant in it experiences any fall weather related stress. It has grown so much and has done well in this planter.

What do I mean by fall weather related stress? Well, when it drops down to chilly, 50 degrees F or below, in the fall season, we usually also get rain. Then the planter would be damp, cold, and this will affect the plant and the soil. It may not kill it – but it most likely will stress it. The soil gets cold and damp, and I find this scenario to not be ideal for plants you are moving indoors.

Tip: Move them in before major rain fall during a temp drop. And let the soil dry out in the containers outdoors before moving them inside.

Additionally, I advise my plant followers to let the soil dry out in your container gardens and patio pots before you move them indoors, AND, move them in before they get too chilly (before there is a consistent temp in the 50’s in the evenings.) A succulent is able to tolerate drought, so let that soil dry out before moving it in.

The plant got tall enough, so I had to remove the top shelf of this south facing kitchen window that extends out. It will be good enough sunlight to keep this plant happy all winter. The window area sometimes gets a little chilly in winters, but this plant is able to take 55 degrees “indoors” during the winters at night. It won’t get too cold here for this type of plant.

Before you move it indoors, here are other things you should do:

  • Don’t water it before moving it indoors for a few days if possible or even a week. Drier soils are better for moving in plants.
  • Inspect it for damaged leaves or any signs of insects. Treat if you find insects with the appropriate spray or treatment.
  • Remove any fallen debris from the plant (I found pine needles in there.)
  • Remove any damaged leaves if possible. Wiggle them back and forth to pull away if you see leaves with holes or damage.
  • Inspect under the pot. (I did this. I found a small round insect cocoon.)
  • Wash the outside of the pot with soapy water (mild dish soap is fine).
  • Move it before it gets 50 degrees F or below at night consistently. (This could happen anytime between now and the next couple weeks.) Watch your weather app for night temperatures.
  • Pick the appropriate home location. Some plants need some sunlight, others are able to tolerate low-light.

The next plant, shown above, is an Alocasia called ‘Tiny Dancers.’ When I saw it at a growers, I had to have it. I have lots of huge monster size Alocasias but I never had a dwarf sized one, like this one. It is too cute!

It started off in a tiny 3″ square nursery black pot. I potted it into a new terracotta pot and had it outdoors all summer. Usually, I store Alocasias by storing their tubers (round like bulbs located under the soil) only, but this is a tiny Alocasia, in fact, more along the lines of a dwarf. It makes it a houseplant candidate in my book, at least, I can test it out as such this year.

I decided to move it in and give it a spot by my south facing kitchen slider. It will receive sun light only a portion of the day during the winter which should be sufficient.

I don’t think it would do well in a north facing window which does not receive much sunlight at all. Another good place for this plant, if there is sun light in the room, is a bathroom because this plant likes a bit of humidity.

This Alocasia has been is pushing out new growth and is very happy. This one will be treated as a houseplant this winter rather than storing it like I do with my giant Alocasias (which are tropical plants and can not withstand winter temperatures). Sorry repeating myself.

I followed the same steps above: inspect, look it over, remove any damaged leaves. I did not wash this pot because it is terracotta and porous so the soap could go into the pot and although probably not too harmful, I just used a rag to wipe away any debris.

But this Alocasia ‘Tiny Dancers’ did have some signs of insects. When you inspect your plants before moving them indoors, look closely.

I did see, in the cups of one leaf, that there were little spiders in there. I am not sure if they were spider mites, but I decided to “lightly” spray the plant with Neem Horticulture Oil in a spray bottle as a precaution.

Tip: Please read the label or ask a nursery staff about insecticides, fungicides, or other products before you treat your plants. You could damage a plants’ leaves if you use the wrong product.

Check any treatments you use on plants by reading the label first. Make sure it is appropriate for the plant type! If you spray a plant with the wrong product, you will damage the plant, not help it.

Another plant I moved in to the house is considered a houseplant, the ZZ Plant. It has been thriving under a patio umbrella and had no insect issues, and is also pushing out new growth. When you see the growth, this is a good sign your plant is happy. Moving them in when happy is a good idea.

Tip: And I can not emphasize this enough, the best time to move plants inside as fall approaches is when or if they are healthy. If they have no issues, get them in before they do. Colder temps often times invites problems.

I carefully cleaned each ZZ Plant leaf with a wet paper towel to wipe away any debris or dust, washed the outside of the pot, and this one was placed in a north facing window that receives very little light. Since this plant is able to tolerate lower light, I think it will be fine in my north facing window this winter. This plant is marketed as being easy and care free, so the north window is its home for the rest of the year. Water this plant less as it does not like overly moist soils.

To recap, plants may stay outdoors for the most part, but some I start to work on early, partially because I have the time this week to work on my own plants before overwintering my clients’ plants from their container gardens. Also, sometimes working in mild and comfortable temperatures is better on me.

Also, I believe plants perform better indoors over the winter when you move them in before they get stresses from drops in temps in the evening. This is especially true for “non-hardy” succulents, such as Echeverias. I will be showing those as I work on them in future blog posts as well.

Tropical plants, like my Canna Lilies, Elephant Ears (Colocasias and Alocasias), and Banana plant (Ensete) may remain outdoors all the way up to frost (early October) or just after frost (IF you plan to store the under the soil bulbs, rhizomes, corms, or tubers only). If you want to keep the plant indoors as a house plant, move them in before frost.

Succulents plants, just to recap, may remain outdoors all winter if they are winter hardy. However, if they are not, they must be moved in before frost in October, and I recommend (sorry repeating myself) to move them in before they get cold, damp, wet, and chilly (BEFORE it gets consistently 50 degrees or below at night). Again, you may wait till we get the temp drop, but I prefer to do it a bit at a time before that phase.

Houseplants, well, I would move those in now too. While plants are healthy, strong, and not stressed out. It is a difficult thing to do because we want to enjoy every last minute of outdoor goodness (and so do the plants), but if they are doing well, might as well capitalize on that because they will be more likely to do well indoors if healthy now.

I already took down my tomato plants, by the way, and herbs are dwindling down so I am trying to use as much as I can before they are goners, and made pesto with my basil. I am considering sowing more herb seeds this fall in the greenhouse however. Maybe have a fresh batch available in a month or so. Sorry, that is a side bar comment. LOL.

Here’s a recap list:

  • Tropicals – Can wait til frost or after frost if storing tubers (specifically Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, and Banana Plants). Mandevillas you should move in before frost if keeping the plant in tact or storing the plant.
  • Non-Hardy Succulents – Can wait till the evening temps hit 50′ degrees F, but I recommend moving them in earlier, for reasons noted above.
  • Hardy Succulents – Can leave outdoors all winter. If in a pot, move to a protected location before winter. If in the ground, no worries, leave and let it be.
  • Houseplants – Move them in now while healthy. Each houseplant is different on lower temp tolerance, but treat them like the non-hardy succulents above.
  • Herbs and Tomatoes – Already took down my tomato plants because they are not producing fruit now and it is too cool at night, and herbs are starting to dwindle so collect what you can now. But that is up to you based on your own gardening veggie habits.
  • Agaves and Cacti – Can take drop in temps and tolerate it but can not take frost. Take them in before October frost or treat as I do with non-hardy succulents. The Agaves and Cacti I will leave out for a while longer probably, or take them in “if healthy” and cherished. Again, if they are “healthy” with no issues, I like to move them in before any chance of issues.

Hopes this helps if you are considering on working on your outdoor plants too. And please share my site with friends who may find this information useful. Feel free to ask for any clarifications, and also, note that these are all my opinions based on my years as a container gardener.

Thank you and enjoy your Wednesday!

Cathy T.
Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
http://www.WorkshopsCT.com
http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

P.S. Unfortunately, I am not offering my typical Autumn Succulent Pumpkin Workshops due to Covid this year. However, I will be taking custom orders around the end of September. Reach out if local and interested. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Time for Updates

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On this muggy and cloudy day, I briefly visited this site, my blog, and I realize I am overdue at making many updates. I need to revamp this site, and as my work schedule calms down, I will do so for you.

COVID-19 has disrupted many of our worlds. The timing and planning especially – who can plan with all these uncertainties, right? I had purchased a “calendar book” this past winter due to expecting a very busy season of offering container garden installs and my plant related workshops, but guess what?! That calendar book became useless – everything I had targeted week by week had suddenly changed, but many of what changed ended up being for the better for the gardening world.

I was extremely busy for months as people stayed at home and wanted to enhance their outdoor spaces, create their own C-19 Victory gardens, plant their herb kitchen gardens, and spruce up all at home with living beautiful plants. I am glad I was able to assist so many homeowners with their plant endeavors this season.

However, I realize so much has changed and I need to update this blog site very soon. I also need to update my photos. I have so many to share for inspiration and ideas in the container gardening world.

For one big change, no workshops are being offered by me at least up to the winter season. It remains to be seen if we will experience a 2nd wave of COVID-19 before I decide if any holiday workshops will take place. At this time, I do not plan to offer any fall workshops. So sorry, but please stay tuned or follow this blog for regular updates.

I promise to update you on all. In the meantime, please visit my Instagram feed under Container Crazy CT to see my daily plant related photos.

For my regular customers, please stay tuned to my updates and video on plant care. This week has been a hot one and it looks like it will remain hot for the rest of this week. Be sure to water your tomato plants deeply and regularly. And look out for the insects and plant related diseases which sometimes surface during this muggy, no air movement weather today.

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Top Nine

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When watching talk shows the other day, I realized so much was being shown regarding the “Top Nine” app used to generate the top nine photos in a grid format from Instagram feeds and it perked my curiosity.

I caved and did it – and here it is:

Top Nine 2019 by C Testa Copywrite_0002

Apparently, this is not an “Instagram” thing but a separate app but using Instagram – and it became popular and a bit of a trend. We may all assume the reason why? Because your curiosity kills the cat – you have to know – Gee, what is my top nine (most liked or most engaged photos of the year) per some app? Well, mine are above.

To be honest, it surprised me which were selected. How do they determine which photos are selected? I guess it is based on likes, shares, and engagement? Not sure, and I don’t have the right mind after the holiday hoop-la to research that aspect right now, but I did find it interesting and a bit of fun to use the app to find out.

My Photo Grid Explanation:

From left to right (starting from the top row), I thought it would be entertaining to say what I think of each of these photos which were generated by the Top Nine app.

The Jade Plant (Crassulas) – Ah, this is one plant I became involved with in 2019. Meaning, I propagated it (made cuttings and grew new plants) from it quite a bit. It is rather easy actually. I also used this plant in some of my install jobs in various containers. And offered them in my succulents workshops. But what would make it a top photo is the fact that I feel I can grow them myself and they are healthy and happy! Maybe people enjoyed the photo due to the Indigo Blue Background which is a popular color right now I heard.

The Beach Shot – That was a vacation my husband and I took last year in Naples, Florida. I wanted to make sure we’d go see the sunset which I had read about being wonderful on this beach, and we joined many other people that day doing the same. I guess that is a good photo, right? And it WAS a great afternoon waiting for the sun to set.

The Yellow Peppers – Grown from seed, hot and tasty. I love these yellow long banana shaped peppers, which I wrote about in my seedlings topics on this blog and for the workshop which I offered on seed starting last year too. So, yes, I agree on this photo. The peppers were easy to grow, abundant, and we ground them up after drying them in the oven to make hot pepper flakes of the yellow variety. They did not go wasted. My husband loves hot peppers and he shook those flakes on his various meals many times. We went thru two jars of the hot pepper flakes. Great for chili recipes too.

The Blue Pots – Ah, yes. I was on the hunt for a client, trying to find pots. I kind of knew these weren’t the right ones. I had put them on the floor and took a photo. You will see my hiking boots there as I looked down in the photo. But for some reason, this photo was popular with people on Instagram. However, it was not quite the right fit and I later found a better style and color for my clients’ needs. But that was a journey on a day of hunting for just the right patio pots. Pinch me – I love that type of work.

The Flyer in the Window – My workshop flyer was posted in a local package store’s window. I always appreciate when they share my flyers about my workshops. I guess that day, it was noticed quite a bit and thus, another top nine. I would say these clients are tops too. They have hired me for years to install their store-front pots. I do think the flyers look great in their store’s windows. Thank you!

The Cacti Cans – I pounded small drain holes in the bottom of soup cans with a hammer and nail last year and inserted a cactus in each. No drill required which I loved. And I even hand-stamped the sides of some of the cans with words and added chains to some to hang the cans. They are adorable. However, in the rain, one thing I forgot about is the cans start to rust. I did’t like the rusty look. That day a flower was blooming on one, as you can see, and it was adorable, so I snapped a photo.

The Burro Tail Sedum – I obtained a stock of these from a grower to provide in my succulent related workshops last year. Everyone loves these plants, which drip down into long tails as they grow over time. They work well in hanging baskets – which was a topic I offered last year too. These plants are great fillers in arrangements and easy to grow, drought tolerant and long living.  I still have some growing in my hanging baskets in the greenhouse now. I can see why a popular photo – and those who got them in my workshops surely loved them. Thanks to my amazing grower, I obtained a nice stock of them last year.

A Photo of Me – From many years ago. What I like about this photo is that my red head planter, the little red table with red chairs, and the red blooms of the Canna Lily plants in the background were all happening. I spray painted that little round table and the chairs red. It was a freebie find on the side of the road one day. My sister was annoyed cause it was on her street when I found it as I was leaving her house. She joked that was supposed to be her free find. 

The Cherry Tomato Leaf – This is all about my obsession with plants. I love taking close up shots of plants and their structures. It was also probably popular cause we all dream of eating fresh tomatoes. The photo was taken in March or early April, and the handwriting on the label is not mine – it is of an attendee’s who came to my workshop on seed starting last year. That will be my first project, setting up the Seed Starting Workshop for 2020. I can’t resist doing it – it was very rewarding. Seats will be limited because the plants are kept in my greenhouse until they are ready to be planted outdoors. Unless, of course, I got a bigger greenhouse.

By the way, this is what CNN has to say about the Top Nine app and trend. You may want to read their article before you try it!

Have a good start to your first week in 2020.

Best regards,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Other Cathy T sites:

www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

 

 

 

 

Cathy T’s 5 Must Do’s for Successful Container Gardening and Patio Pots

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Several years ago, I came up with what I called, “The 5 Must Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” to help attendees of my workshops succeed with their patio pots and container gardens in the summer. Most of what was written then still holds true today, but some things have changed. I am going to update my “5 Must Do’s” in a series of articles on this blog. To get started, here’s a review with some 2019 updates:

For Successful Container Gardening

  1. Provide additional drainage holes in the base of your pots Still True! And still a number one rule!

  2. Use soilless potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening – Yes, but there are soooo many more choices today – it is sometimes overwhelming to know which bag of mix to select. How do you know which to pick? I will go over this in an upcoming article here on this blog.

  3. Add slow release fertilizer to the soil upon planting – Still a trusted method for me but there are many other choices today of various fertilizers. This is a topic to be updated with more suggestions.

  4. Water your plants on a routine schedule – There is no doubt – this follows rule no. 1 in regards to importance. However, some plants are more drought tolerant than others – so if you are bad about watering, I am going to make suggestions for you on your plant choices. And a ‘routine schedule’ is probably not the best wording – it is really all about how the soil is looking in regards to a balance of moisture and air – we will go into details!

  5. Use big pots to increase your growing power – Guess what? I’ve changed my mind on some of thisI still adore HUGE tropical plants and mixes of annuals or perennials in big pots – but some plants actually prefer smaller pots and I will be offering a blog update on this number 5 rule as to why. Using big pots is not always a rule, and is optional…

Let’s get started:

It may seem straight forward or common sense to do the five items listed above, but many people skip some of these steps when they assemble their container gardens and patio pots because they are either in a hurry, want to avoid spending extra money, or they don’t understand the negative impacts to the plants’ overall health and appearance when they don’t follow The 5 Must Do’s listed above. But, do these 5 important steps and you will achieve successful container gardening status every time.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

DRAINAGE – Must #1

Most pots on the market today have only one small drain hole in the base (or none at all) – and this is not sufficient.  If the soil in the pot remains too wet, the plants’ roots will not get the oxygen it needs. And oxygen is required, along with carbon and hydrogen, for plants to grow. Having constant wet soil in the base of a pot is similar to walking around in wet sneakers. While it may be tolerated for a short period, if air is not provided soon, rot or death may set in. Everything above the pot is depending on what is going below in the soil, so Must #1, providing additional drainage, will allow for the free movement of water throughout the soil profile which is extremely important because as those spaces filled with water are vacated, air can replace them for the plants’ roots to use oxygen.

Without sufficient drainage, your plants will not perform as well which leads to failure.  It is a step you should not forgo or skip, and must do in order to achieve beautiful plants in your container gardens and patio pots.  Once you see the difference in your plants health, you will find adding drain holes so valuable, you will never skip this step again. And, although specific potting mixes have ingredients to help create pore spaces for air, adding more drain holes to the base of your pots only enhances the soil environment for your plants.  It leads to ultimate success because the roots are thriving in a healthy soil environment which is well-drained and balanced.

So get your power drill out and use a drill bit to create holes about the size of a quarter (coin) in the base of the pots. Be sure to drill at least 5 or 6 holes evenly spaced apart (one in the center and a few around the diameter).  If the pot cannot be drilled (e.g., ceramic or clay), make sure it has at least one drain hole already built into the base by the manufacturer, or reserve that pot for plastic plants or water gardening.  Do not use pots with no drainage capability. This always leads to poor results, trust me (except if you are creating a water pot garden).

2019 Update:

One of my biggest frustrations with the market place is they still continue to offer pots with no drain holes. What are they thinking? Plants require drainage! I have posted this comment on Instagram – “Hey, pot makers – Please make pots with sufficient drain holes please!”

If they did this, we would not have to drill them ourselves and it would help sell their pots because the plants would do better in them. It is not to say I haven’t seen some with drain holes in some stores, but it is progressing slowly and not common. I wish they would offer more with them already pre-drilled for us. (Hint to pottery makers, same for those wonderful pots you make – make some with a drain hole please.)

In my container gardening workshops, I have held up grower pots – the ones you buy your plants in – to my audience. I tell everyone, take a look at the bottom – what do you see? SEVERAL, I mean SEVERAL all around drain holes. Growers know what they are doing. It is a good example to show how important drainage holes are in your pots – this holds true for growing seeds in seedling cell trays as well. Or when you put a succulent in a pot – many times, you will see pots for succulents with no drain holes – succulents can be an exception to the drainage rule due to their ability to go without water for weeks at a time, but you have to monitor your watering carefully with succulents in pots with no drain holes. That is a whole other topic to explain, which I hope to do soon, and will in my Succulent Hanging Baskets Workshops in May, where we will be designing them with an amazing array of succulents of all kinds. But that is for a session/class, and for now, we want to focus on the drainage needs of container gardens and patio pots in general.

Over-watering is a leading cause of plant issues for people who are new to container gardening and plants. When you over water and the soil stays too wet in a pot, well, as mentioned above, the roots will rot. But other issues surface when there is too much moisture.

One, for example, is you may get fungus gnats showing up – they need moisture in the soil to thrive. This is especially common in houseplants where people have them in pots inside their home. And sometimes, you may even see mold on your soil when it is too moist. Moisture (with a lack of air circulation) may cause big problems in your soil. Too much moisture in your seedling pots leads to damping off. Water is a requirement for plants to grow but if over done without proper drainage, it leads to issues at times.

Balancing the air and moisture in your container gardens and patio pots or home pots of any size is critical. And soon, I will write a blog post to expand upon the air and moisture of pots as part of the 5 Must Do’s series updates I plan to post here on this blog, Container Crazy CT over the course of the next few months. In the meantime, be sure to add drain holes to plastic pots or buy pots with holes in them already for the best success with your plants.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

SOILLESS POTTING MIX – Must #2

Soil (dirt) from the ground cannot be used as a substitute for potting mix when planting up your patio pots and container gardens.  Must #2 is you must use soilless mix specifically formulated for container gardening. I know what you are thinking, if plants can grow in the ground, why can I just dig up some dirt and use that in my pots?  Well, for starters, soil from the ground becomes very compact in container gardens.  Plus, with container gardening, you have to water more often resulting in the ground soil (dirt) becoming even more compact and dense in the pot as it compresses down in limited space.  Young new roots cannot grow through this and cannot get the oxygen or water they need.

To prove this point, I put ground soil (dirt) into a mason jar and soil from potting mix into another mason jar.  The weight difference between the two jars was substantial.  The dirt jar weighed about two pounds and was very heavy.  The mason jar containing potting mix was light as a feather.  Imagine roots trying to penetrate the heavy compacted poor soil, plus it won’t contain the balanced nutrients or air spaces for the roots to thrive and survive.  Roots are just as important as the top part of the plant – if not more important. Everything below the soil impacts the results above the soil.

Additionally, soil from the ground (dirt) can harbor soil borne pathogens, insects, and weed seeds – and you don’t want those in your container gardens.  The ground soil may be too hard (clay) or too porous (sand). Soil in container gardens must have good pore structure for root growth, water holding for even distribution, and oxygen for the roots, and of course, nutrients for the plants to grow healthy and strong.  Soil from the ground will not give these must needed elements to plants in container gardens. And trying to find the ideal ground soil that has all of these factors is a big chore, if not impossible.

Bottom line:  Do not use Dirt.  Dirt is a four-letter word in the world of container gardening.

Most potting mixes on the market contain a combination of bark, wood fiber, coir (a by-product of coconut husks) or peat, vermiculite, perlite, and maybe some compost.  The little white non-symmetrical round things you see in the soil is called perlite.  These provide pore (air) spaces in the soil required for roots to grow.  Other ingredients mentioned help with water retention (peat moss, coir), drainage (pine bark, perlite, rice hulls), and nutrients (compost). You want a balanced soil that can hold 25% air, 25% water, and the rest, 50%, is organic matter.  Plants must have the appropriate pore space, water holding capacity, and nutrients to grow.  This is especially critical in container gardens because roots are confined, cannot extend out to find its needs elsewhere, and they depend on their current environment and “you” to grow well.

When planting up your container gardens and patio pots, go out there and invest in a couple bags of potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening.  The good news is there are many types available today, and by the way, none of the potting mixes used for container gardening contain any real soil (dirt) at all.  Now you know why, it is should no longer be a surprise to hear this.  Once you start using potting mix, you will be pleased to see how well your plants are growing and thriving.  There are tricks to extend your potting mix life, but that is another topic to be posted later.

2019 Update:

Now that you know you should NOT use “dirt” in your container gardens or patio pots, the big question is which potting mix should I buy? It is OVERWHELMING because today, the market place has many types to choose from – and you stand there looking at all the bags scratching your head thinking, which is the “right” one? I want to succeed, and I read Cathy T’s 5 Must Do’s, but I’m now afraid to pick the wrong one.

I will be posting about my favorites, but one big tip is inspect the bags. Picking up a bag of soilless potting mix (and by the way, it is not labeled soilless, that is just a term used, it is usually labeled as “potting mix”) is similar to picking out produce in the grocery store. Look at the bag’s condition, especially if you are shopping at a low-end type store. Is the bag torn, heavy, wet and a mess? Hmmm, that is like a banana or avocado about to rot, in my opinion. It could have been an older bag, and the soil in there may be even worn out – unable to take up moisture. Be careful with “deals.”

Check the weight of the potting mix bag. Is it light and airy feeling? GOOD! Is it rock hard, wet and very heavy, hmmm, not so good. That is not to say it is bad because some bags are out in the cold early in the season, and may be thawing out – but I always go for the ones that look fresh and are in good condition. The weight of the bag gives you clues.

Go to a reputable nursery, see where their soil is placed outdoors – businesses who put their bags of potting mix under cover – with a roof top of sorts – are a winner in my book. Or if they are a popular and reputable nursery, they have lots of FRESH soil bags put out there early in spring especially. They also have staff available to answer any questions you may have if you find there are lots of choices. Be observant. You can tell who is on top of their game, if you just pay attention.

As for the big box stores, some of the mixes are good, but some I am weary of. I will be writing more about the products I like and I share all of that in my May container gardening workshops in detail. Heck, we even test soils in some of my sessions, like I did recently with “seedling mixes” in my recent Seed Starting Session. Horticulture and growing plants is a science and an art. You may have a mix you have found to be wonderful, or maybe you have been using a mix causing problems which are not YOUR fault – it is the mix (and you didn’t know it). We go over all of this in my workshops and sessions. Making your own mix is another option which I plan to go over as well, but some mixes are so excellent and it just saves time to get the pre-made mixes.

Lastly, the type of plants matter. Cactus, succulents, and houseplants have different soil needs compared to tropical plants, annuals, and perennials growing in mixed container gardens. For example, succulents and cacti appreciate more drainage and air space in the mix.

And lastly, I saw a new product on the market recently to help refresh older mixes in your pots – which I will be testing this year myself to see what I think. Heck, there are signs of people growing plants in no mix at all now – using special beads or growing in water. The learning never ends. I always test out new processes first before offering my take on them.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER – Must #3

Once you have your drainage holes and soilless potting mix in your pot, you want to add slow release fertilizer to the soil to obtain optimum growth.  Slow release fertilizer will provide small amounts of nutrients to the plants’ roots over a specific period of time.  While some potting mixes come pre-charged with fertilizer (meaning they add the fertilizer in the mix as an ingredient), it may not be substantial enough to keep your plants fed throughout your container gardening season.  Add some when you get started, and don’t have to think about it again unless you are dealing with a high demanding plant or you didn’t follow the rest of The 5 Must Do’s.

Many slow-release fertilizers on the market are available in a granular form which is easy to apply.  The little round balls you see in the granular fertilizer bottles or bags are called prills.  Each contains a balanced release of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – the three macro-nutrients needed most by plants).  Nitrogen promotes leaf, stem, and above ground growth.  Phosphorous promotes rooting, flowering, and fruiting.  And potassium helps with disease prevention and cold tolerance.  If you put too much of any, you can burn the plants or even kill them.  However, the nutrients in the prills of slow-release fertilizers will slowly leak out into the soil as water vapor is absorbed into the prill through its coating.  It dissolves the fertilizer inside to feed your plants during your container gardening growing season – which is typically 3 to 4 months in Connecticut, from May to September. As the soil temperature warms (during the summer months when you want your plants to thrive the most and when they need more nutrients during their most active growth period), the nutrients are released even more when the prills’ coating expands as a reaction to the warmth in the soil.  Think of the slow-release fertilizer feeding as a well-balanced diet for your plants to stay healthy and beautiful.  It will be handled for you in a controlled manner.

Add the slow release fertilizer upon planting your container gardens to ensure a continuous feeding routine.  Do this one simple step, and you will be amazed at the results.  And it also eliminates the needs to add water soluble fertilizer as a supplement later in the season, especially, as I said, if you follow all five of The 5 Must Do’s.

2019 Update:

One of the biggest ongoing trends or change in gardening is the love of organics, and this is a good thing. Some slow release fertilizer are synthetic while others are organic based. I go over these in my workshops and their differences, but I still think slow-release fertilizer of either type work very well and are EASY to apply and you don’t end up burning your plants. I still use the trusted brands of slow-release fertilizers I’ve always loved and always add slow released fertilizer to almost all my container gardens and patio pots. It just works. Again, some mixes come pre-charged with starter fertilizer but adding the slow-release prills gives the plants a balanced diet over the course of 3-4 months and now many last 5-10 months! The coating size of the prills varies and this is what makes it last longer than others – look at the bottle’s instructions and follow accordingly.

However, I’m on several plant related Facebook groups where there are tons of questions asked, and many times, the subject of fertilizers come up. Wow, the brands some people show and have used, I have never seen before (because the members of these groups are from all over the world). Again, almost like the potting mix choices, it is confusing at times, which should I use? Which is safe? How do I use it? When do I use it? We go over specifics in my workshops based on the plant types.

I read once a nursery owner saying, everyone has different methods of gardening – and this is true – some go into it blindly however, and the 5 Must Do’s are here to get you started, but what I’d like to do is dive into the fertilizer topic more as part of my series of the 5 Must Do’s.

Also, I always always tell my attendees, if you follow the 5 Must Do’s – you don’t have to fertilize as often. I believe over-fertilization advice is given at times. If you have a healthy growing environment with the soilless potting mix and drainage, you are off to a good start and may not need much supplemental fertilizing as the season progresses in summer.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

WATERING – Must #4

Forget container gardening if you are not willing to water your plants in container gardens and patio pots.  Must #4 is all about giving your plants watering love and it must be done on some kind of routine basis and based on the plant type and your environmental conditions (sun, shade, inside, outside, summer, winter, etc), but it must not be skipped or completely forgotten.  Watering in the morning is helpful because the plants take up the moisture during the day while photosynthesis takes place.  If you can’t do it then, please do it when you get home after work.  A plant will remain strong as long as the movement of water through the soil is in balance.  And you are that balance.  Without watering, your plants are doomed. If they don’t get water, there is no growth, and stomates in the leaves will close up to prevent further water loss to protect themselves.  Then, the plant will wilt and it certainly won’t flourish.  If no watering occurs for an extended period of time, the plant may reach a permanent wilting point and never recover.  And you don’t want that after you invested in buying beautiful plants from the nursery or from Cathy T (me!) to enjoy and show off at your home.

If you are not sure if the plants in your container gardens needs water, look at the plants – Are they wilting? Do they look thirsty?  Or insert your finger into the soil at a two to three inches depth.  Does it feel damp or sufficiently moist? It may be okay.  But you absolutely cannot forgo watering your container gardens.  Even if it rains occasionally, or you used drought tolerant plants, you must pay attention to them and their needs in regards to watering.  Observe the plants’ overall health, get familiar with their watering needs, and pay attention.  Climate in your area, the type of material from which the pot is made, and location will dictate some of the timing of your watering routine, but it is not the only factors you should pay attention to.  Basically YOU need to pay attention to watering.

Some people think they can douse their container garden plants with lots of water all at once, walk away, and forget about it for a week or more.  This does not work.  The soil needs periods where it dries out a bit between watering too. It should drain (Must #1) and have some breathing room (Must #2).  You don’t want to overdo it either, where the soil remains too wet. Wilt can be a result of over-watering as well as under watering.

Watering is one of the more difficult of The 5 Must Do’s to master because every plant and container type is different. And because people’s habits are different.  And the weather and exposure will affect how much or how little water your plants will need. There are some tricks to help reducing your watering routine, but that is another post for another time.  Bottom line, you MUST WATER your plants or they will die.  Plants need water to live.  In fact, every living thing on this earth needs water.  We need water. Without it – we all die. If you will not water, you should not do container gardening. In my opinion, not watering your plants is like committing plant murder.

2019 Update:

As I read my information above on watering (written several years ago), I think, yes, this is all still true in 2019. Watering, I think has been my biggest challenge to convey to attendees – is there a simple rule when it comes to watering? The answer is no. But – there is an observation factor involved in watering. You need to think about the soil. When you last watered, and all of that above. You really should NOT just think, “Hmmm, I’ll water every Friday and put one gallon in that big pot.” It really doesn’t work that way, there is a BALANCING act involved. But then, we don’t want to complicate watering, do we? The key point is that you must accept you need to water your container gardens, especially as we venture into summer, or you will not succeed, and your plants will suffer and look unhappy. I guess you could say, well, watering is like doing your physical exercise, you need to keep it consistent to have the plants and you do their best.

There have been times I wanted to do a watering type demonstration – using a shot glass, coffee cup, beer mug or wine glass, and milk jug to show the amount of water to be used based on the size of the pot and the plant type. Maybe I will get around to demonstrating this – but think of this: shot glass (succ), coffee up or wine glass (houseplant), beer mug (hanging basket), and milk jug or jugs (big veggie pots) – get the idea? But it also has to do with how moist the soil is, and did you let it dry somewhat to give some of that air space between waterings, and the type of plant. And yes of course, where your pot is situated. Outdoors in full sun, inside on a window sill, or in the shade. All are factors.

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BIG POTS – Must #5

People fear buying big pots, probably due to concerns with cost, placement, and moving them.  But big pots and container gardens make a big statement!  They capture your attention, create a focal point worth noticing, elevate the arrangement of your showy healthy plants, and ultimately reduce the compaction problems of small pots – so movement of water in the soil is enhanced. Big pots also provide good anchorage of your large plants, hold more inches of water, don’t drain out as fast which helps to reducing Must #4 (but not eliminating that must), and enables you to grow larger, showier plants – leading to more bang for the buck.  Go for supersized if you can.

However, with that said, big pots is listed last on The 5 Must Do’s list because it is not mandatory for success, but using them will elevate you to a higher level of container gardening.  My recommendation is you should invest in at least one big pot.  Just one. I believe you will never regret it.  It makes a tremendous difference to the plants’ performance when you give the roots a large mass to grow in.  Also, as noted above, using big pots make a big statement in your outdoor environment.  So why not make your container gardening show magnificent for the season?

There are some tricks to helping with the amount of soilless potting mix you have to use to fill up a big pot, but that is for another post. Big pots may be a little challenging to move or fill, but place them in the right spot before you get started, and go back to Must #1 through Must #4 to get them in the best shape ever, and then wow yourself, your family, and your guests as they visit you to see your amazing and stunning container gardens.  You will feel a huge admiration for your efforts, a new appreciation for the world of container gardening because you followed The 5 Must Do’s, and your plants will love you for it too.

2019 Update:

Okay – Okay – I know – maybe not as big as my cement planter shown above in the photo – that is one monster pot! And I love it to this day for showing off my amazing tropical plants grown every year from overwintering tubers, rhizomes, and corms, etc. However, what I meant when I wrote the above is when we did many of my May workshops with a mix of tropical plants (banana, canna lily, elephants ears), and big pots really made the show spectacular. In those days, I would recommend attendees bring a pot about 22″ in diameter and at least as deep for those types of mixed container gardens. Boy, did we ever have fun getting those big pots into their vehicles when they left the day of the workshops.

But, alas, times have changed. Succulents grew in popularity and still are very popular – that trend continues. My joke on that is succulent growers must be dancing in their boots about the passion of succulents these days. They are wildly popular, and guess what – most succulents do not need BIG pots. In fact, they have such shallow root systems, they do just fine in wider and less deep of pots.

And house plants for that matter should not be moved up into a bigger pot too quickly. Their roots tend to grow slower and thus if you move them up into too big of a pot, the roots may rot – because they are not taking up that moisture as quickly, and the soil could remain too damp, so it is recommended to move houseplants into one size up higher pots when they become root bound or over grown, etc.

But when it comes to vegetables, like tomato and pepper plants, well, big pots are recommended and needed, and I talked about this in my seed sessions recently – we went over types and size of plastic pots and fabric grow bags for growing some veggies. Some require the number #5 rule of big pots. But herbs, well, they are fine in smaller pots and in hanging baskets, etc. And radishes or carrot require different size pots too. Lettuces do well in window boxes. You get the idea.

Thus, plant types dictate the pot sizes, so the #5 rule is really optional and based on plant types you are using to make your beautiful container gardens for the season. It is not really a hard rule.

As I provide this Quick Update to my 5 Must Do’s, I remembered, I had a rule no. 6 to add. Now, for the life if me, I’m sitting here thinking, what the heck was the number 6 rule that I wanted to add? I know it will come to me. In the meantime, hopefully, these quick reminders of the 5 Must Do’s are helpful along with my quick 2019 updates as we get closer to the outdoor planting, decorating, and growing season. As noted above, I plan to do a series in detail of several updates on these topics.

The Five Must Do’s are all about achieving successful container gardens and patio pots.  Do all of them, and you will be happy, if not overjoyed, with your amazing results – I guarantee it.

In fact, as a 2019 update, I want to note that I’m amazed by the progress of my attendees’ patio pot creations since they have become fans of my workshops – their results are so good now – they follow the 5 Must Do’s and continue to learn right along with me. I’m very appreciative of the experiences we have had and continue to have learning about the love of container gardening.

Written and Updated by Cathy Testa
Owner of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy CT
Location: Broad Brook, CT
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

April is Warming Up Slowly

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Good Morning Friends,

As you know, if you live in Connecticut, it is taking a bit longer for April to warm up this season, but that hasn’t stopped me from potting up my canna rhizomes and getting my precious seeds in seedling trays.

I thought now is a good time to provide some quick updates on happenings with Cathy T as we kick off the spring season and look forward to summer.

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Visit Container Crazy CT’s Page to View

First up, this week is a free Facebook Live on Wednesday, April 11th, 10:30 am Eastern to show my micro-greens growing process in a 20-30 minute demonstration. Following the demo, if you are interested in a starter kit to give this a try, please contact me (form below) or just text my telephone noted below as well.

Note: This will be the only free showing this year – don’t miss it if you like to eat healthy and nutritious micro-greens which are delicious – all year, and very nice in summer too, when we have fresh tomatoes to go with your homegrown and fresh micro-greens.

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Seeds for sale and Starting seeds

I’ve been planting up seeds like crazy this month – cherry tomatoes and big tomatoes (shown above) as well as basil, moon flowers, edamame, peppers, lettuce, etc. Some will be for me for my container gardens at home to enjoy, and others are for friends requesting I grow some for them. If you are in need of some seeds, and are local, hurry up to contact me – I have plenty of wonderful varieties above. And remember, some seeds grow well in patio pots (radish, kale, lettuces, herbs). I have some growing right now – wonderful to have at your finger tips.

Note: Seed packets make amazing gifts – put a mini succulent with it – and voila.

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Canna in a 5″ Square Pot

My winter stored rhizomes, tubers, and corms are starting to wake up from hibernation. I am planting up Canna lily, Elephant Ears, and getting my prized big red banana plants out into pots to give them an early start. I’ve offered to “hold” the canna and elephant ears for anyone interested. They should be ready by end of May or a bit earlier for your container gardens.

Note: Limited supply and based on success – or not – I hope all will go well, and will keep those who have asked to “reserve” one posted on the progress. They will start in the 5″ pots shown above and potted up as needed. Prices are based on pot and plant sizes. Details will be emailed to you if you wish to have one held for you.

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Cacti are Blooming

It is so nice to see this vivid yellow in the greenhouse – my cacti are blooming. This was a cacti garden made last Halloween for fun and I’m enjoying the colors.

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With Succulents

Heads Up — If Interested! I’m holding my first terrariums workshop at the Granby Senior Center on May 9th. It will be with succulents and cacti. It is a daytime session at 1 pm on a Wednesday. Please contact the center to sign up. See their newsletter (last page) to see the complete details and price.

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Note: We need a minimum of 8 attendees to hold the terrariums session at the Granby Senior Center, and the sign-up cut off date is April 20th. Please signup soon if want in.

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Succulent Hanging Basket (Birds Not Included)

This succulent hanging basket is on reserve for a client. I would be happy to make more now and keep them growing so they are ready for you by end of May to put outdoors when it is warm enough. Holler if you want in.

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Canna Cleopatra

This canna rocked my world last year. The foliage is mixed dark tones and green plus the flowers bloom both red and orange blooms on the same flower bud. I am growing some of these too. Again, supplies are limited, so if you think you want me to reserve you one, contact me below.

Note: Must pick up your Canna by May 25th in Broad Brook, CT. Supplies limited.

Lastly, hopefully my regulars saw that I will not be offering a May Container Workshop this season. However, I will have beautiful succulents in stock starting in early May – and I also will be offering Terrarium Kits with 10″ bubble bowls, all the interior components, and the plants. Just ask if you have any interest and hope to see you soon.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.CONTAINERCRAZYCT.com
Location: Broad Brook, CT

Next Up: Container Workshop in Vernon, CT at Strong Family Farm, Sat. May 20th

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We had a great time at my workshop last Saturday – and we didn’t get rained on, thankfully! But, if you missed our session, there is another opportunity to join us on Saturday, May 20th, 10 am at Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT on West Street.

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As noted on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com, where you may read all the details, our plant theme this year is indoor air purifiers and flashy fancy foliage houseplant style! Don’t let that word “houseplant” fool you – the design arrangements you may create at this workshop are GORGEOUS and at a great value. Get them while they are hot!

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My workshops are set-up so you have everything needed at your finger tips – you show up and have all the fun. You only need to bring your pots – and, this year’s pots are smaller to medium sizes because of the type of plants which we are using in this year’s theme (10″-12″-15″ in diameter and depth not deeper than width). Get creative – someone brought a soup tureen last weekend, which made a wonderful centerpiece with these plants. The pots should have drain holes or we will drill them for you.

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There are many types of pots you may use. Just take a look at my Instagram feed or Container Crazy CT page for inspiration.

Saturday – May 20th – Strong Family Farm – 10:00 am 

And, the weather is predicted to be gorgeous on Saturday. We most likely will be holding this session outdoors by the farm’s big historic barns on Strong Family Farm’s property (BTW, they have chickens to see, and also a nice farm stand which opens in the summer.)

This is one of the few historic farms standing in the Vernon area. You can feel the history’s energy when there. A portion of your registration fee ($20) is donated to the farm to help support their renovations and events.

The morning will be a great creative day where you learn a lot about soil types on the market (I know they can be confusing!), various fertilizers, tips for success at growing and maintaining plants in your patio pots and container gardens, and more. I hope you will join us. Handouts for reference are provided for all attendees.

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The Plants

Again, these are low-light, bright-light, (shade or dappled sun outdoors) type of plants, and we have some flowering candidates too, along with started elephant ears – and all are foliage fantastical in my book. Lots of texture in these designs. Plus many of these tropical style houseplants do wonderfully in our summers outdoor here.

We also have a stock of mixed succulents if you prefer to create a sun loving design with these perfect drought tolerant candidates.

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Cost

$20 to register plus cost of plants you select at the workshop. You may purchase professional soil mix at the workshop or bring your own bag. We will have other amendments available for purchase as well. CT Sales Tax applicable.

Reviews Workshop May 2017

Easy Registration:

You may text me at 860-977-9473 if you want in. If you prefer to prepay by credit card, please visit www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site to pay online via EventBrite.  Or email me if preferred to indicate your interest in joining us. We’d love to have you do so.

Thank you – Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

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Recycle Potting Mixes – A Quick Tip

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Potting mixes used in containers and patio pots doesn’t have to go to waste. When dismantling your pots in Autumn, save it to put in the bottom 1/3 of your big pots next spring and top it off with FRESH soilless mix or potting mix. Or transfer the soil to your garden beds to be recycled that way. It doesn’t have to go to waste! Just a tip for the day. Enjoy your fall weekend everyone, Cathy T.

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Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Ways to Decorate Containers for Autumn and Halloween

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Wait – Don’t put your container gardens and patio pots away too fast – They may be used in Autumn to serve as a place to add fall and Halloween decor for the month of October.

Autumn Installation for Store-Front

Autumn Installation for Store-Front

In the photo above, mesh ribbon, fake leaves, and various decor were used to fill the top of these barrels. Handy tools to get this done: Staple gun, wooden stakes, and creativity!

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This cast iron urn is wonderful because it can stay outside year round. In the fall, I took out the plants, left the soil, and added the black fabric webbing and a skull. The skull is attached to a square piece of Styrofoam by some heavy duty glue. First, a piece of black landscape fabric was used over the foam to hide the white of the Styrofoam block, then I glued the skull on top, added moss pieces and glow-in-the-dark worms. To insert it into the pot, use some larger type wooden skewers and push them into soil, then into the base of the square foam – simple and fun. And don’t forget, leave the soil in there when you disassemble this decor because it will be used to hold the winter evergreens when it is time to dress it up for the holidays in December.

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The plant on the side (vines) is from a climbing spinach plant which worked out nicely because it has black berries still clinging on – so it worked well with the black fabric webbing.

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A spooky baby head is tucked under a Carex grass. Picked up this “baby” at a antique fair of all places. Knew I’d find a use for it.

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The Carex grass is perfect because it was flopping anyhow as Autumn arrived, and the Delosperma below, hanging over the pot, is still tough outside right now. So. I added a cool Owl using the same technique noted above: Square Styrofoam block, black landscape fabric over the block, glued the decor on and staked the owl with wooden skewers into the soil.

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On my Mum-mmy pot, I added some plastic creepy hands found in a Halloween shop – all I did was use heavy duty wooden skewers in each finger and pressed it into the soil.

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My Castor Bean plant got hit by frost and all the foliage was toppled over, so I decided to remove all the side branches, foliage and kept the main stem and branches on the plant, which I then covered with the fake white webbing found in Halloween shops this time of year.

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After Halloween is over, I will chop the whole plant down, and save the soil in this big pot for stuffing with evergreens for the December holiday season.

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This is a photo of the spiny seed pods of the Castor Bean plant which I’m saving to use for next year’s plants – For more about this plant and its spooky features, read this post:

CASTOR BEAN POST

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A week before, I dismantled my big black pot – which kind of looks like a witches kettle, and removed the big red banana plant for overwintering. Well, I could not leave the pot un-decorated.

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I took old stalks of perennials and glued mini skeleton hands on the top and tore some black landscape fabric to add, then just inserted them into the soil. The witches broom was added to keep you thinking – what else will be added to her witches brew?

After fooling around with all this Halloween fun, I got serious and planted 50 tulip bulbs into my big cement planter and enjoyed the rest of the warm day. Remember, your container gardens and patio pots can be maximized during special holidays before they are moved inside for the winter season.

Cathy Testa

Infographic – The Devil’s Greenhouse – Shows Poisonous Plants

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The Devil’s Greenhouse – A Great Title of a Great Infographic
by Ava’s Flowers

Infographic - The Devil's Greenhouse

An Infographic caught my eye this morning via a Tweet. This one is posted on Avas Flowers website at http://www.avasflowers.net/infographic-the-devils-greenhouse.
Would you think Foxglove or Lily of the Valley has poisonous plant parts or scary flowers? Both are common and used in gardens. However, don’t let the fact plants are poisonous scare you though – unless you plan to learn the chemistry behind them to cause harm, or eat them as an appetizer to your meals – I think there is nothing to fear and many of these plants are interesting looking and dramatic in container gardens, BUT – of course, if you have animals and they are chewers of plants, there is cause for concern and you should always investigate any plant they may be tempted to eat. This Infographic depicts many and you may find it helpful.

For more of Infographics I find helpful – See my Pinboard:

Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
Located in Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT

A plant blogger obsessed with container gardening, patio pots, and combining nature with art for outdoor living.

Cathy T in Hawaii, spotted big elephant ears on road side, pulled over! A plant that is poisonous if not cooked properly.

Cathy T in Hawaii a few years ago, when she spotted big elephant ears on a road side in an area with invasive plants, and of course – pulled over to get this photo. Some parts of elephant ears (the tubers) are edible – but it must be cooked properly. Don’t eat any plant without investigating and getting advise from an expert – otherwise, grow it in a pot for its beauty and dramatic affects.

The End of June Approaching – Random Pics from this Month

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It is almost the end of June. I caught my first summer cold. And, I saw a post yesterday of a black bear sighting in my friend’s backyard – something not often spotted on this side of the river in East Windsor, CT. While my head is achy from the sinus pressure and a rough dry cough annoying, I’m still looking forward to working outside on my plants and preparing for the farmers market on Sunday in East Windsor, which will hopefully proceed despite the predicted rain over the weekend.

So, this morning, I thought I would share some random pics of things from around the yard from the past month. Soon, we will see the Japanese Beetles visiting, and hopefully the days will warm up just a little bit more. While it is nice to have cool nights to sleep by, I wouldn’t mind a little more heat for my plants to grow more. This past month has been a mix of seedlings, container gardening, working around the yard, preparing for markets, and enjoying the cool nights of this year’s season so far.

Petasites slow to start

Petasites slow to start

The Petasites (Butterbur) plant in this face pot is slow to get moving this year. I like putting it up on this birdbath because the roots will escape the base drainage holes, and this shade-loving plant is aggressive – so I don’t want those roots to make it into the ground. It is wonderful in pots however, which I’ve written about on this blog. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would return. The pot was stored in my basement last winter – but here it comes and I hope it grows more soon! This one is variegated.

Nice Trio

Nice Trio

This blue patio pot contains only 3 plants – a short one, medium one, and tall one – pretty simple yet very pretty. The Agastache is a cultivar called ‘Blue Boa’ and I love the intensity of the blue color; it is the tall one next to Monarda ‘Petite Delight’ which is opening up its blooms now (a hot pink color), however, the Agastache started to flop from rain – bummer, because it would looks spectacular next to that hot pink of the Monarda (Bee Balm). I cut back the Agastache blooms which will produce new smaller blooms in a couple weeks. The low plant in the front is a groundcover perennial with white flowers called, Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer). All 3 are perennial and take sun and dry soils. By the way, did you know Agastache blooms are edible, and cute in salads?!

Mint Root Growth

Mint Root Growth

Mint is super easy to propagate. Just leave a few cuttings in a jar of water, and soon the roots will form. Mint is becoming my favorite herb to have around this year. I feed some to my bunny, she loves it. I put snips in my drinking water – which by the way, I feel helps any upset stomach or acid reflux symptoms. It also alleviates tension headaches just by sniffing it. However, it is aggressive in the gardens, so I find best to put in big pots nearby so it may be used for all these various reasons. Oh, let’s not forget – it is a great cocktail garnish and yummy on icecream.

Mint on year two in this big container - very useful on my deck!

Mint on year two in this big container – very useful on my deck!

Lettuce in Windso Boxes

Lettuce in Window Boxes

I got started a little later than normal this year with seeds, but been doing lots of mixed lettuces in pots and window boxes. This shows Spotted Trout Lettuce. The seed was purchased at the flower show in Hartford last winter. The Seed Library has artists draw or paint various pics for their seed packets. Here you see the lettuce is coming along nicely, and it was eaten. Every bite reminds me of my Father’s gardens which he still maintains today. His daughter however prefers the container route for gardening – and lettuce is fun to do in pots! I probably will have some of these available this weekend at the market – I even prepare and grow pots of mixed lettuce for my bunny – she is starting to eat better than me! Yup, I put the pots in her rabbit cage area for her to nibble on as she sees fit.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

This year, my big red banana plant, which I’ve owned for about three? years now, has been put into my new black pot in the backyard. Every month, I’m going to take a photo of it to show the progress of its growth. This Ethiopian native is great in containers and may be overwintered in our CT zone by storing the root base. I have found the red coloring is intense in this location which is under a group of very tall pine trees and near my hammocks – so I can literally gaze at it when I take a rest in a hammock – yup, I gaze. It takes full sun to part-sun or part shade, and I find sometimes in harsh sun, the leaf edges may burn or the color will be a little off, so I’m happy with it here as the sun rises and hits it – it is amazing even at a distance.

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma has excellent organic products and I tried out their seed starter this year. It works fine, but I have to say my multi-purpose mix rules. The components in this mix (Espoma) helps the moisture to retain in the seed starter trays, but sometimes a bit too much, while my multi-purpose mix dries out better – at least in my opinion. Anyhow, it has been seed experimentation year for me this season. And it is much fun to see the seeds push from the soil – every time, it feels exciting – nature is just like that. One of these days I plan to write a blog topic about various potting mixes but I also go over this in my workshops and talks at farmers markets based on my experience over the years of container gardening.

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

One of the fun things I did this year was release lady bugs onto my plants and in my grower room so they could fest on the bad bugs such as aphids which will suck the life out of leaves. Lady bugs are beneficial insects and can help you out but they don’t stick around for ever – would you? After being in this bag for a few days!?! So when I was reading the packet, I set the bag filled with excited lady bugs on my lap – it was like a mini bug massage. Could I do this if it was filled with spiders – Heck No!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Bulbs in Pots

Bulbs in Pots – Just dig them in and get a surprise later!

Sometimes, I will pop seeds or bulbs of summer blooming plants into my container gardens filled with other mixed plants. Gladioulus are a favorite and easy to dig a little hole to put them into, and they are sending up shoots right now, which I will take a photo of later when they get bigger and bloom. Try seeds like Nasturtiums or sunflowers, easy to include and they offer a little surprise later in your flowering pots or container gardens.

Adorable

Adorable Small Red Box with 3 plants

Little pots are fun to do – and I could not resist this cute red one with handles and a gardening quote on the front side. It contains a black pearl Pepper, Tiny Tim Tomatoe, and Sage. It is starting to fill out now – just in time for the market which I plan to bring it – along with some other adorable container gardens prepared.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home.

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home – Great Job Maryse!

One of the most rewarding aspects of sharing the passion of growing plants in container gardens and patio pot is when a client or workshop attendee sends me a text to show me how their plants are coming along – and hearing how happy they are! Here are two shots taken of two attendees recently doing that. If you are reading this, and have attended too – please feel free to text me your container picture so we can share the container love here! Look how well her plants are growing in her pot – why? Good soil and good care learned at my workshops!

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home

Photo taken of an Attendees pot after the workshop at her home – Great Job Kelley!

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

And here’s a photo of one at my home with two varieties of Coreopsis (tickseed) – one hardy (‘Jethro Tulll’) and one not (‘Cha cha cha’) and the annual, Persian Shield (purple foliage) with a gnome which keeps coming back to my container gardens every year. I recently moved this pot because one plant got powdery mildew – so it seemed to need some more air circulations which helps this problem, and I sprayed that with some organic spray, but I hate how powdery mildew will damage foliage. Hopefully, this will look better soon as the other two spiller plants come out to grace the sides of the blue pot.

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

And this is new this year – I’m growing pumpkins and gourds in pots. Last year, I grew a watermelon plant in a pot, put it on my deck, and the vine sprawled around my deck furniture. The bonus was the watermelons were perfect, no blemishes, as it sat on the deck to grow, and it was easy for me to reach down to turn it – and no bugs! The pumpkins and gourds I selected are fun ones (the gourd will have gourds the size of oranges, and the pumpkin is a blue type), which I will share at the market this weekend. It’s a tad bit late, but they may be just fine since our season is late too this year – meaning its been cooler than preferred for many warm loving plants – and some will be fine if planted no later than July 1st or just keep growing in this pot – which is the game plan, as usual!

Container Garden Install at a Hairdressers Shop

Container Garden Install at a Hairdresser’s Shop

Top View

Top View

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

These photos above are of a container garden at a client’s business. She does an excellent job of watering it, and it contains a Canna, Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’, a variegated Liriope, Agastache ‘Blue Boa’, and Flowering maple. Just recently I trimmed up the Agastache for her, and also cut off one of the blooms of the Digiplexis, which is a new plant on the scene resembling foxglove, however, this one blooms repeatedly by sending out new shoots all summer. One thing everyone who got one of these from my workshop in May have commented on is the bottom flowers on the tallest stem of the Digiplexis plant start to fall off so I tell them to just snip it off – you will be sure to get more new shoots from this plant once it sets in and gets going.

Hydrangea 'Quick Fire'

Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’

The baby crib in front of my Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub is a recent donation to me from my sister. She said she got it at a tag sale; she likes antiques, and had a huge fern sitting in it at her home. I will find a use for it, but I decided to put it by my beautiful Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ shrub which I purchased at The Garden Barn in Vernon a few years ago, just to show the size of my shrub! This shrub is a panicle hydrangea (cone shaped flowers) and its blooms starts white and transitions to soft pink to darker pink blooms by the end of the season. This Hydrangea can take sun – which I can attest to since it faces full sun most of the day, and it sits in clay soil! This season I was late at trimming it back, so I just cut the dry tips off quickly later, but it still looks amazing. I recommend this one if you can find it.

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Under a Tree Resting

Under a Dawn Redwood Tree Resting

Although a little blurry, because I was standing on my deck to take these photos, here are my wild turkeys resting in the yard. I just love when they sit down and feel like they can hang in the shade, but if they see me coming, they pop up quickly to walk away, even though I tell them every time, they are safe here with me. On the bottom photo, they were resting under the shade of my Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) tree. I planted this tree on my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and it is doing well ever since which I believe is because it is planted in an area that remains moist and this tree likes moist, deep, well-drained, slightly acid soils. The area slopes here so it is well-drained as well. My sister bought one too on the very same day with me, and planted it in her yard, and it is not doing as well unfortunately – she has dry soil so it is a great example of putting the plant in the right place. The interesting thing about this tree is it looks like an evergreen pine like tree but it is deciduous (looses its needles) in the fall so it is naked in the winter, however, due to its beautiful reddish brown bark which becomes darker with age, it is pretty in the winter months as well. It grows tall too – up to 70′ or more in some cases. I love seeing birds fly up to it and rest on its branches as they travel from their birdhouses and feeders in our yard.

Container Garden at Home

Container Garden at Home

This container garden has a nice perennial called, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago, Leadwort) which is sprawling over the edge on the right side in this photo. A “sprawler” is a term I came up with this year to explain how some plants don’t spill over (spillers), instead they sprawl and gracefully reach out at the edge of the pot. This perennial will bloom blue flowers by late summer; the buds are forming now, and I’m excited because it is a “returner” in this big pot from last season. As I discussed in my workshops this year, Perennials with Power return. This plant likes partial shade or full sun. Here it is in part shade, it gets the eastern morning sun which suits the elephant ear in the center as well. As I mentioned above, I sometimes insert seeds into container gardens and note Nasturtium which you can see here on the left trailing out of the pot too. This container may not have tones of flashy flower colors – but I adore it because it is lush and full – and healthy.

Well, that’s all for now as I nurse my summer cold and write this post – I am hoping I’m fully recovered by Sunday for the East Windsor Farmers Market on Rt 140 at the Trolley Museum where I will be giving a talk at noon – and if it is raining hard, maybe I’ll be in the mini gazebo area – Look for me if you are able to pop in on Sunday, June 28th. The market opens at 11 am, and will have live musical entertainment.

Have a nice Friday everyone – Enjoy your weekend!!

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