My Mangave Shoots Up A Bloom

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I like finding cool and unique plants for my clients’ balcony gardens every season, so when I spotted two rather large Mangave plants at a local garden center, I had to grab them despite the price. I was excited to plant them in two large upright planters and I asked my husband to take a photo of me standing right behind the planters.

Cathy Testa with Mangave in front planter

The mask wearing was on purpose, to show a timeline history of my plantings, and this had to be when masks for COVID were still required. Anyhow, I wore a pink mask and I loved how the photo came out. We were still required to wear masks at this time so I think it was 2020, or 2019.

Mangave is a Cross between Manfreda and Agave

I’m a big fan of Agaves, so when I spotted an article about the new Mangaves, which I read about prior to finding the only two available at a local garden center, it elevated my excitement of getting them and planting them as a unique and dramatic specimen at this location. I love the outlines of the plant, the speckling on the leaves (spines), and the fact it was not something commonly found at that time.

Here is some background information about it.

As stated in the article linked above:

Taking the best from both genera, Mangave have the accelerated growth rate, spotting and softer spines from manfreda, mixed with the durability and large architectural forms of agave. Mangave hybrids bring the potential of hundreds of new colors and habits not previously seen among agave in a product that’s more grower-friendly, with a quicker finish time and less prickly spines.

As the principal breeder of Mangave, Hans is the perfect source for the story behind the succulent, his experiences with the crop and how he sees it contributing to the world of horticulture.

https://www.growertalks.com/Newsletters/View/Newsletter/?article=3103

Spines are not weapons, like with regular Agaves

It is true, the spines are less prickly than typical Agaves. In fact, spines on Agaves are so sharp, they could be used as a weapon! And the spotting patterns on these new Mangaves are very interesting on the spines, and it has a wonderful architectural form, and yes, they grow fast! My two specimens were already rather large so I knew they must have been growing somewhere at a growers for a while before making it to a local garden center in my area to be offered for sale. In fact, when I spotted them at the garden center, they were sitting on the floor in their large nursery pots under a bench, as if almost hidden from sight, near other succulents and cacti. I lifted them into my shopping cart at warp speed, let me tell ya. I knew I had to have them.

They served as wonderful candidates all summer long at the clients’ site, and I think the only downfall to these plants is the spines are extremely flexible and soft, thus with one bump, the tips break off. I don’t like that aspect because it feels like a break to the overall form and architecture of the plant, so they are somewhat difficult to move, especially when you are moving plants up to a high-rise, but the effort was worth it. When moving them, use caution to not break any of the spine tips when possible, as I did the more I experienced observing, growing, and using this plant. It turned out to be more useful than I had expected.

September 21

In September of 2021, I noticed a bloom coming up on one of the Mangaves, which I had returned home earlier from the client site. Sometimes plants are taken back, and in this case, one of the Mangaves at the client’s balcony had started experiencing growing issues, so I took it home, inspected the roots, and sure enough, there was some type of pillbug in the soil. Because I cherished this plant, I removed all the soil and repotted it in new fresh potting mix that is well draining and more on the coarse side. Agaves typically don’t like wet soil, and I suspected the soil was probably wet prior to even planting it. I watched it for a while outdoors to see if it would improve, which it did, then in the autumn season, before frost time here in Connecticut, I moved it into my greenhouse. It was around that time, in September, that it suddenly started to shoot up a bloom stalk.

A Bloom Stalk Surfaces in 2021

When the bloom started, I was super excited about this and posted a photo to my Instagram feed (seen above). As some plant people may or may not know, Agave plants do not commonly flower. Some will bloom after several years, while others may take as long as ten years or even a hundred years to produce a bloom; this is why Agave plants are referred to as century plants. And the flowers will grow on the tip of a very tall stem, solo rising up from the middle of the plant, and the stem/stalk will grow super tall, reaching for the skies, or in my case, reaching for the ceiling of my lean-to style greenhouse. Knowing this, I was pretty excited to see how long it would take the flower stem (referred to as a candelabrum or wand for Agaves) to grow and how high it would reach in my greenhouse before it would produce flower buds. The stem (or wand if you wish to think of it that way), has no leaves on it and to me, it resembled an asparagus stalk.

Photo Taken As It Kept Rising

September 27

Within 7 days, you can see from the next photo how much the stalk rose from the center of the Mangave. It was growing up, and every day, I’d walk in to take a look, and I started to have to move it around because as it got taller, it was reaching the lean-to style of the greenhouse’s roof. I wondered if it would soon hit the ceiling.

Mangave flower candelabrum or wand

It got to the point, the stalk was so tall, I couldn’t get the whole thing in a photo. Here is a photo (above) where I moved it in-front of an old silver locker I picked up at a vintage shop, and it was about as tall as that cabinet by this point. As you can see, it definitely looks similar to an asparagus stem.

Very Top of the Stalk

Then the next phase was starting to reveal. Side shoots on the top started to form with flower buds. I knew I was in for a big surprise soon. And fortunately, the very tip of the stalk was not touching the roof of the greenhouse. It appeared I had just enough space to keep it inside for the rest of the winter.

Flowers Opening

The flowers started to feel like a fireworks show to me. That is just how my mind works when it comes to nature’s surprises. The flower clusters started to form to the sides of the main cluster on the top and as they opened, pollen was visible and I thought it was a shame as it would not be pollinated inside my greenhouse during the winter months, but just the same, it was a fun experience to witness all the buds opening over time.

By December, 3 months after I first noticed the stalk rising from the center of the plant, it had buds and the stalk was about 10 feet tall. In reviewing some of the posts I was sharing, around December 11th, it was 6 feet tall. Later in December, it grew to ten feet. By the following spring, I decided to chop off about 1/3 of the stalk and it was time to get it out of my way so outside it went. I put it on my deck, and to my surprise later in the summer, more side plants formed at the top of the plant’s flower stalk (where I had cut it off). It also produced many pups on the sides at the base of the plant, which I decided to use to top off my succulent pumpkin centerpieces; it made a nice spikey looking thriller on the top of the pumpkins.

Mangave used on the Succulent Pumpkin Centerpieces

This plant ended up surprising me in many ways and kept on giving. It did not die off as some plants do after flowering for Agaves, and retuned to my greenhouse yet again this fall. Not only that, I repotted some of the pups earlier, and they grew rather quickly into larger plants (as noted by the breeder above, Hans, they grow quickly).

Agave and Mangave plants make wonderful specimen plants, are beautiful in larger pots, and they handle full sun and don’t require lots of fertilizer, and they may be kept inside the home over the winter, if not too large, or if they haven’t grown a major flower stalk of 10 feet tall, and they over winter well in a low-temp greenhouse too from my experience. It is pretty cool when you start off admiring something and witness many returns and uses which were unexpected, like how I used them on my succulent pumpkin centerpiece creations this season.

I like collecting various Agaves and now Mangaves and will continue to do so. I find they are easy care plants and you can obtain various sizes and styles if you keep your eyes open for special finds!

Cathy Testa
Broad Brook, CT
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Date of Post: 10/26/2022

Storing Corms, Tubers, Bulbs, Rhizomes for Winter

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This year I’m trying a new method for storing my Alocasia corms (sometimes referred to as bulbs or tubers, but they are not true bulbs). I have seen Alocasia corms referred to as “tubers” in many garden reference and technical books, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with corms as the term used for these Alocasia plants I am putting away for the winter months in Connecticut.

Bins Years Prior Used

For years, I stored the bases of underground parts from my elephant’s ears and canna lily plants in plastic bins with covers (air holes drilled in the covers) with peat. When I say “parts”, I’m referring to corms for the elephant’s ear (Alocasia and Colocasia) and rhizomes for the Canna Lily plants).

The peat (only a small amount below; used almost like a bed below the corms/rhizomes, and some peat lightly sprinkled over the tops of the corms and rhizomes) helped maintain a bit of moisture but kept the tubers in a dry but not too dry or too moist state.

However last year, some of my Alocasia corms had rot areas on them when I went to take them out in the spring to start growing again. They were too damp. Plastic bins will hold onto some moisture (versus a dry cardboard type box) but this problem of rot really had never occurred before. Since I want to make sure I am able to save these dramatic large Alocasia plants’ corms, I’m trying this new method this year.

Dug Up about a Week or few days prior

In last week’s post, I showed how I dug up the Alocasia plants from a huge cement planter, cutting off the foliage about 4-6″ from the top of the corm area, and laid them out in the sun for one day. Then I moved them to my basement in laundry baskets.

I also dug up a very large Alocasia plant prior to these, from a big tall patio planter, and laid out a huge corm with top part of the plant (stump like stem area) in a bin about a week before these above.

The ones in the laundry basket were still too damp when looking them over yesterday, so I laid them out on a table in my basement, and spread each corm on the table so they are not touching, and decided I will wait a few days longer before packing those up into boxes. I will leave these on a table another few days to air dry in my unheated basement.

However, I decided to pack up the others that were dug up prior from my gray patio planters. One of them is super large and heavy. It isn’t draining out any more water or moisture now, feels like it has dried enough, and there are no rot or damp areas on the corm area. It was placed in a bin in my basement about one week prior to those dug up from my cement planter so it and its side shoots have been drying longer.

In doing a bit of research, I’ve read Alocasia corms may be stored in newspaper and put in a cardboard box with air vents. I happen to have some boxes available and used a large sharp knife to make slits in the boxes around the perimeter of the cardboard boxes for the air vents.

Making air vents

I placed crumbled up newspaper sheets in the base of the cardboard box and used the original plastic mesh bags, which were around each corm when they were originally shipped to me. I placed individual corms into these mesh bags for those that would fit. My largest “stump” shown top right of this photo below is too large for any of the mesh bags I kept on hand.

Mesh Bag with Corm inside

I loosely wrapped a couple sheets of newspaper around this mesh bag once the corm was inside and put it in the box. I am careful to not have them stacked or touching too much with other corms handled the same method because if anything is damp, that moisture will transfer to any touching corms. However, these were all fairly dry and not moist. The idea is to not overpack any boxes and keep air around each.

Now for the larger Alocasia stump. I keep calling it that because it is so much larger, it is more like a stump size! This one I had to find a larger long box and I have no mesh bag for it. It also has a large green area (the top part of where it grew) still attached which is not wet at all when I decided to lay it into the long cardboard box. Again, I crumpled up newspaper below in the box, and then I used a paper bag to cover it like a blanket and close up the box. I did not tape the box closed, as air circulation is important. I just overlapped the covers and I also put vents in the sides like with the other cardboard box prior to laying it in there.

Largest Alocasia “stump”

The root area is dry with dry soil a bit still on it, the corm area is dry, and there is still green life on the top part but there is no dripping water coming out of it – it seems like it is dry enough. I labeled all the cardboard boxes with date and placed it in the usual corner of my unheated basement (by the door where it is like tucked in a corner, stays cool, dark, dry and it does not go below freezing here.)

I have read the optimum temperature for storing Alocasia corms is 40-45 degrees F. Again, my basement is unheated. The only time it may get warm in there is when we use a woodstove at the opposite end of our basement, which is only occasionally. It does not go below freezing (32 degrees F) so they will not freeze. They are kept in a consistent cool 50 degree range or a bit below that for the whole winter. I will check on these in one month by making a note on my calendar to go look at the corms in these cardboard boxes and seeing if they look good (no rot, no moisture, no wet newspaper).

Again, this is the first time I’m trying the cardboard box method for these. I also wish to note, canna lily rhizomes tend to not survive if they completely dry and wither up, so I don’t think I’ll use this method for those plants, only for my precious upright huge Alocasia plants’ corms. I’ve read more about how these are okay more on the dry side. Makes sense because when I purchased the corms about 3-4 years ago, they showed up in a card boad box, with the white mesh bag, shown above, and only the brownish corm with no plant at all attached.

Label the boxes
Corner in Basement

You see the big plastic bin near these two cardboard boxes, that was the bin I last used for my big red banana plant (stump), the Ensete, I had for over 10 years. It failed this year, so there’s nothing in that box right now. I also put a plastic shelf section below the boxes so it is not directly on the concrete floor which may lead to dampness on the bottom of the boxes.

Pic of corm inside a mesh bag

I just hope this works well this year and will keep you posted. Next up will be to dig up my canna lily plants from containers outdoors. Sometimes I don’t bother anymore with those as they may be easily grown from new plants next season, but it is always a great feeling to reuse and regrow plants to save money on purchasing new ones, but sometimes I run out of energy to keep digging up these things. Each year, I seem to do less storing because of the effort. Sunny days help!

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Connecticut Planting Zone 6b
Date of Post: 10/18/2022

P.S. I also want to note, many references will indicate to let the plants get hit by frost first before storing underground parts like the corms or rhizomes, etc. because the freeze will induce dormancy to the plants, however, I often do this process just before a hard frost. The weathermen indicated frost may be happening this week. Wednesday’s forecast indicates about 34 degrees F overnight – so that is chilly!

Moving In Plants for Winter

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By now, many of my outdoor plants have been moved inside the greenhouse, or if it is a smaller houseplant, into my home, but I am not finished yet. I still have a bunch of elephants ears to dig up out of some larger planting areas to store tubers, corms, etc., and doing things like covering outdoor furniture soon.

In the meantime, I make Succulent Topped Pumpkins for custom orders! This is fun and I love making them. This year I am focused on making medium to large size pumpkins and each is very unique. People will ask, how long do they last – the answer is for months. They make a beautiful centerpiece, or to serve as focal point of a table-scape in your home, and make wonderful hostess gifts.

Just Made Yesterday!

Between making succulent topped pumpkins and running other errands, etc., I go back to my deck to do more outdoor winter prep work. Maybe it is emptying a patio pot of soil and then washing the pot with soapy water to put it away in a clean state for use next year, or perhaps it is asking the help of my husband to use a hand-truck to take down heavier pots, like the one with a giant Agave in it. We did a few of those bigger pots on Sunday morning while it was nice yet very chilly out. It appears that some of Connecticut got a “touch of frost” per my friends comments here and there, but my tropical plants were not blackened from frost which usually happens with a true hard frost, so there is still time to work, and this week is looking good.

Moved Into the Greenhouse

Some things I do to the plants in pots being moved are blowing off leaf and debris by using a leaf-blower, this helps to push out stubborn debris in between the plants’ leaves. I also wash the outside of the pots with soapy dish water and inspect the plants to make sure it doesn’t have any visible insects (or a frog or snake, LOL). I also like to move in pots when the soil is dry so I try to do that (move before a rainfall and avoid watering). I keep an eye on all the plants moved in because as they warm up on sunny days indoors, those insects may decide to show up. A key thing to do is scouting. I know one lady friend who puts all her plants in her garage and does a bug bomb routine each fall season. I don’t do that but I will always have a handy insecticide bottle in case I suspect any insect danger. And I have a rule, if the plants is really badly infested by insects, I don’t keep it – but I am so careful with my plants, thus, this situation is not encountered often here, but my advice is, don’t bother if it has a major problem with insects at this point.

My Cozy Chair for Winter Days

I also moved one of my outdoor cozy chairs into the greenhouse this year with the comfy cushions. In the winter, there is no better therapy on a sunny day than to sit in the warmed up greenhouse with a gardening magazine or book. It totally heats up your bones just like as if you were sitting on a beach on summer’s sunny day! It doesn’t work when cloudy but sure does when sunny. It is a special space and I had to make room for a cozy chair (it should be an exercise bike, but you know, that would just turn into a plant stand).

It turned out the chair is my photo spot too for the succulent topped pumpkins I’ve been making for some orders. It sits perfectly on the chair for a quick photo before pick-up by the customer.

A Nutty Brown Succulent Pumpkin

It is very expensive to heat a greenhouse in the winter here so I keep it at a low temp, just enough to keep tropical plants or tender perennials (some of them rather larger) alive until next season. They are able to endure the conditions in a semi-dormant state. I almost considered shutting the heat down completely this year due to the expense of everything, but I’m very lucky that my husband insists I keep my routine going because, as he says, “This is your passion.” Plus, I think he likes sitting in there on cold sunny winter days too. Sometimes we play a few games of cards.

Another thing I do is take cuttings or collect seeds from plants (I did most of the seed harvesting already a weeks ago). I never ever run out of tasks I need to do – there are always nursery pots to wash and store, debris to toss from jobs, and items to organize, or repair work. I sometimes feel like I will never finish it all. It is a circle that never stops revolving for me and I’m sure most gardeners understand this, plus I have a small little business, so there are also those tasks related to plants. I hope to get more done today due to the warm sunny weather expected.

Enjoy your Tuesday!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT

Overwintering Alocasia 2022

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This is part one – showing my process of disassembling my largest elephant’s ear plants from containers or planters. I purchased the tubers in 2019 for this Alocasia, which I refer to as an “upright elephant’s ear” because the leaves point upwards towards the sky. It is often referred to as a Giant Elephant’s Ear, Giant Taro, or Upright Jumbo). Official name is A. macrorrhiza. They grow from 71 to 96 inches (6-8 feet tall) from summer to frost and prefer partial shade. The leaves are very dark green, glossy, and impressive! It prefers partial shade but will do well in more sun with appropriate moisture. In my zone, it must be stored, but warmer zones, I suspect you may keep them outdoors or protected somehow.

2022
Cathy Testa holding two of the leaves

As you see here, I’m peaking behind two of the leaves. The leaves are at least 3 feet long with the stem an additional 3 feet as well. They tower above me in my planters and put on quite the big tropical show in summer. Now, on to how I disassemble them in preparation for our Connecticut winter months:

Definitely Wear Gloves

TOOLS

Gloves: Definitely wear garden gloves. These plants release a sap that will make your hands itchy – believe me, I regret when I don’t wear them. Even digging around the soil, I found my hands will itch later.

Hori hori knife: I really like this tool, heavy duty, serrated edge, perfect for cutting the roots in the soil around the base of the plant to release it. I find this to be one of my most useful overwintering tools.

Bin: A clean bin to put all the tubers and root bases in to let dry outside if it is pleasant weather, or inside if it is rainy.

A Large Kitchen Knife or Machete: I couldn’t find my machete, so a long, clean, sharp knife is a great back up.

Clean Up Tools: A leaf blower works to blow away dirt that will fall everywhere.

Ruler: Yes, measure those babies!

Large Knife

Cut away all the foliage by using the knife to slice each stalk off individually at the base of the plant. The main thing is to cut away from the plant so the angle of the slices are able to drain away excess moisture. At least that is how I do it. I’m also very careful to not nick surfaces with my knife tip – always avoid any damage while I work.

Slicing off each leaf at the base of the stalk (petiole) – stem – whatever you wish to call it!

As you slice off each petiole at the base, be sure to do a clean cut, avoid tears or anything which would allow entrance of mold or insects later on. A clean cut is recommended. If you mess it up, cut it again below where you just cut it.

Measure the leaves cause it is impressive!

I always measure so a ruler is handy, or measuring tape, and then take photos. Because sharing is caring – LOL. Everyone loves to see how massive these leaves get. It is fun to Instagram the photos!

Here are two of the biggest leaves above. It is too bad I am not set up to make leaf castings of these babies, they would make impressive art for the garden!

Close up of Slice

As you can see, the slice is downwards and away from the center of the plant. I slice each stalk individually and pile the leaves to the side.

All leaves removed

After removing each stalk, I use my Hori hori knife to cut around the base of the “stump” in the soil. As I push the knife around in the soil, I hear the crack of the roots being cut. Then I will push on the stump back and forth to help loosen it. Once I feel it is ready to be “delivered” from the soil, I start to pull it out – It always makes me feel like I’m a doctor delivering a baby – hahahaha. I have quite the imagination at times!

Cutting a circle around the base of the plant to cut the roots below
Out with more top sliced off

I will put it in the clean bin and trim the roots with clean sharp pruners or cutters, and slice the top off a bit if it still too big to fit into the bin. Leaning it upside down, or on the side to help drain excess moisture is helpful as well. Some folks may recommend not trimming the roots but I always have. New roots grow when it is replanted. My theory was less “fleshy” material the better. Fleshy material has the tendency to rot sometimes over the winter months.

After I got the massive big base out and laying out to dry, I worked on the planter next to it which had more off sets from the same type of Alocasia. I then let this dry in the house for about 6 days. Oh, I also removed as much soil as possible from the tuber areas. I used my gloved hands and kind of just rubbed or pushed off the soil. You may use a garden hose with water blast but that will only make the tuber wetter, so I didn’t do that. In the past, I have used a soft painters type brush to get soil off.

TIMING

In Connecticut (my planting zone is 6b) you may do this process either before or after we get a fall frost which could happen anytime now, but sometimes I like to start this while things are dry and temperatures are not too difficult to work in, so I started on these two planters last Thursday (9/29/22). It was a cool, breezy, day with little sunshine but that would be better than the rainy cold days expected the days following. The date if this post is 10/4/22 and no frost yet, but there are some talks it could happen this weekend, I hope not, cause I have lots more to do!

I placed the bin in the house for a few days and then moved it to a table in my basement. The next phase is storing them. For years, I stored all my tubers, rhizomes, corms in peat in bins with air holes drilled on the tops. But this past spring, I had rot on portions of my tubers. This year, I plan to store them dry in paper bags for some at least. I will most likely test the paper bag process and see the results. I will post photos of this soon. I also saved some mesh netting bags (like those used for Avocado’s in grocery stores) to put some tubers in.

Oh, when I took these apart last week from the gray planters, they had NO ROT anywhere on the tuber areas (brown area at the base) which is good news. No rot means they won’t have rot as they dry for a few more days. When I store the tubers, I will share it here as well.

The tubers need to be sored in a cool, dry place. I use my basement which does not drop below freezing but is unheated so it stays cool. It is recommended that you do not store them in plastic bags which would only trap moisture. If stored in a paper bag, make sure it has holes for vents. Again, for years, I stored them in peat moss in bins, but had rot issues this year in spring, and I didn’t want to loose these tubers of this super big Alocasias, now that I’ve regrown these plants each year. These particular tubers were from 2019 so it has been replanted 4 times now. A definite pay back from the investiment!

PLANT IN SPRING

Next year, after all danger of spring frosts, I will replant these Upright Elephant’s Ear tubers to grow again. Many tropical loving plants may be handled this way, such as Canna Lilies. For years, I stored my big red banana plant, Ensete, the same way as shown above. In fact, here is the link to the Ensete post if you are searching for it on my blog site: https://containercrazyct.com/2013/10/31/storing-my-big-red-banana-plant/. Unfortunately, I lost my big red banana plant this year in 2022. It was the first time it rotted too much.

NEXT OVERWINTERING PROJECT

Ack, I have to dig all of these up soon – anyone want to come help me?!

Canna Lily on ends with Upright Alocasias in the centers

Cathy Testa
Connecticut
A Container Garden Designer
Also make custom orders, grow tomatoes in spring time, make succulent pumpkins now in fall season, wreaths during the holidays! Thank you for visiting and your support.

DIASSEMBLY ALOCASIA QUICK STEPS:

Get your tools ready (knife, gloves, bin, hori hori knife, cleanup tools, etc.).
Cut away each leaf stalk at base cleanly.
Cut around base of plant in the soil area to break free roots with hori hori knife.
Pull out stump (base with the tuber) out of the planter, and let dry for several days to a week.
Store in an unheated, dry, cool area that does not go below freezing in winters.

How I start to Plan in the New Year

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Happy (or is it?) New Year 2022!

After waking up from the foggy mind, after our confusing holidays, I start to pull out my calendars from last year, which includes two (if not 3) wall style calendars, notebooks with key dates, reviewing my own blog posts from the past year for key dates, and going thru client binders to get my new 2022 calendars started.

Yes, I have all those various sources to track activity by dates. I want to remember the odd things that happened because it helps me to be prepared, or to try to plan ahead, and to remember, in the gardening world, lots of variables come into play (timing, weather, pandemics, etc.).

Unexpected Snow Fall in April?

For example, do you remember when we had a snow fall in April of 2021? I do. I purposely took a photo of the date scratched into the top of my fire pit cover, and I also noted the date on my 2021 wall calendars. The notations are reminders of things that can happen when you least expect it, or we should be expecting it, cause it probably happened the year before, or it may again…

Cold Rains on Memorial Day?

Like for example, do you remember the cold temperatures and crazy rain we had on Memorial Day weekend last year? It traumatized me because I literally finished planting a site the week before! I was so worried about the plants and how they would be impacted by the freak cold rain we got the whole weekend after I finished my job site. I went silent. My husband even asked me why I was so quiet as we drove out for a weekend at that time, and I told him, “I’m super disappointed in the weather we had over Memorial Day.” Then I stayed silent for the rest of the drive.

Flooding of Summer Fields…

Also, what about the floods we had in farmers’ fields in 2021 during the summer months – which impacted the availability and quality of pumpkins I use when I make succulent pumpkins in October, and of course the rain during the summer that messed up the ripening of our tomatoes?! Need I say more…?

And dare I say it, Ugh, COVID. As my friend posted recently, “We all want to say bye-bye to Covid!”

The darn Covid world. It is everywhere it feels like. We never thought it would last this long or rebound, right? How many challenges must we face? Let’s not get into how it impacted everything, shipping, staff, uncertainty, availability, etc. And the very sad and depressing things, such as many people getting sick, hospitals overwhelmed, it just seems hard to rise up again. My blood pressure has risen. From the stress (or too many sweets over the holidays.)

In the world of gardening, you do face challenges. I told a grower once, “Every single year, it is different.” They agreed. It was very hard to plan and predict in our usual manner.

Global warming impacts us too. We see lots of changes in weather. It is so unpredictable. Thus, my calendaring routine is even more critical. Or is it? Because sometimes, its been difficult to take a deep breath at times, and start again. But alas, it is January, and I must start again.

Today, is January 6th, 2022. It will be sunny (thankfully, because I have to take down some outdoor holiday decor) and it will snow tomorrow, but then be clear on Saturday (unless that changes). I’ve started to come out of my holiday brain fog and started looking at key gardening and planning ahead dates.

Sowing Information

I remember that last year, around this time, people started searching about sowing information for their seeds. So I’m going to re-share the link below where shared some tips from last year around this time:

Last Year’s Post in January 2021 above

I have to admit, I’m still not done reviewing things, but I’ve started, and it reminds me of this: January is about “planning” and probably early ordering (at least for me), February is “ramp up” month, March is “sowing” month, and April is “growing month” which goes into May. And hopefully this year’s end of May will bring better weather when we are ready to put all plants outdoors for our vegetables gardens and tropical plants, etc.

I know this post is a little choppy, but I needed to get it out there to let you know, I’m here and I guess I will take on the unexpected challenges yet again. Because when I’m in my greenhouse on sunny days in the winter, it revives me. I see the plants not giving up, despite being on the temperatures cool side in the winters, and some plants will even bloom. I’ve been witnessing, in fact, my Mangave plant blooming. It shot up a 10 ft tall stalk and the buds finally opened. They are still opening. The very top of the stalk is almost touching the roof. I have to step up on a ladder to get photos or look up as I did this this photo below taken a few days ago.

Mangave buds opening into 2022

In the meantime, I hope this post is not too blah, because besides all the gardening challenges of last year, I still encounter enthusiastic plant lovers and I still am very passionate about plants – and it makes it all worth it. I think I’ll be ready to go at it again. Stay tuned.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardens, Plants, Plant Gifts, Seeds, and More!
860-977-9473 (texts welcome)
containercathy at gmail.com
See also:

www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com (you are here now).

Grab-n-Go Holiday Gifts

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Alas, we are two weeks till Christmas! I’ve been so happy to create for everyone and I can’t thank you enough for your small business support of my Cathy T Custom Work of my holiday kissing balls, wreaths, garlands, variety of holiday greens in boxes, swags, and holiday installations of planters and sites.

My hands have been a little sore and my back a little achy but I love what I do so much, I continue to move forward. Each detail is important to me and now, with the last two weeks of planning underway before Christmas Day, please keep me in mind if you are looking for any last minute Grab-n-Go Gifts. Some are made with plants and some without. I usually post as I create so you see how they are made and what is being made minute by minute.

Also, if you have any last minute greenery decorating needs, I have some beautiful cedar available in bunches while they last. Almost all my greens are used, which makes me happy! This means planning worked out and no-waste of the beautiful fresh greens! Limited supply on the greens now as of this writing (12/13/21). Thank you again for ordering from me this season. Now its Plant Gift time…

In regards to the Holiday Plant Gifts, please give me a day ahead to make it and then swing by to Grab-n-Go on your daily last minute shopping adventures. Just text me your questions or interests. 860-977-9473.

Details are also shown on http://www.WorkshopsCT.com. Some items available: Terrariums or Terrarium Kits (great gift idea!), Holiday Moss Trees with Succulents, Hanging Small Globes with Holiday Themes, and other perfect hostess holiday themed gifts. See my Facebook Pages or Instagram under Container Crazy CT for the latest daily holiday creations.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
860-977-9473
Today’s Date: 12/13/21
See also www.ContainerGardensCT.com for Holiday Installs
See also www.WorkshopsCT.com for Custom Creations

2021-12-25T06:49:00

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

Days Till Xmas

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Customer Comment:
Thank you again, it is just the perfect size and even more beautiful in person. I can really see your creative talent in your work. I especially like the two hanging zip ties added for height option. Also, the extra ornaments and matching ribbon. Nice little added details that you think of. It smells soooo good too! – Wreath Purchaser, L. Mickey, 2021

Champagne Colored Ornaments
Top Made to Match Homeowners Theme with Elves fun colors, and Bottom Wreath was Created to be Natural with Burlap Bow

Wreath Making Time

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I hear the wind blowing outside as I type this – Yup, I’m an early bird. Lots to do, wreaths to make, and holiday gift orders to create.

If you are local and interested, please feel free to reach out regarding my custom hand-made wreaths with a fresh mix of greenery, bow and some décor, or bow-less, which some people prefer.

2021 Wreaths Made to Order for Porch Pick-ups, Broad Brook, CT

I started humming Christmas tunes the other day as I was gathering up my beautiful fresh greenery materials to make a wreath. Usually, I start watching or listening to an old classic holiday movie while I make the wreaths, because watching is not really possible as I’m looking down as I work to create a wreath, adding decor and items after I assemble the wreath itself. But hearing the holiday themes of a good movie provide me that uplifting feeling of the holidays coming up and decking our halls with greenery!

Hubby Holding Wreath

I have to admit, I do think about the crowd of attendees at my former Holiday Wreath and Kissing Balls Workshops from time to time. There was always a “spirit of good holiday vibes” with me when I would setup my workshop space for the annual workshop tradition, but alas, those have ceased (when COVID hit and also because I think Cathy T KB Clause got a bit worn out.) Setting up the space was very time consuming. It was almost like throwing a mini wedding, but I’m so happy to create custom wreaths and other items since I ceased the workshops! My offerings are outlined on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com for more information.

Large KB’s

The next best thing is making custom orders for everyone. I’m still here working at it, so if you need a wreath and are local, contact me – while supplies last. Ho-Ho-Ho, let’s Go-Go-Go!!!

Thank you – Cathy T.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, Connecticut
860-977-9473
For More Info about Holiday Products at www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

Fall is Fantastic

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We are having a wonderful spout of good weather in Connecticut this year, 2021, during our fall season. The temps have been just lovely, no more rain (like we had all summer practically), and minus the mosquitos here, the fall weather has been fantastic to continue my various plant projects.

I am still taking down some of my tropical plants at home to store and overwinter, while finishing up some container garden installations for the fall season for clients, and also making beautiful custom made succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces for my orders.

I thought I would show some photos of various projects I’ve been doing, jumping from one project to another this month of October 2021 in Connecticut.

Cathy T holding a banana leaf Oct 2021

Well, here I am, holding a very long banana leaf from my red banana plant (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’). It is not hardy to our zone (6b) so I take it down every fall. It has become a ritual. I never had any issues with storing it as described on this blog via other posts (search Overwintering or Ensete), but this past spring, when I took the “stump” out of the storage bin, it was a little more damp than usual. I figured it was due to no air holes in my bins, so I drilled some very small air holes in the bin covers for this season. Or maybe it was the “new peat” I bought that stayed too damp, I’m not sure, but I have done this process again! Cutting down each leaf, chopping off the top of the plant, then storing the base. (See more photos below). People liked this photo when I shared it because it really shows the size of the planter, the plant’s leaves. I’m 5’6″…so, you can see how long these leaves grew this season in 2021. You may notice the plant is in a big black pot, I usually plant it directly into the big cement planter, but got lazy this year, and it did just as fine, the roots went thru the drain holes into the big planter below. I also fill this planter with Castor Bean plants, other Alocasia and Colocasia plants, and other perennials, etc.

Callicarpa Beautyberry Shrub Oct 2021

This is not a tropical plant above, it is a deciduous shrub, called Callicarpa. Just look at the purple berries this year! The foliage is a lime green (normal color). But this year, the berries have been abundant and really a deep purple color. I wondered if our abundant rainfall contributed to the color being so intense this season? I planted 3 of these side by side by my deck at the ground level years ago and I remember taking a measuring tape out to ensure I was giving it the recommended distance for spacing. People notice this shrub right now – it is beautiful. It makes a nice shrub for massing together as the branches arch and fill the area. I had cut it back in early spring and it performed nicely. I’ve never seen birds eat the berries, even though some sources say they do. I’ve never tried to grow it from seed, perhaps I should try to do so. Mr. Micheal A. Dirr’s manual indicates the seeds require 90 days cold stratification.

Cathy T holding a large Succulent Topped Pumpkin 2021

Yup, that’s me – trying to hold onto this very heavy and large succulent topped pumpkin I made for an order. Isn’t it beautiful – and so are the plants behind me! I could barely hold the pumpkin long enough for my husband to take a photo.

Ensete stump
Ensete stump

Referring back to the top photo of me holding the red banana plant leaf, here is the stump I dug out after chopping off the top. I use a machete. This stump was left in my garage for about a week, mostly because I was busy doing other fall plant project, but also to allow it to dry out somewhat. It is still moist from the water held in it, so a good suggestion is to tip it upside down and let the water drain out of it after removal from the pot or ground. I did have to cut off more of the top to fit it inside my storage bin which is about 3 feet long. The cover barely shut – this stump is a doozie! (That is heavy and big).

Container Garden by Cathy T in the month of October at a client site

If there’s one thing I will tell the plant Gods when I visit them some day, is, “THANK YOU!!” for offering me the wonderful opportunity to plant on a high rise. This is an October photo of just one of the many container gardens I install at this client site, and it is full and lush. I love how the fuzzy big leaves of the Lamb’s Ears plant grew extremely well, no blemishes, and as perfect as ever. It is called Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears” and I guess you could say, I do have a fondness for big plants which make a big impact. It is a perennial plant for full sun (hardy to Zone 4). The silvery soft leaves are low maintenance and used as groundcovers, or in containers as I did here. I paired it with two flowering plants, one an annual and the other a tropical lover for hot sun. They looked just beautiful but it was time for the take down process this month. The nice thing about using perennials in containers is if you wish to move the pot (not doable in this case due to the location), you may do so to an unheated garage and there is a good chance the perennial will return the following spring. Or you may dig out the perennial from the container garden and plant it in the ground in the fall to continue your plant investment.

Mop Head Hydrangea Bloom at my House

I guess you could say, this month of October 2021 has been a very colorful one. This plant above usually hasn’t produced many blooms for me before, but this year, it took off. I had these big colorful blooms and I cut them from the plant just yesterday. I read you may spray the flower head with hairspray (aerosol hairspray) and set it in a cool dark room to dry. I am trying that out this season with these Hydrangea mop-head blooms in purple, blue, and rosy tones.

At a Client Site

A pumpkin centerpiece I created (referred to as a succulent topped pumpkin) is shown above at a lady’s home. I absolutely love how she decorates her table, putting the Family piece and candle holders with the mums all around. And a nice photo she took, which I decided to share here. Isn’t this another beautiful fall color photo? And yes, that is a real pumpkin, one of a nutty brown color. Sourcing my pumpkins was a little trickier this year. Many local farmers had issues growing them because of our summer abundant rainfall. Some fields were flooded and ruined some of the crop. I had to hunt and peck to find good ones for my succulent topped pumpkin creations this season.

More of my creations above. I love making these in October. I have made some Halloween themed too.

Me in-front of a Wall of Mandevilla

That is me again, here I am standing infront of a wall of Mandevilla plants I installed in the spring. By October, they were full and gorgeous all the way to the top of the 7 foot wall situated above planters. I have to say, I was distraught early this spring because right after I finished planting these, there was an extremely freak cold rain day where temps dropped so low and it poured, cold rain. I was so worried it would ruin my work at the client’s site, but the Mandevillas did well, and the rain all summer encouraged their growth. The foliage was shiny, perfect and lush. Each year is different, and I was so thankful these performed well. They have white trumpet shaped blooms that last all the way into the fall. These plants are vine-like growing easily up when trellised. They will keep on climbing, reaching for the skies, which they did here on this high-rise garden. I have planted the red, pink, white types. All add a tropical feel to any container gardens outdoors in summer.

Plant Gifts by Cathy T

Well, I guess that is it for now. I’ll finish off today’s blog post to remind everyone I offer custom plant gifts, especially popular in the autumn and at the holiday season. Look me up on Facebook or Instagram under Container Crazy CT. I do all in containers, planters, patio pots, dish gardens, etc. You name it. This month I’m offering adorable succulents, bagged up and ready for pick up. If interested, DM me on Facebook or text me!

Thank you and enjoy the rest of this week’s perfect and fantastic fall weather.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Zone 6b
Broad Brook, CT
cell: 860-977-9473
email: containercathy@gmail.com

Today’s weather: 72 degrees F day, Lows at 48 degrees F at night (still safe for tropicals outdoors, I suspect the frost will arrive later next week!)

Tomorrow – partly sunny and Saturday and Sunday look nice during day. 37 degrees predicted for Sunday night.

Back to work I go outside today. Trying to make the most of this perfect fall weather, did I mention, it is fantastic?!

Making Crushed Red Hot Pepper Flakes

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One way to extend your summer harvest of hot peppers is to make hot pepper flakes. I will say this prior to writing my process, I am not an expert in this process and just tried it out this season, and did the same process with yellow hot peppers a couple years ago, and it worked out well.

Serranos

I grew several types of hot pepper plants this season in containers and patio pots, all started from seed: Serranos (above photo), Matchbox (red pointy ends; grows on small compact plants), Habaneros (small yellow ones), and others like Ancho Poblanos (not shown in these photos).

Place on a cookie sheet

Ignore the big round ones (Cherry Bombs – too hot for us! And a bit more difficult to dry using this oven this method).

Dried in the oven

I don’t have an air fryer and wondered how that would work for drying out hot peppers, but anyhow, all I do is line them out on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven at a low temperature (175 degrees) and let them sit ALL day in there. I will check them occasionally, maybe shake the cookie sheet to toss them around, and just wait. The house will have a unique cooking smell.

Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp

It will take all day or maybe even out that night and put back in the next day for a few more hours to dry them out. I will cut some in half mid-way thru the drying process. Be very careful as the oils will get on your finger tips. Then if you touch your face, you will get a burning sensation.

Mini Grinder

Pick out all the peppers that are completely dry from your cookie sheet after it has cooled, and put them into a mini food processor grinder and pulse away. It is that easy. (Remove stems prior – again, you may want to wear gloves as the oils easily get onto your hands.)

Do not use any that are mushy

Note: Do not put any peppers in the processor that are still soft and not completely dry because they will just mold in the jar later. (For example, the big round ones, called Cherry Bombs, were just too mushy so I left those out.)

Grinded

After pulsing the mini grinder, wow, look at this beautiful color of very hot pepper flakes. I put my nose over the mix and it gagged me – not kidding. The scents were that powerful. I won’t be able to use these myself, but my husband will though. He shakes it on his soups and other meals during the winter. One jar is enough for the winter, but I’m sure he’d use more if I made more.

Ready for winter recipes

Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid

It is best to use a jar with a lid that has the open holes to shake and also, I will leave the open area open for a few days and toss these around to help the air circulation. It is important to not have any moist flakes in this – or it will just mold later. So when you dry them in the oven, be sure to not use any that are soft and not fully dried.

Growing Hot Peppers

I want to learn more about growing hot peppers because making these flakes is actually fun. There are probably better ways to dry them out – but everyone usually has an oven so this is a method I tried and it works out – for my husband. I can’t eat these – they are too hot for me.

Great Container Garden Plants

It was easy to grow various hot peppers in container gardens and patio pots. They are pretty much carefree. They like a very sunny location and do well in potting mix soils with regular watering as needed. Most of them turned to their specific ripe colors around the end of August and some still ripening in September (in my areas of Connecticut; Zone 6b). The plants can stay out till our fall frost which happens around mid to late October.

Starting from Seed Indoors

Starting them is an early start in March (about 8-10 weeks before our spring frost (referred to as a last frost). The seeds require a warm spot (80 degrees is ideal) so be sure to use seed heating mats and place in a warm location to grow them from seeds. They are transplanted into container gardens and patio pots 3 weeks after spring frost has passed.

Care

Basically, only thing you need is a good watering routine and perhaps some small thin stakes as some of my plants got rather tall (the serrano and habaneros). The other, Matchbox hot pepper, stays compact and is perfect for smaller pots. They are pretty too – covered in bright red vivid peppers. I find they do not get affected by insects or wild animals (like squirrels).

Uses

Think spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love making it in the winter months. It is also wonderful shaked into soups, stews, on top pasta dishes, and in chili recipes. If you can handle the hot spricy flavors and heat, it is wonderful.

Starter Plants

Because the seeds need good warmth (as noted above), they can be a little more demanding for starting from seeds, but I will try again next season. I have starter plants available in May so look me up if local and interested in the spring time.

Thank you for visiting,

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Container Garden Installer – for hire!
Hot pepper grower
Today’s date: 9/22/2021
Week’s weather: Rain rest of week, mid-70’s day
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Protect Pots from Rain

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In most cases, we adore the days of rainfall during the summer because it offers a break from watering our container gardens and patio pots, but this year, 2021, we got our fair share of rainstorms and too much at times.

I found that soil remained wet too long in some cases. It stressed our tomatoes, however, most tropical like plants love the rain. For some of my succulents, it was just too soggy. They did fine, but with today’s expected downpours (due to Hurricane Ida remnants passing over Connecticut today, tonight, and tomorrow), once again my succulent plants (agaves, jades, echeverias, etc.) will get more rain pounded on them as they sit in their patio pots. They haven’t had lots of dry periods this season, so the soil has stayed more on the “moist” side than dry side for days.

Because of this, I decided yesterday to move some of my plants onto a deck table with a patio umbrella so they won’t get blasted again. Yes, it is a bit of a PIA (pain in the a**) to move them, but I just don’t want that soil water logged at this point as we transition into September.

I will most likely move some of them to my greenhouse too. I am only doing this as part of my overwintering process early because I have a busy month coming up and this is my only week to get come chores done early. So again, plants may stay outdoors for quite some time, even into early October “for some types of plants.” However, when it comes to my succulents, I don’t like them to stay in a water logged state too long. Fortunately, this weekend’s forcast looks fantastic. It is predicted to be in the mid-70’s with sun from Friday to Saturday (yes!). But it looks like more rain on Labor Day! Rain rain rain this year.

Plants not poorly affected by rain are my tropical plants, such as this upright Alocasia, which I adore. Tropical plants add a real feel of a jungle or rain forest, and I love having that look on my deck because it makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii. If you can’t be somewhere tropical, might as well try to get that feeling at your home.

This plant is showy and grows extremely large leaves. I took the time to measure the biggest leaf yesterday. It is 3 feet height and 3 feet wide with a 3 foot long stalk. In fact, it was hard to hold up the ruler as I tried to take a few photos of it yesterday.

These plants are accustom to dealing with tons of rain fall cause they are from the tropics and are used to it – it is in their genetics, basically. That is cool. With all the strong rainstorms we had this summer, the leaves just kind of tussled around and didn’t break or even tear. Also, the leaves have the ability to shed water droplets and also the texture of the Alocasia leaves allow the water to run off quickly.

Members of the Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma are always on my plant list. They grow huge. I love the heart-shaped elephant ear leaves and enjoy looking at them every single day. In fact, my jungle look is at the end of my house by my bedroom, so I see this via a slider door and have watched hummingbirds visit quite a bit this year as they go to the orange tubular flowers below this Alocasia shown above.

Another plant which has done well despite the rain is my Mandevilla. In fact, the Mandevilla twined around one of the stalks of the Alocasia this summer as it reached out for places to twine as it grew. This one is called, Alice Du Pont, and it is a plant which I overwintered last year in my basement in the pot. I took it out early to start growing in my greenhouse and then planted it in a big raised bed like planter on my deck. I fed it bloom booster water soluble food about once a week for a time in the middle of the summer and it has bloom beautifully. It is considered a tropical vine and works well when trying to create that jungle look with some trumpet like gorgeous hot rose colored flowers.

These tropical plants will grow well into early fall. I perform a combo of overwintering techniques from mid September till mid-October. Some are stored in their small pots in my basement or greenhouse, some are taken down (foliage and tops cut off) and tubers or rhizomes below are stored in boxes in my unheated but not freezing basement. And some are kept going by harvesting seeds and sowing them next season. The Mandevilla (and Dipladenia) can be a little tricky to overwinter and get growing again. It helps that I can start them early in the greenhouse. I started some others and they did not take off or produce as many blooms. You can’t win them all in the world of nature. There are just so many factors which are out of your control. Like rain for example, but then again, rain is a helper at times as well. Mandevilla are stored as dormant plants in a dark place at about 40 degrees F over the winter. The soil should not completely 100% dry out but stay more on the dry side than wet.

As for the Alocasia noted above, also known as Elephant’s Ear or Taro, I’ve dUg them up and divided off any side shoots as well as put the tubers in boxes in my unheated basement. I’ve detailed the steps in prior blog posts on this site. This spring, I did encounter a problem. Some of my tubers were soft in spots which usually doesn’t happen. I know what I did wrong. I used “new boxes and bins” and neglected to drill some air holes in the covers. I was rushing because I was busy. I planted them anyways in spring but they were really slow to grow AND I was worried the rotted parts would ruin the whole process. Some made it and some others were tossed. The tubers must be stored in a dry cool place, away from any chances of freezing, and after the plants go dormant for the winter. I hope I will be more successful this year. Time to get the drill out!

This photo is of my Ensete (red banana plant) with Castor Bean plant (left) and another type of elephant’s ear on the right. It is the first time in years that I did not directly plant the Ensete into the large square big cement planter. I planted it into a big pot and set it into the big cement planter. I got a little lazy and busy, but it is doing just fine. It still grew massive leaves and looks super healthy. I added compost to the soilless potting mix in the black pot. I grew the castor bean from seeds of last year and the elephant ear from a stored tuber. I won’t be working on these plants until early October.

Well, I think it is time to go work in the light rain before the harsh rain arrives later today and will be pounding overnight. We have seen a lot of flooded areas around here, ditches over flowing, damp lawns, and run off. We even got a huge sink hole down the road from rain this season. It is at least 6 feet deep. We are lucky compared to the people in NOLA. I can’t imagine what they are going through and they are in our thoughts.

One last thing – other methods for dealing with rain (drain holes are a must in pots, elevating the pots with plant saucers or trays, moving them under tables, and spacing them out so air flow circulates around the patio pots after the rainstorm, and maybe even a fan. Yes, I put a fan on my tomato plants this summer, it was that wet out there!)

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
9/1/2021
Today’s temps: 66 degrees F (100% rain at 10 am); 60% rain tomorrow (Thursday)
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT

Another huge pot with Canna Lily, Amaranth (from seed), and annuals – will blog on these later!