Sip Wine and Learn About Succulents

1 Comment

Hello Everyone,

Before I go on and on about how busy I’ve been, I want to let you know to save the date for a Sip and Learn about Succulents evening at a local spirits shops in my hometown called, “Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits” at 149 North Road in East Windsor, CT. This store has a huge selection and knows their stuff – don’t miss out!

Save the date: August 21st, Wednesday, 4 pm – 6 pm – Free to attend

Joe is not the name of the store’s owner, it is Leslie, and he has supported my container gardening aspirations from day one. I told him one day, while shopping for wine, of course, that I would love to do container gardens outside of his store. Another woman happened to be there, whom I believe was a spirits’ distributor, and she suggested the idea of the using wine barrels. And that was the spark that got us going.

Over the years, I have done all kinds of plant designs in the two barrels out front of Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits. I remember, on my very first install day, a guy (who was a landscaper) walked by and said, “They will die and never get watered.” I thought to myself, “What a pessimist!” — But, did I speak up? Nope, typical me – maybe I should have.

He was wrong of course. The plants have done very well, in fact, often stunning, all due to the staff’s commitment of their watering routines. Last year, I included some rubber plants (Ficus elastica) in the barrels with other plants. I could not get over how big and lush they grew in one season! I apologize for not showing a photo here of it – it is buried in my laptop files – I will have to locate it, and when I do – update this post.

Update: I found some of the photos from the install referenced above. Check this out – how much the rubber plant grew in one summer! The first two photos are upon installation.

A Cont Gardens 2019 C Testa Copywrite_0034

Rubber plant (Ficus elastica) upon installation 

A Cont Gardens 2019 C Testa Copywrite_0037

Upon planting – I added button ferns on the sides

A Cont Gardens 2019 C Testa Copywrite_0035

Mid Summer – WOW! Look at how much this plant grew. It was perfectly healthy too.

A Cont Gardens 2019 C Testa Copywrite_0036

Rubber plants prefer bright to moderate light. This area has an overhang so it is protected and gets some shade part of the day. These plants can live for 15 years or more.  They grew massive the year I planted them at Joe’s Fine Wine and Spirits.

Of course, during the winter season, I absolutely love installing a mix of winter fresh greens and, from what I’ve heard, everyone loves the change outs each season of the container garden barrels. They enjoy the plants and that makes me happy.

And this year, especially, everyone has commented on the cacti and succulent garden theme I planted in the barrels. I’m so happy everyone is enjoying the various plants in the barrels and I can’t wait to share more about them on August 21st at their Wine Tasting Event.

Well, pause here for a moment – I have to add a photo of the cacti barrels too soon!

Leslie and his staff have graciously invited me to talk about gardening, succulents, and cacti at their wine tasting evening – how fun. The wine tasting will begin at 4 pm and I will be there to answer any questions and then start my talk around 5 pm.

Succulent tip sheets and handouts will be provided, a free raffle of a succulent creation will be offered, and my goal is to discuss how to transition succulents before fall and winter, how to propagate succulents, and how to care for succulents – and we will also do a review of the cacti and succulent gardens in the barrels in front of the store. Bring along any type of gardening questions you may have – I will do my best to answer questions.

Joes Fine Wine Flyer


Leslie’s store is a true gem in our town. He works diligently to offer an amazing variety of spirits and they really care about our community. Come support a great local small business (although one would argue Joe’s Fine Wine & Spirits is not small anymore, it is a rather large store).

And the timing is great too for succulent care, as end of August will be a time to consider how you will deal with any outdoor succulents you have before fall arrives – which is something we can’t imagine right now with the heat wave coming this week. Speaking of the heat wave – I want to wrap up this post quickly this morning so I can go water before it gets too hot. I have a lot of containers to take care of here at my property.

We hope you will join us on August 21st – please come visit – I’d love to see you. Note the date now so you won’t forget – and remember, I will be offering a free raffle to enter that evening – what will I make – you have to come see!

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT

Oh, and yes, I have had a very busy year – more on that later. I can’t believe it is mid-July and I’m still running around installing plants and loving every minute of it. Stay tuned for more upcoming events to be posted after the heat wave!! Stay cool, my friends! Cathy T.

Aug 2019 flyer

Wine Bottle Garden Art Workshop Day


Hi Everyone,

Here’s a recap of our workshop day with Laura Sinsigallo of timefliesbylauralie. We had a great time creating what we called, “Garden Art Creations with Wine Bottles.”

wine-glass-art-workshop-day_0004Each creation had its own unique touches or embellishments which held a special meaning to the attendees.

For example, I included a cork from a champagne bottle I had opened when celebrating a milestone. The cork sat in a box waiting for a special place, and having it be part of my wine bottle art piece was perfect.


Another attendee brought corks along with a horse image on them because she is an avid horse lover – equestrian to be exact. She used her corks along with a balanced mix of colors in her bead selections for her piece.


During our workshop I stated, “Crafting is good for the soul” — and this I believe to be truth. When you sit quietly focused, your mind wanders a bit as you start working with your hands. It is very therapeutic. At times, we would start up conversations – and during other moments, we were focused on our pieces and in the “crafting zone.”


I’m grateful we had Laura here again to be our guest instructor. She is a mixed media artist who creates paintings ranging from pets to nature to whimsical objects and anything in between. Her business is called, timefliesbylauralie.


As I’ve stated many times, I love her art style and art work. Just look at these adorable pumpkin figurines and her magnets. She has many, many more pieces and appears often at shows around Connecticut.


And at our workshop, we each were given a antique hand-stamped spoon to add to our pieces with “wine themed quotes.” She also sells spools at shows.



During our workshop last Saturday, Laura took the time to go over each step, and rather than attempt to cut our wine bottles during the class which would have taken a huge amount of time, she pre-cut them all for us and explained the process to attendees.


She also taught us about types of wire to use and why, how to assemble and work with the wire and each embellishment, and shared stories of her art and methods.


Each piece created by the attendees during this workshop was different. For example, one attendee used soft pinks in her bottle. While another used warm and hot tones for colors.


I included little charms with the words like Hope, Dream, Wish, and “Love what you do, Do what you love” on my wine bottle. In addition to using the special champagne cork I had saved, I used a bottle a friend gave me a while back so the bottle itself was special.


There is so much you could add to “adorn” your bottle, as Laura would state – she used the word “adorn” quite a bit. She got me so inspired, I’m already starting on another one – which will be a witch Halloween theme. I will be sure to post the photos of it when done.


The date of the workshop was geared for the transition from the end of summer and entering our upcoming fall, however, I learned so many other interested attendees wanted to attend but had conflicts due to final end of summer vacations or plans.


So, I think next year, we will shoot for the third week of September so more people can make it – providing we have Laura return again – which I’m hoping she will.


Speaking of Laura – I want to say, “Thank you again, Laura – You are a born artist and exceptional teacher. We appreciate your time, generosity, and spirit at our Container Crazy CT Workshops.”


Cathy Testa


Overwintering Plants, Oct 15 – Learn to store Canna, Ensete (red banana), Colocasia (elephants ears), and other plants so they may be regrown next spring in your container gardens.

Growing Your Own Nutritious Soil Sprouts, Nov 5th – Learn how to grow soil sprouts via an easy 5-7 day method for harvest indoors all fall, winter and next season.





Color Wheel My World – Complementary Colors for Container Gardens

Leave a comment

How to Get Started with Complementary Colors

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Talking about color is an easy, and not so easy thing to do.  Let’s start with the “easy.”

There are some simple combinations you may use right off the bat, like pairing up the colors of Purple and Yellow, Red and Green (yes – green), and Blue and Orange in container gardens and patio pots.  These are examples of “complementary colors” made up of any two pure colors (hues) located directly opposite each other on a color wheel.  

Blue and Orange

See this example of a Blue and Orange complementary color HERE on my ‘Color Wheel my World’ Pinterest pinboard. I don’t know about you, but the minute I view my Pinterest boards on this topic, my eyes feel a flush of happy. Just look at that image of the blue and orange flowers, and immediately see the impact.  Isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t it speak to you and grab your attention?

A basic and easy tip is to go to the color wheel for help on using common complementary (opposite) colors.  Look at the color directly opposite of the flower color of your admiring and want to use, and then select its complement.  You would be amazed how this one simple step will enhance your color combinations in your container gardens.

Ever notice plants give you clues of combination. Take a look at a Bird of Paradise’s blooms – it shows orange and blue together. Imagine orange Tulips with Blue Hyacinth in the spring – now, that is just plain luscious!

Purple and Yellow

Also located directly opposite of each other on the color wheel are “purple and yellow”. These two colors truly pop when put together in a mixed planter or container garden. Grab a purple Petunia and add some yellow daisy like flowers – wow!

Take a close look at a pansy’s (viola) blooms – what do you see combined: purple and yellow. Plants naturally put these colors together to attract pollinators – they know the secrets.

My Pinboard, “Color Wheel My World” shows examples of color wheels of all styles, and examples of color combinations of plants to help inspire your coloring juices. I add images to it routinely when I discover a good example of a complementary color or other combinations being used in the garden or container garden.

One of my biggest tips is to look at a plant and “all” its colors, then pick your favorite color, and seek out a plant that may have a hint of it in a leaf, and hold them up together. If you feel the “eye candy color magic” – you have a winner to put together in your container garden or patio pot, especially if that “hint” of color in another plant is a complementary to the primary color in your specimen.


When you visit your local nursery, pick up your favorite plant and put it in your cart.

Then, don’t go for the old standbys, go visit the perennial section, shrubs, or tropical plants – even veggies and houseplants.  See if you can find a complementary color in the leaf of the primary plant you just selected and placed in your shopping cart.

Let’s say for example you picked a purple to blue Delphinium. What is opposite of blue on the color wheel?  Orange.  Go find a plant with foliage containing orange (Coleus is an example), or select an annual that will bloom orange (easy pick: Marigold) for a long period.  These are simplistic examples, but you get the idea. Once you have this mindset, you will expand it automatically to more sophisticated coloring combinations and plant types.

You might be thinking, I don’t have a color wheel handy or in my purse when I’m out shopping for plants. Use the kid trick: ROY-G-BIV (red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet) and make a circle on a scrap piece of paper.  Fill in the letters, using the ROYGBIV trick and use it as a guide, or even better yet – today there are many apps out there – search color wheel app on your smart phone, and load it up for free. What a great tool people have today to help them along in the palm of their hands.

When you use colors directly opposite on the color wheel, the impact is immediate.  It makes each color more vivid and strong. There is much more to consider, such as the tone – some colors are warm and some are cool, which is a follow-up post to this color post soon.

Keep in mind the personality of the color to ensure the complementary you choose works well with it. You may not want a cool blue next to a hot orange. For example, Agastache blooms are a soft blue, subtle, so you may want to pair it up with a soft orange bloom of another plant in your mixed container gardens.

We also have to consider the plants are “compatible” in regards to exposure – if they prefer hot sun or shade, but as I said, this is the easy way to get started with color combinations, and it may get more involved and challenging – but always FUN.  Yes, fun.  I love looking at colors and can’t imagine my world without them.


The seasons of bloom of your plant candidates matter as well as you consider your combinations of colors in container gardens.  There is no point in having a blue and orange combination if the blooms aren’t opening at the same time, right?

Consider the timing of bloom, but also remember, foliage is forever.  Pick some foliage colors of an opposite to a bloom color of your specimen, and the foliage will carry it through. And look for long bloomers, those which will start early in the season and repeat bloom to fall.

Imagine a fruit ripening to a vivid color which is complementary to a bloom in your pot.  Let me tell you – it really makes a combination breathtaking.  Even if that ripening fruit or other bloom is happening for a short period.

Don’t overlook how edibles add color to your combinations – and easy example is peppers!


Some fruit’s colors will transition. Think hot peppers – they start green, turn red, and even purple.

At the end of season, think of a bloom that will be complementary to the fruit color.  Fruit are the jewels in a mixed container garden.  Their shapes offer so many varied textures, shapes and their colors of many are bright, warm, and hot, but there are cool colors as well.

One of the things I appreciate about fruiting plants is they usually thrive in the heat of summer and last until fall, as do many container gardening annuals and tropical plants – they play nice together.

And, in the cool spring months, you can pair up cooler growing veggies with early season plants perhaps – if you start them early enough in your greenhouse.

Edibles are a big trend and popular now in container gardens, and I have spoken about how to consider them in my Garden Talks.

Remember to browse “all” areas of the nursery and consider every type of plant. Try to avoid using the same types or those you are comfortable with – expand yourself and you will be amazed. Don’t limit yourself but get courageous with those colors and plant types.


Every May, I offer Container Gardening Workshops – and the plant theme is changed each year. We are highlighting veggies, herbs, fruiting plants this year per the request of my regular attendees. Working with these from a design perspective will be covered in the workshops.


More information about designing with color in container gardens and patio pots will be posted here soon – Stay tuned!

Cathy Testa


March 26 Flyer


JEM’s Horticulture and Floral Design – Next Guest Instructors


The first time I attempted floral design at UCONN during my studies, it was awkward for me. I found it to be rigid and required a great deal of attention to balance, form, and structure. I remember my instructor was very formal and went over all the exact steps on how to do various floral design styles in each class which had to be followed in a very specific order. There was no playing around with the arrangement as we worked. It made me feel like I didn’t have the freedom to bend the rules.

Perhaps my frustration had to do with the feeling that I just didn’t have a natural talent for floral design, which is kind of odd to me because I enjoy putting together plants in container gardens and patio pots. For some reason, plants with roots attached versus plants cut from individual flowering stems, have always been easier for me. The process of selecting the plants by texture and color comes naturally as I insert them into a pot of soil, but floral design is a little different – because it requires a methodical approach.

However, I believe many people have a natural talent for floral design. They have an eye for how the parts come together in an arrangement – stem by stem. After all, when you arrange flowers in a vase or in glass container for display, you need to have each stem cut at certain length for the appropriate height and balance. The individual pieces must work together in form and function.

When I see beautifully arranged floral designs on the web, I always pause and admire the creator’s work, and that is exactly how I felt when I visited JEM’s Horticulture and Design’s website for the first time. Each floral arrangement made by the designers of JEM’s for various weddings were perfectly formed and assembled with really, really pretty color combinations based on various themes for each wedding they serviced – and I thought, their designs are traditional as well.

JEM’s Horticulture and Design

The art of floral design requires some basic skill to get started, which some people master over time, and I would have to say JEM’s Horticulture and Design has accomplished this. But, I didn’t know of them because I happened to browse their site accidentally. I met Jeff Mayer, owner of JEM’s, when I started my first nursery job after finishing courses at the University of Connecticut. At that time, he was new in the horticulture world, somewhat – but I was very new. We both had just acquired positions at a garden center and started chatting there as newbies. I was a career changer in my late 30’s, he was just starting his career in his early twenties.

Jeff and I started either on the same day or same week at the garden center. I can’t remember now exactly because that was over 8 years ago, but I remember we were learning our new jobs and getting acquainted with the regular long-time employees at the nursery.

As I got to know Jeff, he would sometimes offer me tips when I started drawing landscape design plans for customers of the nursery. He never mentioned to me that he had a degree in landscape design, but would try to help me whenever he could between moving quickly from the office floor to the nursery floor outdoors.

We also would joke about things from time to time, share plant passion comments during our daily work – and, I genuinely enjoyed Jeff’s company although he is half my age! Eventually we both moved onto different arenas in the plant world. We lost touch for a while, but we were both noticing our work online.

Fast forward to today. Jeff is a Head Grower of a very large grower based out of Cheshire, CT called CK Greenhouses. This is impressive. This growing facility sells to both to independents and big box stores – they process huge orders – into the thousands of plants.

In the winter time, Jeff has posted photos of their greenhouses filled to the brim with red poinsettias which is amazing to see as the miles and miles of bright reds, pinks and whites fill the scene. It’s incredible how many they grow there. And being a plant person myself, I know this effort requires horticulture expertise and talent.

One day last year, I decided to text Jeff to ask him a question about an insect problem I was having on a plant, and I took the time to tell him how I admire his progress in the horticulture world. He replied that he admired the creativity of my container gardens which he saw via my postings on Facebook. The bottom line is – even though I am not nearly as advanced as Jeff is with plant knowledge, we both seemed to find our niche in the plant world. And we both appreciate the differences of the working worlds we are experiencing today.

What I didn’t know was he and his wife, Mandy, started a floral design business in 2009. It started with their own wedding actually. It was the very first time they formally made arrangements, centerpieces, and corsages for a wedding. They decided to start offering their floral designs as a team and named the business JEM’s Horticulture and Design, with JEM’s being a play on their first names and sounding like “gem.”

As you can see from this photo from their wedding day – they didn’t do a shabby job for the first time creating wedding arrangements in colors of the reds, bright yellows, and warm oranges to represent an autumn wedding date of October. Their adventure of providing floral services for weddings and funerals took off from there. They have serviced over 15 weddings to date, and as you browse their links on the website, you will see the various colors used for each theme and season.

Jeff is a graduate of The University of Connecticut with a degree in Horticulture and also a graduate of The University of Maine with a degree in landscape design. With his two degrees and experience as a head grower, you can imagine he has a wealth of knowledge about growing various plants, trees, and flowers. However, I didn’t realize what a talent he had for floral design arranging until recently.

Mandy, whom I met for the first time when she and Jeff met my husband and I for dinner, said she learned the skill of floral design from Jeff and their friend, Dory. Dory lives in Maine where Mandy is originally from, and it is where they delivered floral wedding arrangements for Kurt and Cindy, among other friends from that area. They designed the bride and bridesmaids bouquets as well as the centerpieces and arbor flowers. Personally, I absolutely love them – the whites, pinks and soft rose color are gorgeous in the photos shown from Kurt and Cindy’s wedding day.

Mandy describes herself as crafty but she said she doesn’t have any formal training in floral design outside of what Jeff has taught her, and her friend Dory who has a background in floral design also taught her – so there you have it – some people are gifted at floral design – and I think she is, based on all the arrangements they have done for friends and family ever since they did their own wedding arrangements.


Mandy has an eye for the colors and what would go nicely together, per Jeff’s description of her style. And she says, Jeff has the eye for texture and how to shape an arrangement. He is very symmetrical with his floral designs, something, which I noted earlier, I do not. This is something you learn and master, or perhaps have a natural ability for doing.

Jeff has done everything from small corsages to large arrangements. While he may appear as the master mind behind their floral design business at JEM’s, in just the one dinner meeting with Mandy, I was impressed with her talents and the way she spoke about everything we discussed. She is a very smart young lady and has a keen sense for business.

Funeral Arrangements by JEM

We had the best time talking that evening over dinner, and I probably was over-talking because I was so excited to talk plants, flowers, and workshops with them both – all the while, my husband, Steve, quietly listened and ate his Italian meal with no objections. He was probably admiring the connection between us as plant enthusiasts.

Floral Design Workshop

There are specific things to learn about floral design from how to cut stems, ways to store them, and how to prepare the water for long lasting pieces, and you may become a master or be like me, coming along slower when it comes to floral design – but I do know this for sure – creating as a group in a workshop energizes everyone attending and participating. It is inspiring to share a space, learn, and create – Thus, I was super thrilled when both Jeff and Mandy accepted my invitation to teach a class this year as part of Container Crazy CT’s “Nature with Art” class programs. This workshop is scheduled on Saturday, February 6th, 2016 in my Broad Brook classroom. Start time is 11 am.

workshop phot

We timed this workshop so attendees may make their floral design arrangement just in time for Valentine’s Day. This workshop is a great way to share time with your mom or daughter making your very own floral arrangement and taking it home to display, or to gather up some friends to create your arrangement.

Our feature flowers at this workshop will be Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily), spray roses (clusters of blooms on one stem), carnations, spider mums, mini carnations, daisies, and Ruscus (evergreen foliage). Additionally, attendees will have the option to buy a container at class (two types will be available) or bring their own of an 8” diameter. In addition, they will have the option of purchasing some special bicolor carnations, additional spider mums, and red roses. What more could you ask for?

I suggested to attendees currently registered that they may bring any embellishments they desire to dress up their floral arrangements, as shown on my Pinterest board. Bring it along, and we enjoy having Jeff and Mandy’s direction on everything at our workshop day.

To Register

We are so very lucky to have these two guest speakers on February 6th. There are seats still remaining. If you would like to register, please do so below, and confirm your seat by mailing in your payment ($45/pp) by January 15 to Cathy T’s Landscape Designs. The address will be provided after we receive your registration. We need to order the flowers three weeks in advance per my guest instructors, so don’t wait – We would love to have you to join us, but seats are limited – sign up today!

Family Photo

By the way, Jeff and Mandy have two beautiful children. They reside in Stafford Springs, Connecticut where their business is also located. Mandy also holds a degree in early childhood education from the University of Maine. She is a stay at home mom, and she and Jeff love combining their love of flowers, family, and home life.

Cathy Testa

“Stay Tuned for More Workshops! We are filling the 2016 Schedule!”

Bubble Photo with Logo

My Take on Self-Watering Pots


I have often made the comment during my container gardening workshops and demonstrations that if you don’t like to water, leave this presentation immediately. I actually love to water my container gardens and patio pots. Yes, a bit nuts to hear by some folks, but to me it is relaxing. It allows me to take a moment to enjoy the plants’ features and feel the sun on my shoulders. Not only do I like the whole watering routine, I also realize the importance of water to the plants’ internal functions and growth processes.

Water is the primary component used during photosynthesis when water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by the energy of the sun. Water is also used to transport nutrients, cool the plant, expand its cells, and maintain turgor pressure. And YOU, my container gardening workshop attendees and gardening friends, are the person that will provide water to the soil so our plants’ roots can take up the elements so essential for all this beauty to begin and grow in your container gardens in the summer. Without your watering process, a plant in a container garden and patio pot cannot internally manufacture its own food – a function that only plants can perform on this earth. Sound like a big responsibility? If it is too big for you…well, there are some options.

As shown at my annual May Container Gardening Workshops, there are some tricks used to “reduce” watering routines for your pots needs, but there has also been self-watering pots out there on the market for some time now for people who, UNLIKE me, despise having to water their plants in the summer months. Or, they may not have much time to “relax, enjoy the plants’ features, and feel the environment” due to their busy workday schedules – after all – it does take some time to water container gardens – but its worth it, isn’t it?

As one attendee told me after the summer season was over, watering her plants on her deck felt like a part-time job – but she surely enjoyed the big, lush plants which grew large in her pots all summer. To enjoy your container gardens as focal points throughout your outdoor surroundings is a mental boost to your day. Watering may just force you to stop and take it all in after your work day. It can be a forced relaxation moment in some ways. Now, back to the self-watering pots…

What are Self-Watering Pots?

Self-watering containers and pots have a reservoir of water in the base of the pot. A disk or platform partition is inserted into the pot about 1/3 of the way down with the soil resting above the disk. A fill tube allows you to top off the water as needed which goes below that disk in the base of the pot. Sound easy, huh? Yet, I have to admit, I am not a big fan of self-watering pots, partly because – as I mentioned – I enjoy watering plants, and because there is something about the water ‘not draining’ freely from self-watering pots through the bottom, and through the soil, which disturbs me. After all, do you like the feeling of damp feet when you are wearing shoes that don’t quite breathe correctly?

I don’t think plant roots like that feeling either (damp feet) which can occur with “some” self-watering pots. The theory is the disk prevents the roots from penetrating into the water reservoir below the disk, but in my curious mind, I wonder. I’ve seen roots creep where they want to go – nature finds a way, but again – I have not researched this like a scientist – it is just my intuition that the roots may try to go below that disk and hit pure water, and stop growing.

What happens when things are too wet? We humans may develop a foot fungus and stinky feet, and run to the drug store to get athlete’s foot powder. But plants, well, in containers and patio pots, their little roots aren’t going to be able to leave to get powder or more air. They are trapped. This is very unlike roots of plants growing in the ground where they can travel, plus they also have a larger mass of soil to help out the situation. Thus, my concerns about self-watering pots continue to ponder me. Here are some of my concerns:

Salt Build-up

Salts – Fertilizers are basically salts (in chemical form, as I remember my professor emphasizing in class). When applied near water, salts will move gradually towards the area where it was applied. This dilutes the fertilizer and distributes it. If tender roots are close to the fertilizer when too much fertilizer is applied, water is ‘drawn from the roots,’ and nearby soil (water in the roots and water in the soil moves). Plants can dehydrate when we apply too much fertilizer because of reverse osmosis where the water will move out of the plant’s roots, and this is why we use caution to apply fertilizers in the garden and pots in correct amounts, at the right time, etc.

In containers, salts can sometimes be a problem if they don’t leach out of the pot and end up building up in the pot (which doesn’t happen if you follow Container Crazy CT’s 5 Must Do’s for Container Gardening). You need to use good soilless mix with proper pore space, have drain holes in the base of your pots, and not over apply fertilizers.

Water should drain through the soil. It just makes sense. Also, it is a good practice and healthier for the plants, if you allow the soil to dry out a bit between watering applications so the soil has a chance to breath. Keeping the soil constantly wet is not good (unless it is a bog plant or native to a wet habitat or environment). Just like soggy shoes would bother our feet after a long walk in the woods, so will roots be bothered by overly wet soil for a long period of time.

A note on Winter Watering

In the winter, by the way, watering container gardens which you have moved inside as a houseplant is greatly reduced because the plant’s growth usually slows down if you place the pot in a sunny but cooler temperature inside the house. And those pots which you put in your unheated basement to go dormant are watered only when the soil goes dry – water very sparingly, as discussed in my “Storing Tender Tropical Plants” demonstration last weekend. Winter watering is greatly reduced in most cases.

Too Much Rain

Too Much Rain

Rain Falls

Rain – If you have self-watering pots outside in the summer, without a plug which enables drainage, and you get lots and lots of rain, the pot actually starts to form a pond on the surface of the soil because the excess water has no place to go. It goes up as the soil gets waterlogged. Now your plants are floating in a muck as the water rises to the top, and you’re not too happy either because you have to go outside in your muck boots and rain coat to relieve the plant by removing the plug in the weep hole in the side or bottom of the pot so the water under the disk may drain out. You may even have to tip the pot to the side to drain out more excess water. When we drink too much, what happens to us? We get messy too. We topple over or lean; the same thing happens with plants. They’ll wilt and eventually – if they drink too much – well, you know what happens there. They die or suffer such a bad hangover, they don’t quite recover, start to get diseases, rot, etc. One alternative solution, other than calling a rehab center, is to use plants that drink responsibly. Those which don’t require too many libations – as we discuss when we talk about drought tolerant plants, or just face it – water our plants ourselves to control and maintain an appropriate balance of watering applications.

Oxygen to Breath

Oxygen – Plant roots need oxygen to take up water. A perfect soil gives plant roots oxygen for respiration, pore structure, nutrients, and even distribution of water. When water is sitting in the base of a pot and the roots hit pure water, they will not grow there due to lack of oxygen. This reduces the root mass for the plants above to thrive. I like to give my plants what I refer to as a ‘full spa treatment’ by providing a good, if not great amount of soil volume by using large pots – something I go over in my Container Garden Workshops every May. They will be happy and thrive, grow large and lush, and full in BIG pots. Also, remember self-watering pots have a disk in the bottom. This reduces the amount of soil allowed in the pot above the disk because it is partitioned off. In small pots, the soil volume can be cut in half as compared to big pots. This greatly reduces space for the roots to grow and roots are important – very important to successful growth of your plants above the soil. It also causes a perched water table situation – an area roots seldom penetrate where root problems start due to lack of air, oxygen, etc – I try to explain the perched water table in my workshops as best I can to my attendees so they understand how small pots reduce the impact and vigor of plants. After they hear what I have to say on the subject, they go out and get that big pot – and let me tell you, they are impressed with their results.

The Fill Tube

In self-watering pots, there is a fill tube attached, and I don’t like it. Call me picky, but this is another reasons why I feel a bit leery about self-watering devices because there is no “spa” once the growing spaces are reduced – and we all know, everyone, even plants, enjoy a good spa environment. The fill tube is cumbersome basically. It is like a straw. I’m not going to fill a little straw to water my plants, ugh.

Drainage is Key

Drainage – As water enters your pot from your watering wand or rainfall, it moves through pore spaces in the soil and between soil particle’s tiny spaces. As it enters, it pushes air out. If air is not replaced over a long period of time, the plant roots will lack oxygen needed to thrive. Some water is used by the plant, and some will drain out through the mandatory drain holes in the bottom of your pots. It is one of Container Crazy CT’s 5 Must Do’s – drainage holes. If there are no drain holes, as with self-watering pots, some air is not replaced, in my humble opinion and experience. Too much water is not a good thing, nor is too little watering – it is a balancing act. Excess water causes the roots to suffocate because the pore spaces are filled with water. Basically drainage holes plus your commitment to watering correctly provides a balance. Some self-watering pots have “weeping holes” to help alleviate potential water build up as noted above. I suspect this “draining issue” is why the weeping holes were added to self-watering pots in the first place. Are they self-sufficient now? I don’t know – I need to keep researching, but I do know that I don’t want to take a plug out of a pot every time it rains – I only like to uncork wine bottles. Now, I see maintenance, watching if the soil gets too wet, and maybe I’m just anal. So, I’ll stick to just watering it myself.

Watering container gardens correctly and using the right soil-less potting mixes has provided me with the ultimate success in growing lush, bold, and beautiful container garden plants. In fact, I don’t always fertilize my containers and they are spectacular. My theory is: a) I water them, b) I use big containers with drain holes for large soil mass, and c) I use the right soilless mix, and of course, d) I love them (maybe a little too much).

Gravel at the Base of a Pot?

I remember thinking that putting gravel in the base of a pot for drainage was not really a good idea because it gets all clogged up eventually with little debris or bits of soil going into it over time, water then doesn’t drain there, roots don’t grow into that area because it gets too wet. Soon enough science later backed up this suspicion by announcing the old practice of putting gravel in the base of pots is not really beneficial. It can impede drainage. Roots won’t grow into that wet area at the base of the pot, thus it reduces the full spa treatment. So, take this as just my opinion on self-watering pots, and if I change my mind – I will update my findings here on this blog. I am sure someone will argue the point with me – and I fully admit I need to know more – but I also have heard some folks say they like self-watering pots, but I haven’t seen their plants though either. Are they healthy, lush, and thriving?

Planter with succulents by Cathy T

Planter with succulents by Cathy T

We all Need to Drink Responsibly

Lastly, there are always the options of using plants that drink responsibly such as succulents, some herbs, ornamental grasses, some shrubs like Junipers, or cacti. Drought tolerant plants require less watering, which not only saves you watering time, but helps the environment by reducing water usage – which is big today – no one likes waste. And if you are not a fan of dessert scenes or rock gardens, add things like soil moist to your potting mix, which is discussed in Container Crazy CT’s annual May workshops as well. Rain barrels may be placed on your deck too to obtain free water for watering your patio pots. You may focus on shade tolerant plants that require less water routines versus the hot, sun-loving types. And shade cloths can be used on extremely hot days in your greenhouses or growing rooms, or patio umbrellas on your deck during the hottest sunniest days of summer to cast some shade over plants to reduce watering needs. But I say, if you love beautiful plants in container gardens – then love watering them too.

Cathy Testa

To hear more about pot types, see this page: Container Garden Pot Types.

The Container Garden Take Down Process Begins


Hello Visitors,

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

Tuberous Begonia

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

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

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

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

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Recycling the Soil

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

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

Castor Bean

Castor Bean Seed Pods

Castor Bean Seed Pods cut away from a huge plant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Banana Plant with Two Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begonia ‘Gryphon’

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

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ Zones 9-11 – A Winner

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

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

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

Lining Them Up

Lining them up

Lining them up

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

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


Cathy Testa
(860) 977-9473



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

1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

Tall pot toppled over already from gusty winds.

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

What To Do with Your Pots Right Now

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

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

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

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

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Ross and Joe with the Stemmed Plant in Center

Tip # 1:

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

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

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

Tip #2:

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

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

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

Tip #3:

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

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

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

Tip #4:

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

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

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

Tip #5:

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

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

Fern and Colocasia (Elephant Ear) moved inside.

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Cathy Testa

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

Earlier photo of the big red banana plant (Ensete)



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

Leave a comment

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

Smaller Pots

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

Tropical Plants

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

Seeing is Believing

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


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

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

Perennials in Pots

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

Base of Canna Roots

Base of removed soil mass from a big pot


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

Red Head with Jade

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

Save Your Pots for Winter Decor

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

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

Evergreens in a big container garden for holiday displays

October Demo Information

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

Have Me Do It for You

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

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant above photo.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo/Workshop

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

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

Location: 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $8 per person (pay at session)

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

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

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

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

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

Private Appointments:

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

To sign up, complete the form below:

Watering your Container Gardens and Patio Pots on Very Hot Days


During my Container Garden Workshops, held in May every season, I go over watering tips. It is a science and an art – and folks get a little concerned about how to water. One of the best tips is to stick your finger into the soil a few inches down or up to your knuckle, and if it is moist AND the plants look fine, you are probably okay. If the soil is dry and it’s a very hot summer day, it is time to water.

However, we are now in the month of August, and the soil in your patio pots may be a little harder/firmer, the plants may have consumed the soil mass somewhat, and this month can be one of the hottest points of the season, thus our watering routine becomes a little trickier.

To make your plants last well into autumn, it is important to remember to water appropriately when we experience “very hot days” that are well into the 90’s – such as the past two days we just experienced.

Here are 10 tips for those types of hot days at the end of the season:

Join the Early Birds – Get up early to water, if possible. As soon as it is light enough outside to see (providing you are an early riser like the birds) – water your plants before the sun fully rises. On hot days, like we just had which were up to 90 degrees outside, as soon as the sun was above the tree tops, it got hot quickly. So out I went in my PJs to water. There are so many woods around my property, the neighbors did not get frightened, thankfully. If you are able to do the watering routine early, it will keep you cool, plus watering in the morning is usually best for the plants too. It enables the plants to take up what they need before the soil moisture evaporates as the day warms up.

Skip the Heavy Watering Can – Attach a watering wand to your garden hose and drag it to your container garden locations. It is way easier than using a watering can which requires constant refilling and carrying. Also, while you are at it, if you have any extra watering cans or water bottles, place them near your pots and fill them with water at the same time for the next day’s watering to save a step or water on the fly. Another good choice is installing a rain barrel on your deck or patio to capitalize on rain water harvesting to use for watering your plants. I like to recycle the big cat litter jugs as containers to hold water when I need to water container gardens not reachable by the garden hose. They are large and easily washed out before the first use.

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Relocate the Plants to Shade – I actually did this on Tuesday; I moved a couple of my big pots to a shadier location because it was that hot out. It helps with water loss from the soil and the shade will cool the leaves of the plants. Use a hand-truck if you have one to do the moving of the pot in order to avoid injury to yourself. It may be a pain to consider moving your pots, but in my case, it was worth it for one or two.

Use Your Eyes – Look for any plants which are potentially distressed, as in weeping, leaning over, or have leaves which are dropping or wilting. They may be experiencing drought or lack of moisture in the soil. Treat those plants like 911 candidates. When we have high heat like this – go water them first because when moisture in the soil has reached a point where it cannot meet a plant’s need, the plant may die. In these situations, the plants cannot easily recover from their water loss. In the trade, this is known as a ‘permanent wilting point’.

Dip in the Pool – Not the plants but YOU if possible. Okay, perhaps this a luxury because you may not have a pool or the time before heading to work, but if you have a lot of patio pots and container gardens, make sure to take a break to cool yourself off too if you start to sweat profusely out there – I know I did even early on Tuesday morning. Make sure you are hydrated first, or take a break by going inside if you get too hot after visiting all your plants.

Capitalize on Patio Umbrellas – Open a few up if you have them near your patio pots to cast some shade above them. Even the most heat and sun loving plants will appreciate this on hot days like we’ve just had. Especially if it is very sunny out too. While most sun loving plants can take it – if we have a super heat wave, the shade of the umbrellas doesn’t hurt for a day or two.

Snip Off Scorched Leaves – If you have some leaves with dry brown brittle areas, or leaf scorch on the edges, use your “clean” sharp pruners and snip them off. No sense in having a plant expend energy on a bad looking leaf with damage. Plus, around this time of year, August, many plants may look a little tattered anyways, so do some cleanup if you can at the same time as watering.

Water Your Feet – If the sun is so hot, the surface of the deck or paved area where you may have placed some of your patio pots and container gardens is too hot to handle barefoot, water your feet as you walk around – it may not help the plants but it will help you stay cool and feels good. Kind of like your own watering treat!

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Water the Soil, not the Leaves – One of the most important tips is to direct your watering wand or watering can to the soil, not the leaves. Sometimes if the hot sun hits a leaf surface with water droplets sitting upon them, it can magnify the situation and cause brown spots on your leaves from burning/magnification. Also, water sitting on leaves on humid days can lead to fungal problems or diseases. Showering the tops of your plants will not get the moisture penetrated into the soil mass where it is most needed.

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Watch Out for Glass Décor – A gazing ball cracked in one of my container gardens when the cool water hit the hot glass surface on a very hot day while watering recently, and it, unfortunately, cracked. This was a first for me so maybe a bit of caution there for any glass décor on an extremely hot sunny days in your patio pots and container gardens.

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

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

By the way, if the soil is shrinking away from the sides of your pots – you may be under watering in general; the soil is too dry, or if you are watering a pot which has held the plants for several years (as done with many house plants), maybe it is time to re-pot it with new fresh potting mix soil for potted plants.

Old Potting Soil Is Hard to Rewet

Potting mixes cannot hold moisture well after several years and are difficult to get moist (rehydrate) again over time. If you see crust on the top of your soil, this is usually a sign it is time for an updated soil environment for the plants. The soil has become like an unusable sponge that just won’t retain water anymore, it is exhausted. Take the time to repot it – you will be impressed with the results.

Yellowing Leaves on the Bottom of the Plant Can Be From Ovewatering

Conversely, if the bottom leaves of your plants are turning yellow, this can be a sign of over watering. Overwatering is not better, there needs to be a balance. And if your plants are in a shady cool location, they may require less watering routines, such as every other day instead of every day for those in hot sunny locations. And of course, the type of pot can make a difference in rate of evaporation (e.g., clay is very porous and dries out faster, black pots heat up faster in the sun, glazed pots can get hot too, etc.)

Watering Draining From the Bottom for Hanging Baskets

Many references will say to water your pots until the water drains from the bottom, but I don’t agree on this necessarily for really BIG pots (approximately 25” or over in diameter with about a 2 ft. depth or deeper.) Big pots hold a lot of soil mass, it won’t drain from the bottom immediately as you are watering, like you would see with a hanging basket.

When watering your hanging baskets, watering until it drains from the bottom is needed because they dry out fast. For really big pots, you want sufficient moisture but drowning them is not the answer.

Allow the Soil to Dry Somewhat Between Watering – Let it Breathe

Also, another important note is you should allow the soil to dry between watering routines. There needs to be a balance because the plant’s roots need both water and oxygen. If the soil is constantly wet all day long, this can lead to problems, even root rot over time. Think wet feet in sneakers, not a good situation. Good soil mix specifically for container gardens and patio pots helps to provided the balance in the root area from the start of the season, which is one of the “Cathy T’s 5 MUST DO’s for Success“.

Bottom line, there is a ‘yin and yang’ to watering plants, but you will get it sooner or later – and more of this is covered every year in my workshops because it is something of utmost importance to my attendees and the plants in their beautiful container gardens.

As the fall approaches when the days start to cool and are shorter, the watering routine is reduced and eventually subsides. You won’t need to water every day as you have been doing in the summer months. Things will calm down and soon it will be the time to take down your container gardens.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo in October

By the way, my demo day on how to take down plants for winter storage is posted under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” on this blog’s menu bar. It will be held Saturday, October 17th, at 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. You may sign up via the links above where you will find the “contact form” or by visiting my business Facebook page. Private sessions at your home are available also. The session is listed under the EVENTS. Just click to sign up.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa

P.S. Watch out for spiders – They seem to be hanging around quite a bit lately!

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet

The End of June Approaching – Random Pics from this Month

Leave a comment

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 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