Overwintering my Alocasia Plants

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There are many tender tropical plants which I overwinter each year around this time of year in October. They are either dug up and packed up in a cool, dry, frost free place, moved into my home as a houseplant, or moved into my low-temperature greenhouse for the winter.

Today, I will share how I overwinter my newest favorite tropical plant, Alocasia macrorrhiza or Alocasia macrorrhizos (Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears).

Here is a photo of me standing by it around mid-September 2020. It is quite tall and an impressive specimen showcasing dark green huge leaves, big enough to serve as a patio umbrella.

Cathy Testa standing next to her Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plants in 2020

Each leaf reached just slightly over 3 feet long from tip to the start of its rigid stalks, which were also 3 feet long. Thus, the plant towered over us at 6 feet tall total. The width of the leaves reached about 2-2.5 feet across.

Measuring the leaf after it was removed in the fall from the planter

This plant is not winter hardy here in Connecticut, so it must be removed from the planter to store the tubers (or rhizomes) for the winter. This may be done after the plants get touched by a light frost (which will damage the leaves and make them turn yellow) or immediately after a hard frost (which will completely kill the top parts of the plants and its foliage.)

I prefer to move them in before frost for two reasons: (1) It is not cold out and easier to work with the plants. And (2), sometimes if you leave the tubers in the soil too long, when they get cold and wet this time of year, rot may actually start on the tuber before you dig them out. The tuber will be soft if any rot has started. BTW, the tuber is referred to as a rhizome as well. For the sake of this post, I will use the term “tuber.”

Cathy Testa holding a leaf from the Jumbo Upright Elephant Ears plant in October 2020

While working this weekend to continue my overwintering chores, I asked my husband to take a photo of me with a single leaf to show the shear size of this dramatic foliage plant. I obtained the tubers in 2019. That year, the plant grew more clumps of leaves, but this year, in 2020, the plant grew much taller stalks and bigger leaves. I always tell my followers and customers, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant.

This planter going into my greenhouse

If the plant in your container or patio pot is small enough, you may bring it into your home for the winter, or even into a greenhouse. However, I typically choose to store them by digging up the tubers, after cutting off all the foliage, and storing them in my basement, which is unheated but does not freeze.

The location is key. You need to consider the place you are putting them. A cold closet in the home may work. You need to experiment the first time you do this and hope for the best. A garage (unless it is attached and gains some heat from the house), does not work. The tubers would freeze and die.

Okay, here are my steps:

(1) Chop off all the foliage. You may use either a sharp long kitchen knife or a machete, which I often use the machete when it is a very thick stalk or stump. Just be sure your tools are clean to not transmit any disease or insect problems. I usually start with removing each leaf stalk individually, then cut across the whole stump area if it happens to be large.

(2) Dig out the bottom part with the tuber from the soil. Do this by digging around the plant with your shovel or garden trowel and pushing down around in a circle. You should hear the roots snapping as you are cutting them during this process. Then lift the whole clump together out of the soil. Try to be sure you are not breaking the tuber below the stump area.

(3) Lay the bottom parts in the sun. The bottom part of the plant will either have a visible tuber, or not. Either way, lay them in the sun for a minimum of one day to dry (and/or cure, as they say). Sometimes, I let them sit in the sun for a few days but do not leave them out if you get a hard frost after digging them out. If the bottom piece you dug out is thick and fleshy, turn it upside down to allow the excess water to drain out. These plants hold lots of water. You may gently brush away any excess soil or use a garden hose to blast off the soil, but sometimes I prefer not to add any more moisture to them if I can help it.

Lay the tubers out in the sun

(4) Snip off any long roots. Notice in this next photo how long the roots reached. Because the soil was fluffy and dry in my planters, I actually pulled the roots out of the soil because I wanted to see how long they were. They almost reached the bottom of the gray tall planters. The reason I snip off the roots is to eliminate as much fleshy material from the pieces. Fleshy, wet materials may rot in the storage box.

Showing the root lengths

(5) Put the stumps (for lack of a better word) and or tubers into a storage box and cover it with peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss may be purchased in large square bales or in bags in smaller amounts. It is a natural and organic ingredient that absorbs moisture and aerates around the tubers in the box. Pour some of the peat moss in the box in the base, lay the tubers and stumps on it, and then pour dry peat moss over and around them. Do not over do this. You are only lightly covering them with the peat moss. BTW, the peat moss is reusable every year. It lasts a very long time.

(6) Place the box in a cool, dark, dry location that doesn’t get below freezing and is somewhat unheated. Such as my basement. If placing the box on a concrete floor, place a tray or something to elevate it a bit off the floor because as that floor gets cold in the winter, it may create condensation in the storage box. My basement does get some woodstove heat from time to time, but the woodstove is way at the opposite end of the basement from where I store my overwintering boxes. And the woodstove is not used all winter, just on some nights. So the area where I put all my overwintered plants in boxes stays colder. It has become my sweet spot for this process. It is okay to stack your boxes on top of each other. I use plastic bin type boxes with a lid. Do not use clear plastic boxes, use those that will eliminate any light. Sometimes I have drilled holes into the lids to allow some air to enter. The tubers tend to stay dry but just slightly moist by the peat around it – but not wet. Do not store them in a very wet state. This will lead to rot. If your basement is too hot and dry, they will dry up and shrivel and may just rot away to a dry state which is not usable. If your basement is super cold, the tubers might freeze and die.

(7) Label the box with a sharpie marker, date it, and note what you stored so you will remember in the spring. If the tubers make it, you may recognize them, but if they don’t, you will be wondering what you stored, at least I have, because I store many types of container garden plants over the winter months.

An Alocasia in a large pot

You have other storing or moving options as well. You could just move the pot with the plant into your basement and hope for the best, but you may not have the space, or the muscle power to move a big pot. And usually a big pot is too big for a home. But that is another option to mention. If you move the entire pot with the plant into your basement, you will need to monitor it for insects and add water to the plant, but at a very minimal fashion. You are not watering it like you would during the summer season.

Left – See the Tuber?

In this above photo, the tuber on the left is covered in brown papery like material, which you leave on there. However, on the photo on the right, you really only see a stump. Storing either works for me.

This storing process allows the plant to go into a dormant state. They will not grow in the dark boxes and will usually do fine. When spring returns, you may bring them out of the darkness by starting them in smaller pots inside the home to awaken them. They should not be planted outdoors in your patio pots or container gardens again until all chances of spring frost has passed. These tender bulbs will bring back repeat performance year after year by following my steps above.

If you found this post helpful, please comment below or share my site with others.

Thank you.

Cathy Testa
Owner of Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT 06016
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Other sites: www.WORKSHOPSCT.com and www.ContainerGardensCT.com
Container Garden Designer, Plant Lover
and a little “Crazy” about plantings in containers!

Currently taking orders for custom Succulent Topped Pumpkins. They are created with live succulent plants, fall or Halloween decor, and are amazing on real pumpkins. They are low maintenance, easy care, and last for months. Porch Pick-ups and some deliveries arranged. Inquire for current prices. 860-977-9473 texts are welcome.

The Container Garden Take Down Process Begins

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Hello Visitors,

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

Tuberous Begonia

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

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

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

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

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Showing Steps of Taking Down a Tuberous Begonia

Recycling the Soil

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

Recycling Soil for a Year or Two

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

Castor Bean

Castor Bean Seed Pods

Castor Bean Seed Pods cut away from a huge plant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Banana Plant with Two Coleus

Red banana plant with two types of Coleus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begonia ‘Gryphon’

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

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ Zones 9-11 – A Winner

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

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

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

Lining Them Up

Lining them up

Lining them up

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

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

Thanks,

Cathy Testa
containercathy@gmail.com
(860) 977-9473

 

 

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

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

Smaller Pots

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

Tropical Plants

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

Seeing is Believing

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

STORING MY BIG RED BANANA PLANT POST

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

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

Perennials in Pots

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

Base of Canna Roots

Base of removed soil mass from a big pot

Succulents

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

Red Head with Jade

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

Save Your Pots for Winter Decor

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

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

Evergreens in a big container garden for holiday displays

October Demo Information

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

Have Me Do It for You

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

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant above photo.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo/Workshop

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

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

Location: 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $8 per person (pay at session)

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

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

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

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

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

Private Appointments:

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

To sign up, complete the form below:

Autumn Begins On Monday – Time to Move In Your Plants

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Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to remind you to think about that statement I made at the Big Container Garden Party in May:

Do not let your succulent plants, cacti, or houseplants with tender foliage in your outdoor container gardens and pots stay out in the cold damp weather too long.

It has been my experience if you let that soil stay cold, and it remains wet – and then you move them inside, two things typically happen.  The tender soft foliage of these types of plants start to rot at the base, or sometimes the damp wet soil invites little critters to take residence in the pot.

So as noted on your handouts from the May Big Container Garden Party class titled, “The 7 MUST NOT DO’S WITH SUCCULENTS & CACTI“, is that you should not leave them out beyond summer when we start to get continuous cold evening temperatures.  (Try this test: Touch the side of your pots – if Terracotta or glazed, they are chilly right now – even in the sun.  The type of container may contribute to cold soil at this time of year, despite the nice warm sun we are having.)

This week has been nice and sunny during the day, so if for some reason your soil in your pots is really damp/wet, give it some sun, don’t water, and let it dry out a bit – then start to move them in soon.  Frost typically happens early to mid-October, so there is still time to enjoy other plants, as follows:

Canna, Elephant Ears, and Banana Plants

As for the Canna, Elephant Ears, and Banana plants – they can handle this weather a while longer into early October before the first frost of Autumn hits.

If you wish to keep the Canna, Elephant Ears, or Banana plants in their pots inside the home – my advice is reduce the watering now – it will dry out the soil a bit, makes the pot lighter to move, and kind of the same theory as above, the soil won’t be damp when it is moved inside – reducing your risk if critters moving into damp soil. Pick a sunny window in the house from that point forward.

If you wish to store the Canna, Elephant Ear, or Banana plants base or storage organ, such as the rhizomes under the soil for the Canna, you may allow it to get hit by the fall frost – The foliage will turn black and soft – and you can cut that all off and then work to remove the rhizome or corm for the Canna and Elephant ear respectively.  For the Banana Plant, refer to my blog where I posted all the steps.

There is also choice #3 – if you want to keep the Canna, Elephant Ear, or Banana plants in their pots and you have a basement to move them into – this is also a technique for overwintering them.  Again, pick a spot, don’t water it much now, and let it look tattered over the winter but just hanging in there. For basement option, must do before frost as well – which probably will happen in mid-October.

Elephant Ear - Colcocasia

Elephant Ear – Colcocasia

Brugmansia (Angel Trumpets)

Another plant sold at the Big Container Garden Party was the Brugmansia (Angel Trumpets).  These should not be hit by frost.  I recommend you move them in to the home if you wish as a houseplant before frost hits, or into your basement to go dormant.  In the basement, most of the leaves will fall off, it will look tattered over the winter, but will bounce back (usually!).  Also, Brugmansia (Angel Trumpets) may be pruned back hard if you wish – pruning off all the stems and part of the stalk, but then you would not have the tall height next season if you wish to keep it tall.

Succulents, Cacti, Alpine Plants

Also, a reminder about another “do not do’s” with the succulents, cacti, and alpine like plants – do not put them in dark rooms, or between curtains in the house.  Do not let them sit in water catch trays.  Do not put them in a very shady spot in the home, or by really cold pockets. They need a bright sunny window, and reduce watering them regularly.  South or West facing windows are typically best. Refer to your handout on more details about how to water them in the winter months.

Hens and Chics

Hens and Chicks – Sempervivums

Hypertufas with Hens and Chick Plants

Hypertufas!  Did you buy one in May?  Well, the good news is they can remain outdoors – the material of the pot is pretty tough – but I say move it to a protected outdoor location, the hens and chicks in the pot will come back next season.  You may want to put it under your porch steps, or if you have a woodstove, heck, put it by the foundation wall near that area outdoors.  Or bring it in and place in a sunny window to treat as a houseplant, reduce the watering, etc.  The plants will look like they are not alive at some point, but they hang in there – believe me – they bounce back.

Mini-Crimson Mandevilla

Mini-Crimson Mandevilla

Mandevillas

Mandevilla – These too can be stored over the winter in somewhat of a tattered state, cut the vines back, and put them in the basement, they will loose leaves over the winter, but will hang in there.  More information can be provided if you have any further questions. This tropical like vine will be showy for a while more too – but don’t let it get hit by frost.

Perennials – Some of the plants were perennial and you may remove them from your container gardens and transplant them into the gardens of the ground, or often they return in the pots if you move them to a protected location over the winter (i.e., garage), especially if you used a big pot with lots of soil mass as your container garden when you put these together in May.

Thank you, and for those registered for the Octobert Hypertufa Class – I’ll see you soon!

Cathy Testa

P.S.  The “Evergreens Kissing Ball & Holiday Creations” class date has been noted above and on the side bar of this blog.  It is Saturday, December 6th, 2014.

A Frosty Start to October 26th in Broad Brook, CT

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And my plants felt it!

First Frost_0012

On the evening of October 25th, we received a drop in temperature around midnight, and it was only in the low 30’s around 6:00 am the next morning.  In fact, when checking Timeanddate.com, it reported the lowest temperature at 32 °F on October 26 at 5:53 AM.  That’s chilly. And my plants outdoors felt it.

Birdbath frozen with fall leaves

Birdbath frozen with fall leaves

So when I went outside around 8:00 am yesterday morning, it did not take long for me to realize I would need to go back into the house to get a felt hat, warm gloves, and heavy wool top to do my work of the day, which was taking down my big red banana plant in my large cement planter along with various elephant ears and Canna plants.

Elephant Ears and Other Tropicals Curled up

Elephant Ears and Other Tropicals Curled up

All of my tropical plants remaining outdoors were drooping downwards and heaped over from the effects of getting hit by their first frost of our autumn season.  And other plants had white and feathery frost patterns on their leaves.

Annual Thunbergia, a Blackberry plant, and Castor Bean

Annual Thunbergia, a Blackberry plant, and Castor Bean

Some leaves looked as if dew had frozen in time.  Tiny balls of clear ice could be seen on the undersides of the curled up leaves of elephant ears.  This was the pretty side to the frost on some plants, perhaps the only pretty side.  While other looked just horrible – particularly my tropical plants which can not survive below freezing temperatures.

Mojito elephant ear curled up with crystals

Mojito elephant ear curled up with crystals

They were all curled up, wilted over, and turned mushy overnight.  Liquid within their plant cells froze into ice crystals and ruptured.  This damages and kills the top part of the plant, but the underground storage organs, such as rhizomes and corms, can be stored over the winter.  Unfortunately for tropical plants, they do not have a way to protect themselves to survive frost.  However, their underground storage systems go into a semi-dormant state immediately, and can be moved to a cool but above freezing location over the winter inside the home.

Seed pods of Castor Bean frozen hard

Seed pods of Castor Bean frozen hard

Gazing ball with Mandevilla blooms and foliage

Gazing ball with Mandevilla blooms and foliage

Thus, it was definitely time for me to get the rest of my tropical plants stored for the winter season by digging up the underground storage organs or root balls and putting them away carefully. I could not put this process off any longer.  It would take most of the day and I managed to get it all done.

Canna by house not as bad as others

Canna by house not as bad as others

Ipomoea, elephant ears

Ipomoea, elephant ears

Written by Cathy Testa

P.S.  Stay tuned.  I will be sharing ‘how to’ overwinter tropical plants, but in the meantime, visit my HOW TO VIDEOS page to see some tips and tricks.

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

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

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

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

Two Tiered Love

Two Tiered Love

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

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

Orange with yellow centers of Portulaca

Orange with yellow centers of Portulaca

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

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

Colocasia elephant ears, tropical

Colocasia elephant ears, tropical

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

Closed by mid afternoon

Closed by mid afternoon

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

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

My Rene Cannas with red blooms

My Rene Cannas with red blooms

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

Protecting my containers

Protecting my containers

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

Written by Cathy Testa

One more photo:

On second tiere

PORTULACA LOVE

My Monster Cement Planter

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Jimmy, my brother, installs stamped concrete walkways, so I finally asked him to do one outside my basement door. Then I told him how I’d like to have him build me a huge planter box below the deck. I gabbed about how cement is so popular these days, even running inside to show him photos from a Martha Stewart magazine issue showing cement outdoor tables and more.  Anyhow, he knows I get nutty about these dreams of mine, but he said we could do it.  He agreed on my dimensions, and the cement planter resulted in a 5 x 10 size.

After it was completed, which was last fall, I filled it with the soil from my disassembled container gardens from that season. It was perfect because the cement planter is below my deck, so it was easy to dump the soil into it from above. Plus, I was recycling my soil.  Then I put a big plywood board over it for the winter. It ended up serving as a useful table during my winter Kissing Ball and Evergreen Creations class.

My Monster Cement Planter

My Monster Cement Planter

Alas, it came time to plant it this year. First, of course, was my red banana plant, as the thriller. I imagined the leaves would pop up to the deck railing levels by summer.  As of today, the leaves are 52″ long.  Yup, I measured it.  In warmer zones, the Ensete red banana can reach 12′ tall.  In prior years, this tropical plant, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ has grown tall in my patio pots and containers, reaching probably 5-6 feet tall, but never has it grown as wide and large as it has in my cement planter.

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The red banana plants features are thrilling to me because its large reddish leaves grow fast from a thick trunk base. The leaves come up like rolled cigars which is appealing. Then they quickly unroll to show a big tropical look. This tropical plant is hardy to zones 9-10 so I had stored the base carefully last fall to reuse as an annual here in CT.

Watering the red banana and its companion plants was no problem either. I just showered them from above when I walked around with my light weight garden hose to do the pots on my deck.  The only trouble experienced was the bothersome Japanese beetles earlier in the summer munching on the leaves. Cutting off the unsightly leaves was the solution for more would arise.

Astilbe perennial blooms

Astilbe perennial blooms

In the beginning of the season, Astilbe perennials bloomed red and pinks. They put on a bloom show for a while. And they will return every year. I also added several types of elephant ears from my stored specimens, which included the Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ and Colocasia esculenta ‘Tea Cup.’

Tucked around were elephant ears

Tucked around were elephant ears

‘Maui Magic’ elephant ears are a fav. Its purplish stems and large leaves in a clump are spectacular. ‘Tea Cup’ elephant ears have cupped leaves. Water droplets sit in the center and bobble around as a breeze comes by, or my cat. My cats like to lick the droplets sometimes, and once I found one cat sleeping under the plants in this planter. They were reaping the benefits of cool shade from the large red banana plant’s leaves and the elephant ears, plus the monster cement planter is in a quiet location where they can rest or sleep.

A biennial plant starts with pods

A biennial plant starts with pods

Another plant added was Angelica, selected because it has unusual looking flowers. It is a biennial, and also has large foliage resembling giant parsley. The blooms, shaped like pods, first arrived mid summer and are open now. Bees are really enjoying them. I was excited about this plant too because it grows very tall, up to 5-8 feet.  The deep plum flowers are a nice color combo next to the reddish banana leaves.

Planter filled lushly

Planter filled lushly

Next to bloom will be the pink Turtlehead perennial. Latin name is Chelone lyonii. This will bloom any day now, and more bees will follow. I had this perennial in a pot last year, and loved it. Its a late summer bloomer, and will continue until early fall, plus it also gets large.  Its on the left corner with dark green leaves, dense, and packed in nicely. It likes consistently moist soils, and so does the Angelica and tropicals in this monster cement planter.

There are other beauties in the planter, such as Rodgersia pinnata and Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Columbine Meadow Rue).  The Meadow Rue is the only perennial relocated from a former garden mowed down. It gets very tall, 2-3 feet, and has wispy pale tiny flowers in late spring to early summer. It has more of a woodland feel but the height factor made it a companion. And of course, no container garden would be complete without a spiller, sweet potatoe vine on the corner.

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

Planting this monster cement planter has been easy and a joy. No bending to the ground, or weeding. They can not get in practically, not just because the plantings are full, but the height of the planter helps to prevent them from creeping in. I’d rather plant hundreds of these types of large cement planters over gardens in the ground any day. Now if I could just convince my brother to build me more!

written by Cathy Testa

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

Taking Down Musa ‘Basjoo’ Banana Plants

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Most tropical plants will not survive our freezing outdoor winter temperatures in Connecticut, but they sure are fun to grow from summer to fall.  Because I’ve introduced many tropical plants to clients and gardening friends, I decided to offer my first class on how to overwinter the big three:  Canna, Colocasia (Elephant Ears), and Musa (Banana) plants.  It was held last weekend on October 13th, right after our first early frost the evening prior.

Their Home

I shared a brief overview of the tropics with the attendees so they could get to know where these plants come from.  By learning about their natural habitat, and gaining insight on how they grow and react to environmental conditions, one can connect the dots on how we treat them here in our planting zones as we prepare to overwinter them as dormant plants.  We discussed how tropicals experience winterless climates and have basically one season.  We also discussed characteristics, such as short-day plants, frost sensitivity, wide diversity, types of soils, and climate happenings in the tropics.  Everything from their tropical rainy to monsoon climates were considered.  To me, this paints the picture of who they are and more about their true home as they vacation at our homes during the summer months.

Plant Parts

We looked over a diagram of banana plant parts also.  One banana plant in particular, called Musa ‘Basjoo’, can actually be overwintered in the ground here in CT as long as you provide the correct protection around the base of the plant right after frost.  The diagram depicted how the plants grows as a mother plant, and a daughter plant arises next to it.  The rhizome, roots, and banana blossom and flower components were discussed.  Some off-shoots or suckers of banana plants are also called “pups.”  If banana plants receive enough months of the appropriate warm temperatures and sunlight, they will produce a flower bud and bananas.

Musa ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ Fruit

Banana Surprise

My sister-in-law’s banana plant bloomed and produced fruit this year, but it was not a Musa ‘Basjoo; it was another variety I gave her the previous summer season, called Musa ‘Dwarf Cavendish’.  It fruits at 5-7′ provided it gets enough warmth and light for at least nine months.  She kept it indoors as a houseplant last winter, and transitioned it outdoors this year in early summer.  It received eleven months of non-stop warmth and sunlight to grow, and a eventually a plum colored flower bud appeared.  The bud grew to the size of small football, and then the flowers began to form leading to the banana fruit.  This surprised her whole family.  At first they didn’t know what the bud was.  They observed how the banana fuits grew from it, and are still hanging on her plant today.  So far, they haven’t tasted any of them.  I think they are scared to try.  And now her mother plant is setting off many more pups.

Taking it Down

After sharing this amusing story, and the components of the banana plant’s flower and fruit, we headed outside to chop down a Musa ‘Basjoo’ in my landscape so everyone could see how it is done.  Also I wanted to share how tall the plants grew in one season.  This plant was planted in the early summer of 2011, and did “not” receive the protection steps last winter because of our freak October snowstorm. I ran out of time.  However, we had a very mild winter last year, and the mother plant returned, and a daughter plant right next to it grew as well.  Both reaching seven feet tall this season.  Musa ‘Basjoo’ can grow to 15 feet in ideal conditions per the growers’ references.  It is hardy in Zones 6-11 and can take full sun, or part sun to part shade.

Video of the Take Down

To see the quick video of taking down my Musa ‘Basjoo’ banana plant, go to my VIDEO GALLERY page on this blog, or click here:  https://cathytesta.wordpress.com/videos/.

Musa ‘Basjoo’, common name: Japanese Fiber Banana, can survive in the ground if protected appropriately in the fall season with layers of mulching materials.  Before you protect the base of the plant consisting of the pseudostem, rhizome and roots, you must do some easy lumberjack work after the foliage have been hit by frost and collapse.  I say easy because the trunk of this plant is fleshy and moist, so it doesn’t get hard like it would on an actual tree.  It not a trunk either, it is called a pseudostem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths.  I used a bow-saw to cut it about six inches from the base, and down it went.  As I said, “Timber!”, everyone in class laughed.

Chopped Down Musa ‘Basjoo’

Soil Conditions

Because the soil on the north side where these Musa plants were growing is more organic, maintains good soil moisture, and is somewhat protected by overgrown English Ivy (to be removed this year), it faired better than the ‘Basjoo’ banana plants in a small bed on west side, where the soil stayed dry, unless I watered it.

Banana plants like alot of water and rich soil to grow well, so the north side was the perfect conditions.  The house provided some shelter from the wind so that was also a bonus.  Leaves did not tear and served as a perch for birds visiting a bird feeder nearby.  I was sorry to see it go.  But the good news is it will return next season.

The Other Candidates

After we took down Musa ‘Basjoo’, we headed over to our class stations to learn how to dissemble Canna, Elephant Ear, and some other tropical plants from container gardens.  Attendees also brought along plants they could easily transport to learn how to treat each for winter survival.  It was the perfect day, bright sun and chilly air, with the frost occurring on queue, the evening before.  Class went well, and I plan to hold it again next autumn.  Attendees got the confidence they needed to do this process on their own.  Having a hands-on opportunity allows them to see the tools I like best for this process, and it also provides me with insight on the types of questions they have.

Birds Perch on Banana Leaves

Returning in Spring

Come spring, I will give my attendees the heads-up on the steps to take to reawaken their tropical plants for the next growing season in their container gardens.  As spring temperatures rise and the day light and length changes, the dormant rhizomes will sense the change and it will be time again to reap the rewards of storing your tropicals.  And as I told my class attendees, “If you try and succeed, awesome!  But if you tried and failed, oh well, just come see me again – I’ll have lots of tropicals for sale next spring!” Cathy T