Autumn Brings Beauty and Overwintering Work for Gardeners

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I think everyone in our area of Connecticut would agree – the fall foliage colors are absolutely spectacular here this year – what a treat for the eyes to see the bright golden yellows and reds against clear blue skies. There are trees in my yard which never looked so vibrant, even the kiwi vine over my chicken coop pen is beaming more than ever, but alas, the leaves will fall and the holidays are right around the corner.

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#autumn at the beach yesterday!

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In preparation for the fall, I have spent the last three weeks putting away many of my tropical plants and conducting a mini workshop on the famous succulent pumpkins. It was the first workshop offered at Container Crazy CT’s on this new fashion – Pumpkins covered with succulent plants and decor! The workshop was conducted with an Insiders Club members – what fun we had. We are testing our results based on the techniques we used to assemble and design them, and all of this will be shared in next year’s workshop – I know this workshop will grow. These succupumpkins are addicting.

Yesterday, a stink bug was still sitting on one of my succulent pumpkins in my house. I had to laugh – these guys are slow moving but he didn’t move for 24 hours. There is a black plastic spider on the top and I thought, “Does he think the spider is real?” LOL.

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#succulentpumpkin #autumn #stinkbugs #succulents

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Part of my autumn overwinter process included collecting seeds from Canna, Castor Beans, and other misc perennials which are stored in plastic pill bottles and kept in a dark cool place in my home for use next season. Here’s a photo of the Castor Bean (Racinus) which look like ticks! Oooooh! I also take various cuttings and do some propagation, as well as divide and repot plants to keep (as shown with the lemon grass in my prior post).

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#castorbeanseeds #racinus

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If you have been watching my posts this year, you surely saw the container filled with a huge green elephants ear (Colocasia), and I had to finally take it down, such sadness, but one of my workshop attendees asked me for the leaves because she is doing some leaf castings – and so that helped soften the blow – knowing the leaves will be used for an art related project. And, just maybe she can teach us when she perfects her process of leaf casting at my workshops. I can’t wait to see her results.

The elephants ear grew very very large, at least 3 ft long leaves. Here is the bulb located at the base of the trunk shown below when I dug it up. I call it a trunk as I type here but technically base of the stems, but it looked like a trunk because that elephant ear grew very lush this year. I just adored it.

Now, I will store this bulb to reuse next season. All the steps, tools, process, and products used to store my tropical plants were covered in my “Overwintering Tropical” plants workshop earlier this month. We had lots of fun as you can tell from our smiles in the above workshop photo where we are holding leaves of one of my red banana plants (Ensete). We covered everything you need to know and enjoyed a sunny day following a morning frost.

And I have to be honest, I was getting tired of storing bulbs, rhizomes, tubers – you name it – I had a lot of plants this year. Here’s a photo of the stack of boxes I was about to hand-truck to my unheated basement for the babies put to rest for the winter. The only good news was the weather was cooperating – it was nice and sunny almost every day – so I wasn’t working with cold hands as in years past. We had a frost on the same day I held my “Overwintering” workshop – which was perfect timing. But about 3 days later, we had a day in the 80’s – when I snuck out to go to the beach! Why not?!

Next on Container Crazy CT’s workshop list is my first ever Growing Nutritious Soil Sprouts workshop – We decided to add a week night workshop by request – so it looks like this one is underway with a few sign-up’s. I can’t wait to show this process – to grow sprouts all year round, starting now in the fall – is a great way to have fresh sprouts which are oh so healthy on your salads, on appetizers, in soups – all perfect for upcoming Thanksgiving meals, or for those moments when you want a nice warm soup on a cold winter day. I could go on and on about these sprouts but I will save that for the attendees of this workshop in November. See my http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site for all the details.

But as busy as I’ve been the past few weeks, I still take the time to go have some fall fun – stopping by Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT to see their scarecrow competition – it was a PERFECT day – and they did such a wonderful job. I have to enter next year – my brain is already brewing with a scary container garden scarecrow.

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#scarecrows #autumn #farms #halloween

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And to cap off this quick post – I have to share the photo of my beautyberry shrubs (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’). I post a picture every year around this time – these purple berries can not be beat. They are so pretty right now. I planted three of these shrubs many years ago – and I remember I followed the spacing instructions exactly, but they can be maintained easily with a good pruning every season. They are deciduous, cane-like shrubs. The branches tend to arch and the color of the leaves is a bright light green color. The purple berries are clustered and they reach their beauty in October. In winter, the leaves will drop off but the berries do hang on a long time. Seeing them makes me consider if my May 2017 workshop should entail beautiful shrubs such as this one.

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#autumn #fallshrub #berriedshrub #callicarpa

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#callicarpa #berriedshrub #fallshrub #autumn

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Well, that is all folks for this Friday morning. Enjoy your Halloween Festivities if you have them on the agenda for the weekend, and don’t forget to visit my Instagram pages for many more photos of all the activity discussed above.

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

 

The End of June Approaching – Random Pics from this Month

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

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

Petasites slow to start

Petasites slow to start

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

Nice Trio

Nice Trio

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

Mint Root Growth

Mint Root Growth

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

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

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

Lettuce in Windso Boxes

Lettuce in Window Boxes

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

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Funny Bunny eating a mix of greens grown from seed.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

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

Espoma Seed Starter

Espoma Seed Starter

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

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

Lady Bugs are Beneficial

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

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Lady Bugs to the Rescue!

Bulbs in Pots

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

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

Adorable

Adorable Small Red Box with 3 plants

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

Workshop Attendees Container Garden at her home.

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

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

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

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

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

My Container with Bright Yellows and Purple

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

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

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

Container Garden Install at a Hairdressers Shop

Container Garden Install at a Hairdresser’s Shop

Top View

Top View

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

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

Hydrangea 'Quick Fire'

Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’

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

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Wild Turkeys Under the Trees

Under a Tree Resting

Under a Dawn Redwood Tree Resting

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

Container Garden at Home

Container Garden at Home

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

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

Have a nice Friday everyone – Enjoy your weekend!!

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

 

 

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ – A Big Red Banana Plant Revived Again!

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Red banana plants (Ensete ventricosum, also called Abyssinian banana) are herbaceous perennials from the Musaceae family hardy to zones 10 to 11.  They can reach heights of 8 to 10 feet, perhaps even 12 in the best of situations, and take full sun with medium moisture.

When sun and good moisture are provided, it will give you a show to remember, especially if you are not from the tropics, as most would not expect such a large tropical specimen to be growing in your Connecticut yard.  But this is very doable if you store the plant appropriately over the winter, and follow the steps below to revive it to be planted again each year.

For the third year now, I have taken my red banana plant (which is a cultivar, ‘Maurelii’) out of storage around this time of year to revive it and bring it back to life so I can enjoy it once more in my landscape or in a big container garden.  Red banana plants love organic rich soils, so the large cement planter it grew in last year at my home during the summer is probably where it will return this season.

As I mentioned, in my blog post last fall about how to overwinter (store) a red banana plant, I took photos of the plant repeatedly last season.  I also had people stand in front of it when I’d walk them around to my backyard for them to see my big red banana plant.

Parents and Relatives

Here’s a photo of my parents (on the left) and my Aunt and Uncle on the right from last summer.  My mother is a twin, as you will notice.  It’s so cute to see them get together and my Uncle joked with me about how I built a foundation for my plants – he was correct!  They were having a fun day and it was a treat to have them stop by.

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

Another time, when babysitting my nephew, I tortured him a bit by taking several photos of him in his stroller before we went for a walk.  Here he is waving at me.  Too cute!  Someday he’ll look back at this photo and say his Aunt was nuts about plants.

Nephew waving 2013

Nephew waving 2013

Red banana plants like some shade so the spot where this planter is located is perfect. It gets the morning sun on the east side, which my nephew is facing in this above photo, and later, it gets shade in the afternoon as the sun moves over head to the west.  I also intentionally located it by our pool and below our deck, knowing the leaves would rise to the top of the deck railing where it could be seen as it grew to its towering heights. You can see I have many elephant ears and perennials planted around it.  On hot days, as I watered plants on my deck, it was easy to have the hose over the top to give this planter regular drinks of water too.

Photos taken from above summer 2013

Photos taken from above summer 2013

This plant likes good consistent moisture, and in my large cement planter this was never a problem because it is so large, it holds the moisture well.  When you plant red banana plants into pots, I recommend you go as large as possible too.  Okay – maybe not as large as my cement planter is possible for some folks, but remember the plant gets big, so you want a good sized pot, not only to give it a nice soil environment, but because a large pot will hold down a large plant well in the winds and will require less watering because it won’t dry out as fast as smaller pots.  See my Cathy T “5 Must Do’s for Container Gardening” for more information about how to succeed with container gardening.

Will It Get Bananas?

Many people will ask if my red banana plant will get bananas, and the answer is no, probably not.  Because I cut it down every season in the fall after it gets hit by a frost to store the root base, it may never produce a flower, but there are other types of dwarf banana plants you can grow that will get fruit, one being Dwarf Cavendish.  In fact, I gave one of those to my sister in law one year and she kept it in her sun room all winter. The following summer, it produced a bloom and had tiny bananas which her family was afraid to eat because they never experienced that before.  It was a new experience for them to see a tropical plant produce fruit in their home.

Red Banana Ensete_0014

At the end of the season, I took a photo from the other side of the deck.  You can see how the leaves reached the railings.  I also found the spot where it was placed to be a nice private place to sit and have a cocktail in the summer.  But eventually it was time for it go to.

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

This is what the root base looked like after I took the plant down.  You can see the overwintering preparation steps on my blog post from the winter.  Finally, spring has circled back around. So recently, I went down to my basement to check on the box.

Sure enough, the plant sensed the temperatures changes, and I could see white growth from the top through the plastic taping I used to close the top.

Root base just before packing last fall

Root base just before packing last fall

Opening Box Spring 2014

Opening Box Spring 2014

Coming Out of Storage

It may look like something out of a horror movie when you look at this image above of the plant as it is reawakening in the early spring, but believe me it won’t be long before it is returned to its beautiful state.  My first step is always to check to see if it looks healthy, free of any little insects, and if starting to grow – which is was in the box.  I opened up the box and positioned the root base to be standing upright.

Leaves Rising 2014

Leaves Rising 2014

As you can see, the leaves began to rise.  The bases of the leaves overlap like celery. And while it may look tattered, not to worry, it will perk up and look better in no time. I keep mine like this for a week or so and give it a tad bit of water, but not too much.  I don’t want rot to set in now that I have it alive and revived again.

Temporary Pot

Temporary Pot

A Temporary Pot

On Wednesday, May 7th, of this week, I decided to pot it into a temporary pot using fresh quality potting mix specifically for container gardening.  It happened to be a beautiful sunny day so my juices got going to get this baby into a better environment, and I watered it lightly again.  The next day, I carried it upstairs to a room so it could get warmer conditions and some soft light.  It will remain there until Memorial Day weekend when all chances of frost have past.

New Pot

New Pot

Cleaning It Up

And one other note, there were some outer sections which had some mold or fungus on it, where you can see the whitish area in these following photos.  I took a sharp clean kitchen knife and sliced it off very carefully.  If you do this, be careful to not cut the layer below the piece you are removing.  This step was taken to reduce any chance of the fungus to spread.  And any black parts were cut away also.

Slicing of bad sections

Slicing of bad sections

It is hard to believe this once towering plant at 9 or so feet last year with 6 foot long leaves is now a stump that will regrow to the same size again in no time.  It will sit in my spare room until ready to head outdoors, and as noted above, after all chances of the late spring frost has passed.  I don’t risk putting this plant out too early after all the effort to store and reawaken it.  And by the way, remember any plants you move outside to move into a shady location first so the leaves won’t burn when it is exposed to sun for the first time.  Just like our skin, it can get hurt and you will see white damage on the leaves when exposed to sun too quickly.

In the Landscape

If you want to see what this red banana plant looks like in a landscape bed, check out this photo provided to me from a Master Gardener friend, Serena.  She does garden maintenance, and was excited about her red banana plants last year too.  We both were very happy to see the lush growth of our plantings.  She lives in Connecticut also.

Serena's Red Banana in her CT Garden

Serena’s Red Banana Plants in her CT Garden 2013

By the way, Ensete ventricosum are referred to as “look-alike” banana plants because they are similar to the Musa genus but not part of the Musa genus.  Does this really matter?  Heck no!  It’s a red banana plant to me!  And it will go back outside in three weeks.

Written by Cathy Testa
http://www.cathytesta.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473

P.S.  A limited supply of these plants will be available at Cathy T’s upcoming class, the “Big Container Garden Party (Class)” on Saturday, May 24th.

Happy Mother’s Day Weekend Everyone!