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

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

For Successful Container Gardening

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started:

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Simon Howden/Zirconicusso

DRAINAGE – Must #1

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Zirconicusso/Criminalatt

SOILLESS POTTING MIX – Must #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Marin

SLOW-RELEASE FERTILIZER – Must #3

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net/Scottchan/Simon Howden

WATERING – Must #4

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

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

Ensete Red Banana_0001

BIG POTS – Must #5

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

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

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

2019 Update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are Container Gardens?

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Container gardening is the art of growing plants in pots. When you search the word container gardens or container gardening on the web, you may notice some people define it as growing vegetables in pots, but container gardening is not limited to just vegetables. That is for sure. You may use container gardening for so many situations and types of plants. The options are endless and with the right combination, stunning.

With the appropriate potting soil media, feeding and plant care, container gardens provide instant gratification and focal points. They operate like “functional art” in the right scenarios, bring life and amazing colors to an area, and add movement. For businesses, they are useful as well as welcoming. For homeowners, they create an oasis in your outdoor and indoor surroundings.

I have always preferred growing plants in containers designed to be focal points instead of gardening in the ground. For years, I’ve recommended installing big pots for when you want a big statement. Big pots capture your attention, create a focal point worth noticing, elevate the arrangement of your showy healthy plants, and ultimately reduce the compaction problems of small pots – so movement of water in the soil is enhanced.

However, in today’s world, many people have limited spaces, and small pots or medium sized pots fit the bill. They are easy to care for, add a sense of space and nature to your surroundings, and let’s face it – are fun to assemble in various design formats. From vintage patio pots to hanging baskets, all of these are defined as container gardens in Cathy T’s container gardening world.

Big pots provide good anchorage for your large plants so it won’t topple over in the wind. Also, they hold more inches of water, won’t drain out as fast which helps in reducing watering routines. Big pots helps the plants to grow larger and showier, leading to more bang for the buck. They are great in summer for vegetables like peppers and tomato plants that may grow to 6 feet tall, and big pots are super for large, showy, big leaved tropical plants, such as elephants ears and banana plant. Want to wow your friends and family? A huge pot with showy big plants will stop people in their tracks.

Small pots are wonderful to create a floral like design to enjoy. They are also excellent for displaying a single succulent on your windowsill. Small succulents are great collectibles! Plus they are easy care, drought-tolerant, and resilient. They easily reproduce via cuttings and propagation steps. Let’s face it, smaller pots with adorable plants, such as succulents and cacti, are irresistible.

Sometimes, two or three medium sized pots work well in business or store front scenarios to direct traffic or redirect a walking path. Two large pots gracing a main entrance helps your visitors know where to go if you have two entrances at your business location. Positioned appropriately, containers or pots may assist with parking, blocking sore spots and drawing the eye to key signs. They also say welcome to your customers and visitors – and changed up for the season make your place more alive and in tune with the seasons and holidays.

Homeowners may want to include a big pot in their outdoor setting along with various smaller to medium sized pots, either way, container gardens provide a plethora of design options. Another wonderful benefit of adding container gardens to your home is helping out our pollinators. Bees, birds, and hummingbirds enjoy visiting the plants and it brings life to your world while they visit and bop around your flowers. And small pots on patio tables are rewarding visually. I can not imagine any space outdoors in summer without lots of plants, or a plant or two. Hanging baskets are wonderful as well as they add height and many are adored today with macrame and beads. It is just wonderful!

In the case with homeowners, container gardens serve as your decor, like a pillow or end table would enhance a space indoors. More and more people are expanding their living environment to include outdoor spaces. And even more are creating oasis of plants inside their homes with houseplants to enhance indoor living – especially because so many of us are glued to our iPhones and social media viewing, we need to break away and enjoy a living plant which also helps to clean our air indoors. Plants are living things and if you care for them, they will reward you in so many ways.

Container gardening is also great for those with physical limitations – no bending, weeding, digging. For kitchen container gardening, you have unlimited access to various herbs right from your door step. Incorporating vegetable plants in your home designs not only provides a healthy snack, it adds color and a place for bees, our treasured pollinators, to collect nectar for their survival. Today, we see a lot of desk top herb growing type of container systems, some furnished with lights. The new trends are interesting and just amazing – and useful. More and more people would rather have some plant life in their home and also appreciate nature and want to participate in helping our earth – plants are the key to this. Be a plant care taker, and you are part of the bigger picture – okay, a little deep – but true!

Many plants you may start right on your windowsill, especially in spring with seeds to start plants which will be later placed outdoors as soon as the spring frost passed in well, yes, containers! Grow bags used for vegetables outdoors are another example of container gardening. And in winter, seeds for micro-greens may be grown in small containers suited to your kitchen.

And let’s not forget “raised beds” which sometimes only require an 8″ depth to be successful as a mini garden where you don’t need to weed as often as you would in the ground, and you control the soil you put in it, etc. Raised beds at a higher level are great for people in wheelchairs, or people who have back issues. All of these examples are container gardening. If I could, my entire yard would be filled with raised beds. Easy to reach in and out of and easy to keep critters away if you enclose it with fencing. They are not only functional but pretty visually.

Some may argue container gardening is not sustainable, and I absolutely disagree – because when you use containers in the correct way, which sometimes involves reusing plants which are overwintered (tropical plants), you are not wasting plants. Also, containers reduce the use of heavy fertilizers or herbicides, in my opinion, because I find less insect issues with plants in fresh soil and clean pots, and don’t fertilize often when it is done right.

Container Gardening is a wonderful alternative to in-ground gardening, and doesn’t require high impact conditions which may negatively affect the environment like other options may. Soil in raised beds are enhanced once a year with some fresh compost as needed, where as soil in the ground requires a alteration at times which is difficult to achieve when working against the natural landscape components (clay, sand, etc.). You don’t need a tractor when you do container gardening either. In container gardens, it is relatively simple. I’m not knocking gardening, but to me, containers are just faster, simpler and just as rewarding.

Container gardening, to me at least, includes by definition, any plant that is put into a vessel of any type. Hanging baskets, vintage pots, terrarium bowls, patio pots, grow bags, wood raised bed frames, hypertufa’s, moss, and more. You name it. Yes, you may have to water container gardens more often than gardens in the grounds, but again – this forces you out of the iPhone addiction rut, and into the scents, sounds (bees and hummingbirds). It forces you to look up, down, all around and slow down and breath, smell the air, feel the flower petals, and enjoy outdoors, rather than having your head in a down position staring at a phone. Believe me, I know – I’m addicted to that darn phone too – we have been “conned” somewhat into staring at them – I say, prepare some container gardens this summer to help you break that habit.

Years ago, when I wanted to pick a name for my blog site, all I could think of was “container gardening” – nothing else was coming to mind, so I spontaneously called it “Container Crazy CT.” And, if you know me personally, you know it fits. I have done so many crazy things with plants – some of those on the nutty side, and others which led to amazing pieces of garden art with beautiful plants, if you will. I kind of wished though that I had named it, Container Garden Crazy CT – but that is too long of a name anyways. However, it has worked over the years and I guess I will keep it.

Happy Container Gardening!

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

Thrillers and Spillers are needed in Succulent Dish Gardens too!

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Hello Followers!

This will be a quickie post because the sun is FINALLY out and we are expecting 85 degree temps here today in CT, so I have to head out soon, but here are some updates:

NEW SUCCS (Succulents) IN

I want to take a moment to let you know, if you are local, I have some new and “very limited” stock of succulents. Heads-up if you want to get some soon.

Also, if are in need of components and materials to create a Mother’s Day Gift (coming up on May 13th), reach out to me.

I have all the components for bubble bowl terrariums or other patio pot arrangements you may be thinking of making for your Mom or with your Mom.

Just text: 860-977-9473 or email containercathy@gmail. com or do the old fashioned phone call. We can arrange a pick up time by appointment for you, or swing by.

I am here most days (Broad Brook, CT) and on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday (between 7 am to 10:30 – 11 am).

Inspiration Station!

Secondly, OMG, I FOUND SUCCULENT HEAVEN IN FLORIDA LAST WEEK. A huge 4 floor store titled RH (Restoration Hardware) was across the street from our hotel in West Palm. Let me tell you, I saw the building and thought, “What is that place?  A hotel, a private residence? Or what?”

There were crystal chandeliers hanging outdoors above various patio like pergola sitting areas with amazing outdoor furniture out front to view before you even enter the grand doors of the main building. That alone caught my eye. I dared to enter, knowing I’m not high society rich, and looked around outside.

You never saw me whip out my iPhone so fast to take photos of the succulent dish gardens on every patio table. They were absolutely stunning, very healthy, and real – not faux.

Here’s just ONE example below. And it has the thriller, fillers, and spillers happening.

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My first thought is look at how there is a thriller (Kalanchoe paddle plant) among the other amazing succulent fillers. And look how the bowl shape is perfect. It allows you to see all the succulents clearly – and so much texture – right? We don’t always need flowers to achieve success with patio pot designs.

Get this, the ground surface under my feet, below all outdoors featured areas out front of this store, was covered in tiny pea gravel and it was raked into patterns, like a Zen garden. I didn’t know if I could I walk on it – but I figured yes, because it was a showcase store and encouraged. The staff was extremely welcoming upon entering the building after browsing the outdoor decor areas.

More Photos

For more of all the succulent dish gardens seen at RH, please visit my Instagram feed by searching Container Crazy CT on Instagram.

I can’t even get into how amazing the inside was – with 4 stunning floors – it was like entering a gallery or mansion.

Thriller Available – Today – from Cathy T

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A Unique and Cool Looking Thriller – Gasteria species – Thick Texture – Available now from me

These are the type of situations which inspire me, and that place was a great inspiration station. The way it was executed really spoke to me.

You can do this too

And folks – YOU CAN DO THIS TOO – CREATE AN AMAZING COMBINATION TO ADMIRE ON YOUR PATIO THIS YEAR. Just come see me for the tips, instructions, and plants with components. Prices are provided when you contact me.

Succulent Spiller

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String of Pearls – A Succulent Spiller

I have various succulents, fresh and new, right now available. Remember, you don’t want plants which have been subjected to frost outdoors and you don’t want tattered tired plants – so see me soon if you want to get some nice ones.

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Workshops

My next Facebook Live is scheduled on May 16th to give general updates, but if you need info on current workshops, be sure to visit my www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site.

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Great Filler or Thriller based on style of pot – Red Edged Jade Plant (Crassulas) – Available now by me – Reach out before supplies run out

Impromptu Mini Workshops

Recently, I posted a succulent filled birdcage photo I saw on Pinterest, which inspired a few of my regular attendees. We held, what I call an “impromptu mini workshop” and made some of them – see my Instagram for photos. They came out great.

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Burro tall (Sedum burrito) – A spiller succulent – A bluish green makes nice contrast color

If you have a mini group and want to hold an impromptu session, reach out to me. We can talk.

Also, remember, I have Canna lily and green Elephant Ears starting in 5″ pots available – they will take off if this sun and warmth continues. I will be posting more progress photos of those too.

Enjoy your sunny day in the meantime.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Instagram Link
Zone 6 gardener
Connecticut
www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
This world of mine is all about sharing inspiration, the beauty of plants, and sessions where we may enjoy all of it.

Today’s date: May 2nd, 2018 (Wednesday)

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Do you still want emails?

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Hello world!

How’s everyone doing today?

I was thinking this morning, I wonder if my friends, clients, and attendees still want emails?

My stats on distributed emails shows a lot of un-opens from the past few updates sent out to my distribution list.

Is email out of favor?

My website is always here for updates as well, on what is coming up for workshops and educational sessions on plants, so hopefully, if you prefer no emails, you still like coming to read the blog and website updates.

It seems views continue to occur on my sites per my stats, so I hope if you need information and want to know the latest, you are looking here, and on www.WORKSHOPSCT.com.

And, I find my Instagram account is being viewed.

I’m kind of obsessed with Instagram these days. I may be considered a spammer of plant photos at this point – not sure.

I just can’t help but take pics of my plants. It is an addiction of mine. They are like my kids. You never stop loving or enjoying them – and sharing news about them.

Well, if you are visiting my websites, then you will get my latest updates – I hope!

As you know, I completed my very first try at what I called a pop up shop at a bookstore this year – it was a “fast” seven months with many lessons learned and new friends gained.

I, obviously, keep having that dream of having my own plant shop – but alas, we all know the costs of that scenario – and well, I hope to have another opportunity to do another pop up somewhere – will keep you posted when it and if that happens.

For now, know that:

I continue to offer what I feel are “quality workshops” at a “great value.” Hopefully, as a regular (non-newbie) attendee, you know this! As a newbie, you will know. 😉

I sell plants always, and I coddle my plants – meaning I treat them like a newborns.

If you have a plant need, don’t hesitate to ask.

Right now, I have beautiful bird’s nest ferns, rubber plants, rabbit foot ferns, African mask alocasias, other houseplants, and, of course – amazing succulents in stock. Perfect candidates if you wish to dress up the indoors during the fall and winter.

In fact, my first session for the “Succulent Topped Pumpkin” centerpieces is this Saturday.

Get ready to learn, create, and enjoy. We will be covering a great deal of information. And the succulents are so ready for you!

The second session, at the Stafford Springs Cidery, is sold out. However, I think I may offer a mini session the week of 10/16. Or – if you have a group of 4 or 6 you think you can round up – contact me! We may be able arrange a session.

Other things coming up – my “overwintering demo” which is scheduled on 10/14, Saturday – and right now, we are having warm weather with beautiful sunshine. I hope this weather lasts, cause my plants and I are enjoying it.

But, if you want to learn about how I overwinter plants and propagate some, and deal with the houseplants we used this year, sign up soon. This session is good for those who wish to “see” how I do my process. However, you are always welcome to email any questions on overwintering too.

My schedule is so busy right now, cleaning up my workshop spaces.

You may find it hard to believe, but it can take me a full week just to set up.

AND, also, for the succulent pumpkins there is some pre-work done with the succulents to get them ready – so in all total, it takes me a month!

Yup. I think it is important to know this.

So, if you are an attendee, you know that Cathy T does a great deal behind the scenes – cause, well, I care. About you, and my workshops, and especially my plants (a.k.a., babies).

It won’t be long before I place my order for the holiday workshops in December. That is also another event which requires “pre-planning” and lots of it.

I wanted to you to know also, if you want a one-on-one private session to make any creation you see on my www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site – ask.

Or if you think you want to arrange a small group – ask too. But timing is key. Because of the planning, working with “live” plants, etc.

And in November, the enjoyable and fun Shop Small day, held for our small business customers to say thank you, will take place again.

I will keep you posted, but you probably want to note the date – which is November 25th, Saturday. I’m pretty sure I will be participating at a place with other vendors – stay tuned.

If you have any questions on overwintering, feel free to reach out too – as I know not everyone can make the demo.

Here are some I’ve already been asked about handling plants this time of year:

Can I use the same soil for my container gardens to re-pot my houseplants?

Yes, if you purchased quality soil mix from me – you can. Remember, if you decide to re-pot your houseplants from your combo planters we did in May, to pick a pot size that is “NOT” large. Remember what I told everyone about houseplants and the roots. You shouldn’t pot them up into a pot that is too large, etc.

Should I spray my plants before moving them into the house?

It is “very” important to inspect your plants.

IF your plants had bug issues, that were not bad, yes, spray them if you think critters exist. I have good spray in stock if interested that is organic and attacks the pests in their various stages (eggs, larvae, adults). I can tell you more if interested, but now is a good time to get the spray.

Also, if you had a problem with a plant where it seemed infested, it is not a good idea to bring them inside when you have other healthy houseplants.

As hard as it may be, a badly infected plant should be tossed if they can not be cured. Otherwise, those critters will find their way to you other plants. However, I am hoping if you got plants from me, you were able to keep them healthy and thriving.

Look under the pots too – sometimes critters hide there. Just a tip.

Can I still keep my plants outside right now? The weather is great.

We are having a spectacular week. Sunshine, blue skies, etc. Some of my Canna plants are still blooming – and yes, many plants may be kept outside. It is when those night time temps start to dip into the 40’s – keep your alert up.

Many tropicals (Canna, Elephant Ears, Red Banana Plants) may stay out till frost – IF you are going to dig up the tubers, rhizomes, etc to store those in dry peat in your basement, which I show how, but heads-up on that.

Because our weather has been so great though, it is also a great time to want to work outside to get your overwintering clean up done before it is cold.

It is a GREAT time to wash pots, inspect your plants, pull any weeds out of the containers if they got in there, and get prepared.

So, if you want to do your storing early, I don’t think it would harm anything.

I divided that big Alocasia, which I mentioned in the last post. I re-potted a few and will store the tubers of the others. That plant got so large, I got 13 plants out of it. It sure was easier to do on a sunny day on my driveway rather than a cold day where my hands froze.

Ideally, some division is better done in the “active growing season”, but I still do some now because I can move them into my greenhouse. Better late than never.

Oh, and yes, if you still enjoy getting the emails, let me know your thoughts. I don’t want to bombard people, but also don’t want them to miss out.

Thank you,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Plants

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

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

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Cost

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

Reviews Workshop May 2017

Easy Registration:

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

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

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Fresh Cukes, Fresh Sprouts, Fresh Tea

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Patio Snacker Cucumber

It is amazing the drinks and fresh meals you can come up with when you have just a few successful edible plants growing in container gardens!

I’ve been super impressed with the Patio Snacker cucumber plant growing in a large container garden on my deck this year. It has been growing so well and producing lots of nicely sized cucumbers with little to no problems experienced thus far.

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Patio Snacker Cucumber in #containergarden

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I sold many of these plants in May at my Container Garden Workshops and some at early Farmers Markets, and I hope my attendees are having similar success with their plants.

This cucumber plant is designed for containers, which is why I selected them from my grower’s list.

It stay short and vines, but not too aggressively. With a small wooden trellis or typical cone-shaped metal tomato cage, it stays in place.

With mine, I used a tomato cage, but later, as I witness the little tendrils trying to grab onto things, I strung up some twine from the trellis to my gutters. It won’t grow up that high, but it has moved along the twine.

It is a fast grower and started offering crunchy cukes early in the season – so, I was pleased as they started to grow from the flowers. I have been harvesting about 1 to 2 cukes daily from the plant, which I share with my husband. The skin is very dark green and a little firm but not tough.

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Patio Snacker Cucumber from a #containergarden

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As for watering, I water it well every morning, as I do with my tomato plant. When I say well, I hold that watering wand over the soil for a good while, letting the water seep into the soil and get down in there – it is hard to explain how long, but I’m sure I put a minimum of two gallons of water via the hose and probably even more than that for these two plants – they soak up the moisture every day – you can tell if not watered enough when the tips of the plants’ stems weep in the late afternoon.

Last nite, my husband almost gobbled a cuke down before I had the chance to tell him I wanted to combine it with my freshy grown sprouts and fresh tomatoes.

Unlike the cucumber and tomatoe plant, which are growing in big pot outdoors, the sprouts are grown inside the home – so I’m looking forward to growing sprouts year round, even in winter.

Tomato ‘Juliet’

Another container candidate which has impressed me greatly is Tomato ‘Juliet’ which I obtained from a Connecticut wholesale grower for my May workshops.

It has been growing beautifully on my deck in a large container (22″ in diameter, about 2 ft deep – same size as the cuke’s pot) since late May.

When people come over, they are stunned at the amount of green tomoatoes I have on the plant and its shear size. It is a monster now.

The clusters of plum or roma shaped tomatoes are ripening up now here and there – and again, shared with my husband.

It was funny when we spotted the first ripened one, which I offered it to him, but he actually cut it in half for us to share – very sweet of him.

The tomatoes are clustered on the plant and are about twice as large as typical grape tomato as for the size of each of them.

I’ve fertilized the plant about twice with fast acting liquid tomato plant food (soluble mixed in water) but other than growing it in a large pot (which I always recommend at my workshops), providing good healthy, well-draining soilless mix specifically for container gardens with ‘some compost’ added, slow release fertilizer at the time of planting, and “daily” good soaking of watering in summer, that is all I’ve done.

What I particularly like, besides the size of this indeterminate (always growing up) tomato plant, is the plum tomatoes are perfect. I mean perfect. There isn’t a blemish on them, they are firm and very tasty.

Tomato ‘Juliet’ was noted as an “All American Selections winner” on the plant tags, and I would say, it deserves this award. It has been easy to grow and is perfect for container gardening. Glad I selected it this year – and it will go on the “keeper’s list.”

Soil Sprouted Greens

Over the past couple months, or I should say in early spring, and now again in late summer, I’ve been testing out the process of growing soil sprouts.

This is different than how you grow micro-greens – My sprouts are not grown in jars, but in small trays, and take only 5-7 days from start to eating, as compared to micro-greens which I hear and read take about 20 days or so.

There are lots of benefits to growing sprouts this way, which I plan to thoroughly go over in my workshop on the process, but let’s just say I’m hooked.

The flavor varies by type of seed used, and some are bitter, hot and spicey, or mixed and sightly mild flavored – but I do know this – they are wonderful as a salad, in a salad mix with fresh lettuce, as a topping to sandwich meats, and in soups!

They are simple to grow and you can have them available – fresh every day. My goal is to set up the workshop so you have a “kit” to get started, learn every step and the key information about the sprouts and why they healthy and what not to do too so you are successful, etc.

This is the first time I’ve grown them, and sometimes I think – wow, I didn’t realize I would like them so much, and luckily, my husband loves the sprouts too! He asks me now, when are you doing another batch?!

Growing Soil Sprouts Workshop

The workshop on this will be held in November and is noted on my www.WORKSHOPSCT.com site. Please sign up if you are interested so we can gauge the amount of supplies we will need. Looking forward to having you join us!

Sun Brew Tea Jar

Lastly, I got into a cute project yesterday – brewing tea in a mason jar. I twined up a jar with flexible soft wire tie material used in gardening and filled the jar with cut up lemons, fresh mint from my container, a dash of honey, and voila! It stayed in the sun for two hours which was plenty of time to infuse the flavors for pouring over ice.

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Tea sun jar. Yumm. #mint #tea

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It was the perfect companion to our mixed sprouts salad with fresh tomatoes and cuke, and some cheese from last Saturday’s Farmers Market in Ellington. It all made me look a lot healthier than I am – LOL, we loved it.

Happy Thursday Everyone – Friday’s Coming!

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

This blog is all about sharing the passion of growing in container gardens and patio pots – and this includes edibles! 🙂

 

 

Bugs, Drought, and Out and About

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Hello Everybody!

Yes! The heat has “officially arrived” in Connecticut and I’m sure you have noticed how your plants react. They may be stressed from lack of watering – or under attack by insects.

For starters, you may have seen more critters eating foliage or even flowers this time of year. My method for dealing with this is watching and looking over my plants as I water them, a daily routine. Inspect first and identify the problem when you are out and about.

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Good morning caterpillar. #insects #bugs #caterpillar

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Just recently, I spotted an amazing caterpillar on an elderberry plant and it is eating the foliage daily, but you know what? I decided to let him be because it appears he will turn into a beautiful and large silk moth per my research. See my Facebook posts or Instagram feed for photos of him. However, if he tries to move to other containers, he may be a goner. I hope he will stay where he is on this plant. I have been taking photos daily.

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#caterpillar

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I also spotted but holes in my rhubarb plant – this bummed me out more because my rhubarb in my big pot is spectacular. I LOVE the large showy leaves, reaching at least 12″ in size, but an easy method to dealing with the damage, clip them all off cause new growth arises on this plant continually – and so, I did the BIG haircut on it yesterday. I have not been able to “see” the problem insects yet on this plant – so, not sure it is Japanese beetles- out this time of year, or if another culprit. If you can’t find the bug on damaged foliage, try looking at night. It could be a night visitor.

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Black Diamond elephant's ear. #containergarden #colocasia

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As far as Japanese beetles, they definitely have been on my Canna plants in one spot, ugh. I hate that – I see them and their damage, so I will probably do the same routine as the rhubarb, and not reach for the spray but be patient because they do not stay all summer. Just cut off the damaged leaves and hope for improvement. Try to stay patient.

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A woodpecker did this. Canna seed pods. #birds

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One day, I spotted woodpecker pecking at the round spiny pods of my Canna plant. He left some large holes in it – and he was either after something in the pods perhaps, or he was just confused. I have a big sunflower right next to it and they were visiting the flower head for the seeds.

Anyhow, my main thing is to try to determine which insect (or animal) it is before proceeding with steps to remove them or deal with them with sprays. This year has been critter month. We have many chipmunks this year – I’ve seen posts by friends on Facebook too of this problem. They even broke down a rock wall at my neighbor’s property, they are everywhere. I found one in our cloths dryer vent – one day, a scratching noise was happening as I was loading, and thought – what is that?! Well, yup – the poor chipmunk somehow made he was down the tube and got trapped. Yuck.

This time of year, especially with the heat on the rise, will encourage more insects. I also believe, the more plants you have, the more visitors you get! Shake the leaves to see if anything falls off, look at the underside of the leaves if you see holes or round specks of foliage damage, and look inside the plants, meaning push the stems or leaves aside and look into the plant’s areas if you have a full container garden with plants with problems. I did this the other day and found two snails. If you have a very badly infested plant in your container, cut it all the way back to the base – many will regrow from the base with new fresh growth. Toss the infected plant parts into the trash.

Another issue is yellowing on my red banana plants – ugh. I have been trying to really narrow this down – was it the new compost I used this season? (which I was told is organically certified), is it a lack of nutrition – when these plants show signs of weakness, you may want to start adding fast release soluble fertilizer weekly – but usually, when I have good soilless mix, a big pot (like this one above), some good compost – I don’t get this yellowing I’ve experienced here in this photo – which is a 5-6 year plant I put out every year. Perhaps it is STRESS of no rainfall – which we have not received much of – note the dry grass everywhere. Or it could be “too much watering” because the compost may have reduced the drainage ability in the soil, so I cut the yellowing leaf off, reduced my watering in this case to every other day, and so far, no more yellowing. But rest assured, I keep investigating these issues – and I’m testing out new products this year which I will share at my container gardening workshops in May of 2017 with my attendees.

See the bit of asparagus poking out of the foliage of this mixed container garden, the other day I found tiny black caterpillars on it – so I just cut those stems off. Haven’t seen them since. This container has repeat ‘plants’ in it. The blue flowering Ceratostigma (Hardy Plumbago) is a perennial and it has been in this pot for 3 years now. Talk about a nice filler. And the Colocasia is also one which I had overwintered and it is getting really full now.

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Little #beetle on Coleus 'The Line' #insectdamage

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I also noticed some plants in my landscape with a bit of yellow tones and stressed looking – and it can be a sign of struggle due to lack of rainfall. At least, this is my suspicion. Plants and gardening always keeps you challenged, learning and finding solutions. This year’s challenge has been managing insects and learning about new fertilizers.

FOAM PUMP FERTILIZER

For example, there is a new fertilizer on the market that is a foam pump. You just pump and put it on the soil next to the plant, and then water it in. I tried it out on succulents – and the color on my succulents improved within a week. However, I read “stress” can induce color changes in succulents but the timing was too near the application. I think the fertilizer improved the growth on these right away. Notice this photo, even the Jade plant got red edging on the trim of the leaves. The pumps are cool cause they are easy to apply and measure – reminds me of pumps of hair foam styling products! Read the directions always when using fertilizers or insect sprays, and remember to follow them appropriate. Less is more in some cases, overdoing applications can harm your plants.

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Again, I will be sharing all the products I’ve tested out this year at next year’s workshop. There are many new items out there – including new organic types. I also show and tell products at the farmers markets each week.

NEW WORKSHOPS ADDED

Speaking of workshops, I just updated my WORKSHOPSCT.com blogsite with a Soil Sprouts class, and I will be sharing this information tonight at the Windsor Locks Farmers’ Market at the town’s public library located on Main Street. The market is held every Tuesday from 4 to 7 pm on the lawn in the back area of the library. I’ve really enjoyed being there the past couple weeks, and will be there again next week too.

For tonight’s market, I will be selling some alpine plants, great for rock gardens, crevices, and may be used to cascade over walls, and in rock garden scenes of unique container gardens. Sedum ‘Coral Carpet’ is one of the plants I will have available – this is great in rock gardens, and they are very drought tolerant – great for this type of weather we are experiencing, and also a beauty in hanging succulent balls – which is a new creation this season. And a new workshop for next year too!

I mentioned drought in the title of this post – because it seems we are experiencing one – the water is low in our rivers, the plants are not getting much natural rainfall, and this can be rough on plants. I’ve been watering my plants in my container gardens daily, sometimes twice, but remember – don’t water log your soils, allow it to breath between watering, and do the finger test if you are unsure. Insert to your knuckle to see if the soil feels moist or dry and observe your plants habits and look for insects, of course.

Enjoy your day everyone!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Container Garden Design Winner

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It is the day after Container Crazy CT’s first container gardening workshop of the season and I’m excited to announced our Container Design Challenge Winner.

Congratulations to Stacey!

Container Garden Workshop_0001

There are several reasons why Stacey’s design was selected as the prize winner.

First, she used a different technique to structure her design than the typical T-S-F discussed in class, where she put her big Ensete (red banana plant) thriller to the back side rather in the center of the pot.

Second, she correctly divided a perennial which had a densely packed root system, as we also discussed during our presentation on things you should do with plants which are girdled or densely packed before planting them into your container gardens.

Additionally, she selected varied heights of her plants for balance, such as the perennial which will also bloom later in the season, and she incorporated different textures.

Stacey also added what I would say fits the “chiller” plant category also discussed in our workshop – The Oscularia deltoides. This new succulent definitely captures visual interest and has the additional advantage of serving as a ‘spiller’ when it will reach out over the pot’s edge as it grows.

Also, the chiller echoes the colors of the Coleus via it’s stems, AND echoes the colors of the base of her pot.

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Back side of Stacey’s Container Garden

And another bonus – Stacey’s pot was the “perfect size” – large enough based on my recommendations on sizes, and also beautiful.

She mentioned to me how she drilled her drainage holes in other pots at home and even gave me a tip on how to handle urns which can be tricky to add drainage holes to.

As I’ve said before – My attendees become experts and I start getting jealous of them – Great job Stacey!

Your prize is a terrarium – Contact me for pick-up! You may select one with a cow, rabbit, or cat decor. They are a $40 dollar value.

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Colorful Bunny in a Terrarium

A Close Second

Everyone does amazing jobs with their selections of plants for their container gardens – but we want to mention Ashley’s herb drawer. She was on a mission to create an herbal mix – and she added creative touches into her adorable herbal drawer. She brought along kitchen utensils and marked the herbs’ names on them and inserted them into the soil.

 By the way, my assistant, Amelie, whispered to me, “Ashley’s Mom is going to win.” – because her Mom, Wendy, incorporated butterfly decor in her pots, so Wendy, just want to let you know, Amelie was voting for you.

Speaking of assistants, I’d like to thank my husband, Steve. He worked in the yard before everyone arrived, then he assisted with carrying bags of soils, pots, and handled drilling. He went above and beyond – would you believe after everyone left – he had the energy to put away all the tables, chairs, and patio umbrellas which he also had put out early in the morning. Not sure where he got all that gusto but I can tell you this – he passed out on the couch the minute he put his feet up.

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Steve advises Joyce on the checkout procedure.

Upcoming Plant Care

Apparently, we may have a dip in temps – AGAIN! Wow, this spring is an odd one – so my advice is watch the weather forecast, and if it gets low, down to the low 4o’s or below – either move the pot to a sheltered place if possible, or very carefully cover the plants with a “light” bed type sheet – use poles to create a tee-pee if necessary. Remove the sheet as soon as the sun is up the next day. This is important for the tropicals in particular. Perennials are fine, and some annuals, but use caution. I hope after this last dip – we can relax and let our container gardens grow. Also, everyone was told to water in their containers as soon as they got home.

Thank you – Cathy Testa

Up Next: Garden Presentation on 3/26

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Hello Everyone,

As you know, spring is just around the corner – one week away on March 20th.

If you want to get prepared early – Join us for this FREE presentation on the 5 Must Do’s for Growth Success with Container Gardens (and Patio Pots).

Swing by the Book Club Bookstore & More at 100 Main Street in Broad Brook on Saturday morning, March 26th, 2016 at 10:30 am.

March 26 Flyer

This slide show style presentation will go over each of the keys to success, and dig into (no pun intended) as to why they are critical for growing healthy and lush plants in your container gardens and patio pots.

Additionally, we will go over some new items (or maybe not so new – but new to you) which will help you to make determinations on which soil media to use in your patio pots. Today the options are endless for organics and fertilizers – If you need help in figuring out what to use, this presentation will give you some tips.

If you haven’t heard me speak before, this is your opportunity – and its FREE. Come in for an hour of a nice talk and visit the bookstore’s offerings at the same time. We will have some gardening items for sale ready to dress up your Easter table, like fishbowl sized terrariums and ceramic bunny plant scenes.

We hope to see you -and if you can’t make it – please don’t forget to check out our workshops for 2016 at this special new workshop blog site called:

www.WORKSHOPSCT.com

Thank you,

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

ContainerCrazyCT is all about sharing the passion of enhancing your outdoor surroundings with container gardens and art inspired by nature. We offer workshops year round where you learn, have fun, and take home your creations. See our new workshop site above for more information, and don’t forget to save the dates. Cu soon.

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Store front of the bookstore in Broad Brook!
We like to support local small businesses in our community.

 

Coco Coir – A New Potting Media

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Some people may say coco coir (made from the husks of coconuts) is relatively new on the scene while others may state it has been here for a while – but one thing is for sure – it is an alternative for potting up your plants or starting seeds, and it is growing in popularity.

When I spotted some coir blocks being showcased at the CT Flower and Garden Show last weekend by FibreDust LLC, I was sure to step up and hear what the young gentleman was saying about it.

Coir Tour_0007

As he continued to talk about coir and how to use it to my friend, I noticed another person walked up and was observing. My senses told me, this person is the owner of this product, so I walked up immediately and shook his hand to introduce myself.

There was probably an air of excitement in my voice because I want to learn more about coir. It is being added to potting mixes (as an alternative to peat moss). You may also use coir in its straight form, sold in compressed blocks which are soaked in water to expand for use as a potting media. Once expanded, it looks almost exactly like peat (as shown above in the photo taken at the garden show).

During my garden presentations on container gardening, I highlight some of the new options for potting mixes on the scene, and there are many to choose from – it can feel overwhelming at times, but it is all good news because many new potting mixes are geared towards sustainability and incorporating organic materials, and coco coir is one of them.

As I discussed the benefits of coir with the distributor of the coir product, Sam Ahilan, President of FibreDust LLC, decided to invite me to see how they process their coir product at his facility in Cromwell, Connecticut. And of course, I responded immediately with a yes to his generous invite.

Facility Tour

This is what I saw yesterday at their facility located in Cromwell:

Coir Tour_0001

Shredded coir bundled up for distribution to customers were first on the tour list. There were many ready to go sitting on pallets awaiting the skid loader. These are processed via a large production machine, shown below, where coco blocks are shredded and water is added.

Coir Tour_0006

Here it is nice and fluffy for bundling up in the bales above. Sam was kind enough to have the machine turned on by his crew to show me how this is done in their production facility. I have to say, being a container gardening lover, it was difficult to not reach my hand in to feel the coir – it is very light, fluffy, airy, and soft – and it looks very similar to peat.

Coir Tour_0002

Sam is working with a local grower of tomatoes to grow tomatoes in his coir cubes. Here they are lining up their cubes and getting them set for irrigation and planting soon. Fortunately, for me, the sun was shining so it was a moment of “ah” in a greenhouse. Nutrients are added to the coir later in the process as the plants grow. The grower told me he has people taste the tomatoes along side of homegrown tomatoes in the garden, and many can not distinguish the difference. I wanted to tell him, I would have to do a taste test with my father’s home grown tomatoes, but I believed him. Why not? They are being grown in the warm sun of a greenhouse with correct temperatures and in a growing medium which has the similar qualities of peat.

In another larger warehouse space are miles of coconut fibre based products – from mats for landscaping or basket lining purposes to cubes for potted plants. Coir is used in many fashions, and not sold just in blocks or cubes. There are small round disks available to start seeds, which if you are into seed growing, I’m sure you have seen before.

Coir Tour_0004

I asked Sam to hold a sample of a coarse form of the coconut husks which may be used as to increase pore space per Sam. I took many more photos, but I plan to share those at my garden talks and workshops this summer, so I’m saving some for my attendees. This is just a sneak peek!

More About Coir

As I noted above, coir is becoming popular because it can be used as a substitute or alternative for all peat moss based soils, reducing the use of valuable wetlands where sphagnum peat moss is usually harvested and used as a base in many potting mixes. Peat moss is more porous than coco coir and has been used for centuries in the gardening industry for its stability and consistency for growing plants.

However, I wish to note that I don’t think using peat moss is totally all bad and why I feel this way is discussed during my garden presentations – I believe the key is finding a balance, trying out new products which are more sustainable, and testing how they work for your gardening needs to see the results for yourself.

Coir also has attributes such as a good water to air ratio, which is needed in container gardens and patio pots especially because oxygen is required in the root zone for plants to grow. Healthy roots are a result of a balance of water and air, another topic highlighted in my garden presentations.

And speaking of water, coir holds water well, which may be good for reducing watering routines in patio pots – but as I mentioned, I prefer to test it out because it drains and dries out slower too. I will see how coco coir works for me with my container gardens, and share my findings with you along the way. This is one of my goals this year in particular.

Per my readings about the coir products on the scene, the pH is usually neutral, but because the source of the product varies, it should be checked, at least for high production scenarios. Also, nutrients must be added to this product as your plants advance in growing. Unlike some potting mixes for container gardening which often have a pre-charged slow fertilizer added to the soilless mix for you.

One really cool thing about using coir, is they are taking a waste product from the production of other coconut based products, such as doormats and brushes, and reusing it in a new way. It is always a good thing and a bonus when we accomplish the goal of renewing a resource. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

And because coir is compressed to reduce shipping costs, and is easily restored to a fluffy consistency, it saves on shipping expenses, thus reducing more waste. Additionally, it stores well for a long time and all it takes is some water to expand it into a huge portion for use in your pots – if not as a straight growing mix, but maybe as a filler, again something I’m testing out this year. It is great for starting seeds too.

One thing I also like about the coco blocks used as a potting soil (called Sponge Ease) is how easily they are to carry, store, and use. They come in 7 x 7″ blocks (small enough to fit in a purse!), but expand to an amount substantial enough to fill a small to medium sized pot (10 quarts) by putting the block in a bag and filling it with 3 quarts of water. Plus they are packaged with biodegradable labeling, again reducing waste like the big plastic bags which are used for soilless mixes.

You will most likely see these coco coir products in garden supply magazines, some nurseries, even perhaps your grocery store – and of course, for sale at my workshops on container gardening and patio pots, where I will demo the whole process and how to use this potting soil. If you would like to purchase some, feel free to contact me (email is below).

Oh, and by the way, coco coir is used with hydroponics growing systems (growing plants in liquid – sometimes with some soil media and sometimes without) – which is another whole subject I’m exploring – Why? Because hydroponics is a hot topic today too, but it is a bit complicated or requires some solid knowledge of the how to’s.

Bottom line – It was a real treat to see the coco coir production process, various growing coco coir products, and meet the President of FibreDust LLC. I appreciate Sam giving me the tour yesterday, and will share more all with you this spring and summer. Stay tuned.

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