Will We Be Short on Potting Mixes again This Year?

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Cathy Testa of Container (Garden) Crazy CT (Photo in my greenhouse by JMS Art & Photo)

Potting Mix is probably one of the most important aspects of success for growing healthy plants in patio pots. It must be a quality product. If the bag of soilless mix is damaged, not a good brand, or these days, possibly unavailable, you are in trouble.

Every single product or tool we use to grow plants (pots, trays, fertilizer, seeds, soilless mixes and specialty media, labels, etc.) has increased in prices and there are continued delays in the supply chain. This will affect all of us this year again potentially, however, it won’t stop us (because we love plants, or course! But I see it coming and if you haven’t noticed these issues, you will.)

I usually don’t make my own potting mixes for my container gardens, seedlings, or starter plants, but this year, I am highly considering it. In fact, I just read an article here, where they share a downloadable PDF file of how to make your own potting mixes. BTW, I trust sources from universities or extension services the most. By making your own mix, you are in complete control of each component. I’m guessing it may be cheaper but I am not sure until I compare apples to apples, so to speak. However, there is such an ease with opening a reliable trusted brand of professional potting mixes, if they are available and fresh.

Photo in Cathy T’s Greenhouse – Yes, that’s my hand in the mix!

Traditional pre-made potting mixes contain perlite and/or vermiculite, and peat. Good mixes are light-weight, have good water holding capacity, and mixes vary based on the specific growing needs (seeds, transplanting, bedding plants, plugs, potting up, etc.). Some mixes will have things like beneficial mycorrhizal (or biofungicides to prevent root diseases). Some will contain alternatives to peat, such as coir. Some have organic fertilizer added, and some don’t. Some mixes are pH adjusted and contain starter nutrients. This list goes on and on, and it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That is if you can find it and trust it.

Photo from Cathy T’s Greenhouse

After using various bagged potting and soilless container mixes for ten years, I am able to tell when a mix is healthy the minute I opened the bag. I’ve talked about what to look out for when you buy potting mix for your container gardens, patio pots, and planters here on my blog. I still need to update that article I wrote, called “The 5 Must-Do’s for Successful Container Gardening” which I wrote a long time ago and did a brief update to it in 2019. But it still needs lots of work. Potting mixes is a big topic. I just haven’t had the time to really dive into a more extensive version of that article.

Now here we are in 2022. And I’m frustrated with the potting mix scene. I’m not alone. Lots of plant related Facebook groups have questions on potting mixes. People are frustrated because they get issues in or from the mixes (i.e., fungus gnats), and they just want good results, and so do I. They fear using the wrong type or brand, and even I have from time to time. Why? Because lately some results from “some” mixes let me down, and now with supply-chain issues, I wonder how this will impact availability and quality of mixes in 2022.

Pouring Potting Mix into a Bubble Bowl Terrarium – Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Potting mixes are like a good foundation to building a house. And we all know what happened when one ingredient in concrete for home foundations became a huge issue, where houses had to be lifted and new foundation poured because house foundations were cracking and deteriorating. Well, I kind of feel this way about potting mixes. Potting mixes are the foundation to starting seeds, potting up your indoor houseplants, and building up soil mixes in your outdoor container gardens and patio pots, along with other components as needed. If one thing is wrong with them, it may lead to issues (e.g., poor drainage, insects harboring, or no moisture holding capacity). And there are many sources of potting mix brands out in the market, and it is growing, as defined in this link based on recent market analysis. The affects of COVID have impacted production and demand. It makes me wonder, what will roll out of those long awaited semi-loaded trucks, when they do arrive.

Castor Bean Seed Coming Up in Healthy Mix

For years, I had no issues acquiring the potting soilless mixes I needed, but the past couple years, eh, I’ve encountered some issues. And this year, because of all the things still impacting our supply chains overall, well, there are now potential issues with availability. This is my prediction, but we will see. I did receive a comment that orders were all back ordered a few months ago but the bottom line is lately we just can not predict what will happen next. So, my overall thought is, will potting mixes be in short-supply this year? And how will you or I manage that if so? What adjustments will need to be made? And also, remember, being flexible in the growing scene is key. I struggle with this because I want to be in control, but I’ve learned over the years, you must be flexible and strong! LOL. Because growing plants is a science and an art, and a bit of a guessing game sometimes too.

Cathy Testa
Container Gardening
containercathy at gmail.com
Zone 6b

For a Wall of Flowers, Use Mandevilla Tropical Plants in Container Gardens

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Mandevillas are amazing flowering tropical plants for full sun locations in the summer in container gardens and planters, and I always enjoyed looking at them, but for some reason, I didn’t plant them very much at my own home location, until a couple years ago, when a clients’ needs to cover a wall with flowers lead me to paying attention more to mandevillas.

Perfect for walls, trellises, arbors and more…

If you have an area to grow a beautiful flowering plant upwards, such as a wall, trellis, lamp post, arbor, stair railing, fence, mailbox, or in a pot with a support trellis, these plants are perfect candidates. In Connecticut, mandevillas will bloom profusely on upward growing vines with big dark greens leaves when provided enough sun and heat, and appropriate growing conditions. They work very well in containers, planters, patio pots, and don’t even require super huge pots to thrive.

Mandevilla at a Client’s Home

Above is an example of a wall located below an upper deck. The white blooming mandevilla vines were very lush and full, growing from a planter about 24″ diameter and just as deep. It was facing the sun most of the day, and it looked absolutely fabulous, reaching the top of their deck that year. These plants will twine fairly quickly onto supports with many funnel formed flowers opening over the course of the summer to fall season in Connecticut. They must be taken in before fall frosts or overwintered immediately after being touched by frost. See my “Overwintering” posts for more information on that aspect.

Cathy Testa with two Mandevillas at her home in Broad Brook

In the next photo, here I am in between two plants in blue pots at my home. The base plants (serving as fillers) are Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’ (annuals in CT). I put really tall trellises in each pot along this wrought iron fence, which is on the driveway where the plants got full sun all day and my watering hose was easily accessed. You will see they were growing taller than me and if the trellises were higher, they would keep growing up and up and up.

In a Pot Growing Up a Staircase Railing

And I wanted to grow one up my stair case railing to reach the overhead arch, it almost made it to the top. It helps to use garden twine to guide it along and give the vines something to reach and attach to as it twines up. The purple pot below used for it is probably about 2 feet deep, but you may grow these plants in even smaller pots. More on that later.

Side View on the Driveway
Cathy Testa standing in front of a Wall Planted with Mandevilla Plants

And here is a photo of me with the mask on, primarily because I wanted to show the timing of this photo, of a wall I just planted. It wouldn’t be long for the plants to produce more blooms. It does help if you start with taller plants if you are looking to gain the affect of covering up something like the wall in this city photo. They will grow as high as the support system they can attach to. If I had a higher wall here, it would keep growing up all summer. They don’t grow as fast as morning glories, as an example. The growing pace is moderate, so if you want to get one to really show off, get the taller specimens to start with. They may be a pricy but so worth the display and enjoyment you will get by using one or more in your outdoors spaces.

Reaching for the Heavens
Gorgeous Pink Blooms against dense foliage
Stunning Against Blue Skies!

Moderate climbers that keep on growing up…

Mandevilla vines will reach to the heavens, if you allow them to – they seem to never stop wanting to reach up into the skies. If you are able to acquire taller specimens to begin with, it is worth it in my book. They come in white, pinks, and reds for bloom colors. I haven’t grown the red ones yet, maybe this year will be the year.

Funnel Shaped Flowers
Masses of Pink Blooms

Inspecting the leaves

Some of the varieties have glossier leaves than others. The leaves on the white blooming one, in my photos, were about 4-6″ long. A good tip is to inspect the foliage when you are looking for one during out Connecticut container gardening growing season, and although you might experienced a stressed leaf or two based on when they arrived in Connecticut (cause most of them are shipped here from warmer states), they usually bounce back quickly when potted up and provided the right soil environment and sunny conditions in your planters. It is not to say they don’t suffer some minor issues, but a good tip, again, is to inspect your plants. See a healthy tall one – don’t hesitate to grab it.

Now that is a HEALTHY A** LEAF!

Sometimes I admire foliage of plants more than flowers, especially when they look almost perfect. Not always achievable because we are not plant Gods, but the leaves on this plant that year, wow, so shiny and healthy. To achieve good results, be sure to have well draining soil, use pots with drain holes (see my 5-Must Do’s for Container Gardening), and inspect the plant from time to time. Sometimes, during inspections, I may discover nice insect visitors, like bees, lady bugs, butterflies, and moths.

A very WELCOMED visitor – Lady Bugs are great for eating any bad bugs!
Bumble Bee Heading in for a Landing
Bee Deep in the Tunnel Funnel

Moth – Awakening from His Night Visit

Not damaged by serious pests, but bothered if conditions are not right…

So far, I have not encountered serious pest (bag bug) problems on mandevilla plants, but I do think they don’t like “inappropriate environmental stress” and things like too cold of temps, or too much wind, or neglect from not watering regularly. Those aspects will weaken them, and you should also avoid areas with high salt (maybe road side). Do not plant them in containers or your patio pots in Connecticut outdoors till well after all chances of spring frosts. So, you would plant them around the same time as you put out your warm season vegetables, like tomato plants.

Heat, sun, and well-draining soils…

The plants want heat and sun, well-draining soils, and appropriate watering. These are tropical vining plants and they don’t like the cold, so remember that on your timing in spring time. They want warmer temps at night so even if the an early spring day feels okay, the cold temps at night are not good for them in early spring before frosts. Also, for more blooms, get some bloom booster liquid or water soluble fertilizer and fertilize a couple times a month in the summer after the plants are established if you feel there are not enough blooms being produced on your plant. It is a good idea, like most tropical plants or plants indoors over the winter, to acclimate them to outdoor summer conditions.

Acclimating a Stock on My Driveway
The In and Out Year

One year, I had to pick up my mandevillas orders earlier than normal, so I literally moved them in and out of my greenhouse during the later part of April into mid-May before planting them at a location. I didn’t want to subject the plants to cold temperatures of the evenings, but I also wanted to give them natural sunlight during the days (on good early spring days). It was a “Mandevilla Workout!” As noted above, do not plant them until around Memorial Day in our area of Connecticut (Zone 6b). They are from areas of warmth, sunshine, and moisture – so remember these 3 environmental conditions for your mandevilla plants. If temperatures drop or if you put them out too early, your plant will experience stress, leaf drop, and potential diseases later, so be sure to protect them from the cold in early spring before frosts if you pick any up early in the container gardening season in Connecticut. An occasional drop in temps in the summer is fine however if we get some freak cold (like we did last year in 2021 on Memorial Day weekend!), they should bounce back from the heat of summer, which mine did that year.

Pretty with the Ornamental Grass nearby

Of course, you may plant them into the ground but I typically do not do that. In this photo above, the pink mandevilla is in a pot below my driveway climbing up and an ornamental grass is in the background, which I thought looked lovely together as a combination.

Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

As you can see, mandevillas make me happy. I love planting them and watching them grow all summer long. They turned into a plant I barely gave a second glance to, to one I can’t stop admiring now. I hope you will admire them too.

Pots don’t have to be really big…

And I noted you really don’t need big pots. Sources will say keeping them in smaller pots will force the plant into growing the top part of the plant more rather than focusing on growing roots for Mandevilla. In my experiences, I’ve done both, repotting into a 22″-24″ diameter planter or inserted the nursery pots into a larger planter, but be sure to allow draining in either scenario from the base of the pots. And the soil is best on a organic side. I have amended the soil with aged compost in pots with potting mix. I tend to space them right next to each other when creating walls in big planters. However, in gardens, it is recommended to space them apart by 8″. Probably the best maintenance tip is to water them regularly and not let them dry out too much. They have thick chunky root systems, so if the pots is smaller, you may see the nursery growing pot expand as the roots are trying to move around, pushing against the sides. In those cases, I’ve used a razor knife to cut the pot off the root base before planting them.

Cathy Testa
Container Garden Designer
Broad Brook, CT
Zone 6b
All photos are taken by Cathy Testa
See also:
www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com
P.S. I plan to get more mandevillas this year, if local, e-me!

A Cottage Country Garden in Containers

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A mix of elegant pastel colored blooms and pops of bright vivid flower colors offers the feel of a cottage style country garden in several container garden planters.

Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

When I look at this photo above of several planters I designed and assembled for a customer a couple years ago, I think it feels like a cottage country garden. There is a wonderful mix of pastel bloom colors and splashes of deep reds and bright cheerful yellows to capture attention. I could envision butterflies and bees visiting the blooms all summer long.

Yellow Zinnias, Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ Fountain Grass, Plectranthus, Portulaca, Canna Lily, and Vinca

The Plectranthus (plant with white edges on leaves) is a heat lover and cascades over the rim of the pot (spiller) creating a bit of softness. And the Pennisetum grass in the back adds that bit of wispy texture and a dark contrasting color. There is a Canna Lily off-center which would grow tall and have yellow blooms and the Zinnias with big chunky bright yellow flower heads gave structure to this pot, but there were 7 more pots to complement these plants.

Placed in the customer’s front Landscape Beds

The planters were placed in a south facing landscape bed which receives full sun most of the day starting probably around noon time. The idea was all of the pots would be placed in various locations in the front of the customer’s home, of which are visible from the street and also from inside the home from a large picture window. The goal was blooms and color.

Bright Yellow Zinnias popping against the darker tones of the Canna Lily plant and the Pennisetum grass.

I used yellow blooming Zinnia plants in some pots and pink blooming Zinnias in others. The Zinnias provided the big pops of color I was looking for and the plants grown locally were extremely healthy, plus many people adore Zinnias because they are a traditional charming blooming summer plants. When I picked them up, I knew the customer would love them. On the back side of the planter, tucked in were little red blooming Vinca plants to echo the tones of the darker tones of the foliage of the Canna Lily and the ornamental grass. Always looking to repeat colors and provide contrast is key (dark colors against lighter colors).

Pink Zinnias, Purple Million Bells Calibrachoa, and Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ – By Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

The hot pink blooming Zinnias were irresistible as well. There were lots of closed buds on the plants which is awesome, more flowers to come all summer long. Also, the Zinnia flowers were really big and full plus the foliage looked fantastic. I added some purple Calibrachoa, and I had to add one of my favorite foliage fillers, Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’. Alternanthera plants prefers full sun to part sun and are easy-care plants. I’ve used the cultivar, ‘Plum Dandy’ before, a few times, in various container gardens at my own home and other sites, and I feel it is a nice staple foliage filler with a darker tone. The tone, a deep rich purple-like color, worked well with the pinks in these planters.

Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ with Pink Zinnia Flowers

The purple foliage of Alternanthera is alluring to me. I love how rich and solid it looks. This plant doesn’t produce showy flowers, in fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any blooms form, so it is not used for that aspect, but incorporated into the plants to provide a nice deep contrasting filler color against the green foliage of the Zinnias.

Check it out Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ in my own tall planters I have on my deck used the same year as in these pots for my customer on this prior blog post: Overwintering Plants. You will see it in the pot extremely full and lush by the end of the season. Coincidentally, the Plectranthus is also in the same prior blog post (white edges to leaves). Both of these are superb full sun foliage fillers. They grow fast in the appropriate conditions and require little maintenance.

Red Zinnias with Canna Lily and Yellow Blooming Lantana

A yellow blooming Lantana was added to the planters with red Zinnias and Canna Lily plants. Lantanas are very reliable plants and are drought tolerant. They do well in hanging baskets especially if you are not good with watering. This one, shown above, is called Lantana camara ‘Luscious Bananarama’ – Wow, that’s a flashy tradename! It is able to tolerate dry soils and loves heat. It will attract butterflies as well, along with the other bloomers in these planters.

Loading them into the garden cart

You will notice in the photo above, with the two pots in a cart, the pot on the right has an Elephants Ears (Colocasia) plant as the thriller. For the fillers, there is a Gomphrena pulchella Truffula Pink plant (annual as well) with pink ball like flowers and the taller bloomer, Verbena ‘Media Shower’ annual with lavender flowers. Both of these plants are so pretty. They both have very thin stems and grow tall with the round flower balls at the tips, and while sturdy, they have very delicate and wispy looks to them. The Verbena grows taller than the Gomphrena so it adds a bit of change in heights to the planters – also an important design aspect.

When planted at my home, I noticed little white butterflies visited the blooms mid-summer often on the Gomphrena pulchella plant. To see it in my planter at home, see this post: Aqua Blue Planter. I used them there and just loved them.

I partnered the Gomphrena with a blue Salvias (almost purple) in the customer’s planters. The whole goal was to provide lots of flower colors for the customer that would bloom all summer and all of these annuals in the planters would do so, plus they were all very healthy plants to use at the start, which is very important. The Canna Lily and Elephants Ears plants were to be the big showy tropical thrillers in the centers or off-center. They would grow much larger over the course of the summer.

Loading them Up to Deliver – Container Gardens by Cathy Testa

I remember as I started to load up all the planters into my truck, with the help of my husband, thinking how the plants all together looked so lovely and reminded me, again, of a cottage style country garden. Sometimes we are able to create a desired garden look by using various containers with a mix of whatever goal you desire.

In the customer’s landscape front of home upon delivery – Container Gardens by Cathy Testa
Loading them up in a garden cart (so pretty with the pink blooming Mandevilla in the background!)
Pink blooming Begonias, Pink Hypoestes (pink and green leaves), and Colocasia (Elephants Ears) and Canna Lily.
Alternanthera ‘Plum Dandy’ up close
Canna Lily with burgundy darker foliage – to repeat the color of the Alternanthera

In the end, the pots were all bloomers adding a bit of charm similar to cottage country gardens. It was a pleasure to look back at these photos, especially during the winter. I hope you enjoy them too.

Container Gardening Tips with this Post:

  • Always purchase healthy plants to start (weaker plants are more susceptible to insects and diseases)
  • Use varying heights in your arrangements to guide the eye and try to not over crowd plants
  • Focus on contrasting colors (dark colors next to light colors) to make colors more visible to the eye
  • Use various structures and leaf sizes (wispy straps of ornamental grasses next to chunky leaves of Canna Lily)
  • Incorporate some spiller type plants to soften the edges of your pots (Plectranthus as an example) to draw the eye downwards
  • Get plants with lots of buds to open if possible

Enjoy and thank you for visiting. Please share your comments!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Container Garden Designer
containercathy at gmail.com
Location: Broad Brook, CT
Zone: 6b

See also:

www.WorkshopsCT.com
www.ContainerGardensCT.com

Trailing Red Small Daisy Flowers that can Take it Rough

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I am always in search of tough (as in tolerant) plants for container gardens and patio pots for full sun locations due to having a few clients with these environmental conditions at their outdoor settings. In fact, I often refer to the location as “full on sun” when I talk to my husband about it, and he jokes about that term to this day. It is a hot location with lots of heat in the midst of summer with limited water sources outdoors. Thus, I like plants to be drought tolerant if possible.

Last year, I happen to notice an annual plant at a local nursery with light green and white succulent like foliage, and thought this may be a candidate for my full sun project because the succulent foliage led me to believe it probably is similar to a succulent plants (able to retain water in its leaves and are drought tolerant) but I wasn’t sure.

However, despite not knowing the plant’s requirements as of yet, I also noticed it blooms small red flowers and I was in search a red and yellow combinations for a theme I was planning on this site that year. I looked at the label, of course, and thought it over and decided to give this annual plant a try.

‘Mezoo Trailing Red’ is the Tradename

A Spiller in Habit

In addition to having the succulent like foliage, the hot red colored blooms are what I was searching for, and having a bit of an unusual variegated foliage coloring, it also would work as a spiller plant (plants which trail or hang down in planters and pots). I grabbed a couple to add to my selections to plant in some large long planters. And, also, it has a lighter tone of a foliage color, making good contrast to darker plants.

‘Mezoo Trailing Red’

It is known as ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’ as the tradename, but upon some research, I discovered it’s botanical name is, Dorotheanthus bellidiformis. Try pronouncing that one! So, I will just refer to it as “trailing red” or “Mezoo” in this post. It is a tender perennial that is winter hardy to planting zones 9-10, but here in Connecticut, it is treated as a annual plant and is not hardy in our CT zones. I’m in Zone 6b.

Easy to Root

However, I discovered yet another benefit about this plant, it is easy to root from a tip cutting by placing it in a jar of water and letting roots form from the stem end tip. I did that after the summer with some cuttings and managed to start a couple smaller plant to keep in the house over the winter.

Great with Darker Contrasts nearby (dark greens), and also looks nice with soft blues!

Blue Green Coloring

There are different types of green and the foliage green on ‘trailing red’ is a bit of a blue green with hues of white to creamy white edges on the leaves. I thought how it seemed to click in color with a few blue Senecio plants I had to plant as well, which I used a little fillers to tuck in next to the Mezoo trailing red plant. However, by the end of the summer, Mezoo took over the area in the center of this tall and long planter. The Senecio got crowded out quickly. I didn’t mind, however, because Mezoo turned out to be just beautiful and full to the max.

Abundant Growth

The amount of growth that occurred in one summer in the planters really shocked me when I returned later in the season to take a look at the plants. The Mezoo was lush, full, and trailing over the edge down to the middle of a 5-6 foot tall square planter. There were no signs of insects and about the only issue I had with it was as some of the leaves dried up here and there (just a bit), the dried up papery residue of the leaves stuck to the outside of the planter under the plant’s hanging foliage and blooms. I washed that up later off the planter, when I took the Mezoo out of the planter, before fall arrived, by using some mild soapy dish type water. I was glad the planter’s outside covering was not damaged.

Drought Tolerant

This is the type of plant that tolerates some dry periods as well, which is a bonus. It is low maintenance and takes somewhat dry to medium moisture. Well-drained soil is preferred by it, and I had placed between two dark green globe shaped shrubs and thus, the plant was somewhat protected, but I don’t think it needed any extra protection. It grew massive and was impressive. It dripped over both sides of the planter, to about half-way down. I was impressed. Take note, it doesn’t like to stay completely dry and fortunately, we had good rainfall to get some moisture into the soil in the planter that year.

Overflowing Abundance

Like a Waterfall

Just look at this photo above. It is very apparent this plant was thriving. It was full, lush, bursting with foliage and flowing thru the two side shrubs like a waterfall. When I saw this abundance of growth, I said an, “Oooohh, so nice!” comment out loud to myself, which is typical of me. I surprise myself sometimes. LOL. I was pleased.

When I got back to my greenhouse, from digging it out at the site, I decided to take a few cuttings (as noted above) and showed it to my plant followers, and immediately a friend and plant enthusiast chimed in to say she has one as well and loves how well it performs in her hanging baskets at home. She also takes tip cuttings to root as a method to save some over the winter months here in Connecticut.

Sometimes its worth a shot to try out a plant you are unfamiliar with and often they will give you clues to their habit and tolerance. This one I would definitely recommend for sunny locations in containers and patio pots. It handled the heat, wind, sun, limited watering, and crowding between two other plants pretty well. It has a lower habit (doesn’t grow upwards), so if you don’t want to block the view behind it, which we didn’t want to block the skyline, it worked very well and I experienced no insect issues on it all summer long. I will say, we did have more moisture than usual that summer and maybe that helped, but overall, it can take it rough.

Mezoo used on a Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT

Blooms are Small but Long Lasting

It also blooms many daisy red small flowers from about June up to October. The flowers do not fall off so no worries about a mess on the ground area and also no worries about deadheading. I do wish the flowers were larger however.

Later in the autumn season, I ended up tucking some of those cuttings I took on top of my succulent topped pumpkin centerpieces. I guess the bonus list continued onward. It just hit me how they would look pretty on my pumpkins.

Dripping over the edge of a long square planter

Benefits Reviewed

  • Dry to medium moisture (somewhat drought tolerant; don’t allow soil to completely dry out)
  • Likes heat and can take the heat
  • A spiller that cascades over pots (but has a low mat forming habit)
  • Easy to take tip cuttings to root in water
  • Full sun lover
  • Low maintenance, no deadheading required
  • Can take average well-draining soils
  • Makes a decent winter houseplant
  • Pairs well with succulents
  • Not a high feeder
  • And well, lastly, I liked using the cuttings on my pumpkins as noted above!

Thank you for visiting!

Cathy Testa
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b
Container Garden Designer
Posted: 1/18/2022

Side View – Container Gardens by Cathy Testa of Container Crazy CT in Broad Brook, Connecticut

Succulent Topped Pumpkin Time

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Autumn Time

Hop on over to my site, called www.WorkshopsCT.com to learn about my custom made succulent topped pumpkins. They make wonderful autumn centerpieces, and now that there is a bit of fall in the air, these are my next fun endeavor. I love making them for orders. They are wonderful displayed inside your home for the fall and Halloween season, and last for months!

Winterizing Time

I’m also still taking down my tropical plants, probably working on them this weekend during the nice pleasant sunny cool fall weather. We have not had our October frost here yet, so there is still time but alas, my work must continue or I will be backlogged with plants! I have some Brugmansias which are blooming beautifully right now with huge yellow trumpet shaped flowers which smell wonderful in the evenings, as well as my Canna Lily plants, and I still have many elephant ears plants (Alocasia and Colocasia) outside in my larger container gardens. All will be taken down, pulled out of the soil, cut back and stored via the parts under the soil (corms, tubers, rhizomes, etc.) for storage during our winter months. I will show more photos soon but just enter search terms in the search box on this blog to locate directions and information and feel free to ask questions. I also have already collected my seeds from various seed pods by this time and stored them in cool dry places for use next spring to regrow some of my favorites. Pods should not get soggy and wet and be collected before that phase, or they will mold or rot on the plants outdoors at this time of year. I also put away most of my agaves, mangaves (one is shooting a flower stalk – it is 4 feet tall right now! So exciting!) And put my succulents in the greenhouse along with some of my larger house plants. The greenhouse is not being heated of course yet, and the natural air goes thru daily along with an auto fan as the temp rises on sunny days. Anyhow, the fun and plant work continues.

Winter Time

Boy, times are tough for small businesses. Every time I turn around prices are going up. This impact us greatly and we just can not afford to be “low priced” on our unique creations and please bear in mind, plants are perishables similar to vegetables from the grocery stores. Of course, you may make plants last for years, if not centuries, with the appropriate care, so it is a wonderful investment to have the beauty and company of plants surrounding us, but all the delivery costs, shipment fees and delays, materials and you name it, it has raised prices on materials for our industry, from the plants to the decorations we use for them. So thank you for supporting my small business – especially those who repeatedly visit me.

It brings me much joy, honestly, especially in the winter months to continue my work and custom orders. I guess my point is – I’m still planning to make my custom made holiday items as well as my succulent pumpkin centerpieces, but prices have gone up for me as a very small business owner. Custom is not cookie cutter, so if you enjoy unique, handmade, well cared for plant creations – I’m your girl! And also, the weather factors, this year our areas got hit hard with rain and floods – this impacted the availability of pumpkins locally. But this will not stop me from creating because it is my passion. Passions can not be stopped! 🙂

Thank you for visiting.

Cathy Testa
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Zone 6b
USA
Posted: 10/7/2021
Today’s weather: 54 degrees F, Foggy, H: 73, L:50
Weeknight temps for next week are in the mid 55’s range.
Friday and Sat – Party Sunny – yes! Glad we will have nice weekend weather.
Next week, looking good too in the mid-60’s to low 70’s, but maybe some rain showers

Making Crushed Red Hot Pepper Flakes

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

Serranos

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

Place on a cookie sheet

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

Dried in the oven

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

Drying in the Oven at a Low Temp

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

Mini Grinder

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

Do not use any that are mushy

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

Grinded

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

Ready for winter recipes

Use a Shaker Style Jar with holes in the lid

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

Growing Hot Peppers

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

Great Container Garden Plants

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

Starting from Seed Indoors

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

Care

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

Uses

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

Starter Plants

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

Thank you for visiting,

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

Canna Lily Overwintering Rhizomes 2021

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Yesterday, it began. My first disassembly of a canna lily in a pot to store the underground rhizomes for the winter.

This process may be done anytime between now (September) up to our October frost. Frost may occur anywhere from early to late October in my area of Connecticut (Zone 6).

Because I want to get a head start on my work of overwintering various tropical plants, I did this one yesterday.

It was in a black nursery pot which was inserted into a metal decorative pot. I usually, as a rule, don’t do this – I usually plant the plants into larger patio pots, but alas, I was just too busy and you can see how the rhizomes and root ball area grew so large, it started to burst open the black nursery pot!

I used large pruners to cut the foliage off first, then worked to remove the black pot out of the silver pot – it was tricky!

Since the pot cracked open, I used regular kitchen scissors to cut the pot so I could get the root ball out. Then the real work began, trying to take this big rootbound mass apart.

First, I cut it in half. The rhizomes are usually about 6-8″ from the top and I do my best to not cut any of the rhizomes, but if you do, do not panic. It usually won’t totally harm the rhizomes. However, you do want to avoid too many cuts because cuts are areas where rot or insects can set in later. I also cut off the bottom half of the soil by slicing it off but am very careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Sometimes you may see where the rhizomes are once you start removing the soil areas here and there around it.

After cut off the bottom half of the soil off, cutting below where I think the rhizomes are located, I keep trying to remove soil by hand, with a soft brush, with tools, being careful to not nick the rhizomes.

I usually use a hori-hori garden knife, but I decided to just grab a large kitchen knife to do the work, first slicing it in half. After that, I used my hands and a small butter knife to chip away at the soil mass. I was careful not to cut into the rhizomes. Then after, I took the hose and blasted it with water to remove as much soil as possible. You need a strong spray so this hose end worked perfectly, minus the mosquitos attacking me near the hose at that moment!

Because the roots were so tightly bound up, the hose was really helping to wash away the soil. I really wanted to separate this mass because over time, if they stay in a big clump like this, they just don’t grow as well or produce as many flowers.

After the soil is washed away, it allows for more ease to try to pull apart the rhizomes by grabbing the stalk and tugging. In some cases, they will pull away cleaning without breakage. (Note: The larger clump I am still going to try to break apart after it dries more in the sun.)

I will let these sit on a table for a day or a few hours, and then store them in plastic storage bins in my unheated basement with peat (see type below). I will show the bins later but they are standard plastic storage bins with covers. I drill small holes in the covers to allow air circulation (important). Also, I think shorter horizontal bins work better than deep bins. You don’t want to bury them deep, just enough to cover the rhizomes with peat to help them stay cozy, hold light moisture, and stay dry. All a balancing act.

This is what the canna lily looked like before. It is one of the tallest varieties I have and I want to save some of these rhizomes in good shape. Of course, can I remember the name of it right now? No! LOL. Am I getting old? It will come to me. It is actually not that healthy looking in this photo. It got stressed from being root bound. Next year, it will look much much better. You can store the whole root if you want and I’ve done that before, but it was time for this canna lily to receive more attention so it will grow better from individual rhizomes next season, plus I’ll get more plants that way!

So the one I took down is the far left one. See the one on the right in the blue pot. That one was repotted in spring into that larger pot from a nursery pot. It will probably be easier to pull apart when I work on that one next.

Basic Steps:

  1. Cut off the stalks of foliage. Use clean, sterilized tools.
  2. Take the root ball out of the pot. Cut off the soil mass “below the rhizomes.”
  3. Take off as much as soil as possible around the rhizomes and roots. Use tools like your hands, soft brush, butter knife (I did), to scrape away soil but be careful not to nick the rhizomes or cut them. A garden hose with a strong blast really works well.
  4. Break apart the rhizomes carefully by grabbing hold of the stalks and pulling. Sometimes they pull away easily. If they don’t, keep trying to remove soil, let it sit out and try again when drier.
  5. Let sit out to dry and cure. (A few hours or a day or two).
  6. Store them in bins with peat (or people have told me they use newspaper but I prefer sphagnum peat moss that is sold in big square bales. It is reusable year after year so I keep the peat in the bins after taking the rhizomes out in spring time.)
  7. Make sure the location you store them is a cool dark place with no chances of freezing. (35 to 40 degrees F is the recommendation). My unheated basement works well by the door inside.
  8. Next spring, plant the rhizomes in a standard nursery pot (1 gallon size) and use good professional potting mix to get them started again. Plant the rhizome about 6-8″ deep in the pot. March is a good time to get them started. I do this in my greenhouse but you can do it by a window in the home where it is warm, etc. Before my greenhouse, I placed them on the floor in the pots by a kitchen slider window.
  9. Grow them in part to full sun when it is after our spring frost time. Usually the same time you may safely plant your tomato seedlings outdoors. Remember, put in shade first for a few days to acclimate.
  10. The photo below is of a bale of the peat moss. It is not the stringy peat you see in hanging baskets – it is the brown peat that you may break apart in a wheelbarrow if you buy a big bale. I reuse it for years if there are no issues in the bins. It is long lasting.
Premier Soil Amendments #0092
Copy of Peat in a Bale from web – available at various stores (Agway, Lowes, etc.)

Before or After Frost Timing

From my years of doing this routine, you may do this either before or after October’s frost. If you wait till frost, the foliage will be blackened from the frost. The frost and colder temps probably helps to put them in a dormant state this way, but I always have done it before frost with no issues in September. If you wait till frost, it is just colder outside and sometimes wetter – and messier.

See my prior posts on this topic (search Overwintering or Canna lily in the search box). Some are linked below as well.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener and Designer
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
Today’s date: Sat, 9/11/2021
Today’s forecast: 75 degrees F mid day, sunny with some fluffy clouds – yes!
860-977-9473
“Containercathy@gmail.com”

Xanthosoma Surprise

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I had ordered more of the upright giant like elephant’s ear (taro) tubers to grow this spring but some of them gave me problems. There were some soft spots on them but I planted some anyhow and waited to see the outcome.

It took a long time for them to sprout and they grew slowly. Later, however, I noticed two tubers I planted in starter nursery style pots were forming clumps and the leaves looked different than what was to be expected for the tubers I ordered. It turned out two of the tubers were not the type of elephant’s ears I had ordered. They turned out to be a surprise. The company sent me the wrong tubers.

Xanthosoma (zan-tho-SO-muh)

Thus, it looks like I have a new name to memorize! Maybe I will call it Xant for short when I point it out to friends. Upon researching the plant and looking it over, I am pretty sure it is an Xanthosoma. The leaves are shaped with an indentation in the middle (like a shield). It is definitely not the Alocasia (an upright type) I was expecting yet it turned out to be a nice surprise to add to my collection of elephant’s ear plants.

I looked over the veins on the leaves as they were forming and a vein runs along the outside edge of the foliage, a distinct difference compared to my large giant upright elephant’s ears which do not have this particular vein pattern. I’m happy that a mistake was made by the company where I purchased the tubers from because now I have two of these gorgeous plants started. They also form a nice mass or clump of stalks with many leaves.

Xanthosoma in the center on the steps

The location where I put two potted plants of these received part sun all summer since putting them outdoors after our spring frost. I love the way it added to the tropical vibe between the tall canna lily plants. I usually pot ALL my plants into large patio pots with fresh soil but I just inserted the Xanthosoma in a decorative pot (blue one) rather than repot it, and I made the mistake of using an outer decorative blue pot with no drain holes, so every time we had a downpour of rain (often this year in 2021), I would have to take the inner nursery pot used to start the tubers out and pour the rain water out of the outer pot which didn’t drain.

Close up of Leaves – Believe it is an Xanthosoma elephant’s ear plant
Rain drops on the leaves

This is considered a tuberous perennial hardy in zones 9-11. It grows about 2-3 feet tall and I will store it the way I do most of my other elephant’s ear plants, by either digging out the tubers and storing in my basement in boxes, or taking the whole plant into my greenhouse for the winter. I probably will put one plant in the greenhouse to see how it tolerates lower temps and store the other via the tuber method.

During the summer, I started to fertilize it weekly and the soil was kept on the moist side all summer because of our routine rainfalls this season, which is what this plant prefers (moist soils). Hopefully, I will be successful at re-growing this variety next season. Eventually the foliage color improved and got darker, etc.

Zingiberaceae (zin-ji-bah-RAY-see-aye)

Oh gosh, another long name to memorize! This also is a new plant I tried this season, but not a mistake, a purchase from a local nursery. I saw it and immediately had to have it. It is a ginger plant (variegated with the yellow and green leaves) and I knew it would fit in with my tropical plant vibe.

I know I have the plant tag somewhere in my office. I will have to locate it. I’ve read that gingers are cold-hard in zone 7b, but we are in zone 6, so I have to figure out how to over winter it. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Variegated Ginger Plant

Of all the new plants on my deck, this one is my favorite and a must keep. I don’t have room for it in the house and I am not sure yet if it will tolerate my low-temp greenhouse for the winter. I am considering dividing and and storing half by digging up the rhizomes and perhaps keeping half of the plant in tact, repot and put it in the greenhouse.

When I first got this plant, I planted it in a big blue planter but it wasn’t happy. The leaves would roll up and seemed to be coiling up from the sun’s heat. So I moved it and it still wasn’t happy mid deck where sun would hit it mid-day. Then I moved it further to the end where there is plenty of shade, and it thrived. It appears to do best in part shade. It also did not like drying out so I kept the soil moist. I always put time released or slow release fertilizer into my potted plants, but I also started to give it a balanced liquid fertilizer every couple weeks or so when I was pouring fertilizer on my other deck blooming plants. It definitely enjoyed that and took off. It is healthy and huge and I just love it. It did not flower however this season.

A Ginger Plant – Early Morning Photo
It’s Happy Place, where there was shade most of day except very early am’s.

Learning how to overwinter plants is often a trial and error process. Over the years, I have been very successful with overwintering various tropical plants. These two above will be new ones for me.

Another Agave

I also decided to repot an agave (another one) yesterday. It was in a green tall glazed pot and the pot was so extremely heavy, I knew the soil was staying way too wet. I wondered why, it had a drain hole and so I took the whole plant out and saw the soil was a very dark rich black color, so I think I may have put it compost. Again, rushing is not a good thing. I probably was rushing, grabbed some compost and planted it in that despite knowing agaves need well draining soil. That soil just retained way too much moisture, so I repotted it into a lower pot yesterday, adding perlite to professional potting mix, and put it in the greenhouse. This is a photo I took of it. You can tell the lower leaves are off color – a bit yellow – showing signs of just too much moisture. It should recover now.

Another Agave Repotted

I usually don’t get bothered by mosquitoes on my deck or in the yard, but this year, they are on killer attack. It has been difficult to work outside without getting dive bombed by them. They have bit me on the ear lobes, on my face and fingers, and legs. Why do I mention that, I’m not sure, but it makes me wonder how on earth landscapers do it all in this wet weather. For me, my motivations is the love of plants and how it makes me feel every time I look at them. Looking at my two new plants offered me curiosity and relaxation and I certainly want to do my best to keep them so I may regrow them next season.

What is next?

I will probably ask my husband to help me this weekend to move some of my bigger pots into the greenhouse so I don’t hurt myself! And we use the hand-truck and it is not too difficult. As mentioned prior, I’m doing some work early. I’ve already disassembled my tomato planters and I threw out some herbs too. I had to literally talk myself into taking out the herbs because some still looked okay but I had to repeat to myself, take them out – you will be too busy later. I also took down a long shelf style planter with several Mangaves and Agaves and moved them into the greenhouse and put the long two tiered planter in my home. My home doesn’t get enough sunlight for all of the plants, so the planter will be used for something else, we will see!

Next to do will be to disassemble some of my canna lily plants. I really need to take apart the rhizomes and un-crowd the pots. When you leave them in a clump year after year (if you store them that way), eventually they get too pot bound and won’t produce flowers. I also collect seeds this time of year from my Canna lily plants.

I’m also collecting Datura seeds for a new one I planted this season, it has purple upright flowers. Since collecting the seeds for this plant is new to me, we will see if I’m successful. The key is to wait till the seeds are fully ripened, and also to do some research. Each type of plant is different. I read you can put paper bags over the Datura seed pods and let them crack open and the seeds will fall into the bag. I didn’t use this method (yet), but it is a good idea – IF IT DOESN’T RAIN, which it did again last night. This means more mosquitoes! Ack.

One thing I just love about tropical plants is how fast they grow. They really make a show in one season. Years ago when my friends would visit, they would rush to my deck to look at all my plants and see what I had out. However, now I notice they just know I will have lots of plants and don’t seem as “surprised” as they used to, plus many have learned some tricks from me and have tropical plants of their own now. I guess they just expect Cathy T’s deck is always over loaded with plants – and I actually cut back this year. Giggle!

Well, I’m kind of rambling. Sorry about that. Hope this post is helpful or enjoyable – which ever is best for you!

Cathy Testa
Container Gardener
Connecticut
860-977-9473
Lots of photos on my Instagram under Container Crazy CT
Date of this post: 9/10/2021
Today’s Weather: Mostly Sunny 68-70 degrees F
This weekend – sunny all weekend –YIPEE!!!

Overwintering Agaves Early

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This will be a quick post. I am trying to document how I overwinter various plants from the outdoors to the indoors in my area of Connecticut as I work on them. This week we are having gorgeous weather, thus I am getting a head start on my plants at home because I will be busy the rest of the month working on clients’ plants.

Agave (ah-GAH-vay)

These plants are considered succulent perennials hardy in zones 9-11, some maybe hardy in zones 7-6, but in my case, I treat them as non-hardy plants and move them into a lower temperature greenhouse for the winter. The greenhouse is not heated right now because it is still warm enough outside, but by mid-October, we could get frosts and my agaves should not be subjected to any frosts.

During the summer, my agave plants are in full sun locations on my outdoor deck in individual pots. Some are super heavy and require a hand-truck to move them to my greenhouse, while others I can manage to lift and carry in my arms in the pot, although it requires a bit of muscle power to do so.

I usually allow the soil to dry in the pot as much as possible but we had so much rain and moisture this year, some of them are still holding damp to moist soils. However, it is best to move them indoors when the soil is dry if possible.

Over the winter, I suggest you do not water them at all and allow them to stay on the dry side. If the soil stays wet and you move them indoors, they may get root rot (especially if you are moving them into a house with air conditioning still on and in a non sunny situation).

Inspect the Plant

Steps

  1. Let the soil dry out as much as possible before you decide to move in your agave plant. As noted above, wet soggy soils only invites problems (i.e., root rot, insects that like moisture, and fungus sometimes)
  2. Inspect the plant for insects. Use the methods below to blow away any insects, debris, etc.
  3. Lift to inspect roots if possible (optional)
  4. Wash the outside of the pot with mild soapy dish water if possible

Inspect

Usually my agaves do not have any insect issues on the succulent foliage. You may find a spider in there (a good one), a cricket hiding between the foliage, maybe even a tree frog sitting on the plant! They seem to like one of my bigger agaves. I find one or two tree frogs every year hanging on them earlier in the season. Before moving them inside, check them over for any potential insects or debris (like fallen tree leaves or twigs, etc.). Ways you can handle the inspection are by:

Using a leaf blower to blow anything off of it.
Using a hose with a harsh spray to blast the leaves with water to dislodge any debris.
Use a little brush to brush away items caught between the leaves.

Lift from pot to look at roots – optional and if possible

This agave is in a plastic pot inserted within a glazed pottery pot. I decided to lift the plant out and inspect under. Yes, the soil is still moist, but otherwise, the roots look fine. When I lifted it up, a tiny cricket insect jumped out – so it is helpful to check and get all those little hiding bugs a chance to get out before they move into your home or greenhouse.

You can see here the plant is pushing out a side shoot (pup) which will eventually form another baby agave. Overall, the roots look fine, but the soil is staying so wet, I decided not to reinsert the plastic pot into the glazed pottery pot when I moved it into the greenhouse. This will allow the air to help dry out the situation. Also, right now, the greenhouse is nice and sunny and warm. It will help to dry out the soil.

Overall this agave showed no major concerns. It is now safe in my sunny greenhouse to await the cooler days of fall and then eventually winter where it will be protected until next year. I have written about overwintering agave plants before. To locate the posts, type the word ‘Agave’ in the search box on this site.

Thank you for visiting. Let me know if you have any questions.

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

Protect Pots from Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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