Autumn Brings Beauty and Overwintering Work for Gardeners

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

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#autumn at the beach yesterday!

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

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

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#succulentpumpkin #autumn #stinkbugs #succulents

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

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#castorbeanseeds #racinus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#scarecrows #autumn #farms #halloween

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

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#autumn #fallshrub #berriedshrub #callicarpa

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#callicarpa #berriedshrub #fallshrub #autumn

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Parents and Relatives

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

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

Mom/Dad, Aunt/Uncle 2013

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

Nephew waving 2013

Nephew waving 2013

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

Photos taken from above summer 2013

Photos taken from above summer 2013

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

Will It Get Bananas?

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

Red Banana Ensete_0014

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

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

Photo on Right, Towards end of Season

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

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

Root base just before packing last fall

Root base just before packing last fall

Opening Box Spring 2014

Opening Box Spring 2014

Coming Out of Storage

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

Leaves Rising 2014

Leaves Rising 2014

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

Temporary Pot

Temporary Pot

A Temporary Pot

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

New Pot

New Pot

Cleaning It Up

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

Slicing of bad sections

Slicing of bad sections

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

In the Landscape

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

Serena's Red Banana in her CT Garden

Serena’s Red Banana Plants in her CT Garden 2013

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day Weekend Everyone!

 

 

 

Storing My Big Red Banana Plant

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So It Can Return Again Next Spring

Storing Red Ban Plant_0010

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ is a return visitor at my home.  I have fallen in love with this tropical red banana plant for so many reasons, but what has impressed me more than anything else, is how large it grew this year in my monster cement planter.

Although I’ve included this type of red banana plant in my container gardens before, I’ve never seen one grow this big so fast.  It reached a height of 8 feet tall with large leaves growing to 7 feet long and 1.5 feet wide.  It was at proportions I didn’t expect, but was very happy to witness.

As each new leaf grew and unrolled from its center throughout the summer, and even into early fall, I was in awe of its massive presence – and ability to stand so tall. By the end of October, the plant had a large fleshy trunk of a 1 foot diameter.

Planted on the eastern side of my home, the morning sun would rise to greet it every day.  By noon, dappled shade cast down upon it from the forest trees nearby.  And by late afternoon, its large showy tropical leaves with red coloring were wonderfully backlit by the afternoon’s setting sun.  I am not sure which part pleased me most, but each stage was worth taking pause in my day to enjoy.

There were so many times I took photos of my big red banana plant in the planter that it became a bit obsessive.  Even though it was difficult to get a good shot because of the glares and shadows – and its sheer size, I still clicked away taking as many as possible throughout the season.

I showed my big red banana plant to my family, visitors and unexpected guests when they were here.  Heck, I even made them pose in-front of it for more photos.

Later in the season, I finally broke down and did what I pondered doing.  I hired a professional photographer to take a few good shots.  The sounds of the camera clicking furiously made me feel as though I gave the ultimate red carpet attention to my plant.

Alas, the plant got hit by our first frost of fall on the evening of October 25th.  The next morning, I knew my guest would be leaving for a long winter’s rest. It was time to take it down and store the root base so it could return to visit again next spring.

Storing Red Ban Plant_0012

STORAGE STEPS FOLLOWED

First, a quick and easy haircut.  All of its gorgeous long leaves, now darkened by the frost and wilted, were cut off with large pruning shears and tossed in a pile.

Storing Red Ban Plant_0002

Second, using a bow saw large enough for the wide stump, I placed the blade about 12” from the base and began to zig-zag across.  “Timber,” I said, as the top portion fell to the ground with a loud thump. (To see a video of the cut, visit my HOW TO VIDEOS page.)

Storing Red Ban Plant_0001

Next was the careful removal of the root base from the soil.  Using a shovel to go around the root mass and cut the roots in the soil, I carefully lifted the large base with a couple of firm tugs.

Hand-pruners were used to trim the long roots as a way to eliminate additional soft fleshy material that may have the potential to rot in the storage box.

Storing Red Ban Plant_0014

With a soft brush and my gloved hands, I cleared away the final soil residue on the root base, making sure it was fairly clean and ready for its next step.  I also re-trimmed the cut end to be level and clean.

Storing Red Ban Plant_0015

In a nice sunny spot, I turned the root base upside down and placed it on a milk crate to drain of excess water for one solid day.

Storing Red Ban Plant_0008

Then was the box selection – a new home.  Inserting a light weight plastic bag into it, filling it with bedding material of peat moss, I then carefully laid the heavy root base in the center on its side.

Finally, covering it almost completely with more peat and loosely closing the bag. I shut the box and labeled the outside with the date, plant type, and a smiley face.

Red Ban Boxed_0001

The last step was moving the box to a cool dark place in above freezing temperatures in my basement.  And then I said a little prayer. (You know, because it doesn’t hurt.)

THE STORAGE PRAYER

Oh Banana Plant – You were so sweet

So now I lay you down to sleep

Please come back or I will weep

Enjoy your restful place of keep

Until I reawaken you in twenty-six weeks

Storing Red Ban Plant_0003

STORAGE PRACTICAL TIPS

Be careful to not dent, cut or nick the root base.  These can create wound places, serving as an invitation for mold to set in.

Take measurements so you will have a record of how large the plant grew and can compare notes in the following years.

Use clean, disinfected tools during the process to avoid transmitting any diseases to the plant.

Try to do the breakdown job before significant rainfall if possible.  It makes it easier to move from the soil.

Don’t wash the root base with water to remove soil. It only makes it wetter.  You want the base to be slightly moist but not soggy because this can rot in the storage box.

Reuse the peat moss every year – it last a long time, and is an excellent material to store root bases.  It holds moisture lightly and helps maintain a balance of air too.

After removing the root base, turn it upside down to allow water to drain out before storing it, but don’t let it get too dry.

Use a cardboard box with vents or spaces to allow some air circulation to set in.  You don’t want a box to seal tightly and leave moisture inside where it will rot the root base.

Select a plastic bag that is very light weight, like those used in grocery stores.  Close the bag lightly.  Do not tie it off – allow some breathing room.

Red Banana on Left with elephant ear corms on Right

Red Banana on Left with elephant ear corms on Right

THE STORAGE LOCATION

You want to find a location where it remains cool, but not below freezing.  Some references indicate a temperature range of 35° to 45° F.  I put mine in the basement by the door where it is coolest, but I also place the box on a bench so it is not in contact with the cold cement floor where condensation can possibly cause the box to get wet and then stay too damp.  If it gets frozen, your root base is going to die.  If it gets too warm, it will start to grow again.  You want to make sure it is just right.  For me, that spot in the basement seems to be the sweet spot.

FINAL NOTE

The storage prayer is optional, but I believe this helps.  And when you open the box next spring, you will hear the angels singing when you see your banana plant made it just fine to be your return visitor in your container gardens every season.

Written by Cathy Testa

P.S. More will be shared about my big red banana plant (highlights, professional photo shoot, guest visitors, companion plants, and more).  This is to be continued…Stay Tuned.

My Monster Cement Planter

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

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

My Monster Cement Planter

My Monster Cement Planter

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

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

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

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

Astilbe perennial blooms

Astilbe perennial blooms

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

Tucked around were elephant ears

Tucked around were elephant ears

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

A biennial plant starts with pods

A biennial plant starts with pods

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

Planter filled lushly

Planter filled lushly

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

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

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

Red banana leaves arise rolled up

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

written by Cathy Testa

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears

The thriller is Ensete red banana with fillers of elephant ears