Showing Progress on Plant Growth in Pots

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It is a big thrill for me when a container gardening workshop attendee shoots over a photo of how their container garden is doing since assembly at Container Crazy CT’s May Workshops.

Sometimes, they will post a picture on Facebook for me, or I may happen to be visiting them at their home this summer, which was the case with friend and relative, Renee, on Saturday for her 4th of July event.

The very first thing I saw was her big pot on her driveway situated between the garage doors, and it looks amazing!


Texture, texture, texture

Just look at how all the textures and contrasts are working in this arrangement – I love this type of look. It is dramatic, lush, and showy.

I was especially happy to see it doing so well because on her way home from the workshop, she texted me to say she made it almost all the way home, but took a corner and her pot fell over in her car!

“Oh No,” I thought! “This can’t happen.”

Of course, mental note – make sure every attendee secures their big pot in the future before they head out the driveway. We don’t want that to ever happen again.

Although I offered some replacements, Renee decided to take the ‘wait and see’ approach – and well, it paid off!


Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon)

First of all, her Cardoon plant, well, just look at it! It is doing very well – and this plant isn’t always easy to grow. It is a plant hardy to Zones 7-11 and loves full sun, and because the foliage is serrated and has silver to gray green prickly stems, it adds that amazing texture.

I grew one of these in a urn by itself one year, and it was dramatic because it arched over the edges and stood tall at the same time. So it does well solo too.

This plant will sometimes move its leaves up in a praying motion at night. It can grow to six feet tall. Imaging it praying in the evenings.

I am very happy Renee did well with it – and she noted, the prickly stems have gotten her from time to time when watering. She did watch the plant and saw insects at one point, but she kept on it with organic pray and it was resolved.


Pennisetum ‘First Knight’ (Fountain Grass)

This fountain grass, hardy to Zones 8-11, is one of the darkest around, and largest. It grows up to 54″ tall, but what I really really love is how it contrasts with the Cardoon’s silvery ghost like color and texture.

Fine next to coarse, remember that rule, attendees?! Great example. Renee picked the right type of candidates to go together. This fountain grass is a full sun to part sun lover and deer resistant should you have deer in your yard, which I doubt would here but it is good to know. I’m glad I had these offered at the May Workshops on Container Gardening.


Perilla (Chinese Basil)

I always like to add new candidates to the plant list for the workshops, and this one was new to me. Selected because of its dark color – useful for designs and adding contrast – but also because it seemed interesting for flavor – and has aromatic foliage. It grows quickly, but one gardener warned me, it can pop-up in your garden beds if used in the garden – which I did not know. It is native to the Himalayas to Southeast Asia and a relative to Basil and Coleus. When you see how large the leaves grow – it doesn’t surprise me it is related to Coleus. But what this plant accomplished in Renee’s design is the repeating and echoing of a dark tones from the fountain grass. Well-done.

Pelargonium (Scented Geraniums)

Tucked in the right corner showing some of the green colors is a scented Geranium, called ‘Lemon Fizz’ – and it is amazing when you touch the leaves, it really gives off a lemon scent. It will bloom pretty pink flowers soon. Because our workshop included edibles and medicinal plants – this was a nice touch – because, in my opinion, anytime you smell a wonderful scent – it IS therapeutic.


Also, another attendee, Joyce, sent a photo (above) and said she loves her pot and all was going well, along with Kathy, who sent a photo of her face next to a red banana leaf with a photo of her pot as well. Love seeing when the plants are looking healthy with no issues.

Joyce kept saying at the workshop – “I don’t know what I’m doing.” – Well, I think she did cause just look at it. I remember insisting she add “slow release fertilizer” because she wanted to skip this step at first even though we had discussed the whys during my presentation, but I bet she is glad now she did that step. She also included the Pennisetum ‘First Knight’ – I like how it intermingles between the other plants in her big pot.


Both of them used the red banana plant (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’) for Zones 9-10 which is very showy. By the end of summer, it will be probably 3 times the size it is now! And these plants may be overwintered to reuse each season, shown in my fall workshop (see list below). Kathy, shown above, is very happy with her red banana plant, and she also purchased a couple Bajoo (green) banana plants and put them in her front bed – she said all are doing very well. Kathy is an experienced gardener and has that “green thumb” in my opinion – I am not surprised she is taking good care of her candidates at home.

Some Plant Issues

However, there were some people with some plant issues. Unfortunately, the Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) with star like deep purple flowers, got a particular bug problem on a few people’s plants, so I advised them to cut it down completely leaving just the base – and I witnessed one attendee’s a few weeks after this cutting back – it grew back beautifully, so that worked, however, I think I’ll skip that plant in the future. It tended to topple a bit as it got larger in addition to getting an insect problem on some. Plus, the flowers when spent, stick to the plant and requiring a bit of grooming.

Also, some people had concerns with their red banana plant. We did have cool nights there for a while which these tropical plants don’t enjoy cool that much, and I thought, this could be why they didn’t perform well in some cases, but I am not totally sure.

It also could be watering routines (over or under watering) – or even winds – which it is natural for a banana plant leaves to tear in wind. This happens in the tropics during rainstorms, etc. If the plant was neglected from not enough watering, it can get stressed and not recovery quickly. I usually don’t experience many problems with the red bananas however, so I was a little stumped as to why some did very well, and others struggled. Always something to learn about and investigate.

The leaves of the red banana plants should not be fully yellow or suffering too much now with our warm temps. I recommend, if you are still having an issue with this plant, give it a boost of liquid fertilizer. Call me with questions if you have concerns. We can go over what to do next, but I am hopefully they are doing better by now.

Other than these two plants of the many we had available at the workshops, I think everyone seems happy, so that is great news. I care on how your plants do – so let me know, or send a pic!

Additionally, it is not uncommon to see aphids or other troublesome insects this time of year – so scout your plants, look at the under sides of the leaves too if you see any holes or damage, or even tap the leaves, to see if any bugs fall out. This is a way to check them.

East Windsor Farmers Market, Sunday, July 1oth

Up next is the East Windsor Farmers Market at the Trolley Museum off Rt. 140. This market is growing – try to pop in. As usual, I plan to give a free talk on container gardening tips. I will have lots of elephant ears (Colocasias ‘Blue Hawaii’, ‘Diamond Head’, ‘Maui Magic’, and ‘Black Magic’ cultivars), succulents (Hens and Chicks), Delospermas, and still have beautiful herbs, such as Greek Oregano. The prices will be reduced as well. Additionally, I plan to bring my beautiful hanging baskets of Begonias (‘Gryphon’ and ‘Dragon Wing Pink’). Hope to see you there on Sunday.

Windsor Locks Farmers Market, Tuesday, July 12th

I attended this market for the first time – and wow, I met some wonderful local people – so I will be back on Tuesday of next week. This market is held on a weekday which is a nice option. Many people pop in after work to get some fresh veggies for dinner. It is held in the back area of the town’s library off Main Street. If you see a dancing carrot – That is the market master waving people over. You won’t see the tents from the road, so drive into the library, and look for us by the back parking lot. Last week, free yoga was offered – how nice! They have fresh veggies, nice candle products with oils, local honey, and more.

New Workshops Coming Up

We have 3 new workshops on the horizon. The Glass Garden Art Workshop with Laura Sinsigallo of timefliesbylauralie – We will be using wine bottles! Then after this – we are offering a Succulent Arrangement Workshop in October, followed by a new workshop on Growing Nutritious Soil Spouts in early November! Be sure to check them all out via our new blogsite called,, where you may register online if interested and will find all the details. We hope you will join us.

Workshop Flyer July 2016 Latest

Summer, Summer, Summer

Everyone is kicked into summer activities by now – including me – Don’t let it slip away without making sure to enjoy every moment possible. I know this – I enjoy summer more “BECAUSE OF” my plants and container gardens on my deck.

I love sitting among my potted plants and admiring all as I read a mag after taking a dip in the pool, or hanging with friends. Watering is even more critical now because of our heat wave this week, and because – well, it is summer.

Tomatoe plants drink a lot of water, so if you potted some up in May, be sure to check them in the afternoon after watering in the mornings. If dry, give them more! Also, remember, let soil dry a bit between watering. Don’t water-log your containers, but watch the plants. If they are limpy looking by day’s end – they may be crying for moisture.

My ‘Patio Snacker’ Cucumber plant, which all sold in May at my workshops and farmers market offerings, is doing fantastic in my big pot (22″ in diameter) on the deck. Of course, I kept one plant for myself – It grows a new cucumber every other day or so now – LOVE it. It is perfect for pots – and I think that will be a keeper on my plant ordering list.

Also, my tomato plant in a pot is going gangbusters. I planted the ‘Juliet’ which small plum shaped tomatoes in clusters on the branches. There are lots of tomatoes on it  right now in the green stages – I can’t wait to see them ripen. I sold several varieties of tomato plants in May, and I hope your’s is doing well also. If want to see photos of these, search Container Crazy CT on Facebook to find me or click the links on this blog to your right.

Enjoy your week everyone!

Cathy Testa

P.S. See my Pinterest boards on Plant Care – Important this time of year, there are many tips there.



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

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

Smaller Pots

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

Tropical Plants

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

Seeing is Believing

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


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

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

Perennials in Pots

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

Base of Canna Roots

Base of removed soil mass from a big pot


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

Red Head with Jade

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

Save Your Pots for Winter Decor

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

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

Evergreens in a big container garden for holiday displays

October Demo Information

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

Have Me Do It for You

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

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant

Instagram screen of my big red banana plant above photo.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo/Workshop

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

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

Location: 72 Harrington Road, Broad Brook, CT 06016

Cost: $8 per person (pay at session)

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

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

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

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

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

Private Appointments:

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

To sign up, complete the form below:

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


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

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!