I Wish I Was as Strong as An Ant

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/by Sweet Crisis

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/by Sweet Crisis

When I take down my container gardens for the season.

Lifting objects fifty times my weight would be handy right around now when I start taking apart my large container gardens and patio pots on my deck for the close of the season.

Years ago, I had no problem whatsoever doing this process, but as one ages – well, you know, if you don’t keep up with those muscle building routines, it can become difficult.  In fact, when I gave talks on container gardens and why “bigger pots are better,” some ladies in the classroom would ask, “How the heck did you manage moving all those big pots?!”

Sometimes I get so excited about container gardening, I instantly find super power energy enabling me to lift heavy bags of container garden soil or other items needed like the big pots. However, during this year’s take down process for my container gardens, I felt a little weak at times.

In fact, I started to tell myself, stop feeling frustrated about taking down your plants in your container gardens!  It is part of the process and get into the spirit.  So I did some of my work of breaking down the 20+ or so large container gardens on my deck yesterday, and as I was doing so, I thought I’d share some of the things I found frustrating or helpful during the process.

Soil from Containers

Soil from Containers


Last year I was lucky. I had a new huge cement planter near my deck and I tossed the left over soil into that, but this year, I had to use my wheel barrel.  At first, however, it fell over from the weight of the soil falling from the deck level above into the barrel as I tossed it over the railing.  So I attempted to move my pick up truck to the deck, well, that didn’t work.  It was too difficult to maneuver the truck to the corner of my deck.

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So, it was back to using the wheel barrel.  After getting a big lump of a root ball or two into the barrel, it stabilized and I was able to continue dumping the soil into the wheel barrel receptacle from above.  I will use this soil in the ground somewhere to recycle it as it doesn’t do well being reused in my container pots next year – It is best to have fresh container gardening soil each season, in my opinion, but to use it as a top dress to a garden bed or for a new garden bed is a good idea.


In my container garden demonstrations, I show folks how to line their containers and patio pots with plastic liners (which must have slits and holes cut into them for drainage).  The reason I started doing this many years ago was more to keep the containers in good shape, but it also turns out to be a very effective method for slipping the whole root ball out of the containers at the end of the season.  The roots circle a bit around the edges within the liner, and it forms a nice ball or chunk when you are ready to take the plants and soil out.  It is a great tip for plants like Canna plants because they get large rhizomes and roots in the soil, making removal difficult. So I was happy my liners were working perfectly as I was removing the soil from my pots.

Foliage being Tossed into a Bin.

Foliage being Tossed into a Bin.


Before slipping the soil out of the pots with the liners, I cut off all the foliage and stems to about 4″ from the base for plants I’m tossing in the compost pile. The little stub of a stem helps to lift the root ball out of the pots, at least in sections or chunks. The key here – use good sharp pruners or a serrated knife for large stems, and make sure to clean or disinfect them so you don’t spread any yuck (diseases) around, even during the take down process, clean tools are important.  I tossed my cuttings into a large bin on my deck, another item which came in handy as I was working.  It is easier to take all the foliage off before trying to move pots to a location or to the spot where I was tossing out the soil into my wheel barrel. Seeing the cut off stems of my elephant ears made me sad, and also made me think that I should have setup a station to make leaf imprints in a concrete mix as a side project at this time, especially because I have plenty of leaves to use, but that’s another crafty project requiring time.


Sometimes I feel a little lazy, but I force myself to wash the pots with a little soapy water, and a soft brush to clear away any soil residue left in or on the pots.  Then air-dry the pots completely before moving the containers into a garage or shed.  It is important to not skip this step. Cleanliness is so important for your plants when you begin again next spring to replant your containers.  It greatly reduces, if not eliminates, potential plant diseases or problems and you will be happy you cleaned them the year prior.

My Big Kalanchoe, Going to a Foster Home.

My Big Kalanchoe, Going to a Foster Home.


For container plants which I can not fit into my home (yup, read my blog earlier about greenhouse procrastination), I stand there contemplating where I can fit this – or should I give the plant to a friend or family member with a bigger house? The one I’m struggling with right now is my Kalanchoe (paddle plant).  It is HUGE. I know I can easily propagate some with cuttings, but I keep looking at it saying, should I cram it in my bedroom again to keep it alive all winter? Or give it to my sis in law with a big open bright living room with lots of windows?  Oh gosh, the challenges!!  I don’t know.

Hypertufa at End of Season.

Hypertufa at End of Season.

I also have a beautiful hypertufa stuffed with Sempervivums (hens-n-chicks).  They are pretty tough, can go really dry all winter with little watering, but I don’t have room in my kitchen garden window because I put my head planters there.  Gosh, where will this one go?

These are the challenges I face, never mind the fact I just don’t want to stop admiring my container garden plants outdoors, but winter is coming.


Another downfall, or plus depending on your point of view, is that I started feeling like I wanted to have a glass of wine and enjoy my deck.  It is one of my favorite spots at my home. If you were to ask me – What is your favorite spot? Well, it is our deck.  I always feel like it is a vacation spot or oasis with all my big tropical plants every summer.  I get to decorate it with all my garden decor, and it faces a private backyard, so it is really a retreat.  So because I was out there on a nice, sunny fall day, and being around my beautiful plants, I felt like, gee, I should relax and have a glass of wine.  So I did after I disassembled about five or so of the smaller of my big containers.  Today, I will tackle the bigger ones.  This will require a hand-truck, some patience, and strength.

Wish me luck!

Cathy Testa

How should I transport my plant from the garden center to my home?


My sister called me yesterday afternoon to ask about a new magnolia she purchased at a nursery.  She was planning to pick it up today, and wanted to know how to handle the transportation in her mini-van.  This was an excellent question to ask.  The last thing you want to do is damage your new plant purchase, so here are a few tips and reminders on what to do when you move your plant from the garden center to your home.

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example

Balled and Burlapped B&B) tree example


It may sound funny, but you may want to grab a couple old pillows and a thick blanket, or a tarp along with some bungee cords or rope, before you head to the garden center. The main thing you want to do for trees is protect its bark and foliage during travel. Bark is like your skin, overlaying the veins in your body.  On trees, bark protects the cambium layer responsible for transporting water and nutrients in the tree, much like how veins move blood in our bodies.

If the bark gets rubbed, broken, bruised, or nicked, it can prohibit the passage of nutrients and create a perfect place for insects and diseases to settle into your tree. When you place or lay your tree in a van, car (which I’ve seen done for small trees), or inside the back of your pickup truck, be careful to not nick the bark.  Don’t allow the tree to roll around in the vehicle, hitting something like tools, or your seats.  Damage on the bark, or the trunk for that matter, is a leading cause of death in trees.  Sometimes wounds will heal but it can make the tree’s appearance not as lovely as you had imagined.


As for the foliage on the top of the tree, it should not be exposed to wind as you drive home.  If you put the tree in the back of your pickup truck, be sure to protect the foliage somehow.  A light bed sheet works well, wrapped like a hair net – or the nursery may have some type of light material to offer you to protect the foliage.  Wind will shred the leaves and dry them out.  Even if you drive carefully and slowly like Grandma.  This is also true with evergreen shrubs susceptible to drying winds.  It is best to cover the foliage on its journey to your home in a vehicle if exposed.

Container Grown Tree Example

Container Grown Tree Example


If you are bringing home perennials or annuals in pots, grab a cardboard box or plastic milk crate to insert the pots into your vehicle as you travel so they won’t topple over in your car.  Most nurseries offer a plastic liner to protect your car seats from the wet base of pots, but you may want to bring along a sheet as well if you have one on hand.  They can be handy.  Inside the vehicle, perennials and annuals are protected from strong winds, unless you drive a convertible, so they will be okay.  And in the back of a pickup truck, sometimes this is okay because they are lower than the top of the pickup truck’s bed.  But if you stop somewhere on your travels, and plants are inside your vehicle, don’t let them sit in the heat for too long.


Mostly likely, if you are out and about shopping for plants, you will also be stopping somewhere for another errand or to have  lunch.  If you have your tree, perennials, or annuals “in the car” – and plan to stop for a while, open up your windows slightly to allow some ventilation in the car.  Although many plants like the warmth, scolding hot temperatures will stress out the plants, and dry out the soil in the pot.  Overheating your plants is like overheating a dog in the car, it can lead to suffering and even death! Remember this for plants you may have put in the trunk of your car too.  If stopping for more than 15 minutes on a hot day, I wouldn’t leave them baking in the car’s trunk like an oven.  They will get weak and withered, and potentially at a permanent wilting point – unable to recover.  You may not either, once you learned you fried your investment.

Pick it up

Pick it up


You should not lift a tree by its trunk at the base or mid-way on the trunk.  You might not only hurt the tree, but hurt yourself too, especially if the tree is balled and burlapped.  B&B trees are dug up from the field with the soil base around the roots. They are very heavy compared to container grown trees.  With a B&B tree, you probably will need help to load and transport the tree, and unload it at home.  Big B&B trees are often better planted by an expert – and many nurseries offer this service.

If a container grown tree, it is much better to lift it by the container, and then place it carefully on a hand truck or in a wheel barrel to move the tree to its holding location or planting location in your yard.  Don’t leave your new tree or perennials in the wrong place if you don’t plan to plant it in the ground right away.  There are two things you must remember.  Some trees and shrubs will be top heavy if grown in a container, and the wind can topple it over.  And the second thing, is they can dry out in pots, so you must also remember to water them.

Last year, one of my clients took home two beautiful Kwanzan cherry trees for a park installation.  She placed the trees by her picnic table to wait until she could go plant them.  The next day happened to be a very windy day.  While she was at work, the wind had tossed one of the trees against the table repeatedly, rubbing away the bark and creating a good sized wound.  We decided to plant the tree anyways, and hope for the best.  Looking it over this spring, the wound is healing nicely, but you can visibly see the damage done, plus the tree doesn’t match the other one as a result.

A good tip is to insert the container into another bigger and heavier empty pot or box at home to stabilize the tree until you are ready to plant it in the ground.  Or put some weighted object, like large rocks or cement blocks around the outside of the pot base to keep it in place in the event of a windy gust.  Also, put the plant where there is a bit of shade to protect it from harsh sun until you are ready to plant it.  And also very important – don’t forget to water it from time to time if you don’t plant it right away, especially if you placed it on pavement where the pot can get hot quickly.

On your planting day, if you have several trees or plants to plant, line them out into their permanent positions in your landscape, but don’t remove them from their pots until you are ready to place them into the planting holes.  Leaving exposed roots could potentially dry out the roots too.

Once planted, another good reminder is to be careful when mowing your lawn or weed whacking nearby so you don’t nick the bark once you have successfully planted it in your landscape.  Something I have to remind my husband every year when he breaks out the mower!

So follow these guidelines, turn up the tunes while traveling home from the nursery, and rest assured all will be safe when you arrive home!

Container Crazy Cathy T
860-977-9473 (cell)