Plants that shine in the winter garden…

After a few days and nights at 21 degrees, my Central Texas garden took a serious hit last month.  But, we were due.  Last year it didn’t freeze at all in my garden, so you can imagine how huge some of our perennials were by the end of 8 seasons of growth!

Our typical winter includes a few freezes, but the temperature dips to around freezing for a few hours and then climbs right back up during the day.  Not so this year.

I’m leaving the last of the fall leaves in the beds to help protect the plants and provide habitat for bees, so you are going to see the good, the bad and the very ugly.  It’s an all-exposed tour.  Viewer discretion is advised — you may need to avert your eyes in some parts!


While the ferns and the bletilla striata are dormant, he dry creek pathway is lined with hellebores, a few sedges, a few cephalotaxus prostrata.  Mostly out of view on the left are two leatherleaf mahonias.


The brilliant yellow berries on the mahonias add great color to the garden on gray winter days.


In drought years, the foliage of the hellebores disappears in the summer garden, and reappears in fall and through the spring.  I have a collection of different varieties.  Below is a winter photo of my favorite – ‘Phoebe,’ from several years ago when we had snow.


Isn’t that a gorgeous bloom?


Where the path diverges, a few more sedges and a standard Japanese aralia and a variegated Japanese aralia add a pop of green.  The squid agave in the Artemis statue head was unfazed by the cold.  Farther back, a small clump of cast iron plant draws the eye.


I’ve had this aralia for a long time.  It’s been through drought and covered in ice in bad winters, but nothing seems to slow it down.


This fall I planted another aralia variety – a variegated one.  I was a little concerned that it might be more tender than the other, but it has held up beautifully.


In the front bed, the one we jokingly call the hideous bed, natives and other well-adapted plants are hanging on.  Catmint, skullcap, Mexican feather grass, a whale’s tongue agave, salvias, Mexican sabal palms and a Spanish dagger yucca are all going strong.


Across the driveway, more xeric plants are showing off, like the Jerusalem sage, a Texas sotol, a sago palm,  and some salvia Greggii.


You’ll find Jerusalem sage in many parts of my garden.  It’s unusual color makes an intriguing contrast — and its fuzzy leaves make it completely deer-resistant.


Another variegated fatsia Japonica is keeping a squid agave and a mountain Laurel company.  Sadly, the dianella in the background looks like it’s toast.  I’m hopping it was established enough to come back from the roots quickly, once spring arrives.


A bright edge yucca, several more hellebores and a few almost hidden heucherellas are peaking out of the carpet of leaves.


Bright edge definitely earns its name!


I added a few new compact shrubs to the front beds last year.  These ‘Flirt’ nandinas make a beautiful middle-layer, evergreen addition and their added burgundy tips coordinate well with the larger loropetalum.


One of my favorite plants for winter/spring interest is Japanese quince.  It’s sculptural and almost-bare branches are sporting a flush of gorgeous, salmony-pink blooms.


The butterflies are so thankful that at least something is blooming out there!


And no matter what the plants are doing in the garden, we can always count on at least a few cardinals on our many feeders in the wooded area.

While these aren’t the prettiest pictures of my garden, they allow me to see the true bones of the landscape, and evaluate the beds to determine what projects I’ll want to undertake in the spring.

Mourning the garden – post ice storm

It’s a sad day in the garden. Last night’s freezing thunderstorms decimated all of our signs of spring.  All the beautiful new buds and blooms we’ve been enjoying in the warmer weather over the last few weeks are gone. 

This plum tree’s tender new blooms are all toast.

This is what she looked like two days ago.

The blue bonnets will probably perk back up, but they are drooping under the weight of ice this morning.

The aralia looks miserable, but it will come back – it always does.

Even the winter-hardy quice blooms are all brown and wilted.

This ice looks very sculptural on this yucca rostrata; luckily it will be fine once it warms up.

I know we aren’t suffering like our friends up north in the real polar vortex, but it’s been a rough winter for us here, relatively speaking.  And it’s a sad time for Texas gardeners.  Our spring won’t just be late this year, we’ve lost most of the buds and blooms of spring for the year.

It’s a snow day!

Sleeting rain and freezing temps left us with a layer of ice with the thinnest film of snow on the landscape this morning.  It was 26 when I got up this morning.

Snow day!

Even though I’ve lived in plenty of cold, snowy places around the world, even the lightest dusting makes me smile.  So I had to capture a few images before it all melts away around noon.

The agave above is NOT variegated – that is a strip of snow lying in the center!

Happy snow day.  What’s the weather like where you’re at?

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:12+00:00 January 24th, 2014|Blog, freeze, Sharing Nature's Garden, snow, snow day|0 Comments

Agaves – which ones were hardy enough to survive the surprise winter?

Have you been adding xeric agaves to your garden in an effort to be more water-wise in light of our extreme heat and drought?
Adding native and adapted xeric plants to the garden is the perfect solution to reducing your lawn and your water bill.
But, as with all plants, it’s important to do  your research and know what you’re getting.
This cold and early winter weather had been hard on some agaves that can take the heat, but can’t handle the cold.  
I’m always pushing the edge of the envelope (and not just in gardening, but we won’t talk about that here).  So, that means I trial many plants in my garden that might not be a perfect match for our climate.  And, sometimes it kicks me in the …trowel.
Here’s what did and didn’t make it at this winter’s current low in my garden:
The squid agave, pictured above, is always a tough cookie.  They have survived for me down to 17 degrees in the icebox winter of 3 years ago.  

The giant franzosini agave handled the cold with aplomb.  It’s big and bold and still making way too many pups!  Let me know if you want one!  I’ll even ship!  Seriously!

This was an experiment.  This octopus agave is stunning when it’s alive.  Trust me.  However, I knew that experts report it hardy only to between 26 and 28 degrees.  And that’s in the ground.  Plants in a pot are much more tender because their roots get colder above ground faster.  Sometimes it doesn’t even freeze here in the winter, so I was taking a calculated risk, knowing I might simply have to replace it when it warms up next spring.  And I will replace it.  I love the look and the sculptural shape so I will just take my chances and treat it like an annual in cold years.

This Arizona star agave looks pretty ugly now, but I think it will come back from the crown — it will just take a while to be big and beautiful again.

This standard weberii agave seems to be tolerating the cold just fine.  It’s been scraped up by the deer, roaming around looking for places to rub their antlers, but that’s just a cosmetic problem for this agave.

I’m very surprised that this variegated agave Americana made it through.  I’ve lost some in previous years’ freezes and I fully expected to lose this one at 24 degrees.  There are a few ugly spots on the back side, but it’s doing great.  Those that died in previous years were much younger, so I think this one did well because it’s well-established now.

This wicked sharkskin agave in the back xeric bed is hanging on just fine.

I think this sweet little quadricolor agave has struggle with some deer munching and the cold, but a little pruning will help it shine again in the spring.

You can see that the green goblet agave has some freeze damage on the lower leaves, but the rest of it looks healty.  Another haircut and it will be pretty as a picture again.

 And, finally, my whale’s tongue agave is hanging tough and looking good in the cold.

Just to set the record straight, I have learned some lessons from previous freezes.  I have several desmettiana agaves in pots in my greenhouse – staying toasty warm for the winter.  I use to have a nice one along the front walk and it died in a slight freeze.  They are so pretty that I reserve those for pots now.

As long as this is as cold as it gets this winter, most of my agaves are safe.  Hint, hint….  How are your agaves faring in the winter vortex this year?

Next post I’ll talk about how and when to prune out the rotting stuff.

Keeping tender plants under wraps protects them from freeze…

It is that time of year when we play chicken with Mother Nature.  Will it really get that cold?  Am I in a little pocket that’s warmer/colder/somehow different than the forecast?  Some of us are in perpetual denial, while the rest (like me) run around like Henny Penny thinking the sky is falling.
Depending on the source you check, the average first frost here in Austin is said to be anywhere between November 28 and December 5.  We didn’t follow the norm this year – with one of the earliest freezes for some areas last week.  Regardless of when winter arrives, there are many things you can do protect tender plants from frosts or freezes.
First, water moderately before the freeze.  Water loses its heat more slowly than air throughout the night.  Combined with covering plants or even a heat source, watering can help make a real difference by a few critical degrees.
Sheets, blankets and heavyweight row cover can all help protect plants from a freeze.  But it’s important to note that it’s not the cover that keeps the plant warm, it’s the radiant heat coming up from the ground that is held in by the cover.  Drape the cover all the way down to the ground and secure it like a tent with rocks, bricks or my favorite – canned vegetables (lighter than rocks, easier to find in a pinch, and they don’t mess up your sheets and blankets).
Do not, however, drape something over the top of the plant and then tie it around the trunk like a giant lollipop.  This is pointless, because you are actually keeping the heat away from the plant.  If you have plants that can’t withstand the weight of a blanket or sheet, you can plan ahead and use tomato cages, large boxes or PVC hoops or frames – really, anything to hold up the cover.
For particularly tender plants or a really cold night, you can also add a droplight or the large-bulb Christmas lights under the cover to create some additional heat.  Be careful not to let the bulb touch either plant or cover.
When temperatures rise above freezing – remove covers the next day to allow the plants to absorb the next day’s heat and recover as necessary.
Protecting container plants is a little trickier.  Their roots are much less insulated than plants in the ground and will get much colder.  To protect them, you can group them against your house and use the same techniques as you would for in-ground plants.  Even the littlest radiant heat from the house can help make a difference on a cold night.
Having spent years putting big pots of plants in the garage, this is also a great way to overwinter them, with a few conditions.  Remember, plants need light, and overhead light won’t cut it.  If you don’t have windows in your garage, make sure you open the garage door to let in sunlight and fresh air when temperatures allow.  In the garage, some plants will go dormant for the winter reserving their energy in their roots for the next spring.  Water them sparingly and let them rest for the winter. Once indoors, these plants require less water since there is no wind, and winter
daylight hours are shorter and lighting levels lower. When their leaves drop, don’t worry and don’t fertilize them to try to push them into growth while they are inside.
So, plan now – collect your sheets and blankets, find some tomato cages, lights and canned goods and you’ll be ready to go when a surprise weather forecast sets you scurrying in the dark at 6 p.m.

Early freeze means plants need TLC today…

Our first freeze here in Austin is usually the first week in December, so we are ahead of schedule today, with a freeze warning for the next two nights.

After a month of delicious rains, Austin gardeners are beaming with the resulting bursts of bloom and growth. 

But that’s about to come to a screeching halt if the weather forecasters are right.  The outlying areas of the Hill Country will certainly see a freeze, but Austin proper temps are usually a little warmer.  We’ll see.

Unlike most years, I got my plants into the greenhouse in time.

I’m still taking cuttings from tender plants throughout the garden, so space is filling in quickly.  I will admit that a few large pots/plants just didn’t make the cut this year so I could have room to walk into the greenhouse and to reach the ceiling windows in the back.

Many of the plants got a good clean up and a haircut.  A few of the plumerias that were towering over me were pruned to fit and the new stalks planted up in smaller pots.  After the heat of our dry and blistering summer, I get weary of potted plant care – every single day.  The cooler temps were invigorating and it was really fun to have my hands in the soil again.

The temperatures are dropping through the day today as the cold front hits.  I’ll turn the heater on late afternoon and keep them toasty warm through the night.

They look cozy in there together, don’t they? 

Now I just have to cover the peppers, pick the tomatoes and the basil, take more cuttings and water.

Guess I only thought I was ahead of the game!

Are you ready for winter?

By | 2016-04-14T02:39:28+00:00 November 12th, 2013|Blog, freeze, greenhouse, plumeria, pots, Sharing Nature's Garden, winter|0 Comments