Monday, December 7, 2009

Baby it’s cold outside (cue the Christmas music)

According to the forecast Sunday’s 35F high is the last time we’ll be above freezing until Wednesday, or maybe Thursday. Add in the wind chill and it’s bitterly cold out there.

It’s the duration of the temperatures below freezing that particularly concerns me. A night in the 20’s followed by a day in the upper 30’s or 40’s is not as bad as a constant freeze for multiple days. Then there’s the drying burning wind…it all adds up to plants that are borderline hardy in Zone 8 facing temperatures that are harmful or deadly.

Last year when a similar stretch was predicted I thought they were just over-reacting, after all the local news loves to sensationalize things. Portland doesn't get that cold. It won’t be that bad I thought! Ha. Every Phormium (Flax) and Cordyline in my garden was toast.

If I could avoid the same thing this year then I was certainly going to try.

Personally I am thankful that our “arctic blast” (as the news channels are calling it) had the good sense to arrive on the weekend. Friday afternoon I bought 15 yards of burlap, 35 ft of insulation, twine, tape and garbage bags; an investment for sure, but cheaper than replacing dead plants. Then on a cold, but dry and sunny Saturday, we spent the day wrapping up vulnerable plants.
For the Flax and Cordy’s first the leaves were tied up, to make them manageable.
Then a wrap of burlap went around, followed by a layer of thin silver insulation. If that bundle seemed like it might whip around too much in the wind then we staked them for stability. Finally a bag to cover off the top, and keep all the shiny silver from blinding the neighbors. Cozy!It’s a classy look don’t you think? (sarcasm)One of our neighbors came home while we were mid-process and asked what kind Christmas display we were putting up.
The new front garden Tetrapanex and purple Yucca are under our old recycling bins (upping the trashy look significantly). I wouldn’t normally protect a Yucca but I was never able to find any good information on the hardiness of this variety.
Last year I protected this Tetrapanx under the yellow bins shown above, but since it grew a 4 ft of trunk this year it wouldn’t fit! The base is heavily mulched with leaves. Does anyone have experience over-wintering a Tetrapanax with a trunk like this? Will it die back and sprout from the base? Other plants were covered with bubble wrap and burlap. Like these agaves (there are 5 little guys under there)Agave spikes make it easy to keep covers on during a wind storm. There are more agaves under this burlap/banana leaf cover, and my Fascicularia-pitcairnifolia is hiding under the over-turned bucket, covered with leaves.The Dasylirion wheeleri all made it though last year unscathed, with no protection what so ever. So they’re gonna be tested again.Earlier in the week all the pots that could be moved were transferred to the unheated garage. The banana pseudo-stems were wrapped with burlap and a little bubble wrap. Last spring I picked up a half dozen coffee been bags at a coffee shop in Eugene. They added a bit of color to the landscape.The Echium leaves were still looking this good after 2 nights at 26F. I mulched the base heavily but don’t hold out much hope for this one making it, I imagine once we hit the teens it will be fried. Later that night it hit me. During the “arctic event” last year we had snow to insulate the roots. So while the tops of the Flax and Cordy’s died the roots of most were still alive. Here is a picture comparing what came back from the roots (right) with the replacement I planted in the spring (left).You might be wondering why I replaced plants that died in last years cold with the exact same type of plants. Partially because I’m foolish, but mainly because I love them and they happily grew through 3 prior winters without a single problem I figured last year was a fluke.
But back to the snow issue…this year, no snow is predicted to insulate the roots. So….did we protect the leaves, only to have the roots freeze? Will the gravel insulation be enough? Only time will tell. Tonight’s low is predicted to be 17 with wind chill values taking us down to 5 to 15 degrees. Like I said…baby it’s cold out there!


  1. Your multi-layer wrapping and staking/twining is very similar to what I did! Great minds must think alike! I wish your plants a toasty time wrapped up like little piglets!

  2. My heart is with you, Loree!

    Wow - this is what I mean about your love of Danger Plants being bigger than mine - look at how HARD you work for them! You have lovingly tied, covered, mulched - you are doing everything to make sure that they make it through ... as a plant lover and a risk taker, I am deeply moved by this! You are my hero!

    And I think the tall wrapping looks super cool - like upright specimens in an alien landscape. okay the recycling bins sort of take me out of the picture, but they are doing the job!

    I am crossing my fingers and re-thinking my definition of cold - I'm shivering when it gets down to 53 degrees at night!
    Keep warm, plant friend (fiend!)

  3. You should have left them silver and wrapped Christmas lights around them! I've seen worse things posing as Christmas decorations...
    By the way, I grew what I think is the same Echium you have (E. fastuosum) from seed this year. It is sure not to make it through my zone 5 winter, so I brought a plant inside in a pot, but one of the plants I left outside still has a few green leaves on it despite temperatures below freezing for a good week and a half -- so it might be hardier than you think!
    Good luck!

  4. Call me crazy, but like Greensparrow, I'll take your winter aesthetic over those blow-up plastic Santas any day. Wish I had taken the trouble you document here...s'pose it's too late?

  5. Good luck and I love the Christmas decor comment!

  6. I am sorry you are having such rough weather, so early. I grow Tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant' in my zone 8a garden. Last year it had a stalk on it that was easily 4' tall. I did nothing but mulch the roots with leaves and it came back from the trunk, as well as about a dozen pups from the roots. Where I work is zone 7b and we have the regular Tetrapanax in the gardens. The foliage dies off at the first hard freeze, but come back every spring with no special effort.

  7. Last year WAS a fluke, Loree. And so is this year. Two flukes in a row. God help us if this becomes the norm. I'm fortunate that the ghastly East Wind is not a factor where I live. But I was lazy about getting winter mulch, in the form of shredded Sweet Gum tree leaves, spread. I like your protection methods and I'm glad you shared them. How you tied together the Phormium foliage is genius. I know what you mean about the duration of the cold being a factor. This weekends "warm-up" can't come soon enough.

  8. Brr, that's a lot of cold weather for a zone 8 garden. You went to a lot of trouble. I hope your hard work pays off in unscathed plants.

  9. I took the opposite approach this year, I only mulched but did little to protect the tops of plants. We can compare notes.
    I wondered how much the snow helped our plants last year. I have that purple yucca unprotected. I buried it in its pot so it would at least have the insulation of the ground. We'll have some cold hardiness info if it makes it through this winter.
    Tetrapanax should sprout from the ground, but now that you mention it, I realize that's one I forgot to mulch. I'll be able to test its hardiness too. Donating my garden to science this year

  10. Hi Loree,
    I planted a wee Tetrapanax in the late 90s in NE PDX. I didn't protect it through its first winter and it resprouted from the roots. A few years later, when it had a fat trunk, a very cold winter struck. All the foliage dropped but in spring, a ridiculous sprout emerged from the tip, 12 feet up! The main trunk eventually had to be taken down to the base, as it looked too goofy! But it quickly filled in. I think it's cold-hardier than it appears. I'm so impressed with your diligent plant protection measures. It'll be interesting to see how your and Megan's plant survival rates compare (ie, root vs shoot protection). Stay warm!!!

  11. Oh, I had a good laugh over these pictures! They look like little soldiers all bundled up. I'm in the process of bundling up my horses. It's very cold here, too. I hope your perennials survive.

  12. if you are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed and interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at which allow you to locate your USDA zone based on zipcode or city.

  13. D+N, they do look a little like pigs in a blanket don't they?

    Thanks Germi, I'm gonna need all the crossed fingers I can get. It was actually at 32 degrees Tuesday afternoon for about an hour. I figure with the sun warming things that must have helped (hope...eternal). Tonight back to the deep freeze.

    Greensparrow, it would make me so happy if you were right. I went out last night to look at it and touched a leaf. It broke.

    ricki, hard to tell. Something hanging on might benefit from a sweater tonight. Last night was just extreme!

    Thanks Nicole!

    Thank you for the experience info Les...very heart-warming to know. Maybe (?) this will be it for the season? Ha. It's only early December. What if's keep running around in my head.

    Grace, I look at the orientation of our house to the street, the park and the surrounding area and now I see that this is definitely a wind tunnel. If I had known! How are things in your garden holding up?

    Pam, me too! At least I tried...

    Megan, I had put my still unplanted purple yuccas in the garage with the other potted plants. I panicked this morning when I saw the 13.8 degree temp and ran out and brought every pot I could into the basement (the neighbors must think I am a FREAK!) those yucca were frozen solid. Tonight they look ok. We'll see. Oh and I did leave one purple cordy unwrapped. It's up against the house and has been looking kind of ratty. I just forgot about it. He's my science experiment. I doubt hill make it but...I guess anything is possible.

    Kate, hey there! I fear Megan's methods just might be better in the long run. Trouble is I am so impatient that if the tops look bad it doesn't matter if the roots are alive. I think that makes me superficial.

    Kate (2), glad I could provide a chuckle! Horses are a little more serious than plants...good luck. My husband has seen the same pack of 3 dogs running around the last 2 mornings. He thinks they look cared for, we are hoping they have a warm place to go at night.

    Thanks Peter, I was feeling left out that you had made this comment on everyone else's blog but mine. Glad I'm finally in!

  14. Still working through the posts. I have never once wrapped or mulched anything (probably why I lose plants). You are making me feel lazy!


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