Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Christmas weekend storm follow-up

It's been a long time since the Portland area experienced a winter storm like the one that hit Christmas weekend. The low at my place was 19F, but the fact we stayed below freezing for almost three full days is what had me the most concerned. When temperatures rise above freezing during the daytime, the lows just aren't as damaging. Nineteen degrees Fahrenheit would be a breeze.

So here's a garden walk-thru done a full week after the storm. First up are the agaves and other succulents, followed by a few shrubs and perennials. Oh, and I suppose a warning is in order; this is going to be a long post, settle in with beverage in hand...

A quick glance at this Agave weberi in our driveway told me something wasn't right, the lower leaves don't have their graceful agave arch...

The weight of being very well hydrated (it's the PNW in the wintertime, there's plenty of rain), and then freezing solid was just too much. They're all cracking. The center of the plant and the top four or so leaves are solid though, so hopefully it will grow out of this injury just fine. This agave was not protected.

Here the agaves (A. 'Streaker' on the left and A. baccarat on the right) and the many Aristaloe aristata look great, not so much for the Tephrocactus articulatus. I knew it was a gamble when I put them in the ground. This area did have frost cloth over it.

Everybody here looks good, well, except for the Agave bracteosa that our neighborhood rabbits have eaten down to a stump. 

Even a dwarf Billbergia nutans I got from Evan and an small Agave victoriae-reginae I planted late in the season both look great. This area was covered with frost cloth.

These two! If you read my post with ice pictures you know I THOUGHT I was doing them a favor by pulling them closer to the house for a little protection, instead I put them under icy dripping gutters. Still, they look okay... 

There are a few spots like this on a couple leaves, but nothing serious,

This agave (which received no protection) and one of the containerized plants above are descendants of a ginormous agave that bloomed here in Portland a couple of years ago—it was tentatively identified as Agave salmiana. It looks fine...

The pair of Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' near my front door got protection. The spots you see on this one were last year's damage.

Unfortunately while I was wrapping it (before the cold), I spotted this at the center. That does not look good. 

The second one remains flawless...

That's some unhappy rosemary! I covered this Agave 'Mateo' which is in a container, hidden by the rosemary which is in the ground. There was no way I could get the frost cloth all the way around the pot though, so it was really just superficial protection, keeping the ice from breaking the leaves but it appeared to work.
Funny how the rosemary that was covered is still green while the rest is brown. I think the rosemary is still very much alive but only time will tell. It's going to get a hard prune soon.

Agave 'Blue Glow', it was an experiment putting this one in the ground last summer. You can see an already dead leaf, and some rabbit munching, and parts of the plant are a bit off in color. It was covered, we shall see.

Agave ovatifolia 'Giant Form', a seed grown plant from a friend. It's looking a little worse for the wear, it was covered.

Another Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue', it was covered and it looks great—minus the pine needles and leaves from the neighbor's yard.

Ditto for this little variegated Agave parryi pup, covered and looking fine.

Agave 'Sharkskin', got no covering and it looks solid. The tip browning was happening before the ice and cold. Behind it you can see the stump of the Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' that I pollard each year. I'm thinking that I might just dig the cotinus out this spring though, which would give this agave more light and a better chance at happiness.

Agave parryi 'JC Raulston' with another Agave ovatifolia in the background, behind a Parahebe perfoliata. All of my 'JC Raulston' got frost cloth and they all look great—the A. ovatifolia was not covered and it too looks fine.

To cover or not to cover? It's an ongoing question for me. For some of these it's a really simple thing to do, I have frost cloth and small split bamboo and plastic domes that Andrew made a few years ago, it takes no time to break them out. A few others had larger covers made of rebar, fiberglass rods that bend, and plastic—these were a bit of a pain-in-the-ass to do but Andrew had fun designing them and wanted to try them out, so we did. Another factor in the decision; going into the storm we had no idea what exactly was headed our way. The forecasts were all over the place, I'd seen days with a low of 13 and a high of 19F. 

As you've read, not every agave got covered, I didn't have enough frost cloth to do that. Things that were left uncovered mostly did fine, I made choices based on how hardy they are supposed to be and how "special" they are to me. 

That brings me to this poor container than hung from our front porch during the entire event and at one time was filled with ice. This wasn't a choice I made, I just didn't look up and forgot all about it. This photo was taken from inside the house, I can't get any closer to see how everyone is. I can't help but think these are all living on borrowed time, although they look deceptively solid.

We've moved to the back garden now and I am happy to report everything that was shoved in the "greenhouse" did just fine. The heater kept things in the high 30's/low 40's.

The succulents in the ground under the split bamboo tunnels did great too. These did not get frost cloth, but by virtue of their staying "dryish" all season (because of the tunnels) they are hardier than they would be if they were drenched.

I've heard of Aloiampelos striatula melting to the ground around town but mine look fine.

These covers also stay in place for the entire winter season, and have held up to prior year's wind just fine. However the extreme wind we had pre and post ice and cold did a number on them. They're looking a little disheveled.

No damage to Agave ovatifolia though...

And the Agave sharkskin looks good, yay! However, do you see what I see?

Ya. Mr Big—so named because at one time he was the biggest agave in my garden—is a soggy limp pile of sadness. Dammit! This plant has been with me since 2007. Back before his winters spent in shade pavilion greenhouse, and then being planted out here, he spent a similarly cold winter in our unheated garage with no problems. I think the issue was two fold: 1) the container got pretty wet before we managed to get the covers up this fall, and 2) he was in more shade this summer than he should have been, an overhanging shrub put on a lot of growth that I didn't cut back quickly. A dry Agave americana variegata grown in plenty of sunshine *might* have survived. Damn. (BTW, the silver balls are normally in the stock tank pond)

So, that's the succulent report, how about the rest of the garden? I'm pretty sure the Cordyline australis have started their slow death melt. I'm seeing several around town with more substantial trunks that are already worse off.

I had three Echium wildpretii in the ground going into the storm, I protected two of them, because I forgot about the third. Both of the protected plants look like this, a little green at the center. They're not dead, yet.

Here's the unprotected plant, a multi-headed oddity that's not bloomed in it's 4 (5?) years in the ground. There is a little green in there, kinda.

Pachystegia insignis isn't looking good either. No protection, in fact from here on out nothing was protected except for the stock tank plantings which I will identify when I get there. 

Leaf-drop has begun on both my Feijoa sellowiana (pineapple guava), the dry frigid wind was tough on the evergreens! Several years ago my plants completely defoliated after a cold-snap with wind. I fear these are going to do the same, but have hope they'll be fine long term.

Oh the ferns! I've been lucky these past few warm years and my Woodwardia unigemmata and...

... Blechnum chilense / Parablechnum cordatum have been evergreen. Looks like I'll be cutting the fronds back this spring and waiting for new ones to appear. The yellowing leaves on the left (below) belong to an unhappy Corokia virgata 'Sunsplash', it's defoliated and re-leafed in the past as well. 

Here's a complete surprise! Lomatia ferruginea, a Zone 9 plant that received no protection looks fine. How can that be? Wow.

When last I shared a photo of Pyrrosia hastata it was looking pretty rough, not now though, it snapped out of it's sulk quickly when temperatures warmed.

Pyrrosia lingua 'Hiryu' looks great too...

However Pyrrosia lingua ‘Nokogiri Ba' and...

...these straight Pyrrosia lingua are not looking great. I'm hopeful the plants are fine and new fronds will appear in the spring, but it's so odd that this one especially looks bad as it's in a protected area.

To the shady stock tanks! These large planters have some plant treasures that I didn't want to risk. Knowing we were going below freezing for a few days and that containers don't provide the protection that plants in the ground get, that I wrapped them with Reflectix insulation, and then covered them with frost cloth and plastic. I think it worked...

Everything looks great!

Even the fern table—which has very little soil—and got the same treatment, looks good.

Some of the astelia (I think this one is Astelia 'Red Devil') look fine...

Others, not so much. This one was a gift and maybe Astelia 'Silver Shadow'? It's not happy.

Sinopanax formosanus looks wonderful.

As does Pseudopanax 'Sabre'.

And I can't quite believe this, Pseudopanax laetus, forgotten, in a container with no protection... it's at least pretending to still be alive. We shall see.

No damage to any of the daphniphyllum...

Not so for the schefflera though. This Schefflera brevipedunculata is a bit singed. I think the plant is fine. The same thing happened to my Schefflera taiwaniana, but neither of my S. delavayi has damage.

The bright yellow tips of the Podocarpus macrophyllus 'Miu' aren't so yellow anymore. Straw seems like a better descriptor.

There is still some green in there though, so hopefully it will bounce back with new growth.

Ugly on the Euphorbia stygiana, but the plant hasn't collapsed yet (as others have done in the past), so maybe there's hope.

I was worried about this Rohdea pachynema as it was planted late this fall, so hadn't gotten a chance to establish itself. It looks good though!

Are you still with me? Sorry, this is indeed a very long post. Just two more plant groups to go! The aspidistra were a mixed bag. No issues here, or on some others I have with white dot variegation.

But this solid green clump sustained some pretty ugly damage.

I'm going to be cutting off a lot of these leaves. 

Happy Mahonia x media 'Marvel' and Trachycarpus fortunei var Nainital.

But not all the mahonia are looking so good. Here Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' and Mahonia eurybracteata 'Indianola Silver' are showing their displeasure. I have another (M. eurybracteata 'Cistus Silvers') nearby that looks like it's going to lose all its leaves. Are the plants themselves okay? I hope so.

This used to be a flawless Mahonia lomariifolia ssp. tenuifolia / aka Mahonia oiwakenses ssp lomariifolia v. tenuifoliola.

But not anymore...

There was also general garden mayhem, a lot of branches from the tall fir trees behind us ended up in the garden. Luckily this one nicely positioned itself between my tall metal cylinders—devoid of plants because all containers had gone in the "greenhouse".

And there are leaves EVERYWHERE, there's gravel under there! Lots of clean-up ahead. Lots of winter still ahead too.

All material © 2009-2023 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Garden nightmares everywhere you look. I always leave my ferns alone letting the fallen fronds cover the crowns in the winter. Hopefully that may help some of yours. We had super cold days and nights and then sun and high temps. Snow is gone and I haven't gone looking to see what's happening. I really can't do anything and i don's want to know.

    1. I definitely won't cut back the fronds for awhile, there's enough other clean-up to do anyway...

  2. In spite of some surprises in either direction, you must be relieved. Your garden did well on the whole.
    Although I winter cleanup very satisfying, I hold back (as best I can) because as you pointed out, there is still a lot of winter to get through.
    Your variegated Agave parryi pup is a magnificent jewel!
    Good to see daphniphyllum bounce back: I love that tree.
    Your Mahonia 'Soft Caress' looks like mine did last year. I was shocked to see it damaged... It grew out of its' ugly phase.
    My humongous Woodwardia is unfazed: I harvested 3 frond off shoots last week. This fern amazes me!

    1. We had another VERY windy night last night, there is so much else to clean up in the garden that any dry hours that come along (not this week unfortunately) will be spent cleaning up leaves and other debris that come into my garden from outside.

  3. I had to go back and look at temps for Dec '22, because it looks like your low daytime temps during the cold spell lasted longer than ours at the coast. And in fact it looks like you had more low Dec temps in general esp at night. My Euphorb stygiana still looks good, knock wood, but the cold wind is really knocking the stuffing out of plants -- surviving but miserably. Lomandra 'Lucky Stripes' is looking surprisingly better than last winter so obviously likes a little establishment time under its belt. I have an Astelia banksii in the same tank with an abutilon, and both are now trending ugly today but possibly still alive. I plopped a lot of new plants in the front garden which faces north, planning to move them in spring when the paths and fence are done, and so far everything looks okay, even an Acacia cultriformis. The young metapanax looks okay too. The sinopanax and Ech. agavoides were moved to the shed with a clear polycarb roof and they'll probably remain there for the winter. Thanks for this extensive report -- it really is a huge help to understand your thinking and practices, and reassuring to know last Dec was one for the record books! Here's to miraculous new growth and health on the plants hardest hit, and a long, mild spring, gently warming summer etc...

    1. Yes, most everywhere else warmed long before we did. The hardest part about weather like this is that damage you see right away is just the beginning. There will be more...

  4. A mixed bag, but at least there's plenty of good news to balance out the bad.

    I have a lot of fungal spots on various agaves so I can relate. For the ovatifolia that has rot closer to the center, I'd spray it with fungicide right now. Maybe that will prevent it from spreading.

    1. I wish I could get in and spray the other side of that leaf, or remove it, but it's still wrapped tight around the center.

  5. I hope you end up with many more survivors than losses, Loree. I'm still amazed that the rabbits in your area go after agaves - if mine choose to go that route I might go Mr McGregor on them! I've always believed that rosemary is indestructible so I was very surprised to see yours. I hope it, and most of your evergreens come back from the roots. I'm very sorry you lost Mr Big.

    1. My brother in Phoenix told me about rabbits eating his agaves and I thought "those are darn desperate rabbits!"... well...

  6. Must have been a tough walk through. Nature can be so cruel. Hopefully most will regenerate from their bases and stems. The silver lining is to know how many of your plants are capable of surviving such cold wet events.

    1. The fact that I've been through similar events in the past definitely helps.

  7. It's truly amazing to me that so many plants got through your crazy weather relatively unscathed. Sorry about the losses though. I guess one silver lining is that you might have a couple of spare spaces for new plants in the spring. That's my plant hoarder mentality shining through....

    1. Ya I'm already thinking on what will go in the large container where Mr Big used to be...

  8. Hi Loree. Down here in Clackamas we don't get the gorge spewing its nasty cold and wind as long as you do in NE. It generally retreats away from my area sooner. For me the Fejoia, Cordylines and Mahonia look like nothing happened. All the big (over 6 foot) green Cordylines around here look fine. Aloiampelos were unprotected and still look great, I was expecting them to turn to mush. The plants I saw cosmetic damage on were Metapanax, Stachyurus, Eriobotrya, Variegated Ceanothus and surprisingly some minor damage to my Schefflera delavayi. Plus it was the first time I had all of my Musa basjoo knocked back to the ground. Palms, citrus and tree ferns all look good though.
    And yes rabbits DO eat agaves, along with Cycads. I have major problems with them, they eat the things they like first and then eventually move on to the unpalatable ones. They have a fondness for variegated A americana.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Comment moderation is on (because you know: spam), I will approve and post your comment as soon as possible!