This winter season sure started off with a bang as one cold front followed another throughout most of the country. While we only dropped to 16 degrees F twice, we had several consecutive weeks of high temperatures around the freezing mark which put plants in the garden in a deep freeze, while our soil also froze several inches deep. Temperatures have since then moderated back to normal for the season. Now, we hope that because many plants have received their required winter chilling hours, they will have the good sense to stay dormant. Oh look, here comes more cold weather.
I have been speaking around the country this winter and was in south Florida (Naples) for the deep freeze there, then off to Houston which hit 12 degrees F just before I arrived, after enduring only light frosts over the last 15 years. It will certainly be interesting to see what comes through after these freezes, which is where we really get useful winter hardiness data. Here at PDN we welcome the cold as we look to establish hardiness limits on our new trial plants. Our lows of 16 degrees F took out some of our test agaves including A. bovicornuta, A. congesta, A. hiemiflora, A. shrevei v. magna (A. shrevei v. shrevei is fine), A. horrida v. horrida (A. horrida v. perotensis are fine), A. deserti, and A. garciae-mendozae). These are plants that we expected to die, but wanted to confirm our suspicions.
We have also been testing a number of cycads, which have proven to be an interesting experiment. Over the last few years we have found Cycas taitungensis, Cycas panzhihuaensis, and Dion edule to survive 9 degrees F. This year, we planted Ceratozamia hildae, Ceratozamia kuesteriana, Ceratozamia latifolia and several others outdoors and so far, they look great…so we’re ready for colder temperatures to arrive.
Despite the cold weather, there are still plants in flower. Iris unguicularis has been amazing, producing flowers as soon as the temperatures rose past freezing. This is such a wonderful iris, we hope everyone that is within its hardiness zone gives it a try…for the rest of you, it’s a great plant for the sunroom where you can enjoy the sweetly fragrant flowers.
One of the winter chores many gardeners engage in is cutting back old hellebore foliage. While we endorse the practice, I’d caution you about doing it too early. I like to wait until the first flowers are just ready to open before removing the old foliage because despite being often tattered, the foliage serves to keep the plant cool and slow down the development of the flower buds. If the foliage is cut too early, the plant develops faster and the buds and flowers reach a size that can become damaged if the temperatures drop into the low- to mid-teens F. If you’re a neat freak and have already trimmed your hellebores, a light layer of evergreen branches or pine straw will really help to protect and slow them down in the case of upcoming cold temperatures. The great thing about hellebores is even if the earliest buds are damaged, new buds will still be produced as long as the plant isn’t too far along.
Another task that we like to perform in the winter is to removing the old wood chip mulch in our garden paths and replacing it with fresh wood chips. We usually do this task every 2 years by shoveling the old broken down chips and tossing them into the adjacent planting beds. This effectively uses our paths as a compost pile, and is a great time to perform this chore, since most perennials are dormant.
Not only have we been working outdoors, but we’ve spent the winter writing plant articles. Since we already have 5 new articles posted on the web on topics including Colocasias, Epimedium, Salvia, Hellebores, and Pulmonaria. Some of the articles are updates/expansions of previous articles, while the others are entirely new. Web experts tell us that no one reads anything other than short articles on the web, and if that’s the case, these aren’t for you. If on the other hand, you like more detailed information, we hope you enjoy what we’ve put together. We’re still writing, so there are many more to come, but check out the completed articles…
We’re also spending a good bit of time each week selecting and sorting hellebores for our Winter Open House coming up February 26-27 and March 5-6. If you’ve never joined us for our mid-winter event, I think you’ll find it a delightful and amazing experience. Between now and then, we’ll hand sort all of our flowering hellebores, discarding over 50% and grouping the rest by color. Winter Open House provides you the opportunity to select your favorite hellebores in flower. Of course, everything else in the nursery will be available including many plants that didn’t make the printed catalog. We hope you’ll put us on your schedule.
The economy continues to devastate the nursery industry, and the latest casualty is Green Valley Growers of Willis Texas. Green Valley Growers was the 59th largest nursery in the country with 300 acres and one million square feet of greenhouse production. There are many other large growers who are still hanging on while operating in Chapter 11 or Chapter 12 bankruptcy…we wish them the best in trying to save their businesses.
I am sad to report the passing of a plant friend, Rick Nowakowski, 57, of Nature’s Curiosity Shop in Nevada. Rick had collected agaves since age 10 and is the person most responsible for collecting and distributing variegated agaves around the world for the last 30+ years. Rick also had a passion for other succulents and his amazing gasteria hybrids are grown worldwide. Rick had suffered from Reflexive Sympathetic Dystrophy (www.rsds.org) for many years, which made it difficult for him to not only work with plants, but tolerate severe pain. Amazingly, he persevered and still had plants for sale on Ebay when he passed away due to a heart attack.
Also lost this month was Pat Bender, Past President (1997-1999) and stalwart of the North American Rock Garden Society. There are probably many folks who don’t realize the impact of the North American Rock Garden Society seedlist in distributing cool new plants around the world. Several plants that we eventually offered in the nursery were acquired thanks to this amazing seedlist. Pat ran the seed exchange for years and provided invaluable support in later years. If you like growing plants from seed and you aren’t familiar with the seedlist (no photos, common names, or descriptions), you can find out more at www.nargs.org.
Pat is survived by her husband, John. You can write to John and the family at 4123 NE 186th St., Lake Forest Park, WA 98155.
Another huge icon in the world of horticulture passed away on January 20. Dr. Will Carlson, retired Michigan State horticulture professor died after an extended illness. Will’s former students include powerhouses such as Allan Armitage, and many more of the movers and shakers in the world of horticulture. Carlson, 68 was a influential and powerful bedding plant specialist who retired from MSU in 2002, but continued to write a monthly column as he had done for 36 years in Greenhouse Grower Magazine, a trade publication that he helped start. An example of one of Will’s columns can be read here.
Will also founded Bedding Plants International in 1969, a group dedicated to the promotion and marketing of bedding plants. Will is survived by his wife, Barbara, sons William and Wayne, six grandchildren, brother Robert and sister, Dorothy Albee.
Only a couple of weeks remain to submit your entry for the PDN Top 25 Contest for a chance to win a $250 PDN gift certificate. To enter, simply go to this link and select your choices for the Top 25 best sellers for 2010…good luck!
I’ll stop here and let you get back to enjoying the new catalog.
As always, thanks for taking time to read our rants and most of all, thank you so much for your support and orders this year!
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