It’s hard to imagine winter is finally nearing an end when outside today we see the ground covered in snow with freezing rain forecasted to develop tonight and tomorrow. But to help us remember spring is just around the corner, at least in NC, the greenhouses are bursting with colorful hellebores and other lovely treasures to soothe away any winter blahs and blues. It’s less than two weeks until our 2014 Winter Open Nursery and Garden and we’re eager to show you our plant goodies!
Our selection of hellebores is so outstanding it’s hard to really show it justice in words. We have over 500 gallon-size hellebores in flower and over 1000 one quart hellebores in bloom. The quality of hellebore colors we have available are better each year and 2014 is no exception.
Speaking of weather, winter 2013/2014 has been quite an event in many parts of the country, with temperatures finally returning to more “normal” winter levels. We’ve amusingly watched the last fifteen years as zone creep, aka: zone denial, has taken hold of much of America. It’s been fascinating to observe how quickly peoples’ memories of hard winters fade when they are only a couple of years removed. Some gardeners have recently admitted being lulled into a false sense of security by the constant media drumroll that our climate has dramatically warmed forever.
Gardeners in Zone 4 or 5 have a few Zone 7 winters where the winter low temperatures don’t drop below 0 degrees F, and all of a sudden they decide that Zone 7 plants will actually survive in Zone 4 and 5. It’s not uncommon these days to find less than reputable online nurseries listing plants like the hardy banana, Musa basjoo, as hardy to Zone 4 and 5, which is pure insanity. Windmill palms, which we consider marginally hardy for us here in Zone 7b, have now been planted throughout the mid-Atlantic states and even into parts of the Midwest. Because of the recent mild winters, some windmill palms have actually achieved good size before this winter’s reality check. My friend Al Hirsch recently reminded folks on one of the hardy palm groups that he had actually freeze-tested windmill palms in the lab, and 5 degrees F was their low temperature tolerance…except for some of the hardier forms. Just because we’ve had a string of mild winters doesn’t mean the winter temperature tolerance of plants change.
The first winter hardiness maps from the Arnold Arboretum comprised 40 years of temperature data because weather scientists had noted that temperature patterns typically varied in 15-20 year swings. Using the 20 year model, below are statistics for our nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina, not including the still-trending winter of 2013/2014. The last time we got as cold as we have during this current winter 2013/2014 was all the way back during the winter of 1999-2000. I have posted our actual minimum low temperature charts for Juniper Level Botanic Garden…weather geeky stuff, to be sure.
|Winter 1993-2012 8 nights per winter below 20F (Zone 8 temperatures)|
|Winter 1973-1992 12.5 nights per winter below 20F (Zone 8 temperatures)|
|*Record winter 1976-1977 38 nights below 20F|
|Winter 1993-2012 8 nights total below 10 degrees F (Zone 7 temperatures)|
|Winter 1973-1992 25 nights total below 10 degrees F (Zone 7 temperatures)|
|*Record winter 1980/1981 8 nights below 10 degrees F|
So, what does all this mean? It means that despite all the predictions of a perpetual warming trend there is a good chance that we will see more “normal” winters, so plant accordingly and pay attention to proper hardiness zones. With cold winters returning, it’s been great to finally get useful hardiness data. Obviously, since having a Zone 7b temperature only once in the last fourteen years (2008/9) it’s been hard to truly evaluate winter hardiness of new plants.
Because we trial so many plants, we expect our loss rate of new plants to be fairly high. From this year’s trials, we were surprised to see dramatic foliage burn on the hardy bromeliad, Puya dyckioides. The plants look fine at the base…just fried. Another bromeliad, Dyckia choristaminea ‘Frazzle Dazzle’, however, looks fabulous…what a great plant. Several of the aspidistras (cast iron plants) are showing foliage burn this year, including many of the white-tipped cultivars. As is the case with so many white variegated plants, the white variegated parts of the leaf simply aren’t as cold tolerant at the green tissue. We attribute this to a reduction in sugar content (plant antifreeze) in those parts of the leaf.
Sarcococca saligna also took a bit hit and has foliage that is completely fried brown, although it should reflush fine when cut the ground. All of the other sarcococca species look fine. The evergreen Schefflera delavayi looks good with only slight leaf burn on one plant. Edgeworthias look fine and are starting to flower, although customers in Virginia report bud drop after a low of 2 degrees F. Our Exbucklandia populnea also got a good bit of leaf burn, but the stems are all fine. Our Arbequina olive looks great, but some of the other clones we had on trial are already showing foliar damage.
Since we mentioned hardy palms earlier, our Trachycarpus fortunei (Windmill palms) looks fine, other than a few scorched older leaves. The Trachycarpus fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ also look great. Surprisingly, our plant of Trachycarpus takil got some unexpected leaf scorch. Needle palm, Sabal minor, Sabal x brazoriensis, Sabal sp. ‘Tamaulipas’, Sabal minor var. louisiana, all look fine, although some of our less hardy forms of Sabal palmetto took a hit. Butia catarinensis looks quite dead, as does our Butia odorata. Surprisingly, one of our Butia eriospatha growing nearby shows minimal damage along with one specimen of Butia capitata. The real palm shocker was two Serenoa repens from Colleton County, SC showing little or no damage. We say, surprising, because we have never been able to over-winter a Serenoa repens.
The xButyagrus nabonnandii look pretty fried and the spears have started to pull. Spears are the undeveloped newer emerging leaves, which give us the first indication of cold damage on palms trees. Spear pull isn’t always deadly, but it’s certainly not a good sign. xJubautia splendens ‘Dick Douglas’, a hybrid of Butia x Jubaea looks better than the xButyagrus, but the spears have also pulled from several of these…most disappointing. Most of our Cycas looks okay, although all have lovely tan-brown foliage. After last frost we’ll cut back the old fronds and they should promptly reflush with new leaves.
We have quite a collection of winter-hardy cactus in the garden and had planted out quite a few more in 2013. As expected, we had a number of those which didn’t survive the winter, but overall, we were quite pleased. Bamboos also took a bit hit this year and we expect all members of the genus Bambusa to be killed back to the ground. Time will tell, but perhaps there will always be a surprise. Rohdea chinensis var. chinensis provided quite an unexpected surprise. The Taiwan form shows no ill effects from the winter, while the mainland China form shows substantial leaf burn.
We’re always interested in pushing the envelope when it comes to agaves. Overall, there are few surprises from the winter so far. We’re thrilled our first sacrificial planting of Agave albopilosa looks great so far. Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’ got hit pretty hard but the central stalk seems fine so they should recover quickly once the weather warms. Ditto for Agave ‘Green Goblet’. Agave filifera, Agave parviflora, Agave difformis, Agave ‘Mateo’, and Agave ocahui…all burned pretty bad but should be fine. One real surprise was Agave neomexicana ‘Sunspot’, which looks to have made the journey to the big compost pile in the sky. Since the parent species it quite hardy, we’re guessing it simply got too wet and cold at the same time, since we know it has overwintered in much colder regions.
As expected, Agave ovatifolia looks absolutely superb…always one of the best over-wintering agaves in our climate. Agave horrida perotensis was hit pretty hard, which was expected based on past winters.
What we didn’t expect was Agave striata ‘Live Wires’ which was severely burned although we think it will return okay. Agave flexipes again proved to be an excellent agave for our climate with only burn on the lower most leaves. Surprisingly, Agave multifilifera looks only slightly burned so far. Honestly, we were hoping for a little more carnage in the agave world since we’ve got over 100 new agaves potted and waiting for a trial spot in the garden.
Last fall we offered a new selection of aucuba, Aucuba japonica ‘Male Man’, grown from cuttings from another friend who picked this up overseas. When it flowered, we were shocked to learn that unbeknownst to us, our male aucuba had undergone previously undisclosed sex reassignment surgery and was now a female. Please accept our oops, and change your tags to Aucuba japonica var. borealis ‘Bored Female’.
In other non-plant matters, Plant Delights has several cool job openings.
First, we have one opening for a full time Customer Service representative (CSR). If enjoy working and chatting on the phone with customers, and you like plants and chocolate, and you reside in the Raleigh, NC area, learn more. Additionally, we are also now hiring energetic and friendly seasonal staff to work 25-40 hours per week in our Shipping department starting in March and extending into the fall. Occasional weekend (daytime) work will be required. Please send resumes and cover letters to our Business and HR Manager, Heather Brameyer to: email@example.com
Our friends at Peckerwood Gardens in Hempstead, Texas are looking for a Garden Manager. This is an incredible opportunity to work with one of the southernmost gardens being managed by the Garden Conservancy and the chance to work with garden founder, John Fairey. You can find out more at http://peckerwoodgarden.org/events/work-peckerwood-garden-manager
So, you want to start a nursery? Here’s your chance…not to start from scratch, but to buy an existing mail order nursery. Bob Roycroft of Roycroft Daylily Nursery in Georgetown, SC is retiring and has his nursery up for sale. Bob has 33+ acres near Myrtle Beach that is available, along with his nursery and website. You can reach Bob for more details at http://www.roycroftdaylilies.com
If you’re in the world of garden design, you’ll want to know that Pantone has declared the color Radiant Orchid (18-3224) as the color of the year for 2014. We’re sure you’ll want to change all of your landscape color themes to keep in step with this important development.
If you’re looking for a unique gift for that half-cocked gardener in your life, how about Flowershells? So, what’s a flowershell, you ask? Flowershells are made for the hunters-gardeners in your life who want to be more sustainable with their pastimes. Flowershells are 12 gauge shotgun shells filled with a mix of gunpowder and flower seed, so every time you blast away, you’re planting flowers. Instead of taking a life when you shoot, you’ll be giving life…what a unique concept. If you find the idea intriguing, check out http://www.flowershell.com Unfortunately, Flowershells don’t really exist, but this delightful parody comes from the fertile minds of Studio Total…a creative Swedish advertising agency.
Until next month…happy gardening!
-tony and anita