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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Burrrrrr!  Is everything dead in Brenda's Garden?
“Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do - or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.”  ~Stanley Crawford
If everything is dead in your garden, you're planting the wrong plants, baby!
For example, I have narcissus blooming now.  And one lonesome daffodil.  
And you could fill those empty pots with winter annuals like cyclamens, mimulus (monkeyflower) and pansies.

    Cyclamens                                        Mimulus                                            Pansies

Sure, some things died back. Some won't return.  After all, 20 degrees is pretty cold.
I'm amazed at the number of people who are emailing asking if this, or that, plant is going to return.
Lord, folks, how should I know?
 It depends on:
 1. What variety of plant it is.  Some can take more cold than others.
 2. How old the plant is.  The older, the more likely it will return.
 3. How well established the root system is.  If a plant was struggling to survive, even if it has been around for a while, well, its odds go down.
 4. How well watered was it?  Hydrated (well-watered) roots will tolerate far colder temperatures than will dehydrated roots.
 5. How long did the cold last in your area?  The longer temperatures stay below freezing, the colder the soil will become and the more stressed the roots.
 6. How well mulched is the garden?  A thick layer of leaves, pine needles or other mulch will keep the soil warmer and more moist, increasing the chances even more tropical plants will survive.
It's not too late to do this.  All those leaves your neighbors are putting out for the garbage?  Grab them and pour them on your gardens.  Not only might they save plants that might otherwise die, they'll break down and provide your gardens with the best fertilizer available.
Will “dead” plants return in spring?  
If I could tell you that, I could quit writing and retire a billionaire.
Most hardy plants will.  Our cold spell did not last long enough to truly freeze the soil.
Should you cut back?  I haven't.  There are those who say that anything that gets mushy (plumerias, philodendrons, etc.) should be cut back and then protected well against any future cold spells.  
Some say if you don't get rid of the mush, the stalk will continue to rot killing the plant.
It's a gamble.  I'm not cutting anything back.  My split leaf philodendrons are about 20 years old.  They've gone through massive cold spells.  They're a mash of mush out there now and they'll come out strong in the spring.    
Hardwood stalks should be left alone.  If you accidentally cut into live wood you'll trigger new growth. That new growth will be far more susceptible to freeze damage and you might end up losing plants that would have survived had you just left them alone.
On the other hand, if you absolutely cannot stand “that black stuff" go head and cut them back. Try not to cut into live wood.  
It's a gamble.  No one has all the answers.  Gardening's like making stew.  Everyone has his own recipe.
As cold as these past spells have been, they weren't as bad as the winters of 1989 and 1990. My husband's football team (Aldine High School) played for the State Championship game in 1989 in that awful Texas Stadium.  
(We were the team that Permian High played the year AFTER "Friday Night Lights" depicted. But! the following year — 1990 —  Aldine won the state high school football championship and was named National High School Football Champions.)
But, back to '89, when we woke up in the Dallas hotel room the day of the Permian game, Bill said, "Turn on the TV and see what the temperature is." 
"It's zero," I told him. 
"Good," he said, "I thought it'd be colder." 
Now, that's cold!  
A lot of plants didn't return that spring.
So what we just went through isn't the worst.  And if our weather extremes continue to swing so wildly, the worst is probably yet to come.  
All the more reason to let those plants go that can't take our heavy temperature swings.  
The way I look at it, if a plant dies, then God didn't intend for it to be in my garden in the first place.
Here are two links for listings of plants that survived the freeze in the Greater Houston area:
 • “What Survived the Freeze?” (
 • “Yeh, These Also Survived!” (
Brenda Beust Smith (Features > Brenda's Garden)
 Email Brenda for list of area gardening/environmental speakers ($5) andlist of her topics for garden club presentations ($250-$300)

"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch, Houston, TX 77039-2103.
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