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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time to think about cold-hardiness in Brenda's Garden

cyclamensWinter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours." ~Robert Byrne

I hate cold weather. I'm a true Southerner.  When the thermometer drops below 50, I pull out the overcoats.

There is one compensation, however, to cooler weather.  We get to grow cyclamens.

This cold-hearty flower ain't cheap. But it's still one of the best values at the nursery.  One little plant will bloom all winter long, often surviving even the coldest of temperatures.

I say often because like most folks, I get so thrilled with the constant supply of flowers that I won't risk losing it.  So when temperatures start to drop, I bring it inside.

These are great for containers placed next to the front door or where you can see them easily from an indoor window.  Don't keep them inside.  They want to be cold.

For the same reason, when it starts to warm up in spring, they will fade and probably die.  But, oh what a show they'll provide all winter long.

PoppiesDEAR BRENDA:  I love poppies and plant them every spring.  But they just don't do well.  I see others growing them.  Why can't I?  Sam in Spring.

DEAR SAM:  When are you planting them?  Poppies need cold to germinate.  If you wait until spring to plant them, expect a short term bloom period.  The best time to plant them is now.  You may have to protect them during freezes.  But then they should do better for you in the spring.

Persian shieldDEAR BRENDA:  I have this gorgeous Persian shield.  It's in a pot and it's done so well this year (when other things haven't). But it's never been through a winter.  We live just south of Houston. Do you think it will winter over?  I just bought it this past spring. Vera

DEAR VERA:  No, it won't make it through winter unless you protect it.  This is a true tropical. Since it's in a pot, just carry it into the garage and set it by the hot water heater when temperatures drop below, say, 45.  Then you can put it back out the next day. 

Or, you can just bring it inside.  But if you do that, expect leaves to fall.  These don't like to be inside unless you have an atrium-type environment with high humidity.  Central heating is very drying.  It would help to keep a bowl of water nearby. Or you can try filling a shallow dish with rocks.  Keep the dish filled with water to just below the top of the rocks.  Then place the Persian shield pot on top.  That might help keep the leaves on longer.

The good thing about this plant is that it roots easily from cuttings.  Start some cuttings now . . . just in case!

PlumbagoDEAR BRENDA: Will plumbago winter over?  I swear it used to but it sure didn't last year.  Joy

DEAR JOY:  Not much wintered over last year that was even remotely marginally tropical.  Plumbago is a super hardy shrub for us, but it dies back even in mild winters.  Don't let that stop you from planting it, however.  Remember, our winters are so short, we blink, spring arrives and everything's coming back out before you know it.

DEAR BRENDA: My mother really fussed at me when she saw me cutting the spent blooms off my roses.  She said I should stop that now.  Is that true?  Won't they keep blooming if I keep the dead flowers cut off?  Cheryl.

DEAR CHERYL: Mother knows best.  Yes, cutting off spent rose buds does trick the plant into producing more flowers.  All plants are genetically programmed to produce X amount of seed. 

The flowers aren't there for our enjoyment, they're produced because they turn into seed.  When enough spent blooms collect on a plant, it knows it can stop blooming — a process that does take a lot of energy.  Keep those off and the plant never reaches its "stop blooming" quota.

However! Stopping now does have benefits to offset the loss of flowers:

1. Plants need to go dormant to replenish their resources.  Our long, hot summers do sap a lot of energy.

2. Cutting off spent blooms is a form of pruning.  The cut is a wound.  When wounded, a plant immediately starts producing new growth to replace the lost growth.  This new growth will be very tender and far more susceptible to freeze damage than the older, harder wood.

It's possible, if you deliberately trigger new growth and it freezes, you could lose a plant that would have easily survived winter had you just not forced that tender new growth.

For everyone: if you want to give your plants the best Thanksgiving gift ever, grab those bags of leaves your neighbors are setting out for the garbage trucks. Dump them on  your gardens.  This is great free mulch that will benefit your gardens in so many ways:

1. Mulch keeps the soil warmer and more moist in winter, helping roots survive when they might not otherwise.

2. As these leaves decompose they replenish organic matter in the soil, a valuable source of nutrients.

Hope this helps.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S.  Don't miss new posts. Make the Lazy Gardener's Blog ( your home page.

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" — Specifically for Houston area gardens: monthly do-now reminders & gardening advice. 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. A gardening book on CD. $20. 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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