Freeze is normal for this time of year

Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 12:35 a.m.

The super cold temperatures predicted for late last week should not have come as a surprise.

Winter always shoves its way into our lives about this time of year, and for the most part, our landscapes have been prepared.

Several weeks of low temperatures (upper 30s in my back yard) have allowed the shrubs and trees to harden off enough to be able to easily withstand several hours of sub-freezing temperatures.

But then, there are the plants that had been growing quite well this winter, plants that normally shouldn't be around in mid-January, that were frozen back Thursday night. Well, it's about time.

The impatiens in my front yard were reveling in the coolness; this is their third year. The fibrous begonias likewise were blooming their little heads off.

Both of these clumps are now removed and mulched over. I finally had to cut back the ruellia and polka-dot plants in front, even though they were still green. Ditto for the Mexican heather, which I don't personally have anymore, but which are growing in a lot of neighborhood yards. It doesn't necessarily need to be cut back each year, but tends to grow better if it does.

The pine cone gingers and wedelia looked as fresh Wednesday as they did in September. Not so Friday morning, though.

That's just fine. The wedelia was getting too rambunctious and I wanted to edge it and mow it back anyway; and the gingers needed to take a winter break.

Lush bananas that hung in there are now stalks with droopy leaves. I cut the leaves off only, and on occasion, a plant that had not fruited yet will regrow new leaves when temperatures warm up in spring.

Since the growth comes up through the center of the "trunk," wrapping or protecting the main stem is often enough to keep it alive for another year, and possibly produce a flower and fruiting stalk next fall (one of mine did this).

While perennials can all be cut back to the ground, there are other plants that need to be left alone, even though they look frozen.

For instance, hibiscus leaves will drop from frost or freeze, but you will be surprised at how little the stems have been damaged.

To test, gently scrape away some of the bark. If it's green underneath, the plant is still alive. When growth resumes in the spring, you will be able to tell easily how far back the branches were frozen.

Azalea buds that have not shown color shouldn't be affected. Camellia flowers may open with browned edges, though. Citrus that has been affected by the cold temperatures will have leaves that are brown and curled.

If they have fallen off, that's the good news - that means the wood underneath shed them and is still alive. If dead leaves continue to hang on, it could indicate that the wood they are growing from is likewise dead.

It's a good idea to collect and remove frozen plant materials that has turned to mush. The excess moisture can attract undesirable insects to flower beds. Best to move this stuff to the compost pile, where the dampness will hasten decomposition and the ensuing heat repels insects.

Remember that plants in containers suffer more from cold temperatures, since their roots aren't insulated like their counterparts in the ground. Often just placing these underneath a deck or nearer the house and away from cold winds is all that is needed for the hardier ones.

I find that covering plants is generally a useless procedure, mostly because I don't have that many spare sheets around, and because it seems largely ineffective.

Floating row covers over vegetable beds can trap enough warmth to save winter vegetables. But most of these - the cole crops especially - actually improve with a touch of very cold weather.

Perennial plant of the year

The Perennial Plant Association has announced that the Plant of the Year 2003 is Leucanthemurn `Becky.'

This is a Shasta daisy with white flowers centered with yellow - your classic daisy "look" - with a long season of bloom even - they say - in zone 9, which is south of here. Many Shasta daisies do not grow well in the hot, humid temperatures of the south and are not hardy in cold northern winters.

Shasta daisies used to be a member of the Chrysanthemum genus, but are now labeled Leucanthemum.

`Becky' grows 40 inches tall, with a similar spread. Three-inch wide flowers begin opening in June - later than most Shastas - and continue through summer.

This Shasta daisy grows best in full sun and well-drained soil; it is not tolerant of excessive moisture or wet soils in winter. Deadheading encourages rebloom and extends the flowering season into autumn. The flower stems are strong enough to keep this daisy upright after a heavy rain and to make it an excellent cut flower.

`Becky' will soon be available at retail nurseries and by mail-order. For more information, visit

Marina Blomberg can be reached at gardener@gvillesun.

com, or 374-5025.

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