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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Decisions Were Made

Living in a sub-tropical climate tempts one to grow a lot of marginal plants, so some Austin folk build frames across the back of their houses each autumn, covering the wood or plastic skeleton in heavy plastic using open house windows to add enough warm air to keep slightly tender plants alive. Luckily, Philo was uninterested in building a temporary greenhouse, forcing me to Decide.

We used a dolly to roll the yellow plumeria into the garage, where it now fills a corner with 7-feet tall by 4-feet wide branches.
I started this plumeria from a stick in 2001, and at the beginning of each winter it has dropped its leaves and stayed dormant in the garage.
In spring of 2005, a kind NE Austin gardener named Jane gave me a cutting from one of her red plumerias. Once it was well-rooted and repotted, the new one began to grow, reaching 30 inches by late fall 2005, when it joined the bigger one in the garage. But just like my kids, this baby would not go to sleep, refusing to go dormant. Moved outside again in spring, it branched out, bloomed, and grew quickly to over 5-feet tall. This year, I’m trying an experiment, letting the Plumeria stay awake for the winter in the breakfast room.
We should probably start referring to this space as the conservatory – the Meyer’s Lemon is also inside near the windows. Christopher from Hawaii suggested that we keep this lemon tree as a potted plant, and buy a new one for the ground. This idea made sense to my husband, and with 7 almost-ripe lemons on it along with a new batch of pea-sized fruit, I couldn’t bear to leave it outside!
On the windowsill in the photo you can see the little Aloe, safe because Pam/Digging warned me it was tender. Last winter, a pink tropical Hibiscus spent the winter in the breakfast room but it wasn't happy, developing both mealybugs and aphids. I set this plant close to the back wall near a window, but won’t let that Hibiscus inside this winter. There was a good spot for the Hedychium coronaria [Hawaiian White Ginger] near the back fence, so a big chunk from the patio container went there, with lots of amendments, a good watering, and leaf mulch piled around the base. The 'Best of Friends' daylily from Pam was planted, too, but the rest of the garden had to be left to chance.
On Thursday three clumps of Bengal Tiger cannas were in bloom, the non-blooming Brugmansia stood a foot taller than it had been in the spring, while the various Cupheas were blooming and still attracting bees and butterflies. A large Fennel plant also offered flowers to the butterflies.
I was still wearing shorts and sandals on Wednesday, as I finally got my act together, hoping the precautions were not really necessary. Over the last few years we’ve heard many frost or freeze warnings that never actually delivered the expected blow, but this time, the predictions were quite accurate. The Friday landscape showed the changes, with all the canna leaves a tobacco color, the top of the Brugmansia floppy, and both fennel and the cupheas shriveled and browned. I was actually glad to see the peppers and tomatoes wilted by the freeze, and the basil put out of its misery. Cleaning up a big mess is sometimes easier than fidgety maintenance!

Now the Christmas tree is assembled, with lights in place, ready for decorating. We’re enjoying our happy kitchen-conservatory, and thanks to the big freeze, I’m moving forward again.


  1. Well, it'll be us this week I fear - the first dreaded freeze. Today I think I'm going to make a little makeshift greenhouse on the sunny corner of my deck (I'm on stilts) - and I'll mulch the rest and hope the winter is mild again like last year! But yippeee! In our sub-tropical climates, it just means that spring is almost here!!!

  2. I'm quite envious of your lemon tree!

    I do agree that sometimes in the garden, cleaning it all up to start again after a killing frost does force one to take an action versus contemplating an action. That applies to life, too.

    I do love the "start over" part of living with four seasons.

  3. I brought my lemon and aloes inside our unheated room which we sometimes call the conservatory, or simply the garden room. It took me five hours to clean out all the construction detritus before I was able to bring the plants in. We've been using it all year as a staging area for the kitchen remodel. Finding a room under all that junk was a pleasant surprise. All the while I was thinking about your many potted plants. You have a huge movable garden!

    My electrician broke one of my aloe pots last summer and I stuck the aloes in the ground (supposedly temporarily--this is what I mean by saying my entire yard is just a holding bed). Thursday the high winds knocked down the pecan leaves in masse and I piled them around the aloes. The temperatures got down to only 31F downtown; they seem to be okay.

  4. I gave up house plants about a decade ago and then switched to cacti and succulents for deck plants because watering potted plants while I was surrounded by a jungle that demanded constant attention became too much work. Most of the cacti on the deck have long since crumbled into dust.

    I remember the freeze drill from growing up in North Florida and I wonder if I will be able to adapt to a new climate easily where some plants I may not be able to live without have seasonal transportation issues. Or how big will my greenhouse have to be?

  5. Love your breakfast room "conservatory", and oh,those lemons! I always breathe a sigh of relief after the first hard frost, it tends to make many of my decisions for me. If I dithered around and left some tender plants outside, they're dead. End of story! Except for regular treks to the birdfeeders, my back yard and garden (now buried under snow) will be left to fend for itself until spring.

  6. Wow, your plumeria is huge. I have a Singapore plumeria supposedly evergreen that's still producing a few flowers. I almost managed to kill it last year because I took some expert's advice and watered it only very sparingly. Wrong! Thanks to my wife who started to water it more abundantly it flourished this year but all the branches went sideways so we have a short stout tree. Great fragrance tho. Gotta watch out for scale insects. They almost killed the tree the first year I got the tree.

  7. I moved in my citrus tree and banana just in time to the grow lights in the garage. My basil is also fried but for some reason the fennel is still thriving.

  8. Maybe it's my nature -- or the nature of being a toddler mama -- but I didn't bring ANYTHING in. Let 'em tough it out or not. I am with you on the clean-up being easier than maintenance. I'm ready to whack down the canna and just move on for this year.

    Of course, this time of year does bring out my favorite winter gardening activity -- leaf napping! As founder of the Leaf Liberation Front, I love sneaking out on trash pickup day to steal leaves from my neighbor's curbs. All the lovely compost I shall make... and free mulch! (That's esp. great for my neglected back garden area. It needs more mulch or I shall have more weeds.)

  9. I am in awe of all gardeners -- I was cursed with the Black Thumb of Plant Death. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I think it got down to 31 here at my house in Houston. It caught me by surprise and I lost my coleus and some blue daze. Oh well, I never said I was perfect. :)

  11. Pam, it looks like you got colder than you expected!

    Carol, it might be a milder winter, but I like having four seasons, too.

    MSS, many of my container plants [the loquat, a fig, Nandina, vitex, rosemary, thyme, lavender and other herbs, Bay laurel, boxwood, Wax myrtle, ginger, cannas, salvias and coneflowers] have made it through 4 or 5 winters, some on that windy, cold deck. It's the clay POTS that couldn't make it, so they've gradually been replaced with plastic and hypertufa.

    Christopher, either a big greeenhouse or none - it would be too hard to pick and choose just a few, but you might be in a place of such natural beauty that you would no longer care about the tender plants.

    Lost Roses - winter is the time for sitting on patios, here! The majority of the days from November to March are pleasant. There should be Carolina Jessamine and narcissus by the end of January, and the Sweet Olive is blooming now.

    Ki, this is the SMALL plumeria. The other one is almost 7 feet tall [well, the pot raises it up that high]. I never expected them to get this big this fast!

    Nelumbo, maybe I'll wish I put the banana in the garage, too, but other people around here say they sprout from the roots every spring - I hope so!

    Martha, I never did this stuff when my kids were small, either! There wouldn't even have been enough room for both children and plants inside.

    Bozoette, you have a fun blog and thank you!

    Hi Gary - it surprises me, too - I always think of Houston as almost tropical. My Blue Daze/Evolvolus looks bad in the containers, but in the ground near a brick wall it's still blooming!

  12. Oh, I remember those days of dragging pots inside and filling the garage in Dallas. I don't have to worry about freezes now, but a forced break would be nice every now and then.

  13. So will you just leave the hibiscus outside for the winter? ml of Full Fathom F.

  14. Our Singapore plumeria grew lustily outdoors in the summer but is plagued again with some kind of small yellow bugs on the underside of the leaves. I also spotted some tiny grayish black bugs. Both are so tiny I cannot see any distinguishing parts. Will have to get out the magnifying glass. Only found out about the infestation when I stepped in the sticky secretion from the frangipani. In fact almost all indoor plants are a pain. A lot of them are infested with some sort of aphid or scale insect usually on the underside of the leaves which makes spraying hard to do. Even the resistant ones like the Raphis palm has black flat scale and orchids too. I'm about ready to throw the whole lot in the garbage dump. Exasperated in NJ.


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