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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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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lose Some, Win Some

This post, "Lose Some, Win Some ", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

ED Jan 29: Looking into the back garden at house #3 Illinois - mid-1990's

Winter in Illinois meant -15°F/-26°C, shoveling snow, chopping ice and growing a garden full of dormant plants. Eleven winters in Austin have taught me to expect occasional snow, some spectacular ice storms, occasional dips to the 20's and have taught me that many marginal plants will make it through with a little help from a gardener. It's unlearning time when January 2010 brings the coldest temperatures in decades.

Some of the effects of the 13°F/10.5°C measured in my garden won't show up for months - some of the editing was sudden, but the garden will change and this blog will help me remember what happens.

Although the loss of perennials also means the opportunity to try new ones, I'm grateful that the deep cold barely touched the Green Bones of the garden. So far the evergreen yaupon hollies and Burford hollies, the loquats and sweet olives, live oaks and Southern wax myrtles and 'Little Gem' magnolia, the boxwoods and Mexican oreganos, the camellias and roses and abelias, the Pineapple guavas, Magnolia figo/Banana shrub, Dwarf Myrtles, Buddhist Pine/Podocarpus, Bay laurels, Gregg's salvias, cast iron plants and sturdy evergreen vines of Star Jasmine seem fine. The Carolina Jessamine vine didn't even lose its buds.
Another cold front is on the way now, poised to banish the balmy 63°/17°C of the last weeks so the 25°F/3.8°C can return. It's time to once again cover tender plants and move others from the patio back inside the garage. But there are fewer plants to worry about this time - any lingering annuals and most of the marginal plants have bailed!

After that hard weekend some plants died immediately. A warm house wall and layers of covering couldn't save the African aloes - their gel-filled leaves felt like water balloons, collapsing when temperatures rose. This Aloe vera and skullcap huddled side-by-side under the layers against the wall - that was enough protection to keep the pot of Scutellaria indica 'Dorota Blue' looking fresh and green but the Aloe has collapsed.

Obviously dead was the Zone 9 Mexican flame vine, an iffy choice when it was planted on the new trellis last fall. After 15-seconds of mourning it was replaced by the Ramona clematis blooming in its holding container since 2007.

Many plants died to the ground - there's no sign that the Duranta erecta, the cupheas, the Mexican honeysuckle, the Blue butterfly clerodendron, the tall yellow Brugmansia/Angel Trumpet or the Milkweeds/Asclepias curassavica will have enough strength to resprout from the base. I don't know how far the chill entered the ground - if it went down a few inches even normally hardy salvias and the southern bulbs like canna, calla, amaryllis, rainlilies, agapanthus or the Butterfly Gingers in the open borders may be dead. If the Amarcrinums don't live I won't be one bit philosophical about the loss!

Many plants, especially the Texas plants, have dropped leaves but the stems are flexible so they'll probably survive - defoliating now are the Texas sage/Cenizo, native wisteria and all three Barbados cherries (largest one seen above). Semi-evergreen non-natives like roses and dwarf pomegranates have dropped leaves, too and the native Silver Ponyfoot/Dichondra argentea has died back in large sheets to a few places where the silver grey leaves are alive.

The larger Meyer's Lemon tree also had special covering and and lights. It didn't look too bad at first, then the leaves started curling. Last weekend the lemon leaves turned brown and started falling. I'll cover it again tonight and turn on the lights, hoping that green stems mean the tree can recover.

Covering won't help several dead-looking palm trees or the bicolor iris or the bulbines. Just in case they're not dead I'm crossing my fingers and leaving most of those plants alone for now. The clump of bulbines above were dug out for another reason - they'd taken over a space earmarked for a pomegranate tree.

Some fall-planted cilantro didn't care about the cold but I was surprised to see that smaller bluebonnet and larkspur seedlings were missing after the freeze.

Apparently some seeds were still underground - a few bluebonnets, the larkspur above and more cilantro germinated and popped up after the freeze.

Every border, front and back, has a sprinkling of Verbena bonariensis seedlings eager to fill in blank spots.

Birds eat berries from the Wax-leafed Ligustrum in my neighbors' yards and drop the seeds here. This Asian invader wasn't bothered by a mere 13F so I've pulled hundreds of these seedlings.

The new white camellia 'Morning Glow' lost a few buds, then opened others with brown edges. The rose pink Camellia japonica never opened its buds but hasn't dropped them.

All three Sweet Olive shrubs have pushed off the frozen brown buds and popped a new set of fragrant flowers.

The Loropetalum AKA Chinese Witch Hazel AKA "Razzle Dazzle" is defying whatever weather comes next.

Ranunculus bulbs are pushing up leaves all over the garden. I grow a few every year and they look much more robust with rain and cooler temperatures than in the last couple of years.

Inside the house a Smith & Hawken Amaryllis blooms on the windowsill. This doesn't look one bit like the picture of 'Apple Blossom' on the label but it's a winner.

This post, "Lose Some, Win Some ", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.


  1. You've had some hard losses and some easy. I'm noticing more dead or dormant plants every day in my garden and should do an interim follow-up too. The real follow-up will be in the spring, when we can tell what will resprout from the roots and what won't.

  2. This is a nice documentation and I am thinking that some of these plants may surprise you as the spring warms. I will be posting some information on our plants that had similar weather to yours...of course we do not have tender perennials here.

  3. This is a fabulous chance to see what really survives drought & hard freeze. But don't be so fast on the shovel finger. That Mex. flame vine could've come back. Just wait, gardeners, wait! All is not lost yet, no matter what it looks like right now.

  4. I am keeping my fingers crossed...My famous words recently, "I wonder if this will come back?"

  5. I'm trying to put your (meaning all you Southerners) extreme weather and subsequent plant losses into an analogous context for me. I'm not sure I can, because even if it went down to -40F, there would probably be snow offering protection. It's mind-boggling.

  6. Excellent records, Annie. I'll be waiting to hear what happens after your next freeze. Will it be a knock out punch for some of the plants that survived the first one? And I chuckled reading how you mourned that one vine for 15 seconds, then planted a Clematis in its place. We gardeners are resilient, hope the plants are, too.

  7. We're not done yet are we, Pam/Digging? Even if the rest of the winter is moderate, some plants won't have enough oomph left to grow again. There may be a sameness about Austin gardens this spring!

    I sure hope a few of them will give me a good surprise, Tabor! Many zone 7-8 plants can take fairly cold weather if 'resting' but most of these were in active growth. Your survey will be interesting!

    Don't worry, Linda from CTG, I'm leaving most plants alone! The Mexican Flame vine was a very small plant and something (squirrel most likely) had dug around it, exposing most of the roots to the weather. Like the witch in the Wizard of Oz it was most sincerely dead!

    Oh Amy - maybe it's the suspense that's so hard? If we knew for sure we could start gathering and ordering replacements. Hope the stuff you love will revive.
    Also - congratulations on your prize winning photo in the Gardening Gone Wild contest! The frosted flowers are beautiful!

    Well, Kathy - plants that lived through drought and heat did not like 13F! But the heat stressed many plants that tolerate cold. Guess I'll just replant what I like and think of them as short-lived perennials!

    You caught me, Carol! I liked the idea of a Mexican Flame vine (and it was a souvenir of the Master Gardener's tour) but liked the reality of the Clematis more!
    I'm sure we'll have more losses - some of the survivors have been hailed on, baked, parched and frozen... they can't emigrate so they'll vote by dying.

    Thanks for the comments,


  8. Kathy -- I feel your pain. You were hard hit and it's not over yet. Tomorrow forecast @ 28F for low. Sigh. I have many of the same plants and am just operating on wait and see and don't look in the meantime! (I especially can't look @ the Eureka Variegated lemon - so sad.) Good luck tomorrow & through Feb!

  9. Annie, good post with great info. I'm surprised your bicolor Iris is sufferering, though - I have four and all seem fine (so far). Good news about some of the other things, lets me know mine are probably ok. My bottlebrush leaves are all freeze burned and will drop, so I'm not sure what kind of bloom season I'll have in the spring, but the limbs are flexible. I think many of our plants would have survived this freeze had they had not had such an outrageously stressful summer preceeding this. Seems like they just haven't caught a break in over 24 months now.

  10. You may not be able to be philosophical about an amercrinum loss, Annie, but you sure seem to be doing well with the ones you have already incurred this season. I think that I would be feeling a little (okay, a lot!) more sorry for myself if I was dealing with all of that.

    Of course, the beautiful camellia blooms probably help... :)

  11. I'm still watching my plants for signs of death. The biggest disappointment is the severe damage to my sago palm. It's not quite dead but it will be years before it recovers. Like yours, my three very large duranta are wiped out to the ground and perhaps beyond.

    I'm most surprised by the loss of your bluebonnets. I have many in various stages. Some of the leaves darkened with cold damage but all quickly recovered.

    I have hopes for your lemon tree if the stems are still green. Mine lost all its leaves due to another problem several summers ago and came back better than ever. Fingers crossed.

  12. You have a lot going on in your garden Annie. I know Ramona will be a marvelouse addition to your garden. Even here it ignores the cold until the cold sets in for the duration of winter. Cannas often survive here too so I bet yours comes up. I just love the jessmine vine. I wish it would survive here. Good luck with the rest of your garden.

  13. Did you pick that Smith & Hawken amaryllis variety? I happen to have the same variety on my windowsill! Mine, however, currently has 2 unopened buds that are about 8 inches tall. It was just started a few weeks ago when I got it for 50% off. Further evidence that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

  14. It's so hard to see these kind of losses, Annie, even though your philosophical good nature is very apparent in your post. The unusual cold spells are going to mean a lot of ramifications for many gardeners when spring does come, I'm sure. But other plants will go in the ready-made spaces...

  15. How difficult to see the list of casualties Annie...I hope you see more survivors when the weather warms up. Gardening is such a gamble and some years we see that more clearly than others.

  16. Losing a Eureka Lemon would be sad, Diana! Yes, all we can do is wait & see.

    The bicolor iris is straw color with green stripes, Robin/Get Grounded so may not recover. I've read that our plants have been stressed since the drought began in fall of 2007!

    Most of the garden is still here, Blackswamp Kim, and so am I. Maybe a philosophical attitude is what you get after moving a few times & leaving gardens behind ;-]

    That this duranta survived the 2 previous winters surprised me, MSS at Zanthan Gardens! They've acted like annuals in my garden.

    We drove past our previous house where I'd planted sago palms. They were magnificent last fall but are brown mounds now. Sure hope Zilker Park's microclimate saved their Cycads!

    Hi Lisa at Greenbow - the 'Ramona' came from an Austin Organic Gardeners plant sale - had to buy it because we loved it in 2 Illinois gardens. In IL I put them in the ground as small plants but they seem to do better here if kept in containers for a couple of years. Still a risk though!
    Thanks for telling me about your cannas - maybe these will be okay!

    Hi Tigerlily - picked up the amaryllis at Target before Christmas - on sale but not 50% off. I've never had one in this color before!
    Diva Mattie gave me such a spectacular S&H amaryllis last year that it seemed a good idea to buy another one.

    That's especially true on a small lot, Jodi -something has to leave in order to try something new!
    And even if they don't last long, it's fun to watch plants grow.

    Gardening is a gamble in most places, isn't it, Leslie? But it's more recreational for us and if we lose we try again.

    Farming... now that's high stakes gambling!

    Thanks for the comments,

  17. What a shock it is to see your Texas garden covered with snow! That sounds like a long list of ravaged plants, Annie. I doubt I could be quite as philosophical about the losses, but I admire your resilience.
    It's good to hear of the "Green Bones" survivors. I do hope your Amarcrinums make it. Spring will certainly be a time of discovery for you. Let's hope for happy surprises!
    I'm grinning at your mislabeled Amaryllis. I have one labeled "Appleblossom" too, and it looks to be about the same color as yours :) Mine came from a big box store.
    Whatever the true identity, it's a beauty!
    We're back to cold wintery weather here too after a brief warm-up.

  18. Whoops - your comment crossed mine, Kerri - guess I should have labeled that photo at the top - that's an old photo from Illinois. Actually, if we'd had snow cover a few more plants might have survived!
    The amaryllis was a Smith & Hawken bought at Target, but I have another one still waking up on sale from Lowe's. We'll see if it's really Minerva!


  19. I need to get some more of those "green bones" survivors. Thanks for the list -- now I know what sort of plants to choose. Your amaryllis is gorgeous.

  20. An excellent journal, Annie, of what has survived and what hasn't in your garden with these unusual freezes. On the bright side, knowing the "bones" of your garden have survived has to be encouraging. And I would be encouraged, too, by any signs of green on plants. It figures, though, that something like the invasive Ligustrum wouldn't be fazed by cold weather. Here's hoping the cold snaps are about over for you.

  21. I hope that many of your plants will prove to be not dead but only resting (unlike the Python parrot). I have the same doubts about many of the same plants, though. The temperatures didn't drop as low as predicted last night here. It's hard not to get out there and start pruning!

  22. Ha, my "Apple Blossom" amaryllis didn't look like it either - it was orange!

    Wow, lots of losses but some good saves there. I'm not surprised by some of them but it's a shame that seedlings like ligustrum just fly by hard freezes. I was surprised by the bluebonnets and Cenizos succumbing. I thought for sure they'd make it. None of my camellias has bloomed yet and I'm thinking none of them will. They were just caught by the freeze at the wrong time I guess. I hope your lemon tree and others made it through this weekend!

  23. All is not lost in your garden and surely that is as cold as it will ever get in Austin. I also tried the Mexican flame vine this year but it never produced one flower- just lots of rampant growth which has bitten the dust like yours. It is so wonderful to see plants that cope well with a freeze and you seem to have plenty. The ranunculus will be wonderful- I have noticed too that when we have certain weather conditions some plants just come to life and strut their stuff. I had this one year with gorgeous bee balm. It had sulked for 6 years and then one rainy summer it came into all its glory. Always surprises in the garden.

  24. What a winter! I'm curious about what I've lost as well - crossing my fingers that a few things made it - although I'm not terribly optimistic. We had almost a dozen nights in the low 20s, which doesn't bode well. Don't you have the bat-faced cupheas? I always admire them - but haven't tried to grow them as an annual here. Many of my camellias are tinged in brown too. Hopefully a few plants will surprise you - and revive themselves!

  25. It's painful reading through your list of plants damaged by the recent frosts. The poor Aloes stick in my mind because I remember the sight of some I lost several a few years ago when the temperature dipped low in August. Oh I hope the Meyer lemon is okay. Spring will definitely be a time when you learn just how hardy your plants are. I suspect you'll have many good surprises to counteract the losses. Those bloody frosts!

  26. The green bones are taking a long time to grow, Jayne- so start soon!

    Thank you, Prairie Rose - Maybe a few things will bounce back, but it could be months before we know the extent of the damage. The cedar waxwings are glad about the ligustrum!

    All the advice here is to use restraint and wait, so I'm trying to do it, Cindy from Katy - may be harder on the neighbors than on me ;-]

    Orange amaryllis? Sounds like fun Jean!
    The cenizo seems to be releafing right now. I really think there was enough of a freeze here to cause frost-heave, and that's what did in the little seedlings. A few more camellia blossoms opened...all tinged with rusty brown frost marks.

    That flame vine was quite small, Lancaster Jenny - never had a chance! If it grew so rampantly for you maybe I was saved?? My bee balm is barely alive, planted in 2004 without a single bloom. Maybe this will be the year!

    Your loss of a lemon has me pretty nervous, Pam in SC - the stems have remained green, but how much energy will it take to push out all new leaves?
    The batfaced cupheas are always iffy... I plant some every year and maybe 1/3 survive a winter. Sorry your camellias were hit!

    Hello Kate Smudges - your losing aloes in August puts our tiny cold snap in perspective! It's 47F/8.3C right now and raining so no frost in sight and we dearly hope the reservoir lakes will be filled once again.

    Thanks for the comments,


  27. Awww...your poor aloes! At least there are some signs of life elsewhere to balance the carnage. Spring's a-comin'....it was still light at 5pm today here. (I AM grasping...pitiful, eh? :)

  28. Annie, I bought one labeled Minerva too. It's now delighting us with 2 beautiful blooms..and it really is Minerva!
    My "Appleblossom" turned out to be a very similar color to yours. Perhaps a bit more reddish.


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