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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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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Two Bad Winters in a Row

Annieinaustin,2011,02,snowy viewThis winter was supposed to be different! I was sure there would be less frost damage because the wimpy plants had bailed after the very unusual 13ºF of January 2010, right? The covers and lights used on the in-ground Meyer's Lemon & Mexican Lime trees helped keep the stems alive, but they'd still lost all their leaves and had no fruit in 2010.

We had space for the two medium-size plumerias, a ginger, Stapelias, the allspice bush, staghorn fern and the smaller lemon inside the house & garage. So if we had a normal winter, all should be well.

But the big plumeria had grown too tall to fit inside the garage.... what to do, what to do?

I decided to ignore the citrus - they no longer fit inside their N-sulate fabric pillowcases - and in November I took that fabric, ripped out the stitches and tried a different idea.Annieinaustin,2011,02,N-sulate curtain The rain barrel had been moved and the little brick-lined sun-catching cove next to the chimney was accessible. I sewed the fabric into one large curtain and Philo put a rod close up against the wall over the window. Annieinaustin,2011,02,plants coveredMy idea was to shove the too-tall plumeria and more marginal plants against the window, using the curtain to trap any heat that escaped through the glass from the house, counting on additional heat being captured and released from the bricks. Annieinaustin,2011,covered plants from inside
Winter came, things froze, and you know, the idea worked great as long as the low temperatures were in the mid-2o's - that plumeria still had leaves 10 days ago! Annieinaustin,2011,02,fabric on rod

Then last week, as the north was buried in 2-feet of snow, we were hit with a long-lasting cold snap, going down to 14ºF or 15ºF . A power glitch hit Monday, while we were still warm - and it was farewell, computer! On Tuesday February 1st, before the cold came, I piled burlap bags around the pots and swagged a big sheet across the bottom of the curtain. We unplugged the birdbath fountain so the motor wouldn't burn out... and crossed our fingers. Annieinaustin,2011,02,tucked in plants

The wind howled all night long, whipping things around the yard and unsettling the sleepers as the temperatures dropped. With daylight on Wednesday we could see the wind had flipped the yellow adirondack chair and tossed a patio umbrella across the yard like a javelin. The wind kept pulling the curtain off the plants. Each time I'd go out to tuck them in the wind would whip the clothes off again. There was no sun in the cove, so no extra heat gathered by the bricks.

The temperatures stayed below freezing so we set up makeshift birdbaths, tapping out the ice blocks and refilling with warm water when the water froze. Rolling brown-outs didn't hit our neighborhood too hard but Vertie's neighborhood didn't have power stay on long enough to keep warmAnnieinaustin,2011,02,whitewing doves
The power was more stable the next day, and early Friday about an inch of snow lay softly on the garden, looking extremely decorative for awhile- Annieinaustin,2011,02,tossed umbrellaand melting by Saturday as we returned to the 50's or 60's.Annieinaustin,2011,02,flipped chair in snow
Another cold snap is predicted for this coming Tuesday night, so today I went around with the camera. With luck, the plants that usually lose their tops, go dormant and return -the Mexican mint marigold, cupheas, Mexican honeysuckle, crinum lilies, salvias, etc. - will still come back in spring. But I have no experience with other plants that were new in 2010 - will the Lion's Tail or the two Abutilons live? How about the pink Malvaviscus?

Can these blackened Shrimp Plants spring new life from the roots? Annieinaustin,2011,02,frozen shrimp plants

Will the frozen Meyer's Lemon drop this set of leaves and have the strength to releaf two springs in a row?Annieinaustin,2011,02,frozen meyer's lemon tree

The asparagus ferns in the hanging baskets don't look too bad, but I was fooled last yearAnnieinaustin,2011,02,chilled asparagus fern

I brushed my hand across one and the resulting shower of fern bits does not bode well for their longterm survival

An African aloe from Pam/Digging that survived January 2010 looks bad - and feels mushy. Annieinaustin,2011,02,squishy aloe

The native Barbados Cherries and the two dwarf pomegranates are already dropping their leavesAnnieinaustin,2011,02,dwarf pomegranate tree frosted

Inside the fabric tent the Thai Lime looks good at the base but frost damage shows on leaves at the top. I still don't know if any parts of the tall plumeria will live. The fragrant ginger always loses its top so that doesn't worry me yet, and the 'Dorota Blue' scutellaria looks fine, as does the Scilla peruviana in the front container.
It seems the curtain idea is a qualified success so far - and if there had been a better system for keeping the curtain tight in wind it might have been a real success. Annieinaustin,2011,02,plants uncovered
The evergreens that made it last winter look alright so far... and there are still flowers! The pansies weren't impressed by a mere 15 degrees - Annieinaustin,2011,02,pansies did not freeze

Nor was the parsley - although the Sweet marjoram behind it was shockedAnnieinaustin,2011,02,parsley did not freeze

And if the Variegated ginger could talk, it might have thanked me for bringing it into the garage. Annieinaustin,2011,02,variegated ginger inside garage


  1. We got some of that wind down here too - that was pretty wild. Most of the tender things that I had were already gone before this last one hit. But my fennel, which was doing great, definitely got frost bitten this time around. On the plus side, I have some daffodils and bluebonnets poking their heads up. I hope your garden recuperates.

  2. I do believe, Annie in Austin, that your winter weather is worse for you than my winter weather is for me. After all our low temps have been seasonal and expected. We've had snow cover through most of it, too, which helps protect those roots. The ice will probably cause some limbs to break, but it won't be too hard to prune those off and do a little re-shaping. And all the snow and ice helps because last year was so dry. Yes, I'm thinking that even with the winter weather we've been having, we are having a better winter than those of you in Austin.

  3. It is great that many of your plants did make it well through the cold. I hope the rest recover soon. Citrus are very strong, I am sure they will bounce back

  4. Hello Jayne - that howling made me jumpy! Some of my daffodils have buds and most bluebonnet plants made it but one area lost its bluebonnet seedlings. Isn't that odd?

    Maybe not worse, May Dreams Carol, but it sure is painful to watch the garden endure everything from 78ºF to 14ºF in the space of two days! Can't be good for a plant's vascular system. Snow cover and steady cold is tough on the humans but at least the plants stay asleep ;-]

    I'll just think of the citrus as Ornamental plants rather than edible plants, Fer and enjoy their beautiful leaves if they live. Most of my favorites do come back!

    Thanks for visiting,


  5. I feel for you and your garden Annie. We are so used to such awful weather that it is common place. I hope your plants survive. I have tried pansies here but our weather is too severe for them to over winter. I am glad they are working for you.

  6. Your experience matches mine plant by plant...my parsley survived but the outer leaves froze making them a bit bitter. Parsley is one of my new favorite plants for surviving all Austin weather has to throw at it and remaining a gorgeous green.

    Quite a few surprises each way. Thanks to your trick of the lights under cover, the Meyer's lemon looks okay. One salvia that I covered with leaves before putting a rock over it seems to have survived; the Salvia madrensis has frozen back to its roots. The sago palm seems to have less damage than last year, although it might take some time to tell.

    Worst hit: variegated yucca americana. I lost one big one last year but this year every one looks hard hit. I have a lot of pups in pots (indoors) for replacements but it took years for them to reach that size.

    After 2010's bad freeze, I wasn't expecting another for 30 years.

  7. Oh, Annie, I hope your plumeria can recover. It is a bit disheartening, isn't it, after we've babied them this long and now they'll feel the effects of these past two winters for years to come. Maybe very few blooms to enjoy this season, if any. I like your blanket idea next to the house. I noticed that Lowe's now carries portable plastic greenhouses like mine for a very affordable price. I'll discover today what made it through in mine - it worked well last year. I like it that I can put it away for most of the year, as it tears down easily.

  8. While it looks bad now, I'm sure your yard will spring back to life quickly. If not I'll go plant shopping with you! Very creative idea for the curtain. At the last moment before work on Thursday, I threw a pot over my last remaining clump of bulbvine, looks a bit mushy but hopefully it will make it!

  9. Dear Annie, What a winter or two you've had~These extreme weather events have left us folks in the Middle South and warmer completely at a loss~Gardening as usual has taken on a new meaning~What that is I haven't figured out. Hoping that your plants come back from the roots~gail

  10. Annie, these last two winters have been learning experiences, for sure. Here's to no more winter weather in Texas!

  11. Ugh, all very sad looking! I do have experience with a couple of your new plants. My pink malvaviscus (you're talking about Turk's Cap, right?) did not survive last winter's extended freezes too well. But it did come back (it may decide it's had enough this year though!). And my abutilon survived last year too, coming back from the roots.

    I've given up trying to figure out if these last two winters are going to be the norm for a while. They may be, hmm...

  12. I hope most of your plants will spring back and not be permanently damaged by the unwelcome low temps and snow/ice. Some things in life just can't be avoided no matter how many precautions are taken...but you did put forth a good amount of effort. Hopefully old man winter is done with TX for the rest of the year. Mother Nature never ceases to present us with unexpected surprises--both good and not so good!

  13. Wow, I didn't realize you had weather like that. I hope your tender plants make it okay. I have that variegated ginger too but I have to take it to the basement during the winter months.

  14. Annie, I love your curtain idea! But geez, too hard blasts in two years is crazy. I've lost many things, too. I bet your shrimp plant will be okay but you do get colder than I. On the plumeria, one idea (for the future) is to just pull it out and lay it in the garage or somewhere. I look forward to your updates on what made it through.

  15. Annie, I hate that your winter has been so devastating! For us the winter has been bad, but our plant material is not dying. Perhaps you will see fewer insects as a result of the cold? (searching for something positive...!)

  16. Thanks for all the sympathy - especially when so many of you have much worse winters where you live!

    Lisa at Greenbow -usually winter is the only time we can grow pansies because it's too hot by May... but they sure don't look happy now.

    MSS of Zanthan Gardens-the lemon in the kitchen has a few blossoms. Hope yours makes it through. Saw frozen, beige sago palms around my neighborhood.

    It's so cold in the garage that I even covered the two plumerias in there, Robin Get Grounded! May have to start over.

    Yes, Cargol - I'm looking forward to plant shopping with you... there were already blank spaces even before the cold hit. Wonder if Sophia's bulbine made it?

    Hi Gail - At a loss is how I feel, too! Practice, study and experience don't seem to be helping much right now, do they? Even rock solid plants and natives are not making it this year.

    If we didn't have to worry about dead plants and brownouts some of it would be fun, Cindy from Katy - I do love having the house cool for sleeping!


  17. Hello Jean - thanks for sharing your experience with the pink turk's cap/Wax mallow. Last year I even had doubts about the red ones... took forever before they recovered. If this is the norm, it will mean very different gardens!

    Hi, Jan/Thanks for Today -you are so right that precautions can only do so much- and most of what I showed in this post was experimental so I'm annoyed but not heartbroken!

    Some neighbors have been here since the early 1980's, Phillip, and they told me how unprecedented near zero cold took out their foundation shrubs back then. So it's happened before. Sometimes I miss having a basement!

    Thanks, Linda at Central Texas Gardener - it still seems like an idea with potential, doesn't it? I sure hope you're right about the shrimp plant.
    Even out of the pot that plumeria wouldn't fit in the garage, unfortunately. I had to chop it some just to fit in in the window cove so this was its only chance. Guess we'll have a better idea of what's alive after we get out of this current cold spell... stay safe & warm!

    Sissy!! how are you? Those IL winters are tougher on people, but snow cover is good for plants. I like the way you think - hope every frickin' Leaf-footed bug croaks this winter, ha!

    Thanks for the comments, and keep your gloves & hats handy!


  18. This has been a crazy winter hasn't it? My small greenhouse was being kept heated and doing fairly well till the wind ripped off a panel one night and everything froze. The last big snow we had here in the Atlanta area demolished my gazebo. I am so ready for spring. I've enjoyed reading your blog and will be coming back!

  19. I'm so sorry. I'm wondering what -17F will do to my large crapemyrtle tree this year, and you know how I want a greenhouse? Well, I fear I wouldn't have been able to keep it warm enough at that temp even if I had one. I wait to see.~~Dee

  20. Hello Ulrike - sorry about the gazebo. Last year a couple of Austin friends with greenhouses lost many plants when power and door closers failed. So I've switched over to wishing for a conservatory instead!

    Dee of Red Dirt, when you tweeted about the -17F, at first I thought you were referring to wind chill numbers... then heard it was the coldest ever recorded for OK. Even if the high branches die back, maybe the main part of your crepe myrtle will be okay, I hope.

    Thanks for commenting,



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