January 3, 2015

I heart frost cloth

Snow on the hood of my sister's faithful Subaru. This was New Year's Eve, bright and early, on Oak Glen Road looking west.

Ay caramba, did it ever snow. Here is what happened in the garden, which is mostly agaves, opuntias, a couple little palo verdes, a little oak, a pomegranate, some salvias, two ceanothus, four yuccas, three ocotillos, a few aloes, stonecrops, a bunch of other succulents (all of this in pots), and the stuff that was here when I moved in a year ago: a huge Xylosma congesta, a  red bottlebrush, two boxy yellow privet-y things, and a lemon tree. No partridges.

Agave americana sheltering a tiny paper spine cactus. That's an A. parryi pup in the one-gallon pot, and a dykia sp. in the foreground. All seem to have handled the cold and the snow without problems. 

This A. murphyi is in a planter with Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue,' Chihuahuan sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum) and a helichrysum. Took days for the snow and ice to melt completely, with nighttime temps to 24F for several nights running and daytime temps in the high 30s to low 40s. All plants did great. The euphorbia is a total, total keeper. 

Looking good. Tiny spots on the agave are from hail damage this past fall.

A. parryi. Dayum, these guys are tough. A parent bought this agave for a school project years ago, according to the garden club advisor. Everyone forgot the little guy existed. Lived off rainfall in his nursery pot, pretty much. Our school district banned spiny landscaping last year, after a seventh grader impaled himself on an agave (not at my school!), and the club advisor sent this one home with me. He's been thriving, and handled the snow like a champ. 

A regular honey badger. By the way, this is a trifecta of frugality: the little succulents were cuttings from a friend in the Gates Cactus & Succulent Society; the agave was a freebie as related above; and the concrete planter was left by someone who rented the place before I moved in. Hat trick!

So, what died? Of the plants left unprotected, two little jade plants are goners, along with a sedum or two. A big Agave attenuata I've had for ages (it was under the eaves in front) looks like it's not going to make it. An Agave 'Blue Flame' looks iffy. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose this young angustifolia (which was a gift: a pup of a beautiful plant that lives just a few blocks away [weeps]). 

Sorry, little guy! I put two siblings under an eve of the house, which made all the difference. I feel awful about this plant. "Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away" — and this post becomes the 5,862 millionth garden-related thing to quote Gimme Shelter. My bad.

Portulacaria afra. Dead. as. a. door nail. Rated hardy to 20F, but the snow wiped it out. Maybe it will grow back — and if not, well, it grows like a weed from cuttings.

And what about frost cloth, you ask? Welp, I love it and am going to buy more of it. Before the storm, my sis and I put a number of plants under the eves and under the patio roof and then added frost cloth or plastic or old potting soil bags on top for more protection. Planters too heavy to move, we covered with plastic over jury-rigged frames of bamboo. Temps on the patio were in the mid 20s for several nights, but the covered plants look just fine, if you ask me.

Some of the plants, cuttings, new stuff, and presumed-to-be-tender stuff we covered with frost cloth. Not shown: the titanota; a big gypsophila I love a lot; and a bunch of small agaves. All were outside, but covered with something. All look great. Was it worth the (very minor) trouble? Oh yeah. 

So, covered stuff was fine. Natives and other hardy plants did very well without protection. (It was a kick to see them emerge from the snow with no sign of any damage.) As you see, I uncovered stuff. Tonight's low is supposed to be in the high 30s... I may run out later and cover everything back up.

A big note to self: prepare some lath frames ahead of time. Use frames and frost cloth all over the place in case of freezing temps or snow. Also: clothespins are awesome. And on a final note: there is STILL snow on the ground, in shady places. (That idea I was flirting with, the one about moving to Wyoming after retirement? SoCal forever, people — SoCal forever.)

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