Thaw

Our snow was pretty short-lived. Starting on Wednesday, December 29th, the rains returned. I was curious how things had faired through some pretty dramatic weather swings in a relatively short period of time.

First off, let’s check in on the agaves. I mentioned last time that I only protected two plants before the snow arrived. Well, here they are.


An overturned pot protects Agave 'J.C. Raulston' from winter weather

Underneath that black pot is Agave ‘J.C. Raulston’.

Years ago, when I first started gardening at our home, I tried a few agaves in the front rock garden. I don’t remember which species or cultivars, but I do recall that I planted them onto a small pile of compost-amended gravel to provide them with extra drainage. It didn’t help. By the end of winter, all of them had turned to mush.

I can’t remember if that was the winter when it got very cold (down to 5°F) or if it was a one-two punch of rain followed by a cold snap. Regardless, after that, I never planted another agave in the ground again. That is, until last year. I was inspired to try agaves again after reading about Loree Bohl’s success with them over at the danger garden blog. Granted, her garden is up in Portland, where it is much warmer than here. But, she did recommend both Agave ‘J.C. Raulston’ (JCR) and Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’. I bought both and planted the JCR in a new rock garden I built during the summer of 2019. It’s planted in about one foot of gravel and sand overlying our heavy clay soil. Hopefully, the overturned pot helped save it.

Going into winter, I was so determined not to protect anything. Whatever will be, will be, I thought. What changed my mind? As you may recall, we had a lot of rain towards the end of December. So, when I heard the weather was going to turn suddenly cold and snowy, I thought I had better cover them up quick, just in case. Nothing is worse for “hardy” succulents than to be wet, and then to have the temperatures drop below freezing. Most can take dry and cold. Some can take wet and not too cold (above freezing). But, wet and freezing is a sure recipe for mush.

It was still raining heavily on Christmas eve when I covered both plants by the light of my cellphone flashlight. I hoped the overturned pots would be enough. I briefly considered drying the leaves off with a towel beforehand, but that seemed a little much and it was cold, wet, and dark. So, how did JRC do?


It seems unscathed! Leaves are still firm and much drier than they were a few days ago. I have hope for this one yet. Now what about my Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’?

I took a few more risks with this one. It’s planted in a pocket of gravel and soil that I dug directly into the clay soil in the newest rock garden that I started installing on the west side of the house in 2021. I’ve got two pups from this plant in the greenhouse as insurance, so I decided to see what this agave can handle.


Agave bracteosa 'Calamar' protected from the evil cold and snow by a pot

Let’s check in and see how it’s doing.


Agave bracteosa 'Calamar' was protected from the cold and snow by an overturned pot

It looks great! But, I see I am going to have a lot of weeding to do before spring arrives.

Ok, now let’s take a look around the yard and see how the plants that weren’t protected are doing. This cholla is awkwardly slumped over, but still green and firm.


Cholla slumped over in the snow. Partied just a little too hard, I guess.

Wide shot of the “in progress” west rock garden (excuse the weeds!). You can see the pot covering up the Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’ towards the middle of the photo and the cholla off to the left of that. Behind those two is a prickly pear paddle sticking its head above the snow.


Winter on the west rock garden

Same area. This Yucca linearifolia ‘Dusky Blue’ from Cistus nursery was planted into unamended clay soil and was not protected.


Yucca linearifolia 'Dusky Blue' first year in garden

Heading back to the south rock garden where Agave ‘J.C. Raulston’ is planted. The rock garden is the long mound of snow-covered basalt rock, just left of center. You can just barely make out the pot that is covering the agave (left side of rock garden, about a third of the way up, directly to the right of that first, long wood planter).


South rock garden on the left

A cholla from the south rock garden.


Cholla in the snow

My little Muehlenbeckia astonii in this garden lost all its leaves. I did the scrape test on a few stems, but all I saw was white. Not sure if that is normal and healthy for this species or if it is a sure sign of death. We’ll have to wait until spring to see if it is still alive. 


Leaves fell off of this Corokia cotoneaster from the cold
Muehlenbeckia astonii

My Winter Sonne mugo pine looking good in the sun.


Yellow winter color of Pinus mugo 'Winter Sonne'
Pinus mugo ‘Winter Sonne’

Oh, but my hebes! Here is my McKean’s hebe (Veronica cupressoides ‘McKean’) all smashed down. This was a perfect 2 foot by 4 foot mound before the snow…


Veronica (Hebe) cupressoides 'McKean' smashed flat by snow
Veronica (Hebe) cupressoides ‘McKean’

Interesting thing about this one was that aerial roots were growing out from the main stem. That tells me that these hebes are probably really easy to propagate. Guess I will be taking cuttings.


Aerial roots developing on Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii'
Aerial roots growing from Veronica (Hebe) cupressoides ‘McKean’!

My Sutherland’s hebe (Veronica pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’) suffered a similar fate. This one was 2 feet tall by 5 feet wide prior to the snow. Scary. And sad.


Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii' smushed by snow
Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’

Here it is a couple days later, looking better already. Only time will tell if it will bounce all the way back to its former glory. I will probably tie or prop the center branches back together in a few weeks if it doesn’t resolve itself on its own. No breakage though, so that’s a good thing.


Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii' springing back from snow
Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’

My Hinerua hebe (Veronica x ‘Hinerua’), formerly 30 inches tall…


Veronica (Hebe) x 'Hinerua' squashed by snow
Veronica (Hebe) x ‘Hinerua’

The Aristotelia has almost fully recovered though. Looking good.


Aristotelia fruticosa springing back from 20 inches of snow
Aristotelia fruticosa

Heading elsewhere in the garden. Over by our property line is this Ceanothus cuneatus ‘Adair Village’. This is a native species that was collected just a few miles from here, although I had to travel all the way up to Portland to get it from Xera Plants. I am expecting that this one will completely recover as soon as the snow is gone.


Ceanothus cuneatus keeled over in the snow
Ceanothus cuneatus ‘Adair Village’

Now, out to the deer garden. Another hebe (Veronica cupressoides…maybe ‘Boughton Dome’?) knocked down almost flat by snow. It was by far my tallest hebe at about 3-4 feet tall. Not any longer…


Veronica (Hebe) cupressoides flattened by snow
Veronica (Hebe) cupressoides

The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) was completely and utterly unfazed by the snow.


Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) chilling in the snow
Arbutus unedo chilling in the snow

Surprised that my variegated giant reed grass still looked so good. Evidently, the temperatures hadn’t been cold enough to kill the leaves yet. Remnds me of that striped Christmas ribbon candy.


Variegated giant reed grass in the snow
Arundo donax ‘Gold’

Finally, back up the driveway, passing by a sad, doubled-over holly-leaved cherry. It will be fine though. No broken stems. That’s a variegated buckthorn in the background.


Holly-leaved cherry and variegated buckthorn in the snow
Prunus ilicifolia (foreground) and Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’ (background)

And ending at what is definitively my first casualty of the snowstorm. This dwarf Jerusalem sage was a cutting off of my 13 year old specimen in the front rock garden (here). It just couldn’t handle the snow load and cracked in several places.


Dwarf Jerusalem sage broken by the snow
Phlomis fruticosa ‘Nana’

Looking close, you can see several stems are broken or cracked. The main stem (center) split in two near the soil line. I am guessing that I won’t be able to save it, but I am going to try anyway. We’ll see if this species will resprout after being pruned back hard to a stump. Not a big loss as this plant was getting to big for this spot anyway

Branches of a dwarf Jerusalem sage broken by the snow

Well, that’s the end of the snow for a little bit. We are approaching the anniversary of the ice storm from last February, so more winter weather is certainly possible. Next post, we will be checking in to see how things are doing at the end of January 2022. Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year!

Week of 12/27/2021 to 1/2/2022: Lowest temperature = 22°F, highest = 43°F. Weekly precipitation = 8 inches of snow on 12/27 followed by 0.7 inches of rain from 12/28 through 12/31.

Garden chores accomplished: Bleating about snow on social media.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. danger garden

    Congrats on the agave success, they both look fantastic. FWIW my Muehlenbeckia astonii sometimes lose their leaves too, hopefully yours is fine.

    1. GARDEN CURMUDGEON

      Yes, I am pretty excited. We tend to have pretty harsh winter weather, but I have high hopes for them. Good to hear your Muehlenbeckia astonii does a similar thing. Spring seems a long ways off at this point, but it has been good to see the sun.

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