Monday, July 12, 2010

Pushing the Hardiness Boundaries

Staying alive in the north is part luck and skill, though I hope that most of the humans have got this skill mastered by now. This past year, most of our luck ran out as we had a terrible winter with sparse snow cover during the first cold spell (-30 to -40 C). It has been a year where I throw up my hands at the all the spots of bare earth where perennials and shrubs once lived. Thank goodness for other gardeners, whose similar stories of loss remind me that I am not alone. I am determined to have more luck next year, and will be raising a whole pile of annuals as well, just in case things don't turn out well.
You can see a few leaves left on my rose:

People have suggested that I should have covered some of my plants this last winter. However, there is no practical way to cover nearly a half acre of plants, so a loss of plants is inevitable some years. I think this past year was one freak year out of several decades, so I'm replanting some of the same plants I lost. The rose pictured above was covered in at least three feet of snow for most of the winter, since it is next to our driveway and all the snow shoveled off the driveway goes onto this flower bed. Snow is an excellent insulator. I lost a few junipers one winter after Resident-Lawnmower-Man accidentally thought the junipers were part of the driveway and he shoveled them clean.
Delphiniums (terribly hardy perennials) and annual poppies:

My other tips and tricks for keeping perennials alive in a cold climate:
(1) You can't grow perennials in a pot and keep them outside over winter. People in Vancouver can get away with such things, but we cannot. It is said that you subtract two zone numbers from your current hardiness zone to estimate what will survive in a pot over the winter. For example, if you lived in the Okanagan, BC in zone 6, you could grow zone 4 plants in pots. Here in zone 1, you just don't even bother.
(2) Deadhead spent flowers, but don't cut plants down in the fall. Having a few feet of growth left in the garden will insulate the soil and roots. Do your clean-up in the spring.
(3) Evergreen shrubs prone to winterkill/winterburn should be thoroughly watered in the fall and wrapped loosely with burlap to shield them from wind and sun. This applies to my much-maligned globe cedar (Thuja). Honestly, I'd rather not have shrubs that need clothes, but it's too big to move and besides, it's providing a climbing space for my clematis vines.
Fragrant blooms of Clematis mandschurica:

Do you have a psychological need to share your plant losses? Please do tell. It will make both of us feel better!


Crafty Gardener said...

It is always sad to find plants that did not survive the cruel winter. I don't have plants in pots that stay out all winter either, just can't take the risk. Keep hunting for those hardy plants.

Chookie said...

Our losses occur in summer due to either dry heat or excessive humidity, or the way they alternate. Funny how roses tough it out in your climate and mine!

wiseacre said...

Back in the day I saw winters like that nearly every year. I still advise people to wait until spring before cleaning up their flower beds even though winters have become increasingly mild over the last decade. (This year the ground never froze under the deep snow cover in my yard in an area we are advised to bury water lines at least 4 feet deep to avoid freezing)

I moved this far north to get away from the summer heat and humidity but it seems the South is rising again in more ways than one :)

Karen said...

I don't have losses the way you do, but I lose them another way. I will buy a daylily plant from the daylily farm and it will bloom one year, come back half-size the next year, and then I am lucky if I get a few leaves after that.

Or they will change colour in my soil and I won't get to enjoy the flowers I really bought, because they turn into something different entirely.

I have several plants that are not flowering this year. I should move them, but I have kind of run out of room and don't have anywhere good to move them to.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

I am so sorry that you lost so many dear plants over the winter!

I love the annual poppies and grow lots of them. I am in a warmer zone but have still lost things in exceptionally cold winters without enough snow. Its heartbreaking!

Northern Shade said...

Seeing the empty spaces in spring is a big disappointment. Like you, I don't cut most of my perennials back in fall, so they will help catch the snow. I usually just remove the leaves that might get diseased, and generally foliage like the iris.

cedar chest said...

Where in the world did you found that place? I think it is the most surprising place I ever saw. That is a true beauty of our nature.

Darrell said...

We almost lost our evergreen globe cedar this winter. I will definitely wrap them together with my roses this coming winter! Thanks for sharing your secret tip.

Melissa said...

It's interesting how folks that don't garden don't understand the loss! Due to the excessive rain, I lost my hollyhocks to a rust, and once again, lost lots of plants to the deer. And am now fighting the ground squirrels over my tulip bulbs!

Barbarapc said...

I've been doing an update/database of what's in the garden - there are lines after lines of the dead starting from 2002 when I started to keep track. Death by rot, water, disease, insects, neglect, snow too soon, snow too late, frost too early and too late. This year, I'm lucky it's been a banner year for good weather and good conditions - so much so I really don't have enough holes to justify my haunting of the nursery sale tables. Hope you're fortunate enough to have a good growing season to get your little treasures strong enough to make it through the winter.

The Garden Ms. S said...

My shrub that suffered most was my spiral shaped Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I love that little tree and watered it in and sprayed it with Wilt Pruf. The winter before it came through great but after this past winter it is so brown and patchy now that I just don't know if it will recover. I am going to give it the rest of the season to come back and fill in. If it does I will wrap it next year even though I love looking at it with its spirals covered in snow. Fingers crossed!