Wednesday 9 March 2011

A question of hardiness

They say owners are often like their animals, I wonder if the same is true of gardeners?  I know that over the last few weeks as it has warmed up, my interest in plants has started in earnest again.  I am out in the garden more, reading websites and generally starting to think about new purchases. It's a bit like coming out of hibernation. But is it too early?  We have been having lovely sunny days, but frosts at night,  should I be retreating back under the covers and warmth for a few more weeks?

You see I have a confession to make,  I need heat. A bit of cold is nice for a change,  I can see the beauty in snow, but if it goes on for too long I find myself looking at holiday photos and wondering if I could get time off for a bit of winter sun. I imagine my poor succulents feel exactly the same, instead of a life in some warm climate they are forced to put up with frosts, snow and grey skys.

The cold hardiness of succulents is obviously an enormous topic and a very emotive one.  The last few winters in the UK will probably result in the books being re-written on what we can grow here. (I will save my rant on the minimum temperatures they supply with plants in the UK for another post). A while back I posted about how important I thought it was to learn from your plants and that perhaps the only real way to find out if a plant will cope is to learn from experience.  Having seen the damage last year and listened to others, I had a theory that one way to avoid damage at the mins I have (around -9) is to keep the snow out of the crowns.  So I placed fleece over the agave bed before the snow and removed it once it has stopped. This was the bed during the snow, you can just make out the fleece covering the agaves:

So far this seems to have worked, despite being the coldest December on record, here is the bed at the weekend:

Amazingly not only did all the plants come through unscathed, but there was almost no damage at all (I should really be posting this in a few months when all the danger of frosts and snow is past!)  When I compare this to last year,  or to plants and parts of the dry bed I did not cover, the difference is marked.  I really don't know what I did to deserve such luck, and when I speak to friends about what they lost I can't help but feel guilty to have got away with it. I hope some of it was due to actually watching my plants, learning from mistakes, experiments and talking to others about what their experiences. Some is simply due to the fact that my mins are manageable.

Speaking to others this winter has made me wonder what I would do if I had their minimums, would I cover the garden, or simply grew totally different plants?  But to tell you the truth I simply couldn't live somewhere with serious winters and I am sure my plants will breath a sigh of relief to hear it.

That is not to say I haven't learnt form this winter, it seems snow is not as light as you would think and while the agaves coped fine with the weight, one poor yucca did not.  Next time I will have to put a bit more thought in and give the fleece some support around the softer plants.


  1. Have you tried Aloe polyphylla? Spends a lot of the winter covered in snow in its native habitat.

    Your plants sure look great for wintered in cold and grey weather. Well done.

  2. HB: Yes I have a couple of them. I did have them planted but they are really fussy and every one planted died over winter and after two tries I have decided to leave in a pot for a bit longer. They are lovely plants aren't they.

  3. I'm actually a little envious of your climate - we're from Central Alberta, Canada, where winters can get to -40 C...or colder when it puts its mind to it. But our cacti/succulents are snug in their artificially heat and lighted pump house. It's nice to go out and visit them, and pretend we're somewhere warmer! I have an ornithogalum in bloom now - filling half the room! Amy

  4. Amy, -40C!!! Thankfully my climate is very mild in comparison with only -8C or 9C lows. There is no way I could have my collection with your lows as I don't have anywhere I can heat and am limited in what I am allowed inside.