Monday 15 October 2012

First frosts!

It was a bit of a shock to wake up Sunday morning to find a hard frost all over the car.  I quickly checked on the plants expecting to find at least one pile of mush and was relived to find they were all fine, but it was a real wake up call to how unprepared I am.  I haven't even got around to drying most of the plants off let alone getting the remaining shelters up.

It was this that inspired the last post and the game of "Pamper or Freeze".  For anyone interested my answers would have been: Aloe plicatilis over speciosa.  While the flower of speciosa is amazing, the plant especially when small is not that special and plicatilis is so much more interesting to look at. Agave charazoi over agave bovicornuta. While I think that bovicornuta is probably the better looking plant, I couldn't ignore the fact that charazoi is fairly newly discovered and a bit of an oddity. It is also a more manageable size for a small garden. Aloe snowflake over aloe firebird.  This is an easy one I think, the snowflake is a much stronger colour (or lack of it) and stays as a really nice clump without getting too messy. Finally aloe lavender beauty or aloe spinosissima variegata.  It is rare to see plants that are lavender in colour all year although it is a bit of a whimp and I do actually prefer the spinosissima as a clump.

I was going to add a couple of bowls to the list, the first contains some of my cacti

While this second is a collection of three different forms of echeveria agavoides, the two small ones are red edge (or lipstick depending on if you believe there is any difference in the two forms), the purple one is called romeo and is a new introduction and the other is ebony which is probably the most sort after of all forms.

Having seen some of the comments (if you have not posted your selections please do), I am pleased I didn't. I am not sure poor Loree over at Danger Garden could have coped.  As it is I should say that all the plants featured will actually be found homes for inside so please do not worry. What is so interesting about that post and having to make the decisions in real life, is how hard people find it.  You would be amazed how few people could actually bring themselves to make a selection. I am probably a little extreme in that I haven't had the space for a green house so my collection has grown with the knowledge that many of my plants are going to get much less protection than they should get. This has meant that I have pushed the plants and found out what works for me, and also tried different methods.  The bowls for instance are now simply covered with plastic cloches, unless we have a very bad winter that should be fine for both these sets of plants. It is more keeping them dry that is important with the type of lows I am expecting.

Needing to get a bit more organised, I also set up a rain cover for a few more of the plants, this should allow them to start to dry out until I can get a more permanent cold frame up for them.

While the game was just fun, I do actually have to make a lot of choices in what gets protection.  I am pleased to say that in the majority of cases this is done based on information on hardiness, not on looks.  The first thing I do is to move all the plants that will cope with my minimums out of the way so that they do not add to the confusion. Plants that I feel may be able to cope get placed at the side of this collection. I know when people come to visit they are surprised by how many agaves I have in this set, I place all my a. victoriae reginae, a. utahensis collection in this group and kept dry they all do fine.

Next I select all the plants that need to be brought inside, I start with those that are really special and I do not want to risk and then work down using hardiness information, so plants like agave attenuata get brought in as they turn to mush at about -3. If there is space I then add other plants based on my favourites, or smaller plants I want to give a bit of a start.  If I have duplicates then the best plant will be brought in the rest given less protection.  These plants get placed on windowsills and in the shelf unit with lights (here it is with a few plants in until I re-arrange the plants better to best use the space).

Next is the cold frame this is really where the tough choices have to start.  I know some of the plants going in here should really get more protection, and there is not enough space for all the plants, so this is where the real fun starts.  Again decisions are based on hardiness and which plants will be hardest to replace or I am most attached to.  Once full everything else gets put under rain covers or in those cheap green houses which just keep them dry and maybe help keep worst of the frost out. 

I am always amazed each spring when looking through how few plants I loose.  I have lost one or two plants I care about, but the alternatives would have been worse. There have also been times when I have got confused and moving two pots placed them the wrong way around, giving one more and the other less protection than they need.  Most of the time however the damage and looses tend to be to spares or tests I am running to see if I can provide less protection.  I really couldn't have my collection without taking some risks and for me this has been invaluable to show what plants can really cope with, not what some of the reports say they will cope with. Of course there are always changes of heart and I will rush out before a cold spell to move something last minute.

Knowing how I work, it really is interesting to see what selections other people would make if they had to, why not try a "Pamper or Freeze" post with your own plants and see what reactions you get, (even if you do not need to worry about frosts in your garden!) If you do, please let me know by commenting here so I know to look in and make my selection. And Loree, I promise that sadistic sunday will not be a regular feature so you can continue to look in.


  1. Thank god!

    You know at first I thought "okay I can play along" but then I quickly realized, no, not fun at all. Kind of like how I think, "ah I'll just let that die" about some random tender succulent and then the night before our first frost I'm out there in the dark cutting or digging with numb fingers. I think what gets me is how easy it really is to overwinter all of these plants. They may not look great come April but they will still be alive.

    Oh and that keeping them dry part? With over 2" of rain since Friday I'm feeling pretty good about the 80% I hauled inside/under cover. And worried about he other 20%...

    1. I am a firm believer in the fact that plants should be 100% dry before the first frosts and this greatly improved hardiness. With the wettest summer on record (as you discovered on your visit) and the continued rain, wet is going to be a real issue this winter I think.

  2. These plants are often tougher than we realize. Partly from why many get away with planting some things where they might not ordinarily be happy. And partly from us not knowing the true limits of certain plants, only assumed limits.

    Glad your plants were OK. Most times, our first frost is not a hard freeze...usually the hard freeze takes 3-4 weeks to hit after the 1st frost. The worst ones are when the first frost is a hard freeze...scary!

    1. I totally agree, I always look at how much the accepted hardiness of each plant has been tested and base what I do on that. So for instance I will be more confident that the information on agave parryi which is widely available in the UK is far better than the hardiness information on agave charazoi which is not.