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Making It Through the Winter

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

That cold snap that blew in the night of January 5, that was a thing. The afternoon before, it was raining and almost 50 degrees, and I knew it was time to act. I was sure I couldn't heat the greenhouse adequately through temperatures in the teens, much less the negative single digits. So out it all came, carried in relays into the downstairs bathroom and my studio. Because I wound up losing about two-thirds of my plants in the big freeze of November 24, it wasn't all that much trouble. Well, nothing is too much trouble where me and the plants I love are concerned. I sometimes catch myself working like a draft horse to keep these plants alive and wonder why I bother. Yes, I felt pretty ridiculous evacuating the greenhouse, but what was my choice?

So there they are (about half of them) luxuriating in the bathroom while it's zero degrees and below outside. You can just see the back side of the greenhouse through the window. Good news is the gas line didn't freeze this time. Bad news is the heater I have isn't big enough to keep the greenhouse warm in those conditions. It's a work in progress, this new greenhouse, and Mr. Murphy and his cruel law keeps close watch over all proceedings. A new leak in the roof rained down on my hundred-dollar freeze alert unit that I was so proud of, which ruined it and put our phones out for a week until I figured out what had happened. Nice. Hi-tech is great, until a raindrop hits it.

I kept them inside for a week, until the coldest weather blew through, which made the bathroom a pretty nice place to be. That gave me a chance to clean out the greenhouse, throw out all the dead plants and take the soil from their pots for recycling. It was time to get rid of the Shelves of Death, lined with row upon row of pots studded with stems that I finally admitted were not going to send out shoots. I became expert at checking for life in root and stem. I didn't find much. What lived, lived, and a lot of what lived wound up dying anyway.

So here, I'm focusing on what I do have. 
"Grossersorten," a rangy single pink geranium, lost a few leaves but never batted an eye. It's blooming now.

Next to it, an amaryllis that was a Christmas present from Elsa and Laura.

It wasted no time getting big and beautiful in the unaccustomed confines of the greenhouse. Usually amaryllis have to do their thing on kitchen tables. Clearly, it's getting just what it needed.

Another grand survivor, my 24-year-old Mammilaria cactus. It seemed to take the freeze as a challenge to throw out bigger and more beautiful blooms.

I lost my old Wonderboom fig bonsai, but this new recruit is doing beautifully and I've become quite fond of it.

Lots of new healthy growth, and no scale as yet.

This gardenia is taking its own sweet time, tantalizing me, dropping buds here and there just before they open, then making more. Arrggggh.

But two have finally opened and there is no better scent. 

What a grand plant. I hope I can keep her in the manner to which she'd become accustomed.
Acid, acid, acid, that's the soil they love. This one is f-f-f-fusssssy.

The jasmine is going nuts. Not fussy, and perfuming its space as specified in its job description. 

The fresh green leaves are so much more beautiful than the ones they had before the freeze. Jasmines hate getting very cold, and their leaves go yellow. These leaves have never felt the sting of cold.

I didn't see this little pot of Bellis perennis, or English daisy, on the floor of the greenhouse when I evacuated, and it froze solid in the cold snap. Only days later its dark-green translucent leaves had come back to life, and it was throwing out flowers! I dug these plants on the lawn of the Fayetteville WV courthouse a year and a half ago. Bellis perennis is a longtime European invader that establishes itself in some lawns. I haven't quite been able to figure out why it does well in some places and not others. As far as I can see, it does no harm, and I find it very beautiful.  I've been trying to establish it in our lawn for years. These are the best plants I've had yet. The beat goes on.

The same thing happened to these Buttercrunch lettuces. Froze translucent, then bounced back.

The dwarf pomegranate continues to delight me. I downsized its pot from the gallon container it was in, and once it's established will downsize it again as I train it as a tropical bonsai. Its flowers are opening, throwing out crepey petals and stamens, and I hope it will choose to form fruit. Gotta get in there and pollinate them, probably...

Speaking of pollination, I noticed that my grapefruit's flowers were falling off without forming fruit. So I schnoodled around in them with my pinky and played bee.

It worked--I probably have a dozen fruits now on a "tree" that's not even a foot tall. Whoops. Brood reduction is in order. That's it in the left-hand blue pot, below. Imagine it with a dozen full-sized grapefruit. Where's that Tilapia in Grapefruit sauce recipe, anyway? I might need it in a year or so.

Yep, things are happening in the greenhouse. It's got an aura of life again. I like going in. I find myself singing, "Hello Ladies!" when I do. I haven't yet taken to spending evenings down there. I still have a little PTSD about that, I think. Make that a lot.

I was most thrilled to see the first bud open on one of my stellar Graffiti geraniums that lived through the freeze. I was absolutely sure I'd lost the red one. I figured the pink one, which I wasn't all that crazy about, was the one that made it.  I got that plant on May 1, 2006, and I sure hated to lose it. I had a tiny cutting that I thought was the red one, and a big plant that somehow survived which I was sure was the pink. The tiny cutting died yesterday without rooting. And the same day, the big plant opened its flower.

When the bud opened, it was just the color of a scarlet tanager. I can't even describe how happy I was to know it had survived. It's such a good red, a brilliant, clear, happy, firepink red.

I always plant it out in a pot next to the Bird Spa, hoping to one day see this again. 
It happened June 22, 2009.
 It could happen again.

That's become a mantra this winter. It happened once. It could happen again. I won't say the mantra has gotten me through. Mantras may work for some people, but I need living things. The plants that lived through it all and came back, the new plants who've come to live and flourish here, my family (which includes Chet) and friends and love and running and the very occasional sunny day and that little church on the hilltop, that's what's gotten me through. 


Lovely!!! I can almost smell them. I hadn't heard about the raindrop on the fancy alert doo-dad. DANG! But a super fragrant bathroom is a nice thing, so...

Oh, I'm so glad to see the recovery. I'm looking forward to spring, too. It's the Year of the Flower here. Gonna plant tons., in hopes of warding off my own PTSD from the flood. September might be tense, but I'll revel in the flowers.

Julie--former Science Chimp--now Plant Sex Goddess.
So many laugh-out-loud lines...Shelves of Death (though not a laughing matter, the phrase strikes me funny).
Pinky playing bee...

Anyway--just a thought--the wildly blooming cactus--do cacti bloom more when threatened? Rather like evergreens putting out pine cones like mad when they have suffered drought?

Glad I could give you a chuckle, D. I think you're onto something--stress can be a releaser for flowering and fruiting in any plant. Cacti are armored tanks against the worst stressors of all, but they're no doubt affected. Look at the jasmines--hey, if we're gonna die soon, let's BLOOM first! My father always said, "A woman is like a geranium, she blooms most beautifully when she's a little mistreated." My mother used to hit him when he said it.
I still smile.

The cactus that is in bloom is spectacular. I love your descriptor phrases and the quote from your father! Too funny.

There are all sorts of cool hormonal and biochemistry effects of stress on plants. Really good geeky stuff!

I'm another tropical plant lover in an even grayer area, northwest Washington State. After similar incidents of plant death now I bring all my tropicals into my living room for the winter. I have 2 banks of grow lights, each 4 x 2 feet, with 4 lights in each. The plants flourish thru the cold dark times, the bird of paradise is blooming now, geraniums in lavish bloom, jasmine, ti, banana plant, orchids and orchid cactus all happy. I have armchairs near the lights and bask under the lights to ward off low light depression. I love having my tropical friends all around me in my living space. In spring I put all the plants in my unheated greenhouse or on my porch. You might consider grow lights--it's pretty fun!

Posted by Helen from Bow January 14, 2014 at 11:27 AM

I've heard bubble wrap makes good insulation. Easy to cut to size and not expensive.

Posted by Anonymous January 14, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Bless :-) We (me, aloud to my kids) just read the scarlet tanager essay in Bluebird Effect today.

Beautiful plants. I have only just begun to have houseplants again after a decade-long drought. A greenhouse, ah perhaps one day :-)

.Lovely plants, Well worth the effort to protect them. My epiphyllum cactus are hanging near the garage door in my shop, next to the bandsaw. and my cabinetmakers bench. But they get enough light to get through the winter, and my shop stays cool, but does not freeze, which they like.You do what ya gotta do to protect beloved plants. Even if I have clean some sawdust off them sometimes. I have noticed the same thing. Stress seems to make some plants really kick out the flowers at times. I guess its a survival adaptation.

I have read that plants bloom like crazy when they are stressed. This past spring, my hot pepper plants were not blooming very well. So I went outside and yelled at them for being lazy and not doing their work, because that's the sort of thing that would stress ME out. Anyway, it must have worked, because by the end of the summer, I had to learn to can because I had so many blooms, resulting in more vegetables than we could possibly eat. Perhaps I stressed them a bit TOO much. Next time, I will just tell them that they are up for a performance review.

Posted by Anonymous January 15, 2014 at 3:58 AM
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