In the zone

I think there’s a part of every gardener who chooses to disbelieve, ignore or at the very least push on the arbitrary seeming zone boundaries laid by the USDA. But then every few years we get a day or two in the winter that makes us cringe for our “marginally hardy” plants. When I got to work this morning it was -1°F with a bitter wind blowing out of the north. To me and to some of our plants, that’s cold. It’s hard for me to believe that if we truly are in the zone 6a that some zip code zone finders say we are (others say we’re a 7 and now I’m really confused) it would be possible for it to get even colder. -10°? No thank you. That’s just not for me and even -1° is cutting it close for our Aucuba japonica and Harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) among other things.

But actually I’m not worried. It’s possible to live in the zone now and again and still be in denial of it. There’s a good heavy blanket of snow protecting everything (at least those things that weren’t smashed by it like the poor Rose Garden daphnes…) and we’ve had longer stretches of bitter cold than this in years past and the survivors survived. If worse comes to worse the tender plants will die back to the ground and start fresh. The Clerodendron, in fact, is only protected by a low stone wall by the North Garden at the top of the Great Lawn and has not died back even in the worst of winters. (Was it January in 2004 or 2005 that never rose above the teens?)

Have you been in your zone yet this winter? Are you worried about any plants?

7 thoughts on “In the zone

  1. I mentioned just this weekend that the zones were being pushed and there will probably be only skirts of blue on the hydrangea m.’s I hope you keep cozy whatever your zone. -12 here this weekend. That is pushing the limit for sure.

    Layanee, I almost can’t wait to see if you’re right about the skirts (more like petticoats maybe?) -12 is decidedly uncool (too cool?) I’m glad it has warmed up but I bet now you’re under giant heaps of snow! -kris

  2. I am wringing my hands for my south Africans. It’s been a cold winter.

    Susan, I hope they pull through – are they under the snow? But if they don’t … are you already thinking about what you’d replace them with? -kris

  3. I’m sorry to hear that the Blithewold daphnes have been hard hit this winter. Two of the main branches of my beautiful D. ‘Summer Ice’ that bloomed gloriously right up to December have been deeply split by the cold and/or snow. It’s heart-breaking to see, but I think the plant will survive. Next year, I’ll add the daphne to the list of shrubs I wrap with burlap in December and sew up with a giant potato sack needle!

    Hi Gioia – it’s great to see you here! Daphne are such fragile creatures… and I’m sure they’d appreciate the TLC. I think we might just have to re-think where we plant them – not under a giant snow drift next time! -kris

  4. So funny… I was just thinking about broadleaf evergreens getting smashed by snow and how it prevents us from growing some, and then I wondered how your Aucuba was doing. Lo and behold, you mentioned it in your last update. Hope it makes it through okay! I got some samples of “hardy to Zone 6″ Gardenias at the GWA conference this year, and I planted some needle palms to test out too. They’ve all been buried for a while now, and thankfully during that negative snap, so here’s hoping. Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ too, which is supposedly more reliable, but I won’t believe it for sure ’til spring…

    Andrew, I think that might be one reason I like Leucothoe so much – it’s smushable. We tried the hardy gardenia, probably from Logee’s and we tried the Osmanthus… No luck for us – although we did nothing to protect them and they were very tiny and it might have been as long ago as 2005 or whenever the last bitter spell was. But I bet they’ll come through fine for you. You seem to have a way with the marginals… -kris

  5. HI Kris, I too had daphne’s damaged by snow over the last couple of years. Last year I surrounded them with willow fencing, not entriley good results. I checked out yours in the fall to see if they were protected in any special way and I have researched this and found no advice. So this year when our first storm (I am in Rockland Co. NY) approached I went out and tied up the shrubs with bungee cords! I am happy to report they are surviving the onslaught of snow we are having this year. Daphne’s have a rather unusual trunk that branches very low, with a close branching pattern, it appears to flare open in the center. Maybe that is what makes it susceptible to “flopping” open with the weight of snow? I also think the pith might be soft, with less lignin than say rhododendrons. Perhaps I am overthinking it but I like to understand why??? things happen. Any pruning advice for the injured plants? Marianne, Wren House

    Marianne, Did you check ours out in person? Introduce yourself next time you’re here! I have to admit that I keep a good distance from our daphnes for fear of doing something that might cause them to die suddenly. But I did just read that they actually like to be sheared after blooming (don’t know how that would apply to the ever bloomers) but that should help keep them from opening up so much in the center. As for injury, cut out anything dead (obviously) and maybe play the rest by ear. That’s helpful, isn’t it? Ours were split almost down the middle last year making it hard to know how to prune them so we didn’t do much (I, in all honesty, did nothing) and some of the broken branches still leafed out and bloomed. Good luck! -kris

  6. HI Kris, yes, I saw them in person, you were not around or I would have loved to meet you. I visit Blithewold with my friend Jean, who you know (she lives in Bristol) every time I come up which is at least a few times a year. We had talked over the daphne question and I told her I wanted to see what you did. I too have found that broken branches continued to bloom. I too am afarid to do much for fear of the “sudden death”. I have decided to plant more “in case” these do kick the bucket some day! Of course the issue is they are in the perfect place and they hate to be moved so the new comers need a “perfect place ” of their own. Such are the challenges of gardening…

    Marianne, I’ll look forward to meeting you on your next visit! Meanwhile good luck with the difficult daphne decisions… -kris

  7. This Daphne conversation is interesting… Frankly, I’ve yet to plant any Daphne in my garden because my garden is young, I still move things around a lot, and I know when you plant Daphne, it needs to be forever. With regard to breaking, though, I think the first Daphne I’m going to try is D. transatlantica/caucasica, which is somewhat small and strikes me as one that could get completely covered in snow with no problem. More importantly, it blooms all summer and the fragrance is to die for! I think Blithewold has it — am I right, Kris? What’s your experience been?

    Only time will tell re: the Osmanthus and Gardenias… I’m hoping the snow cover will be a good thing as an insulator. All of mine are tiny too, though Osmanthus had a whole season to settle in. If not, well, there are lots of other worthy plants waiting in the wings.

    Andrew, D. transatlantica is our fave if not the visitors’ favorite – they tend to notice Carol Mackie even though transatlantica is the one in bloom from May to November. We only have one left (all of the daphnes on one side of the Rose Garden kicked it for some unknown reason) and it has grown to a good 3′ around. Unfortunately it has been damaged by heavy snow drifts last year and this but it’s survivor so far (fingers crossed!) -kris

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