Recovering from Frost

Posted by on May 4, 2007 in Garden | 5 comments

Princess_flower
At a
plant sale a couple weeks ago, everyone was talking about what
they’d lost during the freeze. Many of us were still having a hard time
believing that it had happened at all. “It was just one freeze after another,”
someone would say, shaking her head. “Night after night. It never let up.”

Almost
everyone who mentioned the freeze to me brought up tibouchina, or princess
flower, the shrub with brilliant purple flowers and fuzzy green leaves fringed
in red. It’s a tropical shrub, native to Brazil and naturalized in Hawaii, but
for some reason, it’s perfectly happy in Humboldt. I have three in front of my
house, and they bloom almost all year long. The color contrasts perfectly with
the sage green color on my living room wall, so that when you sit in that room
and look out the window, the effect is so perfect that it almost looks like I
know what I’m doing.

No matter what else was happening
in my garden, I was sure to get compliments on my princess flowers. That is,
until the freeze came along and cut them down in their prime.

I was ready
to rip out their brown, brittle remains and replace them with something
hardier, but Scott insisted that we keep them. After all, the shrubs
require almost no care—they’re not prone to any disease, they don’t need much
fertilizer, and they survive on very little water in the summer—and they made
it through at least a decade of winters before this one came along.

So I hacked
away at the dead stuff, leaving only the sturdier lower branches, and piled
some compost around the roots and waited. Sure enough, in a few weeks, tiny red
shoots started appearing on those branches—the first signs of leafy green
growth. I’m still not sure if every branch has life in it, but a few of them
do, so I’ve decided to let them live.

But what
about the rest of the garden? An enormous scented geranium was simply vaporized
by the cold; I don’t think it’s coming back. The brilliant orange leonotis
(lion’s tail) also seems to be dead, although I’ve cut it back, too, in hopes
that it will reverse course. And some beautiful salvias are gone, including S.
mexicana
‘Limelight’ and the fuzzy red-flowered S. confertiflora.
Both are ridiculously easy to grow from cuttings; it’s my own fault for not
bringing a few inside before the cold hit. I’m hoping that they’ll rebound too,
but it’s not looking good so far.

I haven’t
completely sworn off those half-hardy perennials that only barely make it
through a cold winter. Testing the limits of this climate is half the fun. But
next year, I’m taking some cuttings before the first frost hits as an insurance
policy.

Really. I mean it this time.

5 Comments

  1. Isn’t coastal frost kind of unusual?
    My 5 ft. tall princess flowers died back all the way to the ground, but they’re sending out fuzzy new growth. Yay!
    My Leonotis also died back to the ground, but is finally sending out a tiny bit of new growth. We’ll see. My beautiful bush echium bit the dust. It was huge but hadn’t bloomed. Wah.
    My Lavandula dentata was nipped back pretty hard, but other lavender varieties did fine.
    Frosts and freezes are expected in my area (Sacto), but it sounds like many coastal climes from S.F. to Mendocino to Eureka were hit this winter. Yikes.

  2. Here in Austin, badly timed freezes and ice killed normally dependable plants, too. Some of my salvias restarted from the roots. I almost dug up the roots of the Rose geranium, but it’s slowly – so slowly, making new leaves. I hope yours will return for you, Amy.
    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. We have a tibouchina (thanks for the name — Purple Passion always sounded like a fizzy, corn-syrup drink to me) which is about forty years old. I had to cut it way back during the windy storms this winter, as it was rubbing against the windows. My wife was sure that I’d killed it, but alas, we’re now getting the tiny leaves.
    I’m slowly replacing old stuff with natives ’round here, but the tibouchina will remain.

  4. I’ll vote along with Scott to keep those Tibouchinas. We can only grow them in pots in the northeast and the flowers are truly breathtaking. Look forward to seeing photos of yours in bloom.

  5. In general, plants that are able to resprout from blind wood will come back from a frost, even if from the roots. Woodier plants such as lavendar, rosemary, and some of the shrub salvias have a difficult time recovering after a hard prune and also hard frosts.
    But your salvia mexicana, confertiflora, and leonotis grow back from the ground every year already. Keep looking for a resprout- you should get them if the Tibouchina came back!
    Believe it or not, here in SF, I cut all those down to the ground every spring, and I cut my Tibouchina to the ground every other year. It keeps them green and shrubby and gets rid of the legginess.