Thrilled at the Devastation

Delusional tropical gardening isn't always pretty.  I made my rounds about the garden the other day, pulling on the the dead spears of Cataract palms, arecas and pygmy date palms and starting to get a little irritated with marginally hardy palms.  I know that growing things that belong outside my zone is the exciting part after all, but while other plants return from the roots, stems or trunks, those monocarpic palms have a more black/white approach to handling cold.  To the left you can see the worst looking part of the garden, but will be just fine since everything in the frame is a root hardy perennial. 

Truth be told, I'm ecstatic about all the cold damage!  Between the last two winters I have a lot less to worry about when waiting for the freezes, because now I know which plants to keep and which ones to not worry about.  This knowledge is huge as far as I'm concerned, since I seem to be the only gardener in the area that faithfully records this info and utilizes it.  Everyone else around here (in addition to committing crape murder) finds heliconias and ground orchids at Home Depot and just assumes they'll do well without any protection!  I'm here to tell you that just because you can grow things outside the proper zones doesn't mean you should without careful planning.
To the left is a Bismarck palm, which is not hardy in zone 9a.  It can be though, as long as you either protect it or site it carefully, as three large specimens are planted on a slope at the FCCJ south campus adjacent to a pond.  A neighbor planted his little sapling in the middle of a bright and sunny yard a couple of years ago and although it survived last winter, it couldn't muster the strength to push out a new leaf until summer.  The middle of a open lawn is normally the perfect place for bizzies, but up here even canary island date palms, washingtonias and queen palms are giving up the ghost. 

Because my parents didn't want me to plant this tree in the middle of our backyard, I had to resort to siting it where every book will tell you not to, in a wet and shady area against the woods.  I halfway expected it to die there but it has only adapted by elongating its leaf stalks to efficiently make use of all available sunlight, much as native sabal palms do in the forest. 

This winter I have made a temporary tent for it during our 2 weks in the 20's:  A thick mulch of pine straw to encircle the base with palmetto fronds driven into the ground around it, making an interesting looking cover. It has paid off too, since its already getting a head start on spring and opening up a new frond in spite of the winter cold! 

I had mentioned before that its important to make your trees the hardiest plants in the garden, since they provide protection for the rest of the plants and look the worst when cold damaged.  The most tender tree I have is a Tabebuia Chrysotricha so with the exception of my prized bromeliads, this was the only plant in the garden I was concerned about.  The leaves got bronzed and fell off at the end of our cold spell, but to my surprise the tips are sporting new flower buds already and the wood is green just below the bark to the smallest branch!  If it can survive the last two winters, it can take anything.

The last night of the cold spell didn't freeze, but we were hit with a heavy frost that severely knocked back everything that took the freezes so well.  Now that the damage has had a chance to truly show itself, I can give you guys a brief rundown on how things are looking.   Of course, sometimes plants get weakened by freezes and don't croak until months later, but here's the gist of it.

My monstera deliciosa has died off where it wasn't well covered, but when I brushed aside the covering of pine mulch I provided, there were firm, green stems!
My gingers have died back, but there's still plenty of healthy growth under the parts that died.  It won't take long for them to fill out again.
Believe it or not, the bottlebrushes were singed at the tips this winter!  I haven't seen that before.
I pulled a lot of spears out of the areca palms and cat palms, and one out of a pygmy date palm.  The areca is definitely alive, but only on the suckers at the base.  By the time it recovers it will have a nice canopy to protect it.
The fishtail palm looks awful, but all of it's spears are firm for the moment. 
Peace lilies took a big hit, but still putting out leaves. 
I left some neoregelia spectabilis hybrids, aechmea distichantha, aechmea gamosepala and some phillipo-coburgii's unprotected and they took a beating but are alive.
Plumeria got mushy at the tips but is still firm elsewhere.
Tree fern's fronds are brown but it should be fine.
Firespike, princess flower, firebush and sea grape most likely burned to the ground.
African Iris, Lily of the Nile and White bird of paradise all got knocked to the ground.  The African Iris doesn't take the cold well where i live but it takes flooding in stride.
Philodendron selloum's outer leaves got melty but it looks great regardless.

Plants that definitely didn't make it: 
Coffee tree was a sure goner, I only had it because it was labeled as wild coffee.
Papaya was unprotected and young, so it bit the dust.  I'll replace it for another $1.50 or start some from seed.
Pond apple seedling... I'll just find another seed from the beach and keep it in a container til it gets bigger.
Philodendron hybrids that were not near the house are probably toast, since I didn't protect them..
Neoregelia "fireball" all did awfully even though they were protected.  I'm not trying this one again unless as a filler for containers.

I hope this info helps!  So far I have yet to find too many readers outside the tropics or way up north, so if you live in zones 8-9a, comment and let me know you're out there!


  1. its easy to go for that tropical look when you are in a subtropical environment but have borderline plants....i would also take a risk although more expensive plants like the bismarkia would be a high rick investment in my opinion...why not choose hardier palms and other subtropicals and put the really tender ones in the garage for the winter...thats what some relatives do in georgia for the winter...not fun i know!

  2. Well, the bismarckia was dirt cheap and on clearance when I got it and everything that didn't make it was also really cheap... except for the cat palms. :( I will pay a little more for something thats tropical looking and yet cold hardy though, like hardy bromeliads or alocasias.

  3. Bismarcks and Canary Island Date Palms are two of the best palms for my part of Florida. Very cold hardy...not a burnt leaf in site, with many nights in the 20's this year. They are both quite expensive in my must be finding some good deals somewhere. Arecas can be found much cheaper, but they are the most cold-tender palm in my garden. I have one that has been in place for 20 years, but has suffered damage 2 winters in a row now. It was one of the few plants on this lot when we bought it. Pygmy date palms (my favorites!) are also cold tender here, but the trunk and crown always survive.

    Here's the dirt on my broms: Several different neos have survived two bad winters unscathed. Aechmeas and Quesnelias have received outer leaf damage in exposed areas; none in deep shade.

    Anyway, I'm glad you are thrilled. Me...not so much. I awoke to ANOTHER frost this morning! Hello! This is Florida! I like the mild winters so much better!

  4. Glad you have some plants that survived, and you do have a postive attitude. I am sure you are going to have a wonderful summer - that cold would have killed off a lot of the nasty bugs. I cant believe your plumeria survived, I thought they were very cold sensitive! Looks as though you are sensitising some plants so they can adapt to your microclimate. Great idea.

  5. You are very patient :). Your post makes me think of plants I see in Malaysia - loads of palm, ginger, plumeria, papaya etc.

  6. I did not know that you have such frosts in Florida. I am sure with time you will find out the plants which survive. I guess not all winters are so severe, but that is probably not a consolation. Here I live about 6 m
    above sea, down my hill it frosts sometimes but not as bad that I loose plants. Where I lived before also in the subtropics, on the Clarence river in Northern NSW I lost one winter all my newly planted tropical Hibiscus. Never give up!

  7. I think we all try to push the zone limits...there's just so many wonderful tropical plants. If you think about it they do well in our areas with the exception of a few cold nights a year. This year was a little different...but nonetheless...deadly!

  8. I'm so sad to hear about some of the plants that didn't do well. Being my first real cold spell in FL (last year was cold, but not as long), I'm really surprised at how the cold damage doesn't show up right away. I lost 2 new plumeria shoots that were well rooted...but they just couldn't hang on..I lost a bright red one from Hawaii. One was saved, though. (not all is friend gave me 4 new cuttings). My ground orchids fared well, although most of my new heliconia transplants were lost. I have a few new shoots, though.
    I'm the only one in my neighborhood that logs the microclimates as well. Oh well..can't have more that one true gardener per neighborhood, I guess. LOL!!!
    I wish you and your plants well!!

  9. If only I didn't have more nights in the upper 20's coming up...

  10. hi, just checked out your blog and found it very interesting. The post on cordyline is superb.

  11. I thought of dropping a few words since you
    are the happy gardener... I am the proud cranky one.

    The other is your stance on experimenting with plants not necessarily on your zone.

    I did in the beginning...Plant things not necessarily of my very strict/demanding liking on
    spots where shade for example was right, but not

    I learned about the variable, heat..If anything
    like Diffenbachias, Aglaonemas are in the shade
    but the heat is intense, they do not prosper.

    So they were moved from south to north, and now
    they are too happy if I may.

    It is always nice to drop by. Any blog is worth
    its rock of sand/salt if one ponders about what
    is shown/pictured, even if not agreeing with
    the premises and such...

    Something has to be learned...In my humble opinion.

    Good luck, and until next...


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