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!