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Exotic plants and freezing weather


For the first ten days of the New Year the UK experienced an unusually sharp cold snap that ran itself out just two weeks ago.

Gardeners everywhere always keep a sharp eye out for the unusual, to claim that unusual plant which friends and neighbours can admire enabling the fortunate gardener to bask in the reflected halo of envy and admiration. We all do it. We all enjoy doing it. And our gardening pleasure is all the better for it. But how many of us who’ve nurtured borderline-tender plants in their garden had at least one ‘second thought’ about their tender policy as favoured plants went from green to black over night.

Was this the beginning of new, harder winters? Would we never again be able to grow exotic cannas and hedychiums outside in the ground without a pot? Did the precipice of our botanic gardening limits here in the UK need to be rolled back in future? Certainly since I moved here to North Devon my garden had not experienced such cold for so long and uninterrupted by warmer spells. I mean, -10C for two successive nights just stormed past my previous garden record low of -6C!

It’s the length of time that your garden experiences such cold that can be so fatal. And if the ground is sodden immediately prior to such bitter cold it’s ‘double-deadly’ for your exotic garden plants.

Fortunately, we enjoyed a comparatively dry December so I had no fears for my large, mature populations of Canna and Hedychium in the ground. Least not if the cold didn’t last too long because that would mean the freeze would seep much deeper.

But when I went in to the unheated greenhouse my heart stopped. There before me, my wife’s glorious 8ft Philodendron was lying flat beneath its protective blanket of frost fleece. A quick glance at the blackened leaves of the ‘cold’ cymbidium orchids told me they had had enough and were most unlikely to return – least not the majority. While the glorious felt foliage of the purple-flowering Tibouchina urvillea from Brazil had turned white and carpeted the floor. But worse was to follow.

In another unheated greenhouse the strelitzia (Bird of Paradise) had never looked so sick! Flowering stems had turned black and stems that would provide new leaves in the summer had darkened and turned horribly soft. But much worse were some of the leaves. They had curled and turned a horrible brown. (Pictured).

The only thing to do was to use some force and pull off the effected stems and leaves from the base. Because it was short-term cold, the plants were unaffected beneath the soil. Fortunately, the frost fleece and the damaged leaves served to protect the majority so I have no fear for the future. Only temporary disappointment that the display would not be quite so magnificent if it hadn’t been so cold.

My Pandoreas from Australia should be enjoying summer temps right now in the high thirties. Instead they had -10C for two nights. And they didn’t like it one bit. Their leaves lost their bright spring green look, turned very dark, even black in many cases. All were pointing down and felt unusually soft. They’d gone.

But the plants were, despite it all, were good. Sure, the new soft green stems grown in the summer that would provide new blooms in April had given up the ghost. But all the woody stems were hard, green and very healthy. So I spent six hours, over several days, systematically pulling off every single leaf. Note that I did not cut them off. Only the stems were cut, leaving a tangled network of stems above my head. But I’ve no doubt that once temperatures become consistently above +9C, with the increased light levels found from March onwards these plants WILL come back. It’s unlikely these late-spring/early summer flowering vines will flower this year, but I’m sure this enforced cutting back will ensure stronger and better plants.

Returning outside. I notice the shorter daffodils are actually in flower right now and have been for some days. Elsewhere, the corylopsis buds are fattening very nicely and dozens of my clematis can already be seen sprouting either new leaf tips or fattening buds or both. The clematis armandii for example, which generally flowers for 9-10 months every year has particularly large bright green buds and Clematis ‘Freckles’ actually has a few flowers with more to follow!

And the insect-digesting Pitcher plants from Florida which are outside? They’re fine. Unusually, untidy – even for this time of year I must confess, but nothing a good clear up won’t improve.

All of which encourages me to get on with the real gardening. More cutting back, more clearing up and getting up those damned buttercups! Which actually come up quite easily when they grow on a thick mulch – only there’s just SO many of them. But visitors will often remark how weed-free Winsford Walled Gardens are – so the effort is noticed. The gardens open daily to the public on Saturday, April 04 this year until the end of October. I look forward to seeing you.

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Ive been Worried about my Exotics Muddywellies but i entered my unheated Ghouse this morning (to cram more plants in) and they all seem fine, im not 100% sure about my 3 Brugmansia because its my first Overwintering with them but they Look Ok, Not Black at all, one of the Canna's Leaves has turned Brown but thats normal to me, New shoots will come up in Spring, in fact I put a couple of Tender plants in there to see how they would do, an experiment really, and there fine, Im Hoping my Banana which is outside Wrapped in Straw Survives, Fingers crossed, So up to now my Exotics "seem to" be OK :))))

26 Jan, 2009


~I have several strelitzias in a heated greenhouse and they are fine but I had a smaller one in an unheated greenhouse covered in fleece~all of the leaves are all brown and twisted ~is it worth cutting everything off and waiting to see if any new shoots appear?It is currently in the heated greenhouse I moved it as soon as I could!

26 Jan, 2009


Don't be in a hurry to cut everything off any frost-affected plant before you are sure that the part you want to remove will not in fact grow back. Experience wins out every time.

For example, if a shrub is badly damaged by frost. Begin at the extremities and GRADUALLY cut back until you find some healthy stem.

Like wise with a strelitzia and other exotics. But beware with the strels because if too much is taken off too quickly your plant will have insufficient support. Been there myself on occasion. THEN you need to provide extra support and be patient. But it will come back. You've got to balance this with the aesthetics of your plant but don't leave obviously mushy parts to spread the rot.

Over the years I've found that when a strelitzia stem is doing no good it will come out quite easily, conversely a stem which is resisting your best efforts to remove it may not actually be as bad as it looks and will return in time. It's all a matter of balance . . . .

My plants will remain in an unheated gh. But I will in future introduce a temporary fan heater for the odd night when -10C is forecast!

26 Jan, 2009


I'm waiting to see what I have lost. There are three plants outside under fleece and several more with straw protecting the roots so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
The greenhouse only has things that will tolerate the cold but not the wet we get with it. Anything that I am in doubt over is indoors although I have reduced that to just five pots this year.

26 Jan, 2009


I have lost several special plants, in spite of fleecing. The worst loss? My precious collection of Coprosmas...Aaaagh! I can't bear to see them like that. They all have damage, some terminal, others - well, I'll wait and see.

I have, however, made a decision - I am going to replace them (if I can track them down!) and try again - once more. I can't afford to treat them like annuals and keep buying them each year.

I do hope we have seen the back of the very cold weather - it really has wreaked havoc for us all.

26 Jan, 2009


Sorry you lost your Coprosmas Spritz, Gardening and Plants is an expensive Hobby :/

26 Jan, 2009


You are SOOO right, Dd. My husband moans sometimes, but he has his own hobbies, so I can moan back!

26 Jan, 2009


I'm afraid I've learnt the hard way in the past that coprosmas will not tolerate an unheated greenhouse in a UK winter.

But many I'm sure will be surprised at just how low a heated greenhouse can be maintained saving money and your plants! But you need a good heater that can maintain low temperatures because when it turns sharp cold fast, if your heater is not powerful enough it will be unable to raise your temperature out of danger fast enough!

Needless to say in overwintering any exotic plant much depends upon how dry your pots are. My coprosmas have had about a half litre each since November!

Have you noticed our lighter days? They are beginning to make a difference in the garden already.

28 Jan, 2009


Yeah MW, its nearly 4oclock and still light.. Fab..'

28 Jan, 2009


hi muddy wellies , i recently bought from lidl a musa banana, dont know which variety, it looks real sick brown leaves some have white on and split, i think i have overwatered as where the main stem is sticking out from soil it is light brown!!!havent watered for a couple of days but even the new leaves underneath have a slight dark tip on, could you please advise me on care, i live in worcester in midlands, i also recently bought a peace lily and pachypodium that are not yet repotted and would appreciate your advice, thankyou, i would love an exotic garden but am not greenfingered, my garden face south to southwest if that helps

27 May, 2013

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