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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Big Bamboo

So far so good with our winter weather. We have now had some very low temperatures with no ice or snow. I ran around covering things from that chilly wind that probably never stood a chance but I was curious to find out how well some things would do with just a little frost cloth. I covered our massive bed of Farfugium, better known as Tractor Seat, that same bed has some Anise that were still recovering from last year. The tractor Seats melted but they will come back fine, I just had to see if I could skip that step. The Anises were all in great shape. I tried it with Geraniums that were spectacular up until that moment. The Geraniums fleshy stems turned into goo, I have cut them back to the soil just to see what might happen, I’ve gotten new growth like that before but the weather has to be pretty mild.

My Sasanquas were blooming so I covered them to see if I could save any blooms and mainly to protect the foilage and the stems from freezing and cracking. It didn’t do much for the blooms but the plants look great. I covered some our giant blue Agaves even though I know they are pretty tough I didn’t see any value in taking any chances . Last years cold damage spooked me pretty good, I never want to see that much devastation again if I can help it. All of my perennials got that hit I like them to get before I cut them back. Their foliage was dark brown and left no doubt as to the timing or the placement of the cut. I used this  opportunity to cut back all of my annual vines since they had time for their seeds to mature on the vine. I collected the seeds I needed and cleaned up the viney parts. I cut my ornamental grasses back pretty hard to prepare them for new growth coming before we know it. After cutting back those swaths of plants the place looks pristine, empty, but pristine. Now that we have had enough cold temperatures the plants are in dormancy enough to cut back some other plants.

When it chills long enough the plants carbohydrates and sugars move back down to the roots from where they normally are in the upper part of the plant. I don’t like to risk cutting them back to early since I would be wasting all those good juices if they were still in the upper parts of the plant. I would rather it all flows downward and get stored in the roots so that when spring hits the plant can burst out of its gloom easier and stronger. That’s why we wait to prune Roses, Crepe Myrtles and other deciduous plants until the first weeks of February. By allowing the roots to store all the good stuff before cutting the top of the plant back you are allowing the plant to do most of the work when spring arrives. I tested out to see if plants had gone deep enough into dormancy by tipping some of my branches on my fig tree. If I would have seen a white latex like substance drip from the ends I would have known that it is too early to prune. When I cut some tips there was no juices flowing out, I snipped it a little lower, no juices still so I declared it to be pruning time. I cleaned off some old wood and dead or damaged branches and shortened the branches by about one third. That will give the plants way less work to do when we begin to warm up and the roots start sending the life sources back to the growing tips of the plants.

I didn’t come out to good with any of my three different types of bamboos. I have one called Buddha’s Belly that was just trying to get it together from last winters damage and I had some gorgeous Golden Goddess Bamboo that I had completely cut back last year, not a fun job, that appears to be losing it’s leaves again. I have about 15 of those in giant clumps around the yard that I just can’t/won’t cut back again. They have entered the “too much trouble “ zone. I’m done with them. The only bamboo on my property that is unaffected by the cold is in the area in the woods between my house and the barn. Timber bamboo is not clumping, has huge diameter trunks and running pretty wild, it’s one of mine and Mimis favorite plants. We have dreams of cutting a path through there one day. Their stalks are nearly 50 feet tall and some are as big around as my forearm.

Over time they will begin to drop some leaves leaving a white understory on the ground, really beautiful once they mature. I just hope I won’t have to get a bulldozer in there one day if they become to unruly. In that area I allowed 3 specimen Sycamores to thrive. The winter is their time with their gorgeous , white trunks that are almost blinding on a sunny day. They mix well with dark green foliage of the Bamboo growing in the same area. Most people think of Sycamores as trash plants and they can be. If allowed a Sycamore will try to take over an area with their army of babies that pop up all around the tree, they can overpopulate much like a grove of Aspen trees, great if you want them, hard to control if it gets out of hand.

All of our Maples seem to be doing what they do in the winter months. They dramatically lose their foliage in the winter then on some of them, especially the Coral Bark Maples, the stems and even the trunk gets blood red the colder it gets, they really stand out this time of year. I like them with leaves or without, they are just great trees for this area. Our weeping maples have great, weeping structure that really stands out when they are standing there naked. I embarrass them further by uplighting the interesting shapes. All of our Maples have their heydays in the winter months with the lights on them at night.

I’m hoping that plants around town have felt their last blistering cold for this year. When spring hits we can keep picking through last years damage and get our yards right again, now we know what plants to use in case this happens again.

I wouldn’t bank on that being our last painful snap of the season, it’s mid February, stay prepared to at least minimize the damage. Keep the frost cloth handy so you’ll be ready to come to the rescue.


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