The Perils of Plant Protection

Living on the climatically fortunate west coast of Canada, I haven’t paid much attention to winter protection for plants. OK, I’ve wrapped up a big pot containing a dahlia, and moved pelargoniums (“geraniums”) inside for the winter, but for the most part I haven’t worried about winter survival.

Until now. A couple of years ago, my pink gauras failed to sprout in spring after a colder than normal period in February. A year or so later, I lost even the white (presumably tougher) gauras and feared for the survival of a blue Convolvulus. Fortunately the Convolvulus survived, but took its time sprouting out, not emerging until June.

What was going on here? Gauras (also called Lindheimer’s beeblossom) are supposedly hardy to Zone 6, and my place is safely in Zone 8. It wasn’t “wet feet,” either; my soil is as close to sand as it can be this side of a beach, and the drainage is excellent. Not knowing the reason for these losses, I now fret about plant survival every time the temperature descends to -5 C (23 F). That’s happened twice already this winter, and both times saw me racing around with wads of hay to snuggle around any plant I thought might be vulnerable. That includes the aforementioned Convolvulus and a batch of new seed-grown gauras in little pots huddled next to the house wall.

The trouble is, here a cold snap is reliably followed by a rebound into wet and relatively warm — what we call a “pineapple express.” The temperature rises to 10 degrees (50 F) or more, and it rains and rains. The hay mulch gets wet and soggy and packs down over the plants it’s meant to protect. This may not be a problem when the plant is fully dormant, with no top growth, but the gauras and Convolvulus still had some green leaves when I covered them. Unless I rush out and remove the mulch when it warms up and starts to rain, suffocation and rot might kill the plants as surely as the cold would have.

I’m beginning to think the hands-off approach might be better. Once I’ve situated the plants in the right sort of place, they should be able to cope with conditions in the full range of “normal.” If they’re too fussy and delicate to do that, let ’em die.

But those gauras are so elegant and graceful. They bloom for months and are drought-tolerant. I hope my little plants make it to spring, either because or in despite of my efforts.

Gaura lindheimeri (from Wikimedia Commons)

Gaura lindheimeri (from Wikimedia Commons)