West coast Fritillaria question

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Tue, 02 Jan 2007 18:03:32 PST
Thanks, John. Advice is always welcome, and advice gained under conditions
similar to my own is especially welcome. 


Let me return the favor with an anecdote or two about protecting
precociously emerged vegetation. 


My impression from experience here is overall similar to yours, but with one
maybe significant difference: I'm convinced that it is exposure to air which
is the culprit. 


Although Tulipa saxatilis often crisps when grown in the open here, plants
under a clear plastic tub sail through the winter with no significant


I use a variation of the flower pot system for a big pink Eremurus
(nominally E. robustus) which is always up well before it's safe. The pot is
filled with dry soil or sand and then quickly inverted over the emerging
sprout. Or you might also fill the inverted, empty pot from the hole in its


This year this Eremurus emerged above ground in late November, and the
sprout was thick and blunt-nosed  - that's usually the sign of a bloomer.
It's been covered since it emerged. 


I've mentioned this in this forum before, but perhaps it bears repeating
here: years ago, a Canadian strawberry grower assured me that cold as it
gets in his part of Canada, the temperature at ground level under the snow
cover is usually about 32 degrees F. 


We don't have snow cover here, and that's where my cold frames come into
play. Their purpose is not to keep the plants in them frost free. Their
purpose is to moderate the rapid temperature fluctuations and to eliminate
wind burn. Even small clear plastic containers seem to provide some of the
same advantages. But they're sure not pretty!


During the early part of the twentieth century, when the first wave of
well-heeled American gardeners returned home after making the grand tour of
English gardens with a determination to replicate those gardens, they began
to make some interesting observations about conditions here in eastern North
America. One was that a sort of "dead zone" exists, roughly on the
Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington D.C.-Richmond axis: this is of
course the major human population axis in this area, and it roughly follows
the fall line. It's a "dead zone" for many herbaceous perennials because
there is no snow cover. They freeze, thaw, heave, freeze, thaw, burn in the
wind, freeze, thaw and die. 


It must have been very confusing at first to hear that a plant was hardy in,
for instance, upstate Michigan, but not in Philadelphia. 


When the current boom interest in perennials picked up steam in the 1980s,
there was little surviving evidence of the similar boom which had occurred
at the beginning of the century. 


The solution to which most gardeners of the time resorted was mulching -
with materials ranging from salt hay to spun glass. Only the coarsest plants
survive heavy mulching, and in a sense this problem has never really been
solved for small, delicate plants grown in situ. 


But it's amazing what cold frame cover will let you get away with. 



Jim McKenney


Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7

My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/


Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 

Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 


Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/







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