Digging for gold under the snow...

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Tue, 16 Feb 2010 10:42:49 PST
Jim McKenney's happy results after he dug the cold frames out of the 
snow do not surprise me. Snow is an effective insulator, and some 
light gets through it.

That's good that his Chilean tropaeolums have survived. Mine have 
also, and T. tricolor is in flower at present, although they didn't 
have the benefit of snow cover when it was very cold here in 
December. The large plants of T. brachyceras that were up on supports 
at that time froze to the ground, but small volunteer seedlings near 
them, which were either not yet emerged or lying on the soil, appear 
normal. I suppose the tubers of T. brachyceras will survive without 
the top growth until next year. They can pass a year or even two 
without emerging, an adaptation to severe drought.

Most of the damage here seems to have been to Arum and Biarum species 
that had their foliage up at the time of the cold snap, but a few of 
them are putting up new growth. Most of the color in the frames now 
comes from early Narcissus species, mostly in the Bulbocodium section 
though there are a few little trumpet species that flower early as 
well. Fritillaria stenanthera and F. gibbosa (Rhinopetalum section) 
are in bloom, F. raddeana, and F. striata. The last has a reputation 
for being tender but I think it's tougher than the British writers 
believe. Its claim to fame, besides being beautiful, is its very 
sweet fragrance. I'm trying to figure out how to transport a 
particularly nice pot of it to the NARGS chapter meeting tonight -- 
it is a tall, slender plant.

Unfortunately, the rabbits have come back, and I'm losing the top 
growth of plants every night. They eat the new growth of crocuses 
(not the mature foliage, however) and the flowering stems of 
fritillarias (but not the basal leaves). Apparently they are 
attracted to the most nutrient-rich growth. They also eat the foliage 
of Ornithogalum. They taste some other things but apparently reject 
them. Narcissus and other amaryllids seem safe, as do colchicums.

Don't start telling me how to keep them out. I cannot keep cats 
because of the coyotes, and in any case there would be no way to 
confine the cats in the frames; I refuse to keep little terriers, 
too. I can't shut the frames every night because some of them are 
permanently vented. And as far as I know, there is no "rabbit 
repellent" that actually works. As for screening off the frames, we 
are not talking about a few 4x8-foot objects -- the frame yard is 
about 40 by 40 feet, with five two-sided ranges of frames. Putting 
screens over them would be prohibitively expensive at this point, and 
would also prevent me from working in them easily. I look forward to 
moving next summer to a rabbit-free area; there will be squirrels 
(imported from the east coast by some moron years ago), but I'm 
planning a screen-sided bulb house instead of frames.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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