Coping with Cold (Bulbs for frozen soil)--TOW

Judy Glattstein
Mon, 31 Mar 2003 07:18:17 PST
Dear All,

Someone asked for a topic on bulbs that survived frozen ground. A number of 
you have been reporting spring is at last coming although I saw on the 
weather channel that snow has still been coming too. But now seems like a 
good week for this topic when spring is officially here although it has 
been looking like spring in California for months. Judy Glattstein is 
writing a book on naturalistic gardening with bulbs and has kindly provided 
us with an introduction for this topic below.

Mary Sue Ittner
TOW Coordinator

Coping with Cold

In my early married days we had a refrigerator with delusions - it
wanted to be a freezer. You can imagine what this did to vegetables,
   including onions. They would thaw to a soft and odiferous mass.
Leaving aside the refrigerator, how is it that geophytes survive our
New Jersey winters? In the 7 years we've lived here it is not
uncommon for winter temperatures to descend to single digits
Fahrenheit, or even sub-zero. It can stay below freezing, night and
day, for a week or more. It can do this with no insulating cover of
snow. Clearly, Mother nature knows something kitchen
equipment does not. It must have something to do with roots.

Soil type does have a role to play. Here in New Jersey I have clay.
It is not as bad as some types of clay but it does stay damp and
cold. My previous garden, in Connecticut, had that lovely mythical
gardener's grail - high organic loamy soil, moist yet well-drained.
Amaryllis belladonna was reliably hardy and flowered every year.

Then there is the separate issue of geophytes in growth in cold
weather. I've seen Galanthus frozen so solid that the stems snap
when I pick a few to bring indoors. Those remaining outside do
thaw and revive when the temperatures moderate. Fritillaria
imperialis slumps to the ground in a frost, then hoists itself back
up with the mid-morning thaw. What is the secret of their
vegetative anti-freeze?

Muscari don't mind: they cheerfully send leaves up every autumn
to freeze every winter. Arum italicum 'Pictum' and A. 'Chamaeleon'
are winter-proof. Lycoris squamigera does well for me, because
(an assumption on my part) it waits until spring to send up foliage.
L. radiata lingers, diminishes, and dies after a few years. Again,
my assumption is that the autumn foliage, killed by the winter
freeze, does have a large impact.

Questions, comments, observations?

Judy Glattstein 

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