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Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 2017 Around My Yard

January and February are what I consider the dead of winter here in New York. This winter has been a pretty mild one. Although we have gotten pretty cold (down to nearly 10F), we've averaged daytime temperatures well into the 40s so far this month.

So here is my underwhelming update of the best subtropicals in my yard in January.

 My mahonia is a reliable winter bloomer. Buds appear in the Fall and flowers open up from February through March. The flowers are yellow which are a nice bright touch to dark winter days.

Speaking of bright - even when young Silver Mediterranean Fan Palms (chamaerops humilis var. cerifera) are very colorful with beautiful silver fronds. Mine has been in the ground for 5 years with minimal protection making it one of the hardiest palms I grow. It's a very slow grower though.

I also grow the common green form, Chamaerops humilis. They can easily tolerate temperatures below 20F so there beautiful fronds can be enjoyed most of the winter even in January. I have protected it only for 2 nights so far and in it's 6 years in New York, this palm has survived a temperature of 3 degrees! 

Polystichum polyblepharum (aka Tassel Fern) is an evergreen fern hardy to zone 5. I have noticed some foliar damage with low temperatures only in the teens. So far it seems to be fully evergreen here in New York City. This fern is a beauty during the summer and not too bad looking during the winter. I recommend it!

The first of two plants that I left outside WAY longer than I wanted to, my Fatshedera lizei tree ivy. This plant is a hybrid between English Ivy and Fatsia Japconica. I left it outside in its tiny pot during an overnight low of only 10 degrees!! The whole thing was frozen solid and droopy when I took it into my unheated garage. The next morning it bounced right back. Definitely a hardy plant! 

I cannot believe that I accidentally left my Trachycarpus Nanital outside this late into the year. It saw temperatures into the teens all while inside a tiny pot. I have no doubt that the pot was basically frozen solid at some point the past few weeks... but it handled all that cold with no problem. We'll see if any damage shows up during the spring months.

My big trachys are my favorite palms in the yard. They were babies when I got them and they look good even in January!

The big appeal of gardenias is their fragrant white flowers in the spring and summer BUT they also have beautiful foliage which is a welcomed sight during the winter.

Crown Jewel Gardenias have very low growing habits. They remind me a lot of azaleas.

Frostproof Gardenias have very dense foliage. The leaves are also different than  your typical gardenia. Instead of broad, dark-green, glossy foliage, Frostproof gardenias have more lacy and light green foliage. I think it's a very attractive shrub ... and when it's in bloom it's AMAZING!

That's a great "segue" to another evergreen plant that is in bloom in January. My Loquat! This plant has seen temperatures down to 16F this year before I finally caved and gave it protection. Not only did it see some pretty significant cold weather, but there was no foliage damage and it is still holding on to healthy flower buds. Unfortunately I am not expecting any fruit from this tree. The foliage alone makes it worth growing.

My plumerias are blooming too (indoors at least). I just took a trip to South Florida and plumeria blooms were EXTREMELY hard to come by, all the trees were just about completely dormant. So I guess it's a nice accomplishment to have my largest plumeria blooming in January for 3 winters in a row now. The blooms develop normally and there are currently no pests like aphids of spider mites bothering it. I am really happy to see thriving and it's nice to smell plumeria flowers up here in the winter!

Begonias are almost too easy to grow! 

My Confederate Jamine spends most of the winter outside my front porch. It goes inside when temperatures drop below the upper teens. It starts to get damage below about 15 degrees. If I bring it inside for the winter, its beautiful blooms will happen too early in the season. It's a spring bloomer.

I'll end this post with some shots of my Crape Myrtle. I put spanish moss on my Crape Myrtles every season. Usually I take it off to overwinter the moss in my unheated garage but I am letting it be this year. It has been so wet and mild this winter here that I think it just might have a shot at surviving if we don't get too cold. The Spanish moss is definitely alive as we approach the end of January so fingers crossed. 

But even without the moss Crape Myrtles are beautiful in the wintertime. Check out the exfoliating bark! Not as dramatic as their bright blooms in the summetime, but they are one of the more attractive deciduous trees around here in the wintertime. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

How I Protect my Hardy Palm Trees in Zone 7, New York City

It is that time of the year, palm tree protection time! With my protection method and in my climate, I do not keep my palm trees protected all winter long. I am all about very low maintenance and cheap protection.

Tonight marks the 2nd night of protection for my Trachycarpus (windmill) palms. I have protected my Livistona (chinese fan palm) for maybe 6 or 7 days now, it is a much more tender palm. I try my best not to baby my palms, but at the same time I never want to cause their suffering intentionally - plants are living things and these palm trees did not sign up for 8 years and counting in New York City!

So here's the specifics about how I get my palm trees through the winter for all of you out there who are thinking of introducing palm trees or other plants that are borderline hardy in your climate. Whether you are trying to grow coconut palms in St. Augustine, FL or Needle Palms in Boston - I think a variation of the general protection method I use will work well.

Plant Line Up:

Out of the subtropicals I grow, these are the plants I leave outside and give extra help when winter comes along (from most needy to least):

Livistona palm: Protection when temperatures drop below 25F (I know. Why am I growing this tender, USDA zone 8b rated palm tree? I promise it is totally worth it for me and I've had it for 6 winters now!)
Mekong Giant Banana: Wrapped in burlap, will likely die back completely to the ground. No heat.
Musa Basjoo: Threw a bunch of yard garbage on it as an insulating mulch and am just waiting it out (if you are devote follower of this blog, you know my Musa Basjoo banana and I do not get along!)
Windmill Palms: My 2 oldest are protected when the forecast calls for temperatures below 15F. This has happened on 3 occasions so far this winter, including tonight. My smaller windmill palm is not receiving protection this winter.
Mediterranean Fan Palm: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 15F.
Loquat Tree: Protection when temperatures drop below 15F.
Sabal Minor: Protecting my more "tender" minor when temperatures drop below 10F. My other minor is flying solo unless we are forecasted to be well into the single digits.
Needle Palm: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 10F.
Hardy Gardenias: Protection when temperatures threaten to drop below 10F. (Varieties: Frostproof, Summer Snow, Crown Jewel)
Fatsia Japconia: Will protect if temperatures are forecasted to be well into the single digits. Under a layer of snow right now.
Soft Caress Mahonia: Will protect if temperatures are forecasted to be well into the single digits
Camellias: Will cave in and protect if temperatures are forecasted to drop near 0. We've had them for 20 years in our yard without protection, but they took a beating after a low of 1F and I do not want to lose flower buds AGAIN!

As far as the protection itself here are the steps. This year it cost me ZERO DOLLARS! I had the lights, I had the bins, and I had the cloths and yarn. The strings of lights cost about 2 dollars a box if you get them after the holidays are over (BIG christmas light sales). The bins range from a few dollars for office type bins to $20-$40 if you want to buy plastic garbage bins. I usually just use broken garbage bins that we are no longer using for garbage or random bins I find lying around the house. It takes me about 10 minutes to put on the protection for each plant for the first time of the season and to put on as needed beyond that, it takes maybe 1 to 5 minutes per plant. Like I said, I really try to make this easy and low maintenance.

Let's start off with the palms by the pool. I have my 2 Trachycarpus fortunei (Windmill palms) and my Livistona covered up underneath.

First I put a few poles down. At 6 feet tall, I need something to support the bins on top of these palms (and it will keep the cloth from hugging the palm too closely. You'll notice I also wrapped up some of the fronds in twine to make them easier to handle when it comes time to protect them.

Here are the lights I use. IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE LED LIGHTS. One year I did use LED lights and my trachys were okay (because it was a mild winter), but my pindo palm died and surprisingly my sabal minor was badly damaged. Led lights do not generate heat, that is what makes them so energy efficent. So I go for c7 or c9 lights. Be careful handling the bulbs because they are very easy to break. As soon as you plug them in you will feel the heat so use these bulbs sparingly or else you'll overheat your plants!

After the lights were applied the bins went over my palms and the cloths covered up the gaps. This is how they will look as they handle an overnight low temperature of 11F tonight. Without protection, the windmill palms would receive some frond damage starting at 10F after such a cold and windy day. The Livistona would be completely dead. With this protection method all 3 should be nice and green for the warmer rains coming later this week! 

My loquat was given similar protection. This is a surprisingly hardy plant and unlike palms they will survive some near fatal hits because they are capable of dying back (some people have had luck after a palm tree's central growing bud is killed, but it's definitely good to avoid that when you can!).

Here's the loquat after it is wrapped in twine (can you even tell the difference?!)

The cloths are on the loquat. After this I put a garbage bin on top to help trap in heat and repel moisture and that's it. (In case you are wondering, my neighbors don't even question this anymore!)

Next up was my needle palm. This palm can absolutely handle 10F without any problems if you get it from a northerly grower that has acclimated it to cold. It looked great after a low of 13F, but I felt bad letting it go through another brutally cold night and it really does only take about 5 minutes to protect it so I figured why not! 

Simultaneously, I protected my frostproof gardenia with the same exact method. Both should sail through tonight with protection. Frostproof gardenias have proven to be easily hardy to 10F for me and even with no protection during our coldest winters they have come back from the roots. But I really don't like seeing my plants suffer so if it gets near to 10F I do help them out now.

Needle palm

Frostproof Gardenia (Can you believe a gardenia looks this good after 13 degrees!)

My solution to having too many lights for a single plant was to extend the strand halfway across the yard (I have a small yard!). 

No cloth for these, the bins went right on! 

I did the same thing as above with my Sabal Minor and Mediterranean fan palm.

I will be honest, I am worried about my Fatsia Japconia (born and raised in Newport Beach, CA) and sabal minor which are both unprotected tonight, but I think they are up for the challenge.

I'll leave you off with a photo of my Daphniphyllum macropodum. It is so cold outside the leaves are shriveled up! They will bounce back when the weather warms up.

Thanks for looking! Good luck with the cold in your gardens. I'll post some more winter prep photos soon along with a post dedicated to the plants that look good even in January! 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Remembering 2016

I always start to think about my yard this time of the year. We're in the shortest days of the year and although winter weather hasn't arrived quite yet, and I haven't had to worry about protecting my plants (which is great because I can take advantage of those christmas light sales!), I always find myself looking back at my garden last year and looking forward to spring right after the holidays.

It's kind of nice to think that in just 3 months I'll be back in the yard digging more holes and getting things all ready to go for another season. This is the time of the year that many wholesale plant nurseries start to set seeds for the annuals that we see in garden centers by late April. So I guess I am not the only person thinking about warmer days!

Anyway here are some of my most memorable moments from 2016 in the garden. I hope you all have a wonderful new year!!

A wintry scene from last winter

Trachycarpus fortunei (Windmill Palm)

Rhapidophyllum hystrix (Needle palm)

Chamaerops humilis (European Fan palm)

Musa itinerans "Mekong Giant"
The last plant in the yard to emerge in the spring, I did not see my Mekong Giant until nearly the second week of June after it died to the ground during it's first New York winter. It had an amazing season of growth nearly doubling in size from the first year. 
July 2016

October 2016 

A Season Full of Blooms 

Crape Myrtle 'Zuni' planted in August 2010 as a small 3 gallon plant.

Crape Myrtle 'Tuscarora' looking like pink snow! 

Robert Fleming Hibiscus is a repeat bloomer.

Black and Blue Salvia is hardy in zone 7 with the right microclimate and blooms from Spring to the first hard freeze (April to November non stop!). This praying mantis was enjoying it! 

Costus Speciosus (Spiral Ginger) is such an interesting plant. It doesn't spread much. I've had it for 6 years and dig it up each fall. At most 3 stalks will come up throughout the season. A nice tropical filler though!

Hedychium gingers (Butterfly Gingers) are much more vigorous for me and the blooms smell absolutely amazing! 


Brugmansia and hyacinth bean

The hyacinth bean vine was new to this year!

Roses are beautiful and hardy! The multicolored ones is new to this year!

Passiflora incarnata is a beautiful and hardy passion fruit vine with amazingly complex flowers that bloom from spring to fall. Mine is still young and will spend the winter in the garage before being planted out in the spring. This was another plant that was new for me in 2016!

Clematis give a very similar look to passion vines but are much hardier! The only downside is that clematis only bloom in the spring. But the blooms are incredible.

Mandevilla flowers and mums in Fall

Pansies during the early summer 


The sad news is that 2016 was the last year for my Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.  I will greatly miss the beautiful cheery blooms every June. It was getting too big in my front yard and the needles were leading into the house. 

2016 was the first year I grew a Heliconia for the first time! Hopefully I can keep it alive indoors.

2016 was a really great year for my plumerias 

I am definitely a sucker for pink cannas! 

2016 was the first time I took a hummingbird photo! 



2016 was the biggest year for Gardenias ever in my yard. I have 6 gardenia plants, 5 of them are hardy and stay outside year round. 

Frostproof blooms heavily in early summer and sporadically throughout the growing season

Crown Jewel blooms almost entirely in early summer but it blooms so heavily you can't even see the leaves! Very similar to azaleas.

My confederate Jasmine has been thriving as a potted plant. It goes inside when temperatures dip below 15F so it stays out most of the year. When it blooms in the spring and early summer the fragrance is unbeatable!! 

Another southern favorite, southern magnolias.

Tropical plants

My adondila had a great growing season this past year! 

A combination of foliage with ginger and elephant ears making up most of it! 

Farfugium and philodendrons are right at home under spanish moss! 

This was the first year in a long time that I grew a Queen palm. It's resting comfortably indoors for the winter.

Last year was another great one for colorful summertime foliage!

2017 you have a lot to live up to!