It was seventy degrees here last Friday.
Saturday it snowed.
Yesterday got up to sixty, tomorrow is anticipated in the low forties.
North Carolina weather is weird under the best of circumstances, but this year has been extraordinarily erratic. A friend of mine calls it “global weirding” which seems almost more accurate than “global warming,” as the weather gets odder and more prone to jumping around.
It was warm enough for lots of plants to get started with spring growth in January, whereupon they were treated to icestorms and snow. I wandered the garden recently to see who survived.
My garden is more or less Zone 8a these days (having slid from a warm 7b with the latest USDA map) but of course, the minute I believed that and started planting Zone 8 plants, we got hit with the coldest weather of the last five years…and after a long stretch of warm weather, when even hardy plants might suffer. All plants are native unless stated otherwise.
Winner: Agastache spp. Despite being a soft-leaved plant, various cultivars of A. foeniculum seem to have sailed through without a hitch. Even some of the more southerly species weren’t troubled, while the truly Southwestern plants didn’t break dormancy in the first place. The volunteer that hit eight feet last year (I don’t know how either) came back this year, and stayed warm tucked up by the house. There was a little frost wilt around the edges, but nothing died back hard.
Loser: Salvia cultivar “Black-and-Blue” non-native, hardy supposedly to Zone 7 (often sold as an annual.) It was putting up little leaves before the cold and now is crusty and withered and the roots have no grip on the ground.
Mixed Bag: Coreopsis pubescens, cultivar “Sunshine Superman.” This one grew crazy in all directions, throwing runners that set up rosettes. The frost absolutely nuked all those runners. There is still a big rosette of leaves at the base that seems untouched, but all the new growth (and there was a lot of it) is deader than a doornail.
Winner: Yarrow. Yarrow does not approve of these weather shenanigans. Yarrow will destroy you all.
Winner: Partridgeberry, Mitchella repens. There was an ice storm? What? When? Really?
Loser: Manfreda virginica, cultivar “Macho Mocha.” Macho Mocha proved to be less than macho, turning into a sad, limp, soggy mass of rotting leaves. This is a fleshy agave-like plant, so it’s…sad. I am hoping it will come back from the roots. The straight species fared marginally better, with everything dying except for a small cup at the base that appears solid.
Winner: Pycnanthemum incanum, hoary mountain mint (and indeed, all of the mountain mints) sailed through without even noticing the weather. P. incanum forms a big mound of green this time of year, which took no damage from the frost, while many of the others pop up individual whorls of leaves, looking not unlike thyme or oregano at first. These tiny little leaves seem to have taken no harm either.
Winner: “Walker’s Low” catmint. One of the few non-natives I’d be hard-pressed to live without, this pollinator magnet took no apparent harm from the frost, and has silvery little leaves in a bowl-shaped mound around the nubs of last years stems.
Loser: Salvia nemerosa, cultivar “May Night.” A European salvia. I don’t know why I keep trying this one—I think some form of horticultural masochism. It never performs up to snuff in the summer, and this year probably won’t even get to summer, as the combination of cold and wet hit it very hard.
Winner: Carolina rose, Rosa carolina, one of our native roses. I don’t think it noticed that there was frost. I don’t think it would notice if there was an earthquake followed by a hurricane followed by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding around the frog pond.
Winner: Former Aster something or other, aka “Raydon’s Birthday.” This one got very aggressive after being cut back, and took the warm weather to steal a march on everything in that bed, throwing mad runners underground that pop up into little bits of aster. This is bee-balm behavior, people! I was tearing out large chunks earlier in the year. A few of the popped-up rosettes blackened in the frost, but the vast majority didn’t break a sweat. “October Skies” was marginally less aggressive, and there’s a “Fanny’s Favorite” in there somewhere that ate its own tag.
Winner: Oregano, in both culinary and ornamental forms (I like “Herrenhausen” although I keep calling it “Harryhausen” and thinking of “Clash of the Titans.”) sailed through without any problems. Non-native. Seems to want to be a ground cover.
As weather gets weirder, I expect knowing these things will be more and more important to gardeners. That so many garden plants did fine through weird and extreme weather gives me hope. As for the others, we’ll see if they come back at all, or if I’m just going to sigh heavily and move on.
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