7 January 2017
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
On December 24, I happened to notice a dandelion hugging the ground at about 1/8” and proudly displaying one large, incredibly yellow bloom as if to say, “So there!” Last night, the low was 1 and there will be no more blooms for at least a week now. “La meme chose, la meme ne plus change.” The truth is, winter is still winter and though it may not be as frigid as memory and history tell me it used to be it is still colder than freezing; not a time to be out digging. Remember the winter of 1994-95, when the low in the middle of the city of Columbus was -27 or the following winter when January was almost as cold but exceedingly wet, even more damaging in wet, clay soil? Those days will likely not return except as a fluke but it will still not be southern England and while we may be able to get away with Zone 6 plants which several years ago would have been high risk, it is still just not wise to get too enthralled with the possibilities unless your soil drains like a sieve. I know the temptation. There are so many gorgeous things out there that are rated as Zone 6 or 7 and, of course, we want to grow them all. But unless you’re willing to pay $12-15 or more apiece for ‘annuals’, let caution take the higher ground or get a greenhouse for winter storage. Otherwise, you bound to be disappointed when all you find in the place of that prized $20 beauty is a small wad of mush.
I’ve learned the hard way. Two winters ago, when even good gardeners in Cincinnati (which is an hour south of here) were losing Japanese maples by the arm-load, I witnessed the demise of three prize examples, each of which carried a substantial 3-figure price tag.They struggled to leaf out and finally gave it all up, the damage having been too substantial to repair. I have not given up on Japanese maples, but I’ll never plant another one here in the ground. They are now kept in large pots and this year three of them will get new pots and stands with wheels. There are some huge advantages to doing this with some plants besides getting to keep them for more than a year. Hostas are another plant which will grow nicely in pots, especially groupings of the new mini-and-dwarf ones. They will not only have a better chance of survival, they can be used to fill where ever filling may be needed, especially in shady areas. This can also work with larger specimen types as well. If the pots are really large, you can make them more manageable by putting randomly cut-up, largish pieces of packing styrofoam (at last, a use for the stuff that appliances use for shipping skin) in the bottom and then filling in with a good soil mix. You should check yearly to make sure the soil hasn’t all been replaced with roots; with smaller pots, you will need to replace/renew the soil annually to keep the plants healthy.
I know of one situation where a homeowner had almost no space in which to plant, just a couple of narrow strips on either side of a heavily shaded drive. The solution was a collection of the best hostas, in a variety of medium-to-large sized pots, placed on gravel in the two beds and tastefully and artistically arranged to take fullest advantage of the variations of leaf color, size, shape and texture. In the winter, after foliage had died back and been removed, the pots were stored in the garage along one wall, with a row of the largest pots on the bottom, topped with a couple of 2x4s, then a row of the next smaller size pots on top of that, and then another row, etc.,etc. (I’m reminded of the Ogden Nash poem: Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.) There were roughly 30-40 hostas in this collection and they made for a wonderful display all through the growing season and were protected during the winter and had the added advantage of being movable so that the display could be changed if desired. Genius solution to a tough garden problem.