Zone-Busting weather: Brrr!


Most gardeners hate the cold.  If we liked winter, we’d be skiers or ice skaters or something.  Instead, we long for spring.  I’m no exception.  Every year I get grumpy at how cold it gets here in the “sunny” South.  I’m in a Zone 7b.  That means there is a 90% chance the lowest temperature of the winter will be above 5F.  Say hello to other other 10% this year.  It happens every few years.  Say goodbye to those marginal, zone-pushing plants you have outside.

Readers in colder climes will laugh at the life-threatening emergency a forecasted 3F degrees is.  No, I did not miss a digit.  It’s going to snow a bit and be 3 degrees tomorrow night, with a wind chill of as low as -13F.  We grind to a halt under those conditions.  We don’t really have ice and snow removal equipment; just enough to clear a few main roads.  Why would we spend the money on it?  I’ve never even seen a snow shovel for sale here.  (Although when the big 9″ of snow fell a few years ago, my compost scoop worked quite well to clear my driveway.)

southern snow

So we stay home and wait for it to melt, that is, after people finish stripping the grocery stores of bread and milk they need while being trapped at home for two whole days.  But it is potentially life threatening.  Almost everyone here has heat pumps in their homes, which are fantastic air conditioners in a humid climate, but stop working when the air temp is much below freezing and instead rely on electric strips.  It’s basically like trying to heat your home with an electric space heater, and if those strips give out under the strain… well, we build homes for heat here, not keeping out the cold.  There are public shelters, but once the roads are icy… well, preparedness isn’t just for zombie outbreaks.  If only more people were.

Most of my outdoor plants should be fine.  I have a few zone-pushers in sheltered locations — it seems next spring I will learn how “sheltered” they really were.  The young tea camellias.  The artichokes.  A few ornamental plants.  The fig tree might die back to the ground and the bay tree might killed altogether.  My turmeric is indoors in a pot since I wanted to give it a long summer to get established before exposing it to threatening weather, and I brought the paw paw seedlings indoors.  They can take the cold once in the ground, but pots are colder.

Yesterday I harvested the last of the cabbage before the arctic blast comes through, and I may have been too late.  With wind chills below zero recently, I found some of my cabbage heads frozen.  They are still thawing in the fridge, so it’s too soon to see if all I can salvage is a huge pot of cabbage soup.

Other than the wheat grass (most of which the rabbits ate) and garlic, my garden is empty.  Spring, I am reminding myself, is just around the corner.




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