Flowers Before the Freeze

It’s been a warm autumn and early winter here in Austin, Texas. December 2021 is now tagged as the warmest December on record and it sure felt like it. That said, there was finally a significant freeze at the flip of the calendar. While I’m always sorry to see the lush foliage of the garden and accompanying flowers disappear, it’s good that plants will rest, even though gardener’s work will increase.

Here’s a fond farewell to the the last blooms of the long growing season in the garden. When a hard freeze is forecast, I walk through my garden, bidding appreciation and adieu to my plants: those that completed the 2021 growing season and those who started 2021 and will initiate the 2022 growing season in a few short months.

Each year, the last perennial in my garden to flower is Forsythia Sage, Salvia madrensis. With grey-blue foliage during spring and summer and added sunny spikes in mid-to-late fall, it’s a welcome nectar source for pollinators toward the end of the growing season.

This native to Mexico blooms from September/October and until there is a significant freeze; some years as early as late October; this year in the early morning hours of January 2. Recently, the honeybees have engaged in nectar stealing and it’s a convenient place for them to dine, as the sage grows within about 6 feet from the honeybee hive.

Two days ago, I enjoyed viewing the last bunch of Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. I don’t pick flowers for indoor vases often, but I was tempted to pick these. Then a butterfly landed and I decided it (and its pollinating colleagues) need the flowers more than my kitchen table. The flowers are done now, after two nights of 26F (-3.3 C).

Most of the Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, finished with blooms and graduated to seed production, but this one shrub plugged along with its yellow pops of color. After the freeze, it’ll be naught but seeds, pleasing the various finches, sparrows, and wrens who will visit.

The “new” garden is done–sort of. With mature sections on either side, but no tree in the middle, I’ve planted/transplanted perennials, shrubs, and grasses that will take a few years to fill in. I planted, repaired soaker hoses, and mulched, but I’m still moving in some spring blooming annuals that have developed since November. So I guess the work isn’t actually done.

Almost, I keep saying. Almost done.

A stump is all that remains of the Arizona Ash tree. I placed a large red ceramic pot on the stump, planted with a Squid agave, Agave bracteosa and Silver Ponyfoot, Dichondra argentea. In the garden’s shady past, the pot housed a Texas Beargrass, Nolina texana. With help from The Hub, we removed the beargrass–which was a BEAR– and it’s now planted to the right and in front of the yellow chair, which about 15 feet this side of the chair, though it’s hard to tell from the photo.

Pre-2022 first freeze, the only bloom in this part of the garden was one luscious Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua. It’s a sun worshiper, so it should be very happy in its spot near the street. In fact, this plant blooms more in the cool season; during summer, it’s mostly about lovely foliage.

Roses always perform nicely during our milder winters and the Martha Gonzales rose is no exception. These red beauties will be nipped by the freeze, but new ones should develop, so there will be something for the bees.

The crazy-tall American Basket flowers, Centaurea americana have bloomed since mid summer, but I imagine that the flowering is now done. Their winter rosettes should be fine as they hug the warm ground, but those spikes topped by spidery, pinky flowers are vulnerable to cold air. I plan to move some of these pretty pollinator-friendly native annuals throughout my front garden and maybe a couple to sunny spots in the shadier back garden.

Before the freeze, several Queen butterflies, Danaus gilippus, worked basket flowers,

…and remaining blooms of the Mexican Orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana.

Both plants will be dormant and then pruned to the ground after this hard freeze.

Another native plant to Mexico, Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, blooms, as it does during a mild winter. Bees, some butterflies, and an over-wintering hummingbird enjoyed the blooms.

A reliable, long-blooming perennial, Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, is a favorite of bees. It provides flowers throughout a mild winter, but anything in the 20sF makes it irrelevant for the pollinators until spring warmth brings on the dainty, white blooms.

This is also true for Firecracker Plant, Russelia equisetiformis. It blooms throughout the growing season, reveling in the heat of summer. These tubular blooms attract small metallic sweat bees. I’ll be pruning it to the ground after these chilly temperatures.

Four-nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa, will bloom throughout winter. The freeze will impact current daisies, but new ones will replace them immediately. It’s nice to have some cheerful yellow during the winter months.

The last bloom I noticed on the goodbye tour was a singular Lemon Rose Mallow, Hibiscus calyphyllus. I’ve never seen this plant flower so late, though with a record warm autumn and early winter, I guess continued blooming of the warm-season perennial makes sense. I’m certain that the freeze will render this sunny hibiscus defunct until sometime in May.

After the freeze, the garden rests. All it will need is occasional water, preferable in the form of some gentle rain, though with the drought conditions, will probably come from the end of my hose. This week I’ll begin pruning to the ground those that benefit from a complete whack and later in winter, pruning to shape for those that prefer a less dramatic end to the growing season. It won’t be too long before some of the spring-blooming trees will offer life to the insects awaiting meals and the cycle will begin anew.

12 thoughts on “Flowers Before the Freeze

  1. It seems to always takes a few days to adjust to a post-frost garden, doesn’t it? Of course, you don’t have to worry about months of freezing temps and can look ahead to things growing again in short order. Your new bed is looking like it is off to a good start!

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    • Ha! It is always a shock to the system to see formerly green things turned to mush and icky brown stuff. You’re correct, though: it is a benefit to have a relatively short winter. Of course we pay for that with our toasty summers!

      The new garden has taken more time than I thought it would. I moved quite a few items from the back garden, so that entailed some re-do there, so it wasn’t just one large garden re-do, but one large and several smaller areas. What am I complaining about–it’s fun to plan and fun to plant!

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  2. It’s fun to take a tour through your garden of a few days ago, and it looks beautiful. I also walk through my yard when there’s an impending freeze to get one last affectionate look at the seasonal plants and animals. We’re fortunate that they won’t be asleep for long!

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    • It’s a nice thing to do, isn’t it? I think it gives a bit of closure and an acceptance of the garden’s dormant time. I like to celebrate cycles and gardening is an endeavor which certainly lends itself to that appreciation.

      I’m grateful for our short winters, but I will say that I want some cold weather–I don’t like wearing shorts in December!

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  3. And the seasons roll round. The first frosts are always a shock but better now than in, say, April which is what tends to happen over here!
    We have also had a record mild period (which is forecast to change today) and the Daff’s are starting to push up their foliage and I still have Gazanias in flower! Crazy.

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    • Yes, you’re right about that! A couple of years ago, we’d had no freeze at all, then an Arctic blast came through in mid-March! My native plants did just fine, but the irises were up, blooming and with a bumper crop to come. I cut as many as I could, but still lost so many. I’m grateful for this timing and wouldn’t mind a few more of these freezes through February. But I don’t know if my wishes will be granted. 🙂

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  4. The freeze here was harder than I expected. It takes a day or two for the damage to appear. Your Forsythia Salvia does so well. I have had one for years that occasionally puts out a flower, but just won’t give up no matter how sad it is.

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  5. I’m so surprised to see those basketflowers still blooming. It’s hard to judge what happened with the stands of them I found down here, because a good bit of late fall mowing has taken place, even at the refuges. The sages certainly have continued blooming, though, along with several other natives. What I’ve most noticed is the huge crop of berries on all the plants, but especially on the possumhaw and yaupon. They certainly provide color in the landscape when they’re so thick.

    I first saw bear grass on the Willow City loop, at a ranch gate. It took me forever to figure out what those blooms were — they’re so pretty. I hope yours does well.

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    • Those basket flowers have been fascinating! I’m tickled to report that while the ones that were upright and in bloom and now gone, the winter rosettes are just fine! I’m moving some around to other spots, so hopefully, they’ll be all over my garden next year–and beyond! My SIL is doing the same thing.

      The bear grass was in a pot for about 10 years. It’s often promoted as a shade plant, but I know it likes a bit of sun and in that garden, it’s been getting dappled light all day. We did some hiking at Enchanted Rock in October and along the trails around E rock, there were many bear grasses and that’s all in full, blasting sun. It was then that I decided to take it from the pot and plant directly in the garden. It’ll be interesting to see how it does next summer. The blooms are lovely; they only last a few weeks, but the little pollinators like the tiny flowers..

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