don’t try this at home

Seriously; leave this to the professionals. Or at least to someone like me who doesn’t care all that much.

Never look at your plants in winter just to see how they’re doing. You might not like what you see. Or, you might think everything looks okay, and forget that there is still plenty of winter ahead.

No peeking.


do not attempt!

True, sometimes you can’t help but peek, since the wrapping job you did was so bad. This is an Arctostaphylos patula, from Cistus, collected at the dizzying height of 300 feet above sea level. I played the Sly and the Family Stone song “Higher” to it, when I planted it here, 5300 feet higher, and since the plant comes from California, it seemed to be okay with that.


Agave ovatifolia. Everyone else is growing it, so why not me? The reason I can look at this right now is that I have another one on the south side of the house that I’m not looking at.


the really ugly whitish patch is winter damage on Opuntia lindheimeri…or some kind of opuntia…happened years ago.

Maihueniopsis glomerata. The first plant I tried turned completely clear the minute it got cold. Completely clear is a really bad sign. It was like a frozen water balloon. This one is from like 60,000 feet up in the Andes.


Agave havardiana, from Lost Mine Peak, in west Texas. The Star Peak forms, which are right next to this to keep it company and give it reassurance that this isn’t the backside of hell, are from slightly lower elevations and haven’t minded living here. Much.


It does look suspiciously like it has some Agave scabra genetics in it. Let’s pretend it doesn’t.


The thing is, though it may look otherwise, it’s so dry here, it’s dry. The snow has the consistency of those baked meringue cookies, and the only melting the snow will do is on the surface, melted by the sun, then evaporating. The agaves have stopped taking up water and the water that’s in them is a sugar solute; otherwise they would be dead. (The leaves get limp and the plants soon turn to mush.)

And no, it isn’t going to rain here. There is as much chance of it raining here as there is Scarlett Johansson showing up at my front door. (I did get an email from her though, about Oxfam, to which I’d just contributed, but at first I thought…well, just never mind what I thought.) It’s not going to rain. That would spoil everything, so this really isn’t as bad as it looks. I pay no attention to weirdos who say I should be watering at this time of year. All of the new plants received sufficient watering up until the time they didn’t, which was about the time they went dormant. Or at least I hope so.


agave utahensis, maybe var. nevadensis…not new, several years old

And if you’re the sort of person who goes around bending things, like branches, to see if your woody plants are still alive, don’t do that either. If it’s really cold outside, branches can snap but still be perfectly okay. Pines needles will shatter like glass at -25F. (I wish I didn’t know that.)

End of sermon.

Finding the right place for all these new things is important, and I’ve made more than a few mistakes. The new rock garden, the one that replaced the Long Border and that really isn’t a rock garden, just sandy loam piled over concrete, old tires, old National Geographics, etc., has some problems with excessive snow cover that I didn’t anticipate.

I do know that all the shrubs are planted much too close together. I plant woody plants on about eight inch centers. I don’t know why I do this; maybe I’m starting a new wave in gardening.

The snow leaves the south end first.  The cages, by the way, semi-protect oncocyclus irises, for which I paid a bundle, so the rabbits just hop on by them.



moving northward; more rabbit tracks.


here, about the center of the picture, the snow refuses to go away for months. that’s a Yucca faxoniana in the middle that spent a winter under a rabbitbrush, which is why the leaves are all bent.


snow stays here forever. I don’t know why, and I wish it wouldn’t. the soil is nothing but sand and gravel, but the snow won’t go away.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to don’t try this at home

  1. Paul Maslin used to kill all sorts of bulbs and rare alpines by digging to see if they were still “alive” in midwinter and beheading them. Looks like you come by your curiosity honorably…

  2. Loree says:

    Things are looking good, and I’d peek too, it’s impossible not to! Unless of course you have zero curiosity…but if that was the case you wouldn’t be a gardener would you?

    • paridevita says:

      Believe it or not, I don’t consider the weather we’re having right now to be particularly cold (except for dog walking), but I would like all the new plants to have be toasty and snug this winter so they can build better root systems for next winter. So even if I peeked, it wouldn’t tell me much. Get a marginal plant–marginal here–through a few winters with some help, and they’re better able to take the constant ups and downs of Denver’s winter weather.
      I confess I did take a peek at one of the ceanothus that I thought would have about a 2% chance of making it here as a young plant, and it looked fine. Not only peeked, but touched it. Appearances can be deceptive.

  3. Diana says:

    Many, many plants (hesperaloe comes to mind) make it through the winter here, only to die in March or April. I don’t look at plants in December anymore, it just gets my hopes up.

    • paridevita says:

      “The hopeless gardener”. I like it. Wonder if I can change the name of this blog….. Or start a new one.
      I told certain people, who shall be nameless, that they weren’t invited over to the garden until the end of winter, because of what I’d planted this past year, and because these certain people tend to bring a view of reality with them that I don’t really care for. “You don’t REALLY believe this will make it through the WHOLE WINTER, do you?”
      “Parts of it, maybe. The warm parts.”

  4. Pam says:

    This strikes me as rather like the groundhog coming up to look for his shadow. Hope springs eternal for all us beasts!

  5. Pingback: midwinter agave rescue | the miserable gardener

Comments are closed.