March 24, 2021
I have been itching to get under the garden mesh and reveal what has happened to the succulents we planted in the front beds. While I did not have a lot of time last night, I was able to clear the mesh off the driveway beds. We had a wicked cold winter that included a night drop to -20F. Since they had been covered, I hoped the mesh (and often blankets) we had placed over the beds had protected the succulents. I mentioned previously that I had laid back a portion of the mess in the front house bed to allow the daffodils to bask in the sun. We ended up with three sets of 2-3 plants that came up along the sidewalk. They flourished for several days and the leaves are still healthy, but the flowers have all faded. Soon they will also die back and give way to whatever succulents survived.
Removing the rest of the mesh from the front bed would have taken more time than I was willing to spend last night. I decided instead to take on the smaller beds on either side of the garage and the bed under the front pear tree. When I removed the mesh the first thing it revealed was the weeds that were flourishing in their protected environment. As I weeded all three beds the same pattern was reveled in each. All the small ground hugging varieties had not only survived but sprouted shoots with new babies on the ends. The Agave had not fared so well. These were taller to begin with and generally had the mesh resting on the plant. Most had succumbed to the cold and the plants had turned mushy. When Melissa saw them, she removed them immediately so they would not attract disease and infect the other plants.
When I looked online, I found all 120 species of Agave are cold tolerant and can survive temperatures down to 30F. Thirteen can survive temperatures down to 0F and six of these will survive below 0F (-5F to -10F). However, only one can take the plant freezing blast of -20F we experienced, the Parry’s agave (Agave parryi) or mescal agave. This slow-growing perennial succulent is native to Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. It is hardy to roughly −5F, though there are reports of specimens surviving temperatures at −20. Cold hardiness depends on more than just temperature. The most crucial factor is how wet or dry the soil is during the cold spell. Completely dry soil allows agaves to withstand colder temperatures than they would be able to tolerate if the soil is wet. The worst-case scenario would be a deep freeze following rain. Guess what we had.
Thoughts: While most of the Agave succumbed, examination revealed the “Hens and chicks” varieties all survived and even flourished. Hens and chicks are the common name for a group of small succulents belonging to the family Crassulaceae and include the ground hugging Sempervivum species. These grow close to the ground and the leaves form a tight rosette. The “chicks” start as tiny buds on the main plant and then sprout their own roots, taking up residence close to the mother plant. Just as the harsh winter effected Melissa’s succulents differently, the last year had different effects on our country. Some businesses adapted to online access and provided drive through pickup. Some jobs lost will never be replaced as business finds different ways to provide goods and services. As we begin to reopen, the “new normal” is new and will eventually become normal. We need to learn from the errors that resulted in the unrest and loss of life of the last year. We do not have the luxury to just wait and see what is revealed. Do the work. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.