After the attractive, horrible Texas snowpocalypse

February 25, 2021

A 6-inch snowfall blanketed our avenue in northwest Austin. Not a footprint had marked it after I took images that morning.

You may need heard about a little bit snowstorm that occurred in Texas final week. Should you skilled it, you may nonetheless be reeling a little bit — or loads, relying on whether or not you had been one of many 4.5 million residents whose energy and warmth had been lower off by the state to save lots of the failing electrical grid. Large swaths of paying prospects had been sacrificed, leaving them to shiver within the chilly and darkish for days, in lots of instances resulting in frozen and busted pipes (Texas homes will not be properly insulated towards chilly) after which to flooded interiors when the thaw lastly got here.

‘Colour Guard’ yucca giving its greatest impression of a hedgehog

For six days straight, Austin’s excessive temperatures didn’t rise above freezing, and for a number of nights they dipped to the only digits — at its lowest, a jaw-dropping 5 F. Early on, earlier than the deep chilly arrived, ice coated and broke bushes. Then practically 6-1/2 inches of snow blanketed town, the largest snowfall since 1949. After that, extra sleet fell, and icy roads and pavement turned treacherous for a state with out fleets of snowplows and residents with out snow shovels.

Dasylirion longissimum and Hesperaloe parviflora beneath a layer of snow and ice

These whose energy had been lower had been informed that the blackout could be momentary, a part of a rolling system of outages shared throughout town to protect the ability grid. However for 40% of Austin, the outages didn’t roll. The facility abruptly went out, and it simply didn’t come again on — for days. Those that’d ready for the storm by stocking their fridges tried to maintain meals from spoiling in snow-stuffed coolers, and plenty of had been unable to cook dinner until they’d gasoline stoves. Advised the outages could be momentary, many individuals stayed put whereas the roads had been satisfactory, solely to make a run for a resort or a good friend’s home (coronavirus be damned) after roads had froze, because it turned clear energy wouldn’t be restored rapidly.

A number of days in, water remedy crops started struggling lack of strain, and plenty of neighborhoods had their water lower off by town. Quickly your complete metropolis was suggested to boil faucet water earlier than consuming it — all whereas many individuals had no means to boil water with out electrical energy, assuming they’d any water to boil. The boil-water discover was simply lifted a few days in the past.

Six inches of snow fell on my backyard — after ice took out some large reside oak branches

We had been fortunate to not lose water strain, and we’ve got a gasoline range and gas-log hearth. However our energy was lower early Monday morning and stayed off for 3 days. Temps in the home rapidly dropped into the 40s, as much as 52 F by the hearth. I wore a wool coat plus two layers day and evening. We’ve got associates and neighbors who toughed it out in 30-something temps of their properties. Because the outages dragged on, housebound neighbors rallied collectively, sharing buckets of water to allow rest room flushing, providing sizzling cups of espresso, and offering ethical help.

Mexican honeysuckle blanketed by snow

The snow and ice lastly melted away final Friday and Saturday, and as our yards had been revealed, crops appeared surprisingly inexperienced at first. However over the previous week, Austin’s usually evergreen flora have steadily turned caramel-colored. Succulents lie in mushy heaps like beached jellyfish. Gardeners throughout Texas are questioning what’s going to come again and what to put in writing off as a loss. Solely time will inform, and it’s going to require a whole lot of endurance to let the crops present us the ultimate verdict.

However footage can inform the story higher than phrases…

Day 5 – Feb. 15: A winter wonderland
‘Inexperienced Goblet’ agave encircled by deer fencing, safety from antler rubbing in fall/winter

The Arctic’s unwelcome go to began on Thursday the twelfth, with an icy rain that froze to tree branches. I noticed a neighbor’s reside oak crack beneath the load and fall by means of their fence that day. On Friday an enormous limb broke off certainly one of our reside oaks, fortunately touchdown on grass subsequent door. Saturday and Sunday had been simply chilly.

After which it received actually chilly — all the way down to 10 F — as 6 inches of snow fell in a single day. We went to mattress in a quickly chilling home, with energy lower at 2 am Monday, and woke to a sight many Austinites had by no means seen earlier than: snow blanketing all the things, and never melting away because the solar rose.

It was wondrous, like Christmas carol imagery dropped at life in a Southern local weather.

Nonetheless, the chilly was shocking. 10 levels! I tromped round in sneakers, with out gloves, taking footage till my fingers damage from the chilly.

Untouched snow on the driveway. How our youngsters would have cherished this as kids!

Bamboo muhly, silver Mediterranean fan palm, rosemary, Jerusalem sage, and ‘Previous Mexico’ prickly pear weighed down by snow. All of those crops would take a giant hit from the deep freeze.

Whale’s tongue agave’s broad leaves cupping scoops of snow

Venturing into the again backyard, I marveled over frosted stucco partitions and reside oaks.

Squid agave’s tentacled arms had been frosted white.

No sitting as we speak

The pool crisply outlined with snow — a fairly image

‘Tiny Fern’ bamboo bent over with cotton balls of snow

The blue wall, snow-capped. The bulbine within the low planter and artichoke agave on prime could be killed by the deep freeze.

Cosmo shouldering his method by means of the snow. He’s a winter-loving canine. We regularly needed to beg him to return again inside.

Fluffy Adirondacks

Trying again throughout the pool

The ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods splayed out beneath snow and sleet later, and I went out with a brush to knock it off. True to their identify, they’ve held up extraordinarily properly. Within the middle, a potted whale’s tongue agave survived beneath a few sheets I threw on as last-minute safety.

Within the center-right you possibly can see two massive damaged branches hanging from the tree-sized ligustrums within the greenbelt behind our fence.

‘Winter Gem’ boxwood and paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida), one other survivor.

Blue bottle bushes carrying little white caps

The lumps in entrance of the metal agave are potted ‘Colour Guard’ yuccas. I threw sheets over this entire mattress due to all the newborn crops in it, and it helped.

Yucca rostrata drooped alarmingly with ice and snow, however it sprang again to life after the soften. Similar with the ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress behind it.

Snow-laden branches of Arizona cypress

Day 8 – Feb. 18: Icy and harmful

The winter-wonderland part was short-lived, with no heat, cozy home to return inside to. And after extra sleet turned the snow treacherously slippery, I prevented all the steps in our hilly yard and just about simply parked myself in entrance of the hearth besides to cook dinner a sizzling dinner every evening on the gasoline cooktop. Spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, and sizzling chocolate had been our consolation meals.

I took few images throughout the endurance part.

This picture just about sums up my temper by midweek final week.

Day 9 – Feb. 19: Melting begins

Lastly by Friday temps climbed into the low 40s, and the soften started. ‘Inexperienced Goblet’ agave was already beginning to droop.

The pool floor was nonetheless frozen.

And we had solely a slim path scraped clear on the deck.

The backyard started to emerge, and it wasn’t trying fairly, although crops had been nonetheless inexperienced.

‘Previous Mexico’ prickly pear fruit “bleeding out” throughout the snow

Unhappy rosemary and silver Mediterranean fan palm

Within the shade, ice held on for a pair extra days.

Day 10 – Feb. 20: Evaluating harm and survivors
Whale’s tongue agave exhibiting important freeze harm. I believe it should reside, however it’s disfigured. I’ll in all probability take away it.

So what lived and what died? I’ve been getting a whole lot of questions in regards to the prospects for varied crops, and I’ve them too. I simply don’t have expertise gardening in such extended low temperatures. Our crops are warmth and drought survivors. They need to take a month or extra of 100-degree days in stride. 5 levels too? That’s asking a whole lot of these poor crops.

‘Blue Elf’ aloe I’ve had on this pot for 15 years. It’s in all probability useless, though I’ll wait to see if it comes again from the roots.

Native crops, in fact, have the most effective shot at surviving winter extremes, though this was not a typical excessive, oxymoronic as that sounds. I’ve written a submit about the right way to put together a backyard for a deep freeze in central Texas — and a whole lot of that simply doesn’t apply throughout a once-in-a-generation occasion like this.

Melted and mushy squid agave. It’s useless, Jim.

Longtime gardening specialists in Texas like Greg Grant and Neil Sperry advise endurance, leaving browned shrubs and bushes alone for a number of months to see if new progress seems, both on the stems or from the roots. If not, then take away them. Squishy foliage on succulents like agaves and large leopard plant must be eliminated. Leopard plant will come again from the roots, I believe. Agaves which are droopy and gentle are toast. Go away considerably tender crops like golden thryallis, Mexican honeysuckle, and esperanza alone till after our common final freeze date (March 1) as safety in case we get chilly once more.

Fairly coloring on a cold-stressed ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia
5 days post-freeze – Feb. 24: How a lot inexperienced is left?

Now that we’re practically per week post-melt, how do issues look in Austin gardens, and in my backyard specifically? It’s a combined bag. I’d say caramel is a dominant coloration throughout city. However some pockets of my backyard held up properly, just like the dry backyard by the entrance door. Even containerized and unprotected, ‘Frazzle Dazzle’ dyckia, whale’s tongue agave, toothless sotol, and pink yucca look good. The dwarf myrtle is browning a bit, however I believe it’ll make it.

Hooray for sedges! ‘Sparkler’ sedge, ‘Everillo’ sedge, Berkeley sedge, and Leavenworth’s sedge (aka garden sedge from Barton Springs Nursery) did very properly, most rising fully unfazed. I’ve a whole lot of containerized ‘Sparkler’ sedge, and a few stems are getting a little bit straw-like, however most will reside, I hope. ‘Smooth Caress’ mahonia, in again, fully burned. I don’t know if it should reside.

Garden sedge (Carex leavenworthii) with ‘Everillo’ sedge at left — good and inexperienced. There’s an entire lotta brown within the background although.

Not surprisingly, semi-tender crops like variegated flax lily, Mexican honeysuckle, bamboo muhly, and (who knew?) Chinese language mahonia seem like a fireplace swept by means of.

I hope Chinese language mahonia will re-leaf, however it might take time.

Large leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Gigantea’) is hardy to zone 7, so I hope it should come again from the roots. I want to chop off the mushy leaves.

Native dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) appears to be like nearly as good as earlier than the freeze, which is a reduction as a result of it’s so slow-growing.

Native prickly pear (Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’) collapsed, however I really feel sure it’ll regrow from the roots. Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana) was fully unfazed. Golden thryallis is brown, and I’m simply going to attend and see.

That is my saddest mattress, and all my passing neighbors really feel sorry for me once they see it. I’d simply posted about this space, how happy I used to be with it after 11 years of gradual progress by means of warmth, drought, and deer. The hubris! Mom Nature promptly knocked it down.

The whale’s tongue agave appears to be like good nonetheless. In any other case, all could also be misplaced, though in fact I’ll give it time to shock me.

Ghost crops: My prized and really slow-growing silver Mediterranean fan palm, rosemary, and Jerusalem sage

Beneath bleached bamboo muhly (I hope it might reside), spaghetti-like leaves of Lindheimer nolina look good as new.

The primary a part of the entrance backyard appears to be like pretty inexperienced because of the sedge garden, though I believe the ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas in it are squishy and useless. Within the foreground, Texas nolina, paleleaf yucca, and lamb’s ear are tremendous.

This aspect isn’t so completely different from a “regular” deep freeze.

But it surely’s a shock to see autumn sage all brown.

Vast-leaf large hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii) — no issues

Good outdated sedge

One other large Mediterranean fan palm, bleached and unhappy. Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery suggests it might resprout. Does that imply from the bottom, I’m wondering, or alongside the trunk?

Giving a giant center finger to the universe. ‘Inexperienced Goblet’ agave, you who’re about to die, I salute you!

Of all my whale’s tongue agaves, this in-ground one appears to be like the worst, with main freeze harm. I’ll in all probability find yourself eradicating it, because the leaves is not going to get better. I additionally misplaced containerized ‘Quadricolor’ and artichoke agaves and a few squid agaves.

Badness: Foxtail fern, firecracker fern, and an iffy squid agave within the tall pot. The ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave within the foreground, underplanted with ‘Blue Spruce’ sedum, could survive.

‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, trying extra bleached by the day. The ‘Brilliant Edge’ yuccas in entrance are winners.

An enormous squid agave doing a Dali’s clock impression

The persistence of reminiscence

I threw a sheet over this new mattress, together with the variegated whale’s tongue agave, and it appears to be like OK. The agave survived, even in a pot. And the tender foxtail ferns received burned however lived. Small victories!

How’s your backyard trying, my fellow Texans? Be at liberty to mourn your losses if you need. All of us want time to grieve earlier than shifting on. Sympathetic readers from afar, sure, sure, it’s a possibility and all that, we all know, however it’s additionally a monetary loss and a way of misplaced time. We’ll be prepared to begin planting once more quickly sufficient. And to all who despatched notes of concern and properly needs, thanks! They had been a lot appreciated.

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Digging Deeper: Information and Upcoming Occasions

New to central Texas? Study native Texas crops and gardening ideas in “Gardening for Newcomers,” a digital class on the Woman Fowl Johnson Wildflower Heart on March 6, from 9 to 11 am. Value is $35, with a reduction supplied for members of the backyard.

Be part of the mailing record for Backyard Spark! Hungry to find out about backyard design from the specialists? I’m internet hosting a sequence of talks by inspiring backyard designers, panorama architects, and authors a number of occasions a 12 months in Austin. (Whereas in-person talks are presently on hiatus because of the pandemic, I plan to renew once more as quickly as potential.) Talks are limited-attendance occasions that promote out rapidly, so be part of the Backyard Spark electronic mail record to be notified prematurely. Merely click on this hyperlink and ask to be added.

All materials © 2021 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized copy prohibited.

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