Here we go again: another bout of extreme temperatures, this time quite early in December. Our freeze last year was in mid-January 2010, and, here at Peace and Plenty, it was much colder. More on that in a minute.
This was a different freeze in many ways: It was far more typical, for one. First of all, the Gulf temperature is about 56 degrees, as reported by the National Oceanographic Data Center. Compare this to the low 49 degrees of January 2010. This six-degree difference is huge, and accounts for the departure from our normal freezing patterns.
Historically, surface temperatures are higher the closer one gets to the water. In January, however, Seagrape and other beachfront plantings directly on the dune were not protected because the water temperature was so low.
Also more typically, this time the inland areas were hit much harder than those of us near the coast. Temperatures in the high 20s for many hours are simply not survivable. I watched the heartbreaking coverage on NBC-2, as local farmers looked at frozen materials for the second time in 2010. Think it’s easy being a farmer? These guys get the award for the stiff upper lip, for sure.
Let’s look again at the historical data. This is from my Jan. 22, 2010 column:
“There was a single night of 30-degree weather in January of 1997, and two successive nights in 1989, December of 1985, December of 1983 another single night January 1982.
Twenty-six years ago (1981) was similar to what we recently experienced, with sub-freezing temperatures January 13-14, 18-19, and February 4. Same thing in 1977: January 18-20, 22, and February 22. In 1971, 28 degrees for two nights in a row. That’s enough history to conclude that what we have seen is unusual, but hardly rare.”
My little piece of heaven is about a mile from the Gulf in Pine Ridge Estates. Our lowest temperature was 36.9 degrees, measured on two different digital thermometers; this is about 3 degrees or so higher than reported for Naples. These critical degrees are likely due to the protected nature of my gardens.
It’s tricky, though, accounting for temperature variation. Lots of things affect temperature and plant damage, including soil moisture, adjacent buildings, wind, humidity, overhead protection and several other factors. As an example, while none of the vegetables appear to be damaged, the water lettuce in my pond is severely brown.
(An aside: Tuesday night, a large raccoon fell into the pond, very likely trying to steal goldfish. While we heard the event, we didn’t see it, but the quantity of trailing water eliminated the possibility that a cat was involved. I hope that little guy found someplace warmer and dry for the night).
And now, as promised, a look to plants that show flowers in January.
First, a worthy repetition: Glory Bower (Clerodendrum thompsoniae) continues a profuse show this year, dominating my pergola with huge flowers and profuse growth. Here is one of the best things about this vine: along with Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), it is reliable in light shade.
Several of our commonly seen plants are also flowering in January. Worthy of mention: Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) and Firebush (Hamelia patens). Do notice the tree-form jatropha (Jatropha integerrima) in the US41 medians north of Pine Ridge Road, which are in fine form. A few more: allamanda (Allamanda nerifolia), passion vine (Passiflora spp.), oleander (Nerium oleander), and of course Rosa spp., the Knock Out roses.
My peach tree — yes, peach — will undoubtedly love the cold weather.
A little more unusual: Consider the tropical hydrangea, or Dombeya x Seminole, a 6-10-foot twiggy plant grown mostly for the wondrous, pendant red or pinkish flowers. The Chinese hat plant (Holmskioldia sanguine), usually around 4-6’, is heaven to hummingbirds and butterflies, and available as ‘Citrinia’ with yellow flowers or the more common orange. And more butterfly plants: don’t forget Pentas (Pentas lanceolata), available in white, red, pink and lavender; and there is Mexican senna, an important larval plant (Senna mexicana v. Chapmanii) for butterflies with charming, profuse yellow flowers.
Never realized that so many plants flowered in the winter, did you? Please don’t forget the natives, for the votaries amongst us: Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides), Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana), Varnish Leaf (Dodonea viscosa), White Stopper (Eugenia axillaris) Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum coriaceum) are all, in the manner of natives, showing flowers at least partially dependent on the imagination of the viewer.
Michael Spencer is teaching design, plant ID, and landscape maintenance for HOAs; he is also teaching “How to Use Your Mac”; there is a beginner’s class and an intermediate class. More on his webpage, www.msadesign.com.