We had quite a winter, lots of cold and ice, and now a delayed spring. So, it's a good time to clean up the garden and assess the damage. Looking on the bright side, we have learned a great deal from this winter's effects on various plants and placements. We had several episodes of really cold nights, including lows of 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit with several days in a row under 15 degrees. We also had wind and ice storms that damaged plants due to broken shade trees.
As a whole, this time of year before first flush is usually hard for me. The plants always look their worst, and this year is harder than most. On the bright side, I'm using this natural experiment to take note of which plants did better than others. Here are some of the outstanding findings:
Location is important - those plants with less protection from trees or other larger bushes were more like to show cold damage. Pictured here is one specimen of small leave var sinensis, a typically hardy variety that has been growing here in NC for decades. This plant is situated in the middle of the field and not protected by trees or other large plants. Others of the same variety with more protection did better. Also contributing to the damage may be the fact that this plant was active and growing late into the fall. Most plants typically 'harden off' late in the season, but the timing can be influenced by good weather and a later than usual nitrogen fertilization mid-summer. I expect a full recovery of this vigorous plant.
Variety matters, too - some simply did better than others withstanding the cold. The large leaf var sinensis with thicker leaves generally fared well. And, as we might have expected, our Sochi tea seedlings (one pictured here) did very well. This variety originates from plants grown in the late 19th century from seeds collected in China. The plants, selected to survive along the Black Sea in Russia, near the Caucaus Mountains, have a reputation for being cold hardy, and they certainly fared well for us this winter!
In this last example, both location and variety may have played a role - we planted a series of tender, large leafed Assam-type varieties along the edge of the garden lined with large cedar trees. Most showed the expected damage, thought not as bad as I would have imagined. But one appeared to be amazingly untouched by frost. With leaves nearly as large as the spread of my hand, this is one plant we'll be sure to propagate and test again in different locations.
Christine Parks, co-owner of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.