Garden Survivors and Casualties

Our weather has turned and spring is in the air - finally!  Since the garden is relatively new, I'm still at the very early stages of determining what will or won't overwinter successfully here.  Now that warmer weather has arrived, I've been able to remove the protective straw coverings on the beds and give the garden a good once over to see what has survived the winter.

The chives are coming up already - this is one herb where the surprise would be if it didn't come up!

Without fail, chives are usually the first to show signs of life
Both the lemon & common thyme are looking (and smelling) great.  They made it through this atrocious winter with flying colours.

Common Thyme
A quick look past the weathered stems reveals lots of green
Lemon Thyme
Some ragged stems, but overall looking great
One casualty this year was the parsley.  When I brushed back the brown leaves to see if there was any green growth underneath, I quickly realized that the entire root portion had essentially turned to mush.

I have overwintered parsley in the past (although not at this house) which gave me some fresh sprigs to enjoy in the early spring before the new plants were established.  I'm guessing that our unusually cold temps this past winter, coupled with the fact that I did not protect the plants at all, did them in.  I forgot to take a photo before tossing the plants, but there wasn't much to see - just think brown, shriveled parsley leaves with a mushy, slimy root mass - I was glad to be wearing gloves for that one!

The main oregano plant looks completely brown, but I do spot a few green leaves around the edges.

Oregano - Green is always a good sign

Moving on to the sage and mints.  I don’t see signs of life from any of these at this point but true spring weather has just barely started, so I am not giving up on them just yet.  As with the parsley, I’m wondering if I should have protected them with a thick covering of straw.  Something to consider for next year.

Purple Sage - Not Looking Promising
I didn't even bother to take a photo of the mint as a pot of soil topped with brown twigs looked just a bit too depressing.

We removed the straw from the strawberry bed this past weekend and the plants are looking ok.  There are quite a few brown or partially brown leaves – more than last year, it seems – but overall the plants appear to have survived the winter.

Strawberry Plants
With their nice insulting layer of soil and over 6" of straw to protect them over the winter, I’m not too worried about the garlic & shallots.  In fact, I already see some lovely green shallot shoots coming up!

Golden Shallots
What a welcome sight!
I also planted some potato onions and a few of the shallots that I grew from seed last fall.  The potato onions should technically survive the winter and multiply this year.  The seed shallots were an experiment to see if they would overwinter and then multiply as do regular (golden or grey) shallots.  No sign of either of these yet, but I think it's a bit early still.

I left both the NCK and the Russian kale in the beds last fall, topped with a thick covering of straw, just to see if they would make it through the winter.  The tops for both varieties were toast, but the bases are still green/purple and firm.

NCK (aka Not Curly Kale)

Russian Kale
The Russian kale in particular looks like it may generate something.  However, I’m wondering if overwintering is worthwhile as there is no growth on it yet and the new seedlings are going into the ground this week.  I'll leave the kale until I need to plant up the beds and we shall see if they amount to anything.

The perennial bunching onion patch looks pretty beat up:

Winter Worn Perennial Bunching Onions
The good news is that fresh green growth is evident and the question from last year – namely whether this variety would overwinter here – has been definitely does overwinter, even with -40C/F temperatures.

Just a little more growth and this guy is destined for the kitchen
I’m not really sure how to treat the bunching onions at this stage – should I cut them back to the ground or just remove the old growth?  I decided to simply trim off all of the brown bits for now - I figured I couldn't go wrong doing that.  I'm also planning on transplanting them into this year’s onion bed within the next couple of weeks.  I could leave them where they are, of course, but I prefer to keep all of the onions together as this simplifies crop rotation.

Lastly in the winter survival roundup, are the two fruit trees - a cherry and a 5-in-1 plum.  The cherry is definitely showing the greatest promise of a harvest this year:

Swollen Buds on Cherry Tree

I'm not as confident about the plum.  Some of the branches have buds that are somewhat swollen, such as this Burbank branch:

Buds on the Burbank branch are looking somewhat swollen,
so there may be some hope here
On the other side of the plum tree, another branch (which I have lost the tag to so am not sure what variety it is at the moment), doesn't look as promising:

These buds look dried out and
I doubt they will bear any fruit
Back in January 2014, we had unseasonably cold temps and neither tree bore fruit last summer.  At first, I attributed the lack of fruit to the winter temperatures but I have since learned that a late spring frost may, in fact, have been the ultimate deciding factor in our area.  This year, however, our winter temperatures were even more severe and prolonged than last year and I have read that there may be cause for concern when it comes to tender fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, etc..
Our trees on now in their 5th year so, technically, I should be harvesting a good quantity of fruit from them.  They both bore a small amount in their third year, back in the summer of 2013...a teaser, so to speak, and I have been anxiously awaiting the fruit glut that you would expect from an older tree ever since.  My fingers are crossed that at least some of my buds are ok and that our spring weather this year cooperates.

Till next time...


  1. It's always interesting to see what made it through the winter. I have a hard time with thyme, and yours looks great. And I'm with you on the overwintered kale. Sometimes mine makes it, sometimes not. This spring the ones in the cold frame did, and gave us a nice harvest. Last year they didn't. I guess it doesn't hurt to try, and like you I planted fresh ones this spring and they will be producing in no time.

    1. I don't think that either of the kale varieties I grew are particularly known for overwintering well, so there is that as well. I figure that if I can get a bit of a harvest from the overwintered plants before the new ones are ready, then it's worth it. If they take so long to give me a new flush of growth that it basically works out to be about the same timing as the new planting, then I'll likely just stick with the new ones. Of course, if they don't survive the winter, then it's a dead issue ;)

  2. Things look pretty good overall! My sage looks like yours, but I have not given up hope yet. Also my chives (can't kill 'em), oregano, and thyme look promising, as does the tarragon (my favorite). We just noticed the grapes budding out, and the cut ends where we pruned are dripping.

    1. I don't generally use tarragon in the kitchen, so haven't planted any yet - I'm thinking I should change that. Oh, grapes - that's another fruit that is on my list, although with the number of additions already planned for this year, we likely won't be planting any for another year or so. I hope both of our sage plants survive...I'm sure it won't be too much longer until we find out.

  3. Congratulations on all of your survivors! My sage didn't make it through our mild winter, which I find disappointing. And I'll cross my fingers for your plum trees. A late spring frost will definitely kill any buds or very wee fruit that may have begun to grow. I'm wondering about my plum trees this year... we had a very warm February and March and now we've had several very hard frosts in April.

    1. I'm really surprised about your sage - I always thought it was a fairly hardy plant, even in our harsher climate. Maybe some varieties of sage are hardier than others.

      Just when you think winter is over and you are home free, in comes a late frost - ugh. I hope that your plum trees made it through the April frosts and you get at least some plums this year. I'm fairly certain I won't get many plums - the best I can hope for is a few, which would definitely be better than nothing (or losing the tree altogether which was another concern on those super frigid days!).

  4. Glad you had the majority come through that awful winter.
    I was just out yesterday uncovering things and had a few nice surprises as well. I think not cutting stuff back in the fall is key to surviving around here. They need all the cover they can get.
    Chives are the greatest, aren't they? I just LOVE those bright green stems poking up. Makes me want to chop off their little heads and top a baked potato with them.

    I wouldn't mourn the loss of the parsley too much. They usually do that. They typically just go to seed the second year. You can pretty much count on starting with fresh plants every year.

    Your strawberries fared better than mine. I didn't cover mine. Ooooops. I picked a bad year to be lazy...........
    Live and learn.

    1. Well, if not cutting back stuff in the fall is key, I should be in great shape in the perennial beds!

      I'm crossing my fingers that your strawberries are not total goners - I have several plants that look completely brown, but when I look closely, there is a touch of green coming up in the middle.

      Hope you are enjoying this wonderful weather - we so deserve it!

  5. It's always a relief when we see things have come through winter but as with everything gardening wise, it's usually trial and error until we find out what will tolerate the colder temperatures. Even then, there's usually some casualties. I'm fascinated by your 5 in 1 plum, I take it it has five varieties grafted on to one tree? I'll be really interested to hear how that does for you.

    1. Yes that is exactly it; the 5 varieties grafted to the tree are Burbank, French Prune, Santa Rosa, Shiro and one more that I lost the tag to. Other than the obvious benefit of harvesting a wide variety of plums from one tree, you also don't have to worry about planting a second tree for pollination, which makes it a great choice for small spaces. That's the theory, anyhow.

      I have heard some negative comments, especially when it comes to the branches of vigorous varieties taking over the tree. One of my grafts (the Santa Rosa) has only one small branch (in fact I don't think it will make it much longer), while the Shiro occupies over 1/3 of the tree. This year I have to do quite a bit of pruning, to at the very least rein in the Shiro. If this tree produces as it's supposed to, it will indeed be wonderful. Now if only our winters and springs would cooperate!

  6. Looks really great even if few things were lost. I'm surprised parsley got lost as it's very hardy and not much can kill it. My patch keeps coming back year after year and self-seeds after blooming so I never have to replant it. Love the idea of 5 plums on one tree, can't wait to see what selection of fruit you'll get.

    1. I've never tried to overwinter parsley at this house so you never know - my herb bed may be in a bad spot or perhaps the last house had a little micro-climate happening where I grew it. I'm think the -40 temps were probably the real killers - every plant has it's limit and I guess that was just too much for the parsley.

      I can't believe that now that my trees are finally at a good bearing age, the weather is wreaking havoc with getting a harvest. You wait so long for them to get to that stage, so it's quite disappointing.

  7. I had a hard time with keeping my sage alive at first in this garden. I couldn't kill it in the last one if I tried. But I finally have enough sage in spots where it will grow. I have four plants scattered around the garden. I probably don't need four. But they grew so slowly. I'm so used to the sage that grew in my last garden. After a year it would be three feet tall. I never needed more than one plant then. At least here they self seed here and there so if one dies I've got a transplant that I didn't have to work for.

    1. I'm also fairly sure that I had sage that survived the winter in my first garden - although it definitely didn't grow to the heights of the one at your last house! It was in a very sheltered spot as my yard was tiny and had tall fencing around the entire perimeter, so that may have something to do with it. If my current one doesn't come back to life I'll probably try protecting it with straw over the winter first and, if that doesn't work, I will try a different (somewhere where I won't forget to water it!).

  8. My sage came back last winter no problem - looks rough now, but I don't expect any problems (so you shouldn't have any either!). If you do get tarragon, be sure to buy French tarragon (normally only available here as seedlings) - the Russian tarragon grows into large plants, but they have no flavour.

    1. Sounds good, Susie. I'm actually thinking that I made a mistake with the sage - I purchased purple sage (it looked so pretty), but I think it may not be as hardy. If it doesn't make it, I'll have to get some regular sage.

  9. Nice to see some green this time of year. Your sage doesn't look that bad. Mine often dies back and regrows from the roots like the oregano. My kale didn't survive in good enough shape to keep them. I had some stubs like you but they will take too long to recover and leaf out, then they bolt since they are biennials.They have massive root systems and when you decide you want to remove them mid-season, they take the whole raised bed with them. So now I remove them in the spring before replanting that bed.

    1. I hope you are right about the sage - our weather has turned very cold in the last few days which has really slowed things down, so it looks like I will have a while yet to see if it will come back to life or not.

      I was just nodding my head when I read about your comment on the kale - I decided to give up on it as there was really no growth so far and my new plants were already in the ground. Boy were those plants tough to get out - much tougher than I anticipated. I can just imagine if I left them to continue to grow.

  10. Great to see you had a good selection of plants come through the winter! some of my overwintered veggies are starting to bolt now so I'll have to harvest what I can and leave some to go to seed themselves around too.

    1. It sure would be nice to be able to overwinter more veg, like the chard in your garden - not only for the early greens but seed saving as well.

  11. I don't think many veggies overwinter well here. Well that a lie I am sure some due but I have just never

    1. It's all about trial and error, isn't it? Especially with our changing weather patterns, who knows - something that didn't overwinter in the past may very well survive these days.


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