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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Overly Optimistic in Zone 8

I pulled the plastic off my citrus trees and raised beds today. Devastation.

The salad greens are gone, the pineapples are mush, and even the kohlrabi is flat. But what sent me sobbing into the garage were my poor citrus trees.

I love those trees. To be able to pick a lemon, lime, orange or kumquat from a tree I have grown is the pinnacle of gardening. Never mind that it is a completely iffy proposition in Zone 8 Austin Texas. But somehow my love of citrus has crossed the line.

As I folded up the plastic covers and unwound the lights from the branches, my heart just broke. What I discovered is that I didn’t cry from disappointment, my tears came because I felt like I let my friends down. My trees barely weathered through last winter and I vowed that this year would be different. They would be safe from the cold because I HAD IT FIGURED OUT. But I didn’t. Our cold weather was unusual this year because it didn’t warm up during the day. Sadly, they were doing great until last week, but two days of not getting above freezing did them in.

What could I have done differently? Should I have added more lights? Doubled the plastic? Placed jugs of water around them? Or just move to Florida?

I live in Zone 8; the same climate as Portland, Oregon. What I am trying to do here in Austin would make the Oregon-resident Sheryl scoff. After all, I am the same gardener who stopped raising roses because they couldn’t fend for themselves. And now I’m stringing lights, creating plastic domes, and sobbing in the garage over some trees?

The rest of the yard is just fine. My native plants are already in bud-break stage and it’s only been a few days since the last hard freeze. The sedge even sat up today and waved in the sunshine. Green shoots are already appearing in the heart of the clumps of bamboo and gulf muhly grass. I tidied up the rest of the front by pruning back the salvias, copper canyon daisies and turk’s cap hibiscus. I cut back the mutabilis roses to ensure that they don’t take over the house. I planted potatoes in the vegetable garden and got my new Venus grape and some asparagus into the new planter Ed helped me build.

But my trees, my trees. What I really should do is cut them down and add them to the compost. They aren’t native, they are always iron deficient, they need a lot of water, they're heavy feeders, and I am doomed to be disappointed. I know better. This is zone 8. Be satisfied with the apples, pears, peaches and plums that I planted. Eat grapes and blackberries. Forget the citrus.

Not a chance.