Today, temperatures will rise slightly above the freezing mark after two chilly days with nights falling to six and seven degrees (Fahrenheit). Most of the garden’s plants will shrug without a worry, but the cold will test ones marginally cold hardy that have intentionally been left unprotected.

Why take the chance that schefflera (Schefflera delavayi, above), fatsia, daphniphyllum, cleyera, and grevillea (and others) might not survive the cold? I’m curious. And, too lazy to jump at every forecast of below ten degrees to cover to protect with enclosures of shredded leaves.

Grevillea victorae ‘Murray Valley Queen’ is described as cold hardy to 10 degrees, but sometimes to zero. After two cold nights it shows no sign of injury, so it could be flowering again with milder weather next week.

Not that temperatures below ten degrees are frequent. There have been none in recent winters, though I recall damage by subzero temperatures to more cold hardy shrubs in the past decade.

Leaves of daphniphyllum curl and droop, just as rhododendrons, to protect from freezing and rapid thawing.

The curled, drooping leaves are shocking to the new gardener, certainly a sign of impending death, he thinks. But then, temperatures rise above freezing, with leaves returning to form. All is well, and I hope to see this as days turn milder this week.

Several illiciums, including this one with variegated foliage, have survived near zero temperatures, though leaves regularly droop and curl.

Why have plants that are not dependably cold hardy? No doubt, I’ve been encouraged by warming winters. I recall winters when I began working outdoors (in the 70s) when temperatures well below zero were routine. I learned to love coffee just to prevent my fingers from turning to icicles.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ was protected by a basket of shredded leaves its first year after planting, but not since with winter temperatures that did not fall below 12 degrees.

Now, while I tolerate the change of seasons, I am tempted to stretch the garden’s limits with schefflera and fatsia that I once considered as only indoor plants. I was surprised to learn of more cold hardy varieties that have required no protection the past three mild winters. With well established roots, this is the time to see if all will survive temperatures at the minimum of their hardiness ratings.

This will be the first winter in the garden for the variegated Cleyera japonica.

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