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A Cold Weather Learning Curve and a New Toy!

Winter Snow

Colder weather brings on new challenges to those of us who grow Plumerias and a scramble to move our “babies” into a more protected environment.  Since moving from SE Texas, colder weather has been an exceptional challenge for me as a grower.

My first winter (2009) in NE Texas was quite a learning curve!  I had left behind my greenhouse and was now faced with the challenge of storing my plants as the colder temperatures approached.  Having downsized my collection of plumies considerably, the task was not as daunting as it had been in past years; however, even with only 100 plants it still presented a challenge . Fortunately, we have a well house which we soon turned into a storage facility for my small “patch”.

The first order at hand was to completely insulate the well house, both the walls and ceiling.  Next we double wrapped the outside with heavy greenhouse plastic and secured it well.  Just to be on the safe side, Fred, my husband, moved bales of hay from our barn and stacked them around the outside of the well house to provide additional insulation.  We stacked the plants on pallets to get them up off the concrete floor and also to provide air circulation around the plants.  It was quite a site as you can see below.

Winter greenhouse

Unfortunately, we were not prepared for the really cold weather here in NE Texas nor for the snow or power outage.  As you can imagine, only about three fourth of my plants survived the winter and other had serious tip damage.  It was a hard lesson learned!

Winter snow

As winter approached the following year, we decided to enclose a small alcove which was on the south side of our house.  Three sides were protected by the house and there was a door that opened into the house giving me access to the plants as needed.  Fred closed off the open side with plywood and then it was covered with greenhouse plastic.  He installed heat lamps and put a thermostat on each one in order to control the temperature.  He also put a small fan in the area to circulate the air.  There is definitely something to be said for being married to an electrician!  The plants made the winter without a great deal of damage but there was one drawback to this storage area……we could no longer use the door to go outside.  We definitely needed another plan.

The following year, I knew that I needed to find a different solution for storing my plants.  I checked around and found a climatized storage facility about 25 miles from our house.  I rented a storage compartment and asked for an inside unit, hoping that in the event of a power outage that would help insulate my unit from the outside cold.  As in years past, all the leaves were clipped from my plumies and the large plants were uprooted from their pots and put in burlap bags.  They were then loaded into our horse trailer and moved to town to the storage unit.  In late May, after the threat of freeze was over, we would retrieve the plants and bring them back to their country home.  This process would continue until the fall of 2014.

As the warmer weather began to cool in October of 2014, I decided to buy a small greenhouse.  The 10 x 12 foot greenhouse arrived in one big box with at least nine thousand nuts, bolts, and other various pieces……..and then the fun of assembling it began.  After several days, with the help of my sweet husband, the greenhouse was in place complete with a sand base, heavy ground cloth and raised pallets for the plants.   This year, I decided not to bare root the larger plants.  With the help of Fred and his tractor fork, the big plants were easily picked up and moved to the greenhouse in their pots after having their leaves clipped.   The smaller plants joined them and our mission was accomplished!

Weather station

Fred suggested that I purchase a “weather station” for the greenhouse in order to monitor the temperature both inside and outside the greenhouse.  I found an Auc*Rite unit at WalMart for less than $20.  Set it up and hung the outdoor sensor,  using a string, to a limb of one of the larger Plumeria plants.  I have to tell you, it has worked like a charm!

Weather station 1

Unfortunately, the first day it was in place, the temperature reached 110* F in the greenhouse.  I immediately knew that I needed to put a shade cloth on the little greenhouse right after I opened it up so it could “cool off”.  For those of you who have never used a greenhouse, maintaining a “good” temperature can be a real challenge.  A greenhouse that is too hot can do as much damage as a greenhouse that is too cold!

Fortunately, Fred, who is somewhat of a pack rat, had pulled the shade cloth off of my big greenhouse when we left SE Texas and brought it with us to NE Texas.  He “dug” it out of his workshop and proceeded to put it on the little greenhouse.  Now needless to say, a shade cloth which was made for a  36 ft. greenhouse literally wrapped the small 10’ x 12’ greenhouse…….but after being secured it did its job.

Greenhouse with shade cloth

As the first cold front of the season moved into our area, I put a small electric heater in the greenhouse.  I set it at the “half way” mark on the temperature indicator and it comes on and off as the temperature rises and falls which means it usually on comes on as the sun goes down.  My goal is to merely keep the greenhouse temperature at 40 degrees or above.  With nighttime lows falling into the low 20s, the greenhouse has maintained a low temperature of 46* during the night according to my “weather station”.  I have also found that the shade cloth not only helps to lower the temperature in the greenhouse during the sunny days but it also helps to hold the heat in during the cold night which is an added bonus for those of us who live in areas that have really cold winter nights.

As the “world turns” and my plumies sleep tucked away in the greenhouse, I will continue to monitor them from the warmth of my office with my handy new little “weather station”!  Let me encourage you to make the small investment in a “weather station” that will monitor your plants too if they are stored for the winter.

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About the Author

Rosemary Miller

Rosemary MillerRosemary Miller, BS; MEd Sumner, Texas 2010 –date Nederland, Texas 1974 -2010 Retired teacher Growing Plumerias since 2000 and totally addicted! Lamar Co. Master Gardener formerly Jefferson Co. Master Gardener since 2005 PSA Membership Chairman 2008 and 2009 PSA Website Moderator 2008 and 2009 Frangipani Society of Australia In the spring of 2000 my husband, Fred, and I were enjoying an afternoon of shopping at a local flea market that is held the 2nd weekend of each month in a small town near where we live. Vendor after vendor had wares to offer, everything from saddles to antiques and anything else you might expect to find in a flea market. It was there that I was first introduced to Plumerias……well, perhaps I should say a display of sticks ranging in length from 6 to 8 inches long. As I began to talk with the vendor, my interest really peaked and I decided to buy three of these odd looking “sticks”. Knowing absolutely nothing about Plumerias, I did exactly as I had been told by the seller and stuck them in a pot with some soil, put them on our concrete driveway and forgot about them! To my delight and surprise, the little sticks grew and within two years I had beautiful white and yellow flowers which would eventually lead to my complete love affair with these wonderful plants! Over the next four years, I continued to buy Plumerias here and there. Many of my attempts at rooting cuttings ended in disaster; however, by the end of 2005, I had accumulated nearly 30 plants and cuttings which were hardily growing around our house. By this time, and to my husband’s disdain, they had taken over the area in our yard that once was dedicated to his vegetable gardening. By 2009, my “Plumie Patch” had grown to almost 800 plants which included 300 or so seedlings. This was the year that my dear husband decided to retire and sell our business……and MOVE from SE Texas to far NE Texas! What a difference a few hundred miles would make in my collection. Because of the move, I began to downsize my beloved “Plumie Patch” and by the time we were settled in NE Texas, my collection had dwindled to only 98! My plants were now scattered across the US from California to Florida and across the water to Hawaii! While it was difficult to see my plumies leave their SE Texas home it was a smart choice for me since we were also leaving behind my large greenhouse. Growing Plumerias in far NE Texas has been a steep learning curve and to my chagrin, taking a real toll on the few plants that made the move with us. For the past few years, in October, I would clip the leaves from my plants and load them in the back of our horse trailer and head into town to a climatized storage building where they would remain until late May. This year (2014) will begin a new chapter since we have added a greenhouse so the plumies will spend the winter here at home.View all posts by Rosemary Miller →