Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another one (or two) bites the dust

Recently I noticed that one of the agaves in the backyard, Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’, wasn’t looking too hot. Within a few days, my worst fear was confirmed: crown rot. When a succulent rots from the center, the outcome is almost always fatal.

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Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’

Looking at the extent of the rot, and how quickly it progressed, I knew that this beautiful specimen was a goner.

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Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’

What could have happened? In the winter, agaves—like virtually all succulents—have two main enemies: excess moisture and cold temperatures.

Moisture: At the end of November, the Pineapple Express came through the Sacramento Valley and dumped a fair amount of rain. Since then, it’s been fairly dry, with only an occasional shower. While the soil in this planting bed wasn’t dry, it was soggy either.

Cold: This winter hasn’t been extraordinarily cold—night-time lows haven’t gone below 27°F—but we did have an extraordinarily long cold spell that started right at the beginning of January. For two weeks solid, temperatures at night were below freezing. Somebody told me that it’s been 20 years since we’ve had such a long cold streak.

My Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’ has been in the ground for four years and has sailed through three winters without any protection (it’s rated hardy to 15°F). The only thing that’s different this year is that prolonged cold spell so it, in conjunction with moderately moist soil, is most likely the culprit.

Looking more closely at my other plants, I found a few more victims of the winter weather:

The Agave × leopoldii ‘Hammer Time’ in the next photo shows signs of incipient crown rot. It’s in a pot on the front porch, i.e. protected from the rain. Because of that, I’m stumped as to what could have caused this. I’ll keep a close eye on this plant but if the rot spreads, there’s not much I can do.

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Agave × leopoldii ‘Hammer Time’

The cactus below, Gymnocalycium friedrichii, is completely dead. It simply collapsed in on itself. The pot is protected from the rain and the soil is fast draining but there might have been just enough residual moisture in the soil to do this poor fellow in. On the weekend I will remove the other four cacti that are still healthy and repot them in clean soil.

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Gymnocalycium friedrichii

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Gymnocalycium friedrichii

Moral of the story: Even though you may think you know a lot, plants will do what they want, when they want it Smile.

12 comments:

  1. Ouch! Such a shame that agave rotted despite sailing through previous. And yes, more often plants will do what they want to, when they want to...

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    1. I guess I needed to be reminded that I'm not in control here :-).

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  2. It's sad when you lose plants that you really like, and frustrating when you don't know the reason.

    I wonder if it would be better if plants just exploded when they died, instead of rotting or slowly declining. It would certainly be more exciting.

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    1. I agree! I'd much rather have them blow up. That would be much more definitive and final than a prolonged creeping death--and more exciting, as you said.

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  3. The prolonged freeze up here in the PNW has done in one of my Agaves too. It's so sad to see them so mushy.

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  4. Such a sad photo of your 'Blue Haze.' Extended cold, with a bit of moisture, certainly sounds like the kiss of death, I need to go do a serious once over my garden to see how things are looking.

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    1. I bought the 'Blue Haze' as a tiny plant in a 4" pot. It was finally beginning to show its potential. AARGH.

      Yes, moisture + extended cold = kiss of death to certain desirable plants. Certainly not to weeds!

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  5. I feel bad for you Gerhard. This winter is costing many of us lots of succulents looses. I will be posting my loses at Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook soon. Yes, I did loose quite a bit too.

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    1. I feel for *you*. Why is it that it's always the plants you really like that croak--instead of the ones you are ambivalent about?

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  6. With winter temperatures dropping to their lowest there is almost always a couple casualties. In fact I've had many, some of which I had high hopes for. Unfortunately with large collections such as ours we can't give special treatment to them all. I try to keep things on the dry side during the winter but things still like a little moisture. Even with a mildly heated greenhouse I'm finding it a bit of a crap shoot on some things. Sorry for your loss, hopefully we don't have many more.

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  7. Sorry you lost a couple of beauties there. Yes, why is it always the favorites? Because we don't remember or care about the not-so-goods?

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