Early Frost

Begonia 'Bonfire'

According to the data, the average frost date for Vancouver, Washington is around the first of November. We are a bit early this year as we had a light frost last night. The weather forecasts show temperatures down into the 30s for the next week. 

That means the days are numbered for the tender plants. That is a shame, because as you can see in the above photo, the 'Bonfire' begonias are spectacular. I covered them last night and will do so again tonight. 

Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata)

Another plant that I hate to see go is the Spanish Flag vine (Ipomoea lobata). This is the first time I've ever grown it and I was amazed at how spectacular it has been. Also amazing for me is the fact that I grew it from seed which means it is a very easy plant to grow. It starts to perform very late, late August if I recall correctly, but what a lovely thing it is. I did not cover this (that would have been a chore) and I could tell it was not as vibrant today.


Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi'

The Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi') hasn't been as impressive this year. I'm not sure what the reason for this is but I wonder if the pot may be too small. Or perhaps I don't fertilize it enough? I still don't know the secret behind the plants I see with tons of blooms spilling out all around. I am considering leaving it out this winter and just shove it up against the south wall of the house. I grew it in the ground in Alabama for many years with only a thick layer of pine straw as mulch.

Cuphea Llavea (Bat-Faced Cuphea) and Lotus berthelotii (Parrot's Beak)

How I love the cupheas! And so do the hummingbirds. I'm convinced that the 'Vermillionaire' variety is the #1 plant for the hummers and I grow it every year in a pot. The Bat-Faced cuphea (Cuphea llayea) is less profuse in blooms but nevertheless spectacular. How can you go wrong with a color combination of red and purple? It is planted in a pot along with the Parrot's Beak (Lotus berthelotii) which I have never been able to get to bloom. If anyone knows the secret, fill me in. Despite that, the foliage is very pretty and makes a nice filler.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (Purple Fountain Grass)

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') is such a popular plant, even here in the Pacific Northwest, although the wait for the plumes or substantial growth is a really long one. The foliage alone is rewarding and they are great in either pots or the ground. Too bad they are so tender. Just think if someone could come up with a hardier variety.

Abutilon (Flowering Maple)

The Flowering Maples (Abutilon) are striking plants. I have overwintered them in the past but have found that they don't bloom well the following year. I treat them as annuals now although that can be expensive. This particular one (I don't know the name) was a freebie at the nursery where I work. It was looking bad there but quickly perked up with some loving care.

I have just a few dahlias but I've been digging them up every fall and replanting in the spring. It gets so wet here in the winter months that rot is common. The time to dig them up is right after the first frost. I just store them in a paper bag during the winter months with a bit of soil around the roots.

Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage)

The smell of Pineapple Sage leaves (Salvia elegans) always amazes me and it is a favorite plant. I have not had much success with it here in the Pacific Northwest. This year, the bush itself was huge (see the photo below) but there has only been a sprinkling of flowers. I always have to pinch off a leaf when I walk by. The fragrance is worth growing up but it does take up a lot of real estate.

Salvia macrophylla 'Hot Lips'

Sold as a perennial, the salvia called 'Hot Lips' is fairly hardy and  given a well-draining spot, you can have success with it. Even if I lost it, I would replace it with a new one. I mentioned earlier that Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' was the #1 hummingbird plant. Well, this salvia is equal to it. It is rare to not see a hummingbird on it. This is planted right outside our front window. Bushes can get very large. I've seen some that are 5 feet tall with an equal girth. It is best to trim them back in early spring.


Salvia 'Amistad'

As a general rule, most salvias are a bit on the tender side. Last year, after informing a customer that 'Amistad' had to treated as an annual, the one I had in the garden last year, survived the winter. Granted, we had a very mild winter and I do have it planted on the south side of the house. Keep that in mind and even if it succumbs, just get ready to buy another one next year. It is the showiest salvia of all with very large, plump blooms of the deepest purple, almost black color. Another favorite on the hummingbird snack bar! This one gets very tall, 6 ft. or more, and can get lanky.


And I leave you with a true annual, the zinnia. Just a great reward for a sprinkle of seeds.


A sad sight indeed!


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. It is that time of year. It is always sad to see them go to mush. Black and Blue Salvia is a perennial in certain areas of my garden. I have tried moving it to where I can more easily see it but it didn't like the move. It is curious how they decide what is a good place to be. The hummers love it too. Bonfire is one of my favorite begonias. I have been enchanted by orange blooms the past couple of years. My cousin gave me 'Skyscraper' orange this spring. It is still blooming after a couple of good frosts. It doesn't have as many blooms as some of the others but the hummers love it and I love the color. ha... I will be getting it again next year.
    Maybe your Brug would like potting soil that is for tropical plants. They grow like weeds in the tropics and I doubt anyone fertilizes them much.

    1. I really like 'Black and Blue' salvia too. There is a new one called 'Black and Bloom' (I think that is the name) that we carried at the nursery. To me, I couldn't tell a difference between the two. Not familiar with 'Skyscraper'. Like you, I love orange flowers all of a sudden.

  2. Oh that Ipomoea lobata is amazing! I've only tried it once and didn't have that level of success. I can remember several years that the first frost in my garden was after Thanksgiving, this is definitely too early...

  3. When you mentioned you covered Begoina bonfire, (love that begonia), I was curious as to how... my curiosity was satisfied right at the end. Sadly, it almost looks like a halloween decoration at this point... After reading your glowing review of Cuphea'vermillionaire' I'm going to give it a go next year, probably in a pot: anything to get resident hummingbird excited, especially since I've pulled out most of my Crocosmia lucifer.

  4. I'd be grieved to lose those blooms to frost, Phillip. My husband has talked about moving to the Puget Sound area (his brother lives on Vashon Island) and, much as that idea attracted me for years, I'm not sure I could cope with the winter cold in terms of its impact on gardening. I'm a Southern California native and the thought of digging up, moving and/or losing plants I love would be distressing to say the least. That said, I dig up my dahlia tubers here too because I use the raised planters in my cutting garden for cool season blooms and the regular water I provide in that area (as opposed to all too uncommon rain!) would rot them. The other side of the coin is that I haven't been able to grow beauties like Salvia 'Amistad' successfully even as annuals, possibly because they want more water than I give them. However, Lotus berthelotti has bloomed well for me but only as a groundcover - it wasn't nearly as happy as a hanging plant in a pot.


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