Can Potatoes Survive in the Ground Through Winter?

“Can potatoes survive in the ground if they are not harvested when the above-ground foliage is removed? If yes, how long will they last?” Question from Ed or Coats, North Carolina

Answer: It’s an interesting question. The answer is yes and no. Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are perennial plants and some cultivated potatoes can be quite hardy. The ability of cultivated forms to survive winter cold depends on the variety (there are over 4,000 known types), but most will not withstand hard freezes. And, you would not want to eat the tubers from plants touched by frost. They quickly become sickeningly sweet and inedible.

Another point is that potatoes are notoriously susceptible to soil-borne diseases, and need to be rotated yearly for the best production. Proper cultivation from seed potatoes to harvest takes work. Potato rows must be hilled and amended with organic matter (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is a great choice of amendment) to keep the soil light and fertile for superior potato development. Fresh seed potatoes planted in newly plowed hills will grow best and yield tubers by early, mid, or late summer, depending on the variety. At harvest time, all the tubers should be removed from the soil to eliminate any potentially diseased potatoes.  Legumes or a green manure crop should follow the rotation cycle.

With that said, those living further South, like you, can potentially grow potatoes as perennial crops for a limited period of time. Because it’s not done or recommended in practice, I cannot say how long they would survive and yield for you. Yukon Gold is a common, hardier variety (USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9) that may be worth experimenting with if you want to give it a try. Let us know how it works out for you.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Are There Outdoor Cactus Hardy to Minnesota?

Image by Jessie Keith

I see people in pictures with cactus gardens outside in my area. Are there any cactus that can stay outside for the winter in Minnesota? Question from Sandra of Cottage Grove, Minnesota

Answer: Yes! There are a couple of alpine cacti that exist at high altitudes along the Rocky Mountains that will survive in your winters. There are also other northerly prickly pears that you can grow. These will survive in your USDA Zone 4 garden, despite the harsh cold. Here are several good options to consider.

Cold-Hardy Cactus for Northern Gardens

Devil’s Tongue (Opuntia humifusa): This tough prickly pear cactus naturally exists from southern Ontario, Canada all the way down to Florida and is hardy to Zone 4. It has low, spreading clumps that produce yellow, gold, or orangish flowers in spring. In summer, attractive purple-red fruits appear. The pads appear to deflate and shrivel in the winter months, but this is natural. They will green up and reinflate in spring. This cactus is native to your state.

Brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis, Zones 4-9): With populations extending to the far reaches of Canada and western mountain ranges, this is little prickly pear is very hardy–surviving in Zone 4 or colder. The very low, spreading plant is prickly and has pretty, pale yellow flowers in spring. Its little roundish pads are “brittle” and tend to break off and root as they fall. This one is also a Minnesota wildflower.

Hardy Hybrid Pricklypear (Opuntia hybrids): There are loads of beautiful prickly pear hybrids with spring flowers in shades of red, orange, magenta, pink, and yellow. The best source for these is the Cold Hardy Cactus nursery. Have a look and check out the many options for your zone.

These are just a few of the hardier cacti for your area. All have beautiful flowers that attract bees. One note is that you really need to prepare the ground when growing hardy cacti. They require very well-drained soils in raised rock gardens or beds. I suggest amending their soil with Black Gold Cactus Mix in addition to fine pebbles, sand, and some additional organic matter (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend works well).

To get a better idea of how to prepare a rocky raised succulent bed, I encourage you to read my Black Gold article about succulent seascape gardening.

Happy cactus growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do You Plant Cyclamen?

What is the best way to plant Cyclamen? Question from Melba of Texas

Answer: It depends on whether you are planting tender, greenhouse-grown Cyclamen in pots or hardy Cyclamen in the ground. I’ll cover the planting details for both and how to get them to bloom beautifully.

Potted Cyclamen

Cyclamen grow best in well-drained potting mix that is kept just moist, never wet. Water them just from the base or bottom water them, by filling the pot’s saucer with water, to avoid getting the flowers and foliage wet. Plant them in a pot that’s several inches larger than the old, and gently work the plant’s roots if they are pot bound. Place several inches of Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Mix at the base of the pot, and fill in around the edges, while being sure to leave at least an inch or two at the top for watering.

Indoor cyclamen like cool indoor temperatures and bright indirect light. Feeding them with an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer will keep them flowering well.

Hardy Cyclamen

There are several hardy cyclamen that will grow well in your Texas garden. These include the shade-loving Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Arrow’ (USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8), which has pink spring flowers that appear without the foliage and silver foliage that pops up in fall. Cyclamen mirabile (USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8), is another pretty hardy cyclamen for partial sun to shade with pale pink flowers that bloom from September through December above leaves that have silver and green patterns. Both of these plants appreciate soil with high organic matter and excellent drainage. I suggest raising their planting areas and amending with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend before planting. Provide them with moderate moisture during the growing season.

I hope this helps!

Happy Cyclamen growing!

Jessie Keith

Can I Grow Palm Trees in Georgia?

“Can I grow Palm trees in Georgia?” Question from Debbie of Norcross, Georgia

Answer: Yes! There are several palms and palmettos that will grow well in your USDA Hardiness Zone 7 to 8 location. Most won’t reach the grand heights of palms grown in truly tropical regions, but all will add interest to your landscape. I opted to include palms in my list rather than scrubby palmettos.

Five Hardy Palms

Pindo Palm Tree (Butia capitata): This slow-growing palm bears edible fruit that can be used to make jelly. Mature specimens can reach 15 feet.

Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei ‘Bulgaria’ or ‘Columbus’): If you are looking for a more classic looking palm, plant windmill palm, which is hardy up to Zone 7. Average specimens reach 25 feet.

Sago Palm Tree (Cycas revoluta): Though not a true palm, this cycad is hardy in Zones 7b-11 and has elegant, palm-like good looks.

Blue European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis v. cerifera): This very hardy palm reaches a maximum of 10 feet and is hardy up to Zone 7a.

Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta): This large palm can reach 70ft – 100ft, but its Zone 8 hardiness puts it just on the edge of hardiness where you live. But, if you have a protected sunny location near your home, try planting one!

Good sources for these and other hardy palms include Plant Delights and Palmco. If planting your palms in large pots, make sure your mix drains well and has a slightly acid to neutral pH between 6.2 and 7.6. Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix with added perlite is a good mix choice.

Happy palm growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist