Storms make the oak grow deeper roots – George Herbert
With a two day snow storm underway, my thoughts have rested mostly on the outdoors. Did I protect the vulnerable plants properly? Were the roses pruned so no limbs are in danger of breaking or tearing in the high winds swirling around? Are the hydrangeas going to be brave and not succumb like they did last winter and petulantly produced no flowers in the summer? Will the espalier be safe from the rodents this time around? I am fervently invoking every higher power in the universe to please, please safeguard my precious garden.
Storms are inevitable in any season. Hurricanes bringing lashing rains, blizzards delivering record snow, gale force winds, damaging sleet and hailstones are all events one experiences at one time or other. However, these past few years have brought more violent disturbances of the atmosphere than before. Extreme temperatures have not helped either. I do believe it is time we accepted that this erratic weather pattern is going to become the norm. Better we seriously buckle down to taking the right actions to protect our gardens before more loss and damage is incurred.
So, lets start a check list:
Design the garden with storms in mind – obviously, this is best done when you are starting from scratch. But, for most of us, it means that from now on, we must purchase plants that are hardy and have characteristics that make it more capable of coming through storms. Deep roots, tolerant of very low temperatures, species that are likely to shed leaves quickly in high winds so the branches are less likely to break from the weight of wet leaves. Flood tolerance might be a requirement if your land is prone to them. Red maples, cypresses and others can withstand a variety of water conditions. If one lives along the coast, salt tolerances from surges might be a necessity. Ascertain the mature size of trees and shrubs so there is no danger of problems with buildings, power lines and fences in the future. That native species do best cannot be overemphasized. Seriously.
Stay on top of maintenance – once the most suitable plants are in place, taking proper care of them is of the highest priority. This is a year round task. Encourage healthy root systems. Stake wherever required, prune diligently, fertilize and water as needed, weed, clean up, cut back and, as much as possible have good air circulation between the plants. Remember, over-watering or over-fertilizing will lead to weak, shallow roots. Make sure that you have a practical plan to protect items like furniture, barbecues, pots, statuary and such when anticipating bad weather.
Check the garden every season to be sure trees and shrubs are trimmed and shaped so they not only look their best but are safe in storms. Thinning the foliage will permit winds to go through the branches as opposed to pushing against the growth and possibly uprooting them. This selective pruning is a practice best initiated when the plants are young.
When getting any hardscaping work done, do not cut away at tree roots as this can destabilize the tree when a storm hits. You are better off removing the tree. Position it elsewhere if that is possible. On the subject of hardscaping, keep all structures in good repair. Loose stones, cracked walls, rotting wood spell disasters waiting to happen.
Keep the garden free of leaf and twig piles that can choke storm drains or become harmful missiles when winds pick up.
When a storm is imminent – the list of chores is of course dependent on the season.
Mow the lawn before the storm. It’ll be easier to clear debris after.
Harvest all ripe fruit and vegetables. It might at times be prudent to pick off the unripe fruits if there is danger of them becoming weapons for rowdy winds to hurl around. Cut flowers in bloom to enjoy indoors. Seed pods are also worth picking off for two reasons. One, they can be dried and saved for new plants and two, will not be scattered by the wind where they might sow themselves at random and become a nuisance.
Secure or bring in all pots. Likewise, keep all outdoor furniture from harm.
Stake all vulnerable plants.
Use sheets of plastic or fleece to shelter plants and statuary from cold snaps and sudden frost.
Keep snow shovels, deicers (preferably the least toxic variety), grit or sand, flashlights, batteries, candles, radio and, water handy.
After the storm – do not be hasty in trying to set everything right in the garden. Immediately after violent weather, the plants will most certainly look tortured (ever ridden in a convertible with hair loose and top down?). Give the garden a little time to recover some composure. You will often find that the damage was not as bad as first perceived.
The most immediate task is to clear debris from the lawn and beds.
Check for damages. This is the time to note what was neglected, what was inadequate and what simply failed. Plan repairs, remedies, replacements and, removals as needed.
If a tree was toppled and you think it might be uprighted and saved, keep the exposed roots moist and protected till the chore can be accomplished. Very probably some sort of additional help by way of expert action and tools will be needed.
Remove damaged limbs and branches. Give the plant time to gain back its health.
Fallen trees – if the tree has no chance of recovering, clear it away. If they have fallen in the woods or someplace away from scrutiny, they can be left as is to support a population of new vegetation and critters and eventually it will decompose into the soil thereby enriching it. Otherwise, have the tree cut up and moved away so that whatever was damaged in the fall can be taken care of.
Branches hanging from power lines must be left to the power companies to deal with.
It is worth your time and money to get the advice of an arborist whenever there are trees in question.
Decide what plants did well and what did not. Rethink your planting selections.
Any hardscaping damage should be similarly addressed. Timely action is the solution.