It’s been just over a week since Irene swept through Connecticut, and many homeowners are just now beginning to turn their attention to their gardens after the violent storm. At first glance, the damage may seem overwhelming. Take some time to really evaluate the damage, address the most urgent issues first and remember that restoring your garden may take some time and patience. But your efforts will be well rewarded.
When cleaning up your garden after any violent storm, your safety is the primary concern. This is especially important when it comes to clearing away fallen trees and large limbs. If you’re wondering if you can tackle the job yourself, the answer is probably ‘no.’ Admittedly, if you don’t already have a relationship with a licensed arborist, the first few weeks after a storm can be a difficult time to establish one. Get a referral from a friend or neighbor, add your name to the tree guy’s list of ongoing work and be patient. Believe me, it will be money well spent.
If you can safely tackle pruning work on trees and shrubs, make sure your pruning device of choice is clean and sharp and then cut the broken branch back to a larger main branch. Do not apply any kind of tree sealant to the wound. Let the wound heal itself. Some storm damage, like cracking of limbs, may be hidden right now so remember to check your trees and shrubs again in the late fall, after all the leaves have fallen.
If Irene’s strong winds caused a small tree to lean over or be uprooted in your garden, stabilize the tree and then stake it. Water well and watch the tree for the next few months to make sure it is re-establishing its root system.
Cut Now, Flower Later
Herbaceous perennials and annuals severely damaged by Irene should be cut back now. The foliage will quickly re-grow and, since Connecticut’s first frost date is weeks away, you may even see some new flowers. Woody perennials, such as lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), should be pruned back to live, undamaged wood. Patience is important since you may not see any new growth until next spring.
Many tall perennials were literally blown over from Irene’s wind and rain. Assuming that their foliage and flowers are not in tatters, you can offer them some gentle support so they continue to brighten your garden for several more weeks. For an inexpensive yet effective approach, use supplies you already have on hand, like sturdy sticks and garden wire.
If you garden near the Long Island Sound, your garden is probably suffering from the effects of salt water and salt spray damage. If you haven’t already done so, add some gypsum to your lawn. Paul Sztermer of Wildflower Grounds Management in Stamford, who maintains numerous waterfront properties on the Long Island Sound in Fairfield County, says gypsum counteracts any salt damage. Apply gypsum right before a rain event or water in after application. Sztermer also cautions against fertilizing plants affected by salt damage. “Conventional wisdom says to apply fertilizer, but you want your plants to put all their energy into their root system, not into producing new foliage or flowers. If you have to fertilize, using a starter fertilizer with a 3-3-3 ratio won’t hurt.” Most of the burnt, brown foliage on salt damaged plants will fall off soon and your garden may look worse in the short-term. But by next spring, most plants will be back to normal.
The good news is that in most cases, Mother Nature will heal the wounds she inflicted if we give her a gentle helping hand and then step back and let her work her magic.