As we celebrate the blooming of roses, the ripening of tomatoes and the pollinator frenzy in our backyards, we gardeners also need to be aware of the downsides of summer: thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an “above-normal 2022 Atlantic hurricane season,” and even as tornado season ends, some threat remains year-round in some parts of the country.
So what’s a gardener to do? After ensuring the safety of people, homes and other structures, our thoughts naturally turn to our beds and borders. We’ve poured our blood, sweat, tears and money into it, so it’s important to protect our investment and the joy it brings.
Before the storm
When storms are forecast, close umbrellas and store patio furniture indoors, if possible. Examine trees for cracked or broken branches and remove them before they are torn by high winds and sent flying. If these trees are large, hire a certified arborist to inspect them; the cost is nothing compared to the damage they could cause if they break or fall over.
In warmer climates, palms are well adapted to strong wind conditions, so there is no need to prune them, but remove the coconuts and store them safely indoors.
If your soil is wet — either naturally or from a recent rain — apply 3 inches of mulch to flower beds and borders. This will provide protection against the soaking effects of a deluge, which could uproot trees, especially those with shallow roots like white pine, birch, willow, and tulip poplar, among others.
Plant any newly planted trees for support and bring hanging baskets and planters into the house, shed or garage. If that’s not possible, line them up against the house or another protected location.
Protect the flowers of small flowering plants by covering them with buckets or cloches topped with a heavy object, such as a brick, to hold them in place. Wrap larger plants with burlap secured with twine. Orchids, bromeliads, succulents, air plants and other arboreal plants can be tied in place with fishing line.
Check that all climbing plants are secured to their supports and that the supports are planted firmly in the ground. If they don’t feel safe, remove the supports and put them – and the plants – on the ground until the threat passes.
Lay the row cover fabric over the tender seedlings and pin it in place with landscape stakes.
after the storm
Once the storm has passed, remove fallen fruits and vegetables, which could attract rodents if they rot on the ground, and remove protection around plants.
Inspect trees for damage. If you can safely remove broken, hanging branches while standing on the ground, do so. But avoid trimming anything higher than your head or climbing a ladder to trim. These jobs are best left to a professional – and that doesn’t mean a guy showing up on your doorstep with a chainsaw, who’s unlikely to know what he’s doing and might just be a scammer.
The International Society of Arborists maintains a list of certified arborists on its website at https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist; start your search here.
If a small tree has been knocked over or uprooted, straighten and stake it as soon as possible, packing the soil firmly as you replant it. Insert stakes into the ground around the trunk, tie a string, rope or cord to the stakes and secure them to the tree. Apply 3 inches of mulch or straw to the soil, keeping it 3 to 4 inches from the trunks, and water the tree regularly for the rest of the growing season. This will help restore the root system.
Wind swinging helps trees develop strong trunks and roots, so don’t keep the tree staked for longer than six months to a year.
Salt spray can dry out or dehydrate trees and shrubs near the coast, and they may show no symptoms until the following year. Mulch around trees to retain soil moisture and water deeply and repeatedly to remove salts.
Refrain from pruning evergreens or removing dry tips until new growth appears the following spring.
If high tides encroach on your property, the salt will likely form a crust on the surface of the ground, leading to dehydration. Most plants won’t survive such devastation, but soil can be restored: Water thoroughly, then spread gypsum over the soil. It will react with the salt to form sodium sulfate, which will wash out the soil with repeated waterings. Continue to water abundantly the rest of the year.