Restoring or replacing your home and furnishings aren’t the only chores awaiting after a storm-related disaster strikes. There’s dealing with the landscape, too.
But people in the know say there’s one big thing to remember when re-establishing flora and fauna after a big blow, ice storm or flooding: Aside from removing whatever constitutes an immediate hazard, they recommend that you take things slowly.
“You should have some patience with storm consequences particularly when dealing with trees,” said Woodrow Nelson, vice president of communications for The National Arbor Day Foundation, at Lincoln, Neb. “Forgo any emotional responses. Things may not be as bad as they look. Trees are remarkably resilient and many recover on their own over time.”
Few people live in areas free from weather-driven damage. Each year, Americans cope with an average of 10,000 thunderstorms, 2,500 floods, 1,000 tornadoes and an average of six deadly hurricanes, according to the Extension Disaster Education Network, an organization linking extension educators across the U.S. via the Internet.
All that destruction leaves behind a lot of debris. Canopy trees are damaged or down. Flooded lawns are left covered with silt and in some cases, bathed in saltwater. Orchards are shredded; fruit is destroyed or strewn about. Ice storms snap tree limbs. So where should yard cleanup begin?
You might start by following “the three D’s of pruning,” said Robert Polomski, a consumer horticulture specialist with The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service at Clemson, S.C.
“Remove dead, dying or diseased limbs at any time of year and especially after any storm event,” he said. “If you’re not sure about the health status of a limb or even its integrity, you can wait and look for any subsequent growth. When in doubt, contact a certified arborist or other trained professional.”
Trees aren’t the only objects in the landscape capable of toughing it out. Some lawns can survive a month or more of flooding if grass varieties and conditions are right. But you have to pick those before a storm
Some grasses, like fescues can be killed in a day from submersion at a high water temperature, say 86 degrees or so. But Toronto creeping bent grass has survived submersion for more than 60 days at a low water temperature of 50 degrees.
“In general we can say that Bermuda grass has excellent submersion tolerance, followed by rough bluegrass (good), Kentucky bluegrass (medium), perennial ryegrass (fair) and red fescue and centipede grass (poor),” Polomski said.
Grasses that are totally submerged are unlikely to survive as long as those with some exposure, he said.
Some grasses also are more salt-tolerant than others.
“Seashore paspalum is excellent; Bermuda grass, perennial ryegrass, St. Augustine grass and zoysia grass are good, tall fescue is fair and centipede grass, creeping red fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are poor,” Polomski said.
But since all that comes before the storm, what else can you do afterwards?
Here are some things you can do to restore landscape and fruiting plants after a destructive storm:
Many plants that are leaning or uprooted can be reset if the root ball is intact. “Return the tree to its upright position and then treat it like a newly transplanted shrub or tree,” Polomski said. “Keep it well-watered until it becomes established.”
Irrigate frequently if salt concentrations were high after a hurricane. Test all irrigation water for salinity. If irrigation ponds have been compromised, then pump them out and fill them with clean river water or well water. Rainfall might complicate cleanup but it helps flush any contaminated soils.
Be prepared to do some extra weeding following a flood. “After (Hurricane) Hugo hit the South Carolina Coast in 1989, we began seeing a variety of unique plants – some of them weeds – that the hurricane probably ‘relocated,”‘ Polomski said.
If nothing else, storm damage assessment gives homeowners another chance to minimize future problems by studying what could have been done better or perhaps planted in a better place.
With every loss comes opportunity, said Vernon Bryant, director of horticulture for The Florida Botanical Gardens at Largo, near St. Petersburg.
“Recommendations about planting trees near your house for their energy value are good, but it may be better in hurricane (or tornado- or wildfire) prone areas to plant potentially tall trees farther from buildings,” Bryant said. “Then you don’t have to worry about them going over in a storm.”
You might also consider choosing smaller trees when restoring your yard after a natural disaster. “You’ll eventually get some of the same shade and wildlife benefits,” he said.
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet: http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/hgic2359.htm
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