Posts tagged evergreens

Flood advice

Landscape designer and author Janet Macunovich, who will be keynote speaker at the upcoming Winter Gardening Fair at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, wrote this advice in 2005 after she and her husband, garden photographer Steve Nikkila,  experienced flooding at their home in Michigan.  Janet passed this along as advice for Iowans who were flooded last year.  She writes: “Although it’s been a year since Cedar Rapids’ devastating flood, I am sure what’s in it is still applicable, as gardens can’t be the first thing we think about after such a disaster, and they take time.”


Special to those with flooded gardens.
I’m thinking this week about gardeners in the path of Hurricane Katrina who were fortunate enough to be spared flooding within their homes, or who cleaned up from minimal interior damage only to find that their yards were not similarly spared.

Three times in the last five years, my own yard has been under 18 inches to several feet of water that poured in from uphill areas when over-taxed storm drains failed. Luck the first time, and then fast sandbagging during subsequent floods, kept the water in our slab home to under a foot. Yet all the relief I felt after removing the interior mud disappeared when I realized how much debris, piled soil, displaced mulch and gullies had been deposited, plowed and cut by the force of so much water moving through my garden.

So my heart goes out to you who are recovering from flood or trying to help one of those gardeners reclaim their beds. I hope when you conquer the despair and the anger and start the reclamation that some of the following notes may make your work easier.

Use the triage approach of doctors working in disaster situations. Spend the time you have on the most important and permanent plants in your yard, even if it means losing some others. Rinse off evergreens so their needles and leaves can return to full photosynthetic power. Then they can produce enough energy to make internal repairs or grow roots to replace those lost to drowning. Pull soil away from the trunks of trees and shrubs. Banked soil traps moisture against the bark and can incite rot the plant will be unable to repair. Cut back water-battered shrubs, even if this means removing major limbs. Chances are such a plant will grow back much more quickly than you imagine but even if it revives slowly it will be at a better pace and to a better end than if you left it alone. That’s because a few clean cuts take less energy to seal over than dozens or hundreds of breaks.

If a large tree has shifted and is leaning, do not try to brace or straighten it. Call in an arborist and be prepared to hear you have to remove it. Submerged soil floats, removing the weight that was anchoring the tree’s surprisingly shallow pan of roots. Many trees topple in a hurricane not from wind but when water renders weightless the anchor that was counterbalancing the tree’s top. A tree that doesn’t fall but only leans may remain in that position once the water departs but it will never be as stable as it once was, and may be a serious hazard in the next storm. Nothing you can do to the trunk will change that.

Don’t scoop up and reuse mulch that floated and piled up wherever the water slowed in its path. That mulch is no longer an asset in weed control but a liability, since it is full of weed seeds that came with the water. Instead, gather and pile that mulch high enough (three feet or more) to make a hot compost. The heat of active composting will kill weed seeds.

Right now and for the next couple of seasons, be extra vigilant about applying and maintaining a mulch layer. Mulch over the mulch you already have, even if you would have waited until next spring to renew it. If you normally go without mulch during the growing season, it will be better to make a temporary change. Over years, your attention to your garden had reduced the number of weed seeds in the top layer of the soil, so weeding had become less of a chore. The flooded garden, however, has been loaded with seeds from other places. Some may be weed species brand new to your experience. Be ready for them — suppress them before they can start.

Don’t hesitate – cut down all herbaceous plants that were battered. It will simplify removing debris and shifting flood-piled soil. The cutback is unlikely to kill them when it comes this late in the season.

Before you start digging and raking, determine just how much soil was deposited over your perennials. Most can emerge successfully through about an inch of extra soil. Bulb plants can manage even when buried 3 or 4 inches deeper than before. Where a heavier layer of soil covered an area, consider keeping it as a raised bed. Dig up a few perennials, divide them and replant the area with those starts at the new level.

Resist the urge to use collected debris to fill gullies that were gouged by fast moving water. Where the water moved fast enough to scour and cut this time, it will move quickly if it comes again. Such areas need to be filled and tamped down using uniform, dense material such as sand and gravel that will make a smooth, heavy, low-friction surface. Water will slide past. In contrast, junk makes a loose fill that presents a myriad of edges to rushing water. That water will pluck things loose, quickly making depressions that will then become a new wash-out.

Include damage to paved surfaces in your damage report to FEMA. You may find some help in resurfacing not just the driveway, but walks or patios that crumbled and washed away when their bases flushed away.

Expect your reclamation to take years. Higher expectations can sap your soul. Accept that some things will die or need replacement, even though they survived the flood itself. Try to think in terms of opportunity to try new things, rather than dwelling on the losses.

Give yourself a view that will fuel your heart rather than your depression. Start your clean-up in an area close to your window or door, even if this makes no logistical sense. A sitting area is ideal. Bring that space back up to your old standard, even if that means letting chaos reign elsewhere a little longer. Each time you see that spot or sit with some comfort in it, you’ll feel better, and be better able to keep moving outward from that refuge.

 

Janet publishes a free weekly gardening newsletter based on questions people ask. She offered to answer anyone from this area who might want to know more after reading her flooded-garden advice.
You can reach Janet by email at:
JMaxGarden@aol.com

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Ghost of Christmas Past

Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, wrote the following about decorations of Christmases past:

 

The Christmas tree, the holly wreath, the sprig of mistletoe, and the Christmas bells were the four most “distinctive Christmas decorations” noted in a December 1907 issue of The Garden Magazine.  Stumbling upon this publication the day after the staff and volunteers completed holiday decorating at Brucemore allowed for some interesting comparisons between the times.

Balsam was recommended as the best variety of tree when decorating for Christmas and the best way to adorn it was not to overload it.  Pyramidal trees with short lustrous green needles striped with silver underneath were also popular in 1907 because they “give the impression of a recent light frost.” The month-long holiday season at Brucemore makes these natural, heavy-shedding, historic trees impractical for the mansion, and the temptation to over-adorn is irresistible in such a grand home.  I am not sure any of the staff has the ability to practice the “less is more theory” during the holiday season.

Holly was referred to as the most important decorative Christmas material, the most desirable was English holly with as many berries as possible. The most distinctive way of using holly was in the form of wreaths; the best wreaths were those faced with berries on both sides, “so that when they were hung in the window they would give pleasure to those passing by as well as the family indoors.”

As for the beloved holiday mistletoe tradition, in 1907 it was thought that “because it is not pretty in itself, one sprig of mistletoe is enough for most people.” This is a statement as true today as it was over 100 years ago.

The final “distinctive Christmas decoration” of 1907, the Christmas bells, are absent from the décor of 2008.  The traditional sleigh bells that we appreciate for their own magical sound were not the bells that the magazine referenced. In 1907, “Those big red bells of tissue paper that fold up like a stocking have now become almost a national institution.”  Who knew?

            Families in 1907 were concerned with their holiday budgets much like families in 2008.  According to the article, “The cheapest way to decorate is to collect native material, especially branches of evergreens.”  However, they urge the reader, “not to take any evergreens that do not belong to you without the owner’s approval. It is a gross violation of the Christmas spirit to cut down cultivated conifers on other people’s grounds.” 

            I encourage you to look to nature when decorating this holiday season.  Go forth and use your imagination and homegrown ornaments.  If you are questioned about your holiday aesthetic, cite deep American cultural traditions.  This method allows for creativity until the seed and plant catalogs start to arrive.  I too urge you to remember the Christmas spirit when collecting your greenery.

From the Big house at Brucemore may all comfort and cheer be yours this holiday season! 

 

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Suffocating conifers

The following is by Mark Gleason, plant pathologist at Iowa State University Extension:

 

    The 2008 growing season was a bad time to be a conifer in Iowa. The Iowa State University Plant and Diagnostic Clinic was inundated with suffering conifers from windbreaks, commercial landscapes, and backyards. What happened?

    Rain is what happened: too much of it. The six months from January through June saw record rainfall totals in Iowa – the most since record-keeping began in the 1850s. Late May through mid-June was especially sodden, as much of the state saw damaging floods. The result was wet soils, week after week.

    What’s wrong with lots of water in the soil? After all, trees need plenty of water to stay healthy. But 2008 was a case of too much of a good thing.

During the seemingly endless rains of May and June, soils in much of the state became saturated with water – and stayed that way. Even when trees weren’t engulfed in floods or giant puddles, they were rooted in sodden soil.

   When soil is saturated, the normally air-filled spaces become water-filled instead. This profoundly changes the roots’ environment. Roots get almost all their oxygen by absorbing it from the soil, and the soil oxygen is replenished from the atmosphere.

    Once soil water replaces soil air, the ballgame changes. Water carries only a tiny fraction of the oxygen found in the air. In prolonged periods of saturation, that smidgen of oxygen is further siphoned off by soil microorganisms. Faced with oxygen starvation, roots begin to slow their activity.

    Tree roots, like people, go into distress pretty rapidly when their oxygen is cut off.
    In extreme cases like 2008, the roots can die. The first roots to bite the dust (or mud) are the ones that work the hardest: the tiny roots that do most of the work absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. As a last gasp, some roots start making their own alcohol; this can be a fatal goodbye party, since alcohol also poisons the roots.

    Damage to conifers was extremely varied. Common symptoms included dead branch tips, yellowed needles, top dieback, and dieback of scattered branches. Some fungal diseases were stimulated by all the rain, too, but the vast majority of the conifer problems had a physical cause – root damage due to low-oxygen stress.

    Often, the problems showed up in late July or August, even though the worst of the wet spell was long gone. Why the delay? A tree can tolerate some level of root damage. But in warm, dry spells in mid- to late summer, trees call for water to stay cool. If the roots are damaged, the tree can’t take up water fast enough to avoid overheating, and the foliage overheats. So spring’s root damage became summer’s fried foliage.

    How come conifers got nailed worse than broad-leaved trees? Most conifers hate wet feet, and the longer the soil stays saturated, the worse they do. At the ISU Clinic, we saw hundreds of samples and photographs of damaged blue and Black Hills spruce, white fir, arbor vitae, and other species.

    On the hopeful side, most of these damaged conifers are not at death’s door. For many, the prospects of eventual recovery are good – as long as the weather cooperates a bit. Meanwhile, avoid the temptation to help nature along by fertilizing, since you are likely to harm rather than help the tree’s recovery. Watering should be done only when the soil is dry, and should add only one inch of water (rain included) per week.

    With luck and patience, 2009 will return us to green conifers instead of brown ones.

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