Can You Remedy Plants That Have Been Battered by Heavy Storms?
There's nothing worse than watching helplessly as a storm wreaks havoc on a beautiful garden you've worked tirelessly to create. Heavy rain, hail, and violent winds can be detrimental to plants and shrubs, causing roots to rise from the soil, stems to snap, and foliage to fall. "Plants are fragile and very tender," explains New York-based landscape architect Michelle Madonna. "You can prepare as much as possible, but some of it is out of your control." So, what can be done when you are faced with a storm-ravaged garden? Leading landscape experts share their remedies for success.
Assess the Damage
After a storm passes, survey the condition of your plants. "If a shrub is broken in half," says Madonna, "it can't be saved." But for plants that are still in one piece, Madonna cautions homeowners against discarding them too quickly. "Give things time. There are certain plants, like perennials and herbs, that can make a comeback." Madonna recommends waiting six weeks to see if new growth appears. If not, then cut stems back to the base for the best chance of regeneration next season. Similarly, Michael Cunningham, maintenance manager at Charleston-based firm Carolina Landscape, suggests pruning annuals and perennials of damaged or dead plant material immediately following a storm to prevent fungus from developing.
Treat Rotting Roots
When faced with heavy rain storms, plants inevitably sit in water for long periods of time, explains Cunningham, which prevents roots from receiving oxygen. As a result, fungus can begin to grow in the soil causing "root rot." Cunningham suggests using a granular fungicide to treat waterlogged plants. For container gardens, make sure water is easily able to drain through holes in the bottom of the pot or urn. Furthermore, these potted plants should be propped up on terra-cotta tiles or feet, instead of sitting directly on concrete, to further help with drainage.
Get Plants Back in the Ground
It's not uncommon for severe storms to rip plants out of place, leaving roots exposed and vulnerable. "If you have viable roots," says Cunningham, "some plants, like hosta or hydrangea, take replanting well." In instances where roots are only partially exposed, simply re-mulch your garden bed or replenish topsoil that may have been washed away by the rain.
Give Plants a Good Rinse
If you live in a coastal environment, salt spray, often carried by the wind, can be destructive to your garden and trees. Madonna urges homeowners to promptly hose off foliage with fresh water to remove residue. Cunningham also recommends treating salt-sprayed greenery and soil with gypsum—like Arizona's Best Garden Gypsum ($4.99, acehardware.com)—a fertilizer available at garden shops, which replaces excess salt with calcium and sulfur, helping to repair the plant. "Most plants can't tolerate salt," he says. "It's dehydrating and can kill them."
Make Use of What Can't Be Saved
If a plant or shrub has sustained too much damage and is not salvageable, now is the time to begin composting its parts. "Nearly anything green can go into a compost," says Madonna, including herbs, vegetables, and flowers, which bring nutrients and moisture back into the soil. "So if you do lose plants, at least you can feel good about reusing them."