How to Help Your Trees Weather a Storm
It seems there is no limit to big, bad and ugly weather occasions. When big storms hit with wet snow, heavy rains or gale-force waters, trees suffer. Mature trees are susceptible for any number of motives, and when an older tree becomes irreparably damaged, the loss can be deep — not to mention expensive — and the landscape becomes radically altered.
As homeowners know, trees are the most expensive part in a planting scheme. Landscape architects and designers will need to be cautious and educated and to select species not just suitable for the setting, but that are disease resistant and powerful. Many trees, like silver maple (Acer saccharinum) have famously weak wood and should be avoided in a residential setting.
Here we offer a few guidelines for the best sorts of trees to choose and how to keep them intact through stormy weather.
Know your trees. Who doesn’t adore white birch? Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) stands in a class of its own. Its ash-white bark mottled with grey brightens a woodland or forest edge, but it’s an issue tree despite its beauty. Short lived, weak wooded and prone to borers, this species can break in high winds, so it shouldn’t be planted near power lines or constructions.
Mature birch trees that are stressed can quickly lose large limbs at a heavy, early snowfall which arrives at a time when leaves are still on the tree.
Other trees that have soft wood and are prone to limb damage in storms are Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana) and willow (Salix spp). Plan for longevity in addition to beauty when designing trees. For stature, autumn color and wildlife value, red oak (Quercus coccinea, zones 4 to 9) is a fantastic choice for a bigger property, and I would pick Japanese maple (Acer japonica) to get a specimen tree in a suburban neighborhood.
Ryan Group Architects
Possible threats. During building of new houses, the existing landscape becomes fairly torn up; occasionally blasting is involved if a building has been built on bedrock. Heavy equipment in the work zone means compacted soil for any tree near the building website.
If you opt to keep existing trees near your house (and what a beautiful effect that is), know that their root systems may become diminished during the building phase. Pamper these trees caution — plenty of water, pruning of broken limbs, a light dressing of compost — and keep an eye out for signs of stress following severe weather. Shallow-rooted trees can be thrown around in wind microbursts and tornadoes, causing serious damage to houses.
Strategy for the inevitable. Old specimen trees that have weathered decades of hail, rain and wind will sooner or later deteriorate and weaken to old age. If you’ve obtained a landmark tree on its way out, it may be wise to have it removed before the upcoming big storm comes about, to prevent harm to buildings or garden structures.
Have a professional arborist perform an evaluation and assist you to understand about the tree and its own life span. If the tree is located far from buildings, walkways and automobiles, it may not be a huge deal if a storm knocks it down. If the tree canopy spreads on your portico entrance or hangs down on your roof, then it might be time for you to do some maintenance pruning or reassess the tree altogether if it poses a safety hazard.
Consider leaving the trunk standing to draw insects and wildlife in case you’ve got a naturalistic garden setting.
Few trees can accommodate flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) if its showy bracts and flowers appear in spring. We had a very old specimen from the front yard of our Arlington, Virginia, residence; it suffered through numerous hurricanes, nor’easters and snowstorms. When untimely wet snows hit one April when the tree was in bloom, I used the back of a scoop to knock the snow off the branches to stop breakage and splitting.
Spring-flowering trees that produce large blooms, like dogwood and magnolia, can suffer real harm in wet snow when temperatures hover around freezing — the blooms simply become too heavy. Be ready to get outside and shake branches loose to prevent permanent damage.
Accept imperfection. When trees line a driveway or street, the symmetry is divine, especially if foliage turns shades of carmine and orange, as shown here. In the wake of powerful thunderstorms or even a hurricane, severe damage to a single tree in an orderly composition like this can be catastrophic. In case of such a loss, ask your contractor to supply a large-caliper replacement tree using a tree spade. While this is costly, it’s possible to regain the appearance of a grand driveway or wide sweep without waiting years to get a replacement tree to grow.
You might also live with imperfection — accepting the gap at the planting plot — or settle a new tree that is in your budget.
Recall at planting time that the bigger the tree, the more probable it may neglect. Make certain that your contractor will replace the tree if the transplant doesn’t work.
Strategy for your future. When a tree must be removed because it has been uprooted at a windstorm or damaged beyond repair, a chance can present itself for positive shift: Plant a new tree. With loss comes the chance to redesign, to plant anything else you’ve always wanted to grow, or maybe to reevaluate the landscape by doing away with a tree and switching the area into a lawn or meadow.
For some, the loss of a large shade tree means that a garden is abruptly thrust into sunlight and plants have to be transferred to new places. This is sometimes an awful occasion, or it can be a positive experience. There is sadness and a sense that a longtime friend is gone. And then there’s the joy a new tree attracts.
Stewardship is essential. Stately trees, like this lovely Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’) on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., lend grandeur into a landscape. As stated by the fantastic plantsman Michael Dirr, a mature Atlas cedar has “a wonder perhaps unmatched by any other conifer,” and now I must agree. There are two of these specimen cedars at the entrance to the famed Bishop’s Garden to the cathedral grounds, allegedly implanted in the 1920s out of saplings brought from the Holy Land.
If you’ve got a tree of the stature, make sure it’s evaluated by a trained arborist every so often and make sure its origin zone doesn’t become compacted or endangered in any way — these cedars are simply too valuable in the landscape to take opportunities together.