Landscape Now: How To Recover From Winter Storm Damage

Saturday, January 19, 2013


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Damage from Hurricane Sandy this year severely damaged Rhode Island's landscapes in numerous ways. Here's how to prepare your own recovery from seasonal storms.

Beginning with Hurricane Sandy this past October and after several subsequent winter storms, our landscapes have taken a real beating! Coastal areas experienced tremendous damage to their sand dunes, beaches and personal homes and landscapes. Inland there were many trees downed, plants were affected by the salt spray and wind, and numerous landscapes were inundated with flood waters. Our landscapes, although extremely resilient, have been severely stressed by the recent environmental calamities. It may be too late to take steps now, however, you can begin the process of planning for spring renovations to your damaged landscapes and learn about protective measures that can be under taken next fall to minimize storm damage to your plants next winter.

Landscape Renovation and Protection Plans

The winter months are a great time to research, design and formalize plans to replace damaged trees and shrubs, improve your coastal dunes and devise protective measures for your landscape in preparation for future storms. One of the first places to start is to make an inventory of damaged trees and shrubs in your landscape. You can consult the URI Sustainable Trees and Shrubs list for appropriate suggestions for our southern New England region.

Sustainable plants are those that will require the least amount of care; watering, fertilizing and pesticide applications. Beginning your search with native plants can give you locally grown choices that are adapted to our local soils, climate and plant zone. Be sure to learn about the plant’s growth habit (ultimate size, height and width), growing conditions it prefers (sun, shade, windy, sandy loam, wet or dry conditions) and confirm that it is in USDA Planting Zone 6 and lower. Making a sketch where the plants will be installed in your yard will ensure you are not over planting your landscape!

Sand Dune Protection

Coastal property owners who need to repair their sand dunes can use two techniques to protect their dunes; planting American beach grass (Ammophilia breviligulata) and installing wooden snow fencing. Beach grass typically is sold in culms, planted from October 15 until April 1 when the dunes are not frozen, and must be planted 8” deep to prevent drying out due to the windy, harsh coastal conditions. Dune fencing (also called snow fencing) is made up of 3/8” x 1.5” wooden pickets and is 4’ tall. Fencing can preserve the sand currently in the dune and catch more sand that moves in with storm action in the spring and summer.

Winter Plant Protection Techniques

There are several techniques and measures you can take to protect your existing landscape plants, particularly evergreens, from winter wind damage, especially in coastal areas:

  • Erecting burlap or plastic screens will help protect sensitive trees and shrubs (for example: hollies, broadleaf plants like rhododendrons, andromedas, mountain laurels, and inkberries and screening trees like arborvitaes, junipers, spruces and pines).
  • The use of anti-desiccants, (non-toxic, anti-transpiration sprays) applied in the fall, can help protect the evergreen leaves and needles from drying out during the winter months when the ground is frozen and the plant continues to lose water through transpiration. When an evergreen is transplanted in the summer months an ant-desiccant can also slow the transpiration rate so the plant can adapt to its new soil conditions.
  • If your plants receive a salt spray from a storm, washing off the leaves and needles with fresh water will help minimize the salt damage. When lawns are covered with salt water the application of gypsum will open up the soil pores so that the salt is dispersed preventing the turf from turning brown!

Weathering Southern New England Conditions

Our landscapes will continue to be affected by the ravages of hurricanes and seasonal storms but by choosing sustainable, native plants our planted landscape will be able to weather the vagaries of New England conditions much more successfully. Unfortunately, coastal property owners will continue to see their landscapes altered by winter storms and hurricanes but with fall protection treatments like applying anti-desiccants and erecting screens around sensitive plants your landscape make it through the winter months with minimal damage!

Next: Native Plant Selections

In my next article I will examine 10 native, New England plants that can provide your landscape with color, seasonal interest and sustainability!

“Where nature is concerned, familiarity breeds love and knowledge, not contempt.” Stuart L. Udall

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Frank Crandall, Horticultural Solutions. Frank, a RI resident specializing in coastal landscaping, organic land care, small business consulting, writing, speaking and photography will be submitting biweekly articles about Landscape Solutions. With over 40 years in the horticultural field Frank will write about pertinent, seasonal landscape topics including effective solutions. Comments about Frank’s articles are welcome by contacting him at [email protected].


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