I LOVE WORKING outside in sweater weather, planting bulbs and getting the garden buttoned up for winter. Arm yourself with the following tips, tools and materials to prepare your garden for storm season.
Start simply. Rake or blow leaves off the lawn to prevent smothering the turf, and keep pathways clear to reduce slippery surfaces. But don’t feel like you have to bag those leaves and have them carted away — although, huge thanks to collection programs that turn green waste into healthy compost. Instead, pile leaves in garden beds, where they’ll form a nice, fluffy, protective blanket and feed the soil.
Over the next several months, wind and rain are more likely to impact our region than snow and frosty temperatures — knock wood. From a municipal standpoint, managing seasonal storm water is a top priority. As a gardener, you can help.
Trees and evergreen shrubs underplanted with mixed perennials and carpeting ground covers are delightful in any season. But come storm season, that layered landscape does some environmental heavy lifting as plantings diffuse downpours and reduce runoff as roots absorb water into the soil. Don’t you just love it when the answer is more plants?
In the meantime, while you’re planning those new plantings, think mulch. Ladd Smith of In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes (inharmony.com) advises gardeners to cover all bare soil with mulch once fall rains have quenched summer’s dry conditions. “We love arborist chips,” he says. “They’re big and bulky and don’t compact down.” Keep your eyes peeled for arborists working in your neighborhood, and ask for chips.
Which brings us to wind. In recent years, we’ve seen some wild storms whip through the Puget Sound region, leaving behind broken branches and tree damage. It’s heartbreaking to lose a mature tree that can’t be replaced in our lifetime. “The carnage often appears worse when it’s fresh,” says Smith. “The first step is to assess damage.” Smith tells gardeners to keep sharp pruners and a small folding saw handy for minor cleanup. Removing broken branches with a clean cut is critical to the future health and growth habit of the plant and immediately makes things look better. Leave significant repairs to the professionals; broken bones are even less fun than broken branches.
If you haven’t already, stake newly planted trees to prevent damaging root rock from winter winds, but once you see new growth, that’s your cue to remove stakes and allow the tree to develop its internal strength. Leaving stakes in place for too long weakens the tree’s growth and delays roots from establishing.
Finally, take advantage of garden snow days. I won’t kid you; I love them. Except when I don’t. With every “snow event,” you’ll find my husband and me out whacking evergreen hedges, trees and shrubs with a broomstick and bamboo poles to remove snow. More often than not, the weight of snow and ice does more damage than cold temperatures in our area — knock wood (again). We’ve all seen splayed arborvitae hedges and split shrubs that succumb to a load of the white stuff. Poorly pruned or “cubed” foundation plantings are especially vulnerable. Train plants to maintain a natural habit that sheds a snow load, but be prepared to provide assistance with a gentle well-placed tap before things get too heavy.