Sunday, August 13, 2017

Summer Storms and the Garden

The storm that rolled through my neighborhood on Thursday was a doozy. I sat in my family room with my trusty Alaskan malamute by my side. Staring through the skylights, we watched hail coming down, high winds moving through the large trees that surround my home and hoped the storm would pass quickly. Like many others, I looked a the weather app on my phone to see how long the storm might last. After about 15 minutes, the weather settled down a bit. Looking out the front window, traffic had stalled where a tree had come down across the street. Cable wires were down, power kept going off and on again, and the sounds of emergency vehicles and chainsaws soon filled the area.

We went outside to survey the damage. We were lucky. Most of the branches that had come down were small. A few container gardens had tipped over, but the damage wasn't too bad. I'll be replacing some begonias that broke, my single tomato plant lost many branches, and leaves and twigs littered the landscape. The hail shredded some of my plants' leaves, but they'll grow back. Checking in over the next couple of days with neighbors, they weren't as lucky. One lost a cherry tree (it came out of the ground, roots and all) and saw damage to his pollinator garden. Another had contractors over to repair damage to his roof. Many, many others had major tree damage to fences, outbuildings, even cars. Luckily, no water damaged occurred as my property sits relatively high to the surrounding area. While we can't stop the storms, we may be able to prevent some damage to our yards and gardens by taking a few precautions.

A fifty foot tall hemlock hedge borders on side of my yard. Some branches did come down in the storm, but, happily, I had Bartlett Tree Experts do some work to limb up and remove damaged branches earlier this year. Some pottery had fallen off of the plant stand in front of my house. Next time, I will move them to the ground to minimize damage. After a quick yard clean-up Thursday night, we took a load of branches to the Cockeysville landfill where they will be recycled into mulch or compost. The place was crowded with many Baltimore County residents doing the same.

Here are a few tips to help minimize damage to the garden from summer storms:

  • Keep gutters and downspouts clear. 
  • Use downspout extenders or drainage hoses to divert water away from the house and gardens.
  • Install rain barrels at downspouts.
  • Create a rain garden in low lying areas of the yard and garden.
  • Avoid non-permeable surfaces near the garden. Consider gravel, mulch and other soil covers for paths and walkways.
  • Use raised beds in areas that don't drain well.
  • Consult with a certified arborist to see if any trees are at risk because of weak limbs, branches previous faulty pruning or any other reason. Bartlett Tree Experts offers free consultation. Our local office can be reached at 410-526-6655. I have one tree that has a major branch that juts out at a 90 degree angel from the tree trunk. Bartlett cabled the branch to the tree as much for my peace of mind  as anything.
  • Dig a channel  around gardens or dig an edge in to avoid losing mulch from around planting beds and trees.
  • Plant trees that will withstand elements of heavy rain, wind and snow. Leyland cypress and Bradford pear trees are easily damaged in storms.
  • Harvest vegetables before a heavy rain to avoid cracking on tomatoes, shredded lettuce, toppled tomato cages...
  • Tidy up debris frequently.
  • Place patio pots on pot feet (or pot toes) to keep drainage hole clear to allow excess water to drain.
Summer storms can wreak havoc on an area, as they have around the Baltimore area over the last few weeks. I hope these tips can help prevent some of the damage that our plants may have experienced. 
Now, on to replace my begonias!