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Protecting Your Garden From Severe Weather

When serious storms like Hurricane Sandy slams into coastal cities and towns, many worry about lives and property. Fallen trees, widespread flooding, power outages, and other damage are a given, and it comes as no surprise that garden beds often bear the brunt of weather events like this one. Severe weather of any kind, including tornadoes, winter storms, and torrential rains, can spell disaster to your garden, even if the damage done to your home is minimal.

Most of us are already familiar with protecting our delicate flowers and vegetables from a sudden cold snap, but wind, flooding, and falling debris present another challenge entirely. So what’s a gardener to do? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to design a completely stormproof garden, but with thoughtful preparation and planning before and during the approach of a storm, you can give your yard and garden the best possible chance of survival.

Plan Ahead

Like all natural disasters, it’s best to plan far ahead for a hurricane or severe storm. Our gardens do not take as much priority as our loved ones, but if saved, they can continue to provide valuable fresh food even if transportation and utilities are down.

Preparing your garden for a storm shouldn’t take too much extra time or effort. Many of the steps you need to take to protect the home from severe weather also serve to protect the garden.

Planning and preparing the garden long before the approach of a storm is key. You want your garden to be as protected as possible ahead of time, so that if severe weather is imminent, you can focus on what’s most important: the safety of you and your family.

A Storm-Resistant Landscape

Trees are one of the most important aspects to a storm-resistant garden. Trees can cause extensive damage and threaten lives during a hurricane, ice storm, or tornado. However, strong wind-resistant trees that are properly pruned and planted away from buildings don’t pose as much of a threat in the event of a storm.

If you are planning on planting trees in your yard, plan carefully and take severe weather into account. Do a bit of research on wind-resistant trees suited to your climate. Most of these trees are native to windy or stormy regions and are well-suited to handling hurricane-force winds and flooding. These trees often have strong, deep root systems and an ability to shed their leaves to prevent a sail-like effect that can blow them over. Here are some examples:

  • Magnolia
  • Live Oak
  • Bald Cyprus
  • Winged Elm

By contrast, avoid trees that are fast growers with weak trunks, and trees with shallow root growth, and dense, top-heavy canopies. These are especially prone to uprooting or snapping. Here are some examples of damage-prone trees:

  • Red Cedar
  • Willow
  • Box Elder
  • Cottonwood

For more information, take a look at this University of Florida webpage, which covers the effects of wind on trees and preventing damage in more detail.

Storm-Proofing Trees

If you haven’t done so already, remember to check the trees surrounding your home periodically. Be sure to look carefully for potential hazards. Dead, rotting, or damaged trees and limbs can be a serious threat to life and property and should be removed. If you cannot prune large trees back yourself, consider hiring a professional, but be sure to only hire an arborist or tree service that is licensed and insured with a good track record.

When A Storm Approaches

Some storms may give very little warning. For many hurricanes and tropical storms, however, you may have a few days’ notice before the severe weather hits. As you’re preparing your home, take some time for the yard and garden. Below are some steps that you can take to protect both your garden and your home.

Remove Garden Hazards

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when preparing the garden for an imminent storm is to secure everything that isn’t firmly rooted to the ground:

Garden containers, including hanging baskets, potted plants should be moved off of exposed decks and patios and brought indoors.

If some potted plants are too large to be moved indoors, cluster them together in one protected area. You can also lay large potted trees on their side in a sheltered location and strap them down.

Bring all garden ornaments and holiday decorations indoors.

Loose garden tools and furniture, including patio chairs, shovels, and garbage cans, should also be brought inside before strong winds. Other items such as bird feeders, hoses, buckets, and composters can also pose a threat in high winds and should be put in storage.

Sturdy cold frames with their panels removed may stand a good chance of weathering a storm, but it all depends on the severity of the winds and rain. Stay on the side of caution and prepare for a worst-case scenario. Some gardeners opt to secure these structures with cinderblocks. Lightweight row covers are too flimsy and should be dismantled and put away somewhere safe.

Prepping The Plants

If you have time, securely stake small trees and shrubs to provide much-needed support in high winds.

If you have a small garden bed that can’t be moved out of harm’s way, you can offer the plants some protection by surrounding them with sandbags or large bags of garden soil.

If you have time, take one last look at the garden and harvest what you can. Even if the plants survive the severe weather, their fruits and leaves may sustain serious damage from the wind and flying debris.

After The Storm

Even after the winds die down and the sun reappears, there are still potential dangers that can threaten your family and garden. Heed the warnings of weather conditions and don’t venture outside until the storm is over. Once out in the yard, be especially wary of damaged tree branches overhead.

Perhaps most importantly, be ever thankful and remember to be optimistic. During the aftermath cleanup, keep an eye out for newly cleared areas that may be of use next growing season. Perhaps that gap left by a downed tree will be the perfect place for a new herb garden bed. Life, and the garden, moves on.


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