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Area gardeners find post-derecho recovery is ongoing
Plant experts will be sharing lessons learned from the derecho on Feb. 19 at the Linn County Master Gardeners Winter Gardening Fair
Jan. 22, 2022 7:00 am
Two Master Gardeners undergoing derecho recovery in their yards are among the plant experts who will be sharing lessons learned on Feb. 19 at the Linn County Master Gardeners Winter Gardening Fair at Kirkwood Regional Center in Hiawatha.
Some of the fair’s sessions including “Caring for Newly Planted Trees,” “After the Derecho — Starting Again,” and “Suddenly Sunny: Who Moved My Shade?” Other workshops cater to new vegetable gardeners as many people took an interest in gardening during the pandemic. Sessions include “Beginners Guide to Vegetable Gardening,” “Small Garden, Big Yield!” and “Seed Starting at Home.”
Master Gardener Wanda Lunn has worked many hours to get her northwest Cedar Rapids garden, with its hundreds of lilies, peonies, hosta and other perennials, into shape after the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho. And she’s not finished yet. She’ll be teaching classes on choosing lilies, how to grow clematis, weaving plant collections into your garden and moving from shade to sun.
On the southeast side, Master Gardener Carol Elliott is transforming what had been a nearly all-shade yard into a sunny haven for pollinators.
“You’re trying to take something really devastating and turn it into a happy accident,” Elliott said.
Derecho recovery continues
For 31 years, Lunn has carefully tended and added to the perennials in her half-acre Cedar Rapids yard.
If you go
What: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Linn County Winter Garden Fair
When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 19
Where: Kirkwood Linn County Regional Center, 1770 Boyson Rd., Hiawatha
Cost: $30 to $59
Tickets: extension.iastate.edu/linn/winter-gardening-fair-2022 or call (319) 377-9839. Deadline to register is Feb. 11.
Details: Choose from more than 70 gardening classes and hands-on workshops. There also will be garden displays and vendors, lunch and beverages.
“The derecho threw me for a loop,” she said.
Immediately after the derecho, Lunn and her husband started cleaning up. They had lost a 50-foot sugar maple, — picked up by the storm “roots and all”— a 60-foot green ash and another 45-foot tree. Along her fence line, several of the neighbors’ trees were downed, some falling over fencing and into her yard.
Cleanup was the first task until her husband had an accident while trimming loose limbs on their river birch tree. Her husband recovered, and the tree survived to be pruned by a pro. Lunn continued to save the most valuable shade plants from the unrelenting sun by moving them to shadier spots. She moved a lot of iris plants to front rows that got more sun post-derecho.
Gardeners who lost their shade trees have two options: either move shade-loving plants to new locations or replace them with new plants that don’t need shade, Lunn said.
“I’ve done a lot of transplanting because many of the true shade plants don’t make it in the sun,” Lunn said.
She left some shade plants in place, hoping the surviving trees would provide enough shade. But 2021’s two-month drought meant the plants took a beating. She’s given away many shade plants and still has more to share.
“In 31 years, I’ve never seen two tough summers in a row,” Lunn said.
Not only did the loss of trees mean much less shade in her organized garden, the downed limbs and storm debris crushed and buried plants. Some of the injuries were obvious right away, but during the 2021 growing season, Lunn observed additional changes in her plants. Clematis that had grown along the fence didn’t appear last summer. She dug in spots where there should have been lilies, finding some bulbs had been “roughed up” but survived, while many others did not.
Pre-derecho, every plant in her large garden had a stake with its name marking the location. The storm blew many of those plant tags elsewhere, leaving Lunn to guess where many roots were buried. She dug around and found clematis roots she’s hoping will grow and bloom this summer. The storm shocked peonies that she’d had for 15 or 20 years, and although the plants were traumatized by the derecho, the roots were still there.
Lunn refuses to give up on perennials that took a beating in 2020 and didn’t flourish or grow back in 2021.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Lunn said. “I think a lot of them will return, but they need to recover growth. They’re there waiting.”
Lunn knows what it’s like to start a garden from scratch. Her shade grew over time as the family transformed a “cornfield garden” into a mature yard with both shade and sun.
Her collections began slowly, then grew and evolved as trees matured. She started out with one lily, fell in love, then gradually added more. Then she realized she needed something that blooms earlier in the season, so she began to add iris and peonies. As she was introduced to iris with different heights in various colors — like dwarf iris and tall bearded iris varieties — she found spots for those.
Before she knew it, she had a couple hundred lilies, about as many daylilies and dozens of peonies growing along the border of her half-acre yard. But the garden needed something vertical to climb fences, so vine-like flowering clematis were added. Her collection of clematis grew to more than a couple dozen.
But the derecho threatened to downsize the variety of plants she’d tended for decades.
Her international-prize-winning Awesome lily typically grows 7 to 8 feet tall with 12 to 20 rich orange blooms on each stem. Last year, not all stems bloomed, and those that did produced only four flowers. The bulbs suffered indirect derecho damage.
“It was not even covered up,” Lunn said.
From shady to sunny
Carol Elliott’s southeast Cedar Rapids yard has undergone a dramatic change from all-shade to mostly sunny since the derecho. While some people replanted right after the derecho, many more focused on cleanup and damage repair.
“Your yard becomes a canvas for how we plan,” Elliott said. “It’s a chance to kind of restart. New beds that I’d never dreamed I’d begin again are now in the planning stages.”
She recommends the following for post-derecho garden planning.
• Sun. Track the sun throughout the day in your yard. Note which areas get sun and for how many hours at which times of the day. Some sites may still get shade or part shade from surviving trees or buildings.
• Soil. Have your soil tested. Ask your local Extension office how to collect and where to send samples.
• Measure. Plan new beds before you dig. A hands-on way to get perspective is to use a garden hose to outline potential beds.
• Plan. Start by planning which big-impact, tall or wide plants you’d like to include. This includes choosing trees and shrubs.
Like many other homeowners, Elliott has been learning a lot about trees. Some of the best advice she’s received is to keep in mind that tree planting involves planning for the next century on your property.
Her goal is to thoughtfully replace the trees she’s lost with those that will make a difference to the environment. Pollinator trees are tops on her list. Rather than replacing ginkgo with another ginkgo, she’ll choose another type of tree because ginkgos don’t do anything for pollinators.
Gardeners who were frustrated pre-derecho with black walnut trees that were the enemy of tomatoes and peppers might choose to keep that area sunny for a new vegetable garden.
“A neighbor across the street lost trees, and they put in some raised beds for flowers and their vegetables last year. I thought that was just adorable,” Elliott said.
She’s been learning a lot more about pollinators while thinking about plants that don’t require a lot of attention. Both low-maintenance coneflowers, which are native to Iowa, and tall, late-blooming Joe Pye weed are also great for pollinators. Having learned about lilies from Lunn, Elliott has added Oriental and Asiatic lilies to her beds. “It’s my new passion,” she said.
Every garden takes time to fill in. Elliott has been the type of gardener to pack in extra plants with the expectation that she’ll have to thin plants and move others around as they grow together.
“Part of the fun of it is to dig something up and find out where its next home will be,” Elliott said. “I put in a smoke bush a couple of years ago. It didn’t get enough sun, and I was going to move it. Well, the derecho took care of the trees around it.”
She also fills in empty spaces in beds with potted or in-ground annuals, potted houseplants and garden art.
“I’ve decided my yard will be even better in the future. It gives me a chance to rewrite the canvas,” Elliott said.