GARDENING IN IOWA

Rescuing your garden after storm damage

Ivan Guinard of Cedar Rapids clears a tree from 16th Street SE in Cedar Rapids after a powerful storm with straight-line
Ivan Guinard of Cedar Rapids clears a tree from 16th Street SE in Cedar Rapids after a powerful storm with straight-line winds moved through Iowa on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Guinard lives nearby and said his home and his bike were both spared, so he was clearing streets with his chainsaw. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

I hope that by the time you read this, you are back in your home, your power is back on, the branches and trees have been removed from your yard, and any damage to cars and buildings is getting resolved.

The derecho spared many yards and gardens but ravaged countless others. This column doesn’t attempt to give recommendation on how to remove those massive trees and limbs from your property or how to dispose of them. But it does outline how you can restore smaller elements in your garden, after those trees and branches have been removed.

Lawn

Grass may be damaged by being covered too long with branches and brush. Give it a couple of weeks. It will either recover or start to turn brown, a sign that it’s dying. If it isn’t recovering by mid-September at the latest, pull up the dead grass and work in 1 inch of compost, either from your pile or bagged. (Compost from the pile should be allowed to sit for a week to allow any weed seeds to germinate. Pull or rake them out.)

Turf also may have been damaged or gouged by heavy equipment. If that’s the case, fill the area with top-quality topsoil or compost and rake smooth.

Then plant grass seed. The best planting time for grass is late summer to early fall, roughly Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, though you’re still likely to have good luck with it through the end of September. Use grass seed purchased this calendar year since older seed germinates badly. Water daily for the first two weeks; then water every few to several days after. Mow once it’s 2 to 3 inches high.

Small Trees and Woody Shrubs

High winds or falling branches may have damaged some of your smaller woody plants. If this is the case, cut off any damaged wood, keeping in mind the overall shape and growth of the plant. If the damaged wood disfigures the plant or makes it odd-looking, shape the rest of the plant as best you can, but keep pruning this time of year to a minimum. It triggers new fresh growth that can be damaged more easily during winter.

Be especially restrained when trimming spring-flowering plants. Pruning them this time of year will reduce their flower production since you’re trimming off buds that are forming for next spring. With shrubs that are rampant growers, like lilacs, honeysuckle, forsythia, weigela, spirea, dogwood, viburnums and hydrangeas, if they are badly damaged, considering cutting them off to just a few feet. It will take two to three years for them to recover, but they’ll grow back bushier and more uniform.

Perennials

Except for fall-blooming perennials like mums, asters and perennial ornamental grasses, most perennials are starting to decline as we near the end of the growing season. If a perennial is damaged, just pull or cut off the damaged part. If it makes sense to just cut the whole thing down to a few inches, do that. It should survive just fine until next spring.

Vines

If a vine blew off its support, do your best to lift it back up and tie it back into place. If it blew down with its support, do your best to re-erect the structure, securing it as best you can until the first hard frost in October. Then you can cut down the vine and repair the structure more securely.

Annuals

If an annual is badly damaged this late in the growing season, it usually makes sense to just pull it up and dispose of it.

Fruits and Vegetables

Trim off any broken or torn parts to prevent points of entry for diseases and insects. If a perennial plant has been badly damaged, trim it off to a few inches high. If an annual plant has been badly damaged, simply tear it out and dispose of it.

Newfound Sun

That shady part of your garden may now be streaming with sun after losing a significant amount of tree canopy. This is not necessarily a bad thing. A wider variety of plants thrive in full sun (defined as at least six full hours of unfiltered, direct light) and in part shade/part sun (defined as four hours of direct sun or several hours of dappled shade).

However, the plants that are used to shade may be in for a shock. Many will get sun scorch, the plant equivalent of sunburn, from the rapid change. But that’s OK. Iowa is so far north that there are very few shade plants that will die because they get too much sun. They just won’t look very good for the rest of the season because they had no time to adjust. Wait until next year to see how your newly sunny spots are faring before making any decisions to move or change things. You might actually find that certain plants are doing better because of the sun.

However, if plants seem to be in a consistently wilted state, even when it’s not dry, or they have brown leaves that look like sun scorch, dig them up and move them to a shadier place or give them away.

Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of theiowagardener.com.

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