Summer gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...
I hope everyone is recovering from the wrath of Irene. As some of you may have noticed from my posts on our blog, I spent the weekend at Rehoboth Beach. Before anyone lectures, I was fully prepared to evacuate on Friday but it became apparent from satellite images on Friday morning, and confirmed by the National Hurricane Center throughout the day, that the storm was weakening and strengthening was very unlikely. Anyway, now is the time to talk gardening!
How about those rains?! I would say our “sneaky drought” is over for the season from D.C. eastward. But for folks to the west, some more showers would be welcome. Some of those Eastern Shore areas saw a foot of rain as shown abive! I know, as I had to detour more than once coming back from the beaches. However, in most areas the rains soaked right up, even in areas seeing 6 to 8 inches.
Looking at some of those pictures of flooding in wetter areas up north, I would say our drought really protected us from more tree damage. Having dry soils helped to keep most trees well-rooted and safe from toppling, which would not have been the case if the ground had already been soaked. So I guess we can count our blessings in many ways.
I am sure most of us have some bedraggled perennials and annuals that will need to be whacked back where branches or stems have been broken. At this point in the season, trimming annuals and non-woody perennials should actually still stimulate another flush of growth and make them look better than ever.
As for woody perennials, for most, this is not the ideal time to have to prune but if the branches are broken they should be taken off. The best thing to do this late in the season is to clip off broken branches where the base of the branch attaches to a bigger branch using sharp pruning shears and make the cut close to the bigger branch.
Now as for me, I thought my garden in Rehoboth had cruised through the storm in flying colors on Sunday morning. I had just a few bent annuals and perennials but no tree damage. Our highest gust on Saturday had only been 58 mph. However, on the back side of Irene most of us saw our highest gusts! For Rehoboth it was 64 mph and just enough to snap a very large branch off my front yard maple tree. That is a common problem with fast growing trees like this red maple. In general, the faster a tree grows, the more prone it is to break. That is why oaks are so darn sturdy. So there I was as soon as the winds trailed off enough to be safe, cutting off the portion of the branch that was still attached to the trunk to try to minimize further ripping damage.
The key to taking off tree branches that are broken is following a three step process shown above. If yours was a jagged mess like mine, try to clean up the parts sticking out, but be sure to stay outside of whatever collar still remains where the branch is attached to the trunk.
My next instinct was to run out and buy some kind of tree wound dressing but then I remembered from my horticultural classes that doing so is the worst thing you can do. The tree will do its best to form scar tissue to protect the wound. Putting a sealant over it tends to trap moisture leading to rot and fungus infection. I hate doing nothing but in this case it is the best medicine.
Beyond the storm...
I hope you have been getting your bulb catalogs in the mail! This is one of my favorite times of year with fall rolling in to plan for those bursts of spring (and summer) beauty that we put in the ground now. I will be sharing some of my favorite tips for bulbs in our not so Dutch climate in two weeks so check in then. Until then, happy gardening.
Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.