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Spring triage will get snow-battered gardens back in the pink

The landscape took a battering in the blizzards. See how the pros repair it on the eve of spring.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring is in the air. It's that sweet moment when winter is waning and people are racing to clean up the garden to give the most-awaited season the stage it needs.

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This year, the scramble is more pressing than ever. February was a lost month for pruning, cutting back, weeding and working the soil. The same monster snowfall that left the yard off-limits six weeks ago also delivered colossal damage to clean up. For many, the extent of the broken, bent and torn vegetation is still revealing itself.

Some cherished trees and shrubs are goners, but many battered plants, properly tended now, will come back delightfully in future weeks, months and years if their owners are patient enough to live with the short-term ugliness. Given the urge of plants to grow, especially in spring, there may be little evidence of February's crushing storms by Memorial Day.

When it comes to cleaning up now, though, different factors are at play: An evergreen shrub with a gaping hole may be acceptable in the back of a shrub border, but not next to the front door.

To explore some of the most common types of storm damage and how to repair it, I joined James Gagliardi, the American Horticultural Society's horticulturist at River Farm. The estate south of Alexandria is the society's headquarters, with established shrubs and trees that took their share of destruction from the back-to-back snowstorms of February.

The first step is the pruning and cleanup of fallen and broken limbs, at which point it becomes clear that some plants have lost so much of their canopy or branch architecture that they are beyond redemption. But for the others, don't rush to judge. Even disfigured and imbalanced plants may heal well with time and skillful repair.

For more advice on restoring your garden after the grueling winter, see "Plants most commonly damaged," "Can't see the forest for the trees?" and "What to know before you pick up that saw."

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