Sometimes big winds blow and trees come down. If no person or property is hurt, then cleanup is the task. Few home projects are as daunting and dispiriting as disposing of a treasured tree that is suddenly horizontal.
On October 29, 2012, the winds of Hurricane Sandy blasted inland from the coastal plain and into the tree-filled cities and suburbs of the northeast.
“We had more than 1,000 street trees down in Philadelphia,” recalled Joan Blaustein, Director of Urban Forestry and Ecosystem Management for the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. “Many of those were at least 100 years old,” she added. The disposal problem choked recycling capacity and strained the landfill with the city trees alone.
Once the debris had been cleared, Philadelphia, like many of its residents, faced the daunting prospect of filling the holes in the city’s tree canopy.
Here’s the heartwood of the matter: patching the garden void once filled by a big tree can’t be done quickly. When a canopy tree falls, it is time that crashes to the ground.
Count the annual growth rings on the stump of a lost tree and the point above becomes tangible. Seven years ago, when straight-line winds felled a 75-foot white ash across the back garden, I counted eighty-eight years between the seedling and the stump. That’s more time than I have to look forward to.
While landscape nurseries sell many different trees, none of them are eighty-eight years old. When a big tree comes down, it is clean up, give up, or start over. So, if the winds blow hard and turn the garden vista into a hockey player’s smile; here are some thoughts for staking the once and future garden.
– Be Confident but Sensible – Just like people, a younger tree is healthier and sturdier than a mature tree. Don’t plant too close (within 15 feet) to the house or in any location where the roots will be restricted, and the tree should be fine.
– Turn Calamity to Opportunity – Let “tree-gones be tree-gones.” Rethink the garden scheme. We shape our gardens around existing trees; before “replacing” a felled tree, consider a freshened garden look anchored by a new tree or trees nearby.
– Protect Other Plantings – The loss of a tree that shaded other plants may require quick replanting to prevent sunscald for suddenly exposed plants. Mulch heavily, maintain moisture, and relocate sun-stressed plants if necessary.
– Replace Character with New Characteristics – Out with the old plant, in with the new. Local nurseries are loaded with reliably growing trees for your region. Change flowers, fall color, leaf shape, or winter interest when replanting.
– Enjoy How Trees Grow and Change – Trees change shape and character as they age, from gangly and awkward to the grace of their characteristic shape. This change brings a new cycle of interest to the garden. Enjoy it!
– Smaller Trees Grow More Quickly – The price of impatience is high in dollars and slow in growth rate. All conditions being equal, smaller container-grown trees are more economical and fast growing. If you need an immediate effect, pay a reputable local nursery for planting and a guarantee.
– Safety in Numbers – Don’t plant one, plant several. Consider using two or three small trees to fill the gap when privacy and screen plantings have lost large trees. This ensures against a future plant failure.
– The Feeling of Enclosure – A tree falls and suddenly your intimate garden feels public. Replant and relax. The perception of enclosure will return long before a newly planted tree completely fills the gap.
– Summer Shade by Other Means – The loss of shade over a patio is a loss of comfort. Replant, but don’t wait, consider buying an umbrella or constructing a trellis or arbor to keep the sun at bay while the new tree grows.
– Plant Ahead – Consider planting seedlings among older trees, in other words, look at a forest instead a tree. The cost is minimal; think of it as tree insurance.
For advice on wind-resistant trees, and more, pick up your copy of the 2014 Farmers’ Almanac!