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Dealing with weather-damaged trees and plants

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Janet Laminack, Denton County Extension Agent-Horticulture

by Janet Laminack, Denton County Extension Agent-Horticulture

Springtime in North Texas is so lovely with trees putting out leaves and flowers popping up everywhere! Of course, it’s also the season of allergies and severe weather. I can’t really help you with the allergies, but I hope I can help you with the side effects of severe weather in your landscape.

For trees damaged by lightning, high wind or hail, don’t automatically assume they are a lost cause. If the tree was healthy before the damage, it might surprise you how well it will recover.

Start by assessing the damage, are many major limbs missing or broken? Is the central leader (main upward growing branch) broken or gone? The larger the limb, the more difficult it will be for the tree to recover. And, if it’s the central leader, depending on the tree species, you might have a deformed-looking tree as it continues to grow.  Another good indicator is if at least 50-percent of the branches and leaves are still intact.  Wound size is a factor, larger wounds or those with a lot of the bark stripped away make it harder for the tree to recover.

After assessing damage, it’s time to make a decision. Most of the time, my decision is the “wait and see” approach. Young trees will often recover quickly and healthy mature trees also can recover if the damage is minor. However, be sure to remove dangerous hanging limbs or broken branches. If the tree was already struggling or isn’t well suited to our area, it might be worth it to just part ways.

Having mature trees professionally and skillfully pruned can be costly and it may not be worth spending money on a hopeless case that will need to be removed soon enough. Which, brings me to another point, please hire qualified tree professionals to work on your trees. Many people will knock on your door, especially after storms, providing you with all kinds of tree recommendations.  A certified arborist is the very best route to take, you can find one by searching by zip code at www.treesaregood.com.  You can also use that website to verify a credential of someone claiming to be an arborist. Of course, there are many qualified people who have experience and knowledge that are not certified arborists, but use caution when someone approaches you because they notice you “need to treat for borers” or “trim your trees” immediately.

Hail damage is a frequent garden menace. It can be disheartening and shocking to see the leaf litter and shredded plants after a storm. Most plants will bounce back quickly, however, it is a stressor. Leaves are plant food factories. Plants expend energy growing leaves and then the leaves start converting sunlight into food. The more times the leaves are stripped and have to be replaced, the more stressed and weakened that plant will be. Contrary to popular belief, fertilizing a stressed plant is not ideal. Minimizing the stress by mulching around the plant or tree and providing adequate water when necessary is more helpful. Monitor your plants and trees for insects and signs of disease. When plants are stressed they do tend to be an easier target for those buggers.

If you know a storm is coming, there are a few methods that might protect some of your most prized plants. Container plants can be moved to shelter. Smaller plants can be protected with overturned pots or buckets that are weighted down. Don’t forget to remove the buckets as soon as you can after the storm. Row covers or blankets can provide some protection for larger plants. Tomatoes and other crops that are caged can be wrapped with plastic or fabrics which will offer some protection.

If you have questions about how to best manage your landscape after a storm, we would be glad to help.  You can even send us photos of your damaged plants and we can give you a free assessment. We may refer you to a professional for further assistance, but we’d be glad to be your first line of inquiry.

The Master Gardener help desk email is master.gardener@dentoncounty.com and the phone number is 940.349.2892.

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