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November 2nd, 2012

Rescuing a Storm-Toppled Shrub

After the hurricane passed, some of the lilacs in my yard were lying on their sides with half their roots out of the ground. Can I do something to save them?

blog-dougIt’s best to leave the righting of large, heavy plants like trees to the professionals (as well as the decision of whether or not a tree can be saved). But straightening a toppled shrub is not difficult. Do it now, while the soil is still soft from all the rain.

All you have to do is firmly shove the shrub back into an upright position, then pound a few tall stakes vertically into the ground to keep it upright. Position the stakes where they will provide support for the shrub; you may need to tie branches to the stakes.

Try to protect the already compromised roots from further disturbance. If roots have been pulled out of the ground, you may need to carefully excavate a hole for them on the lilac’s upwind side. Then replace the soil, burying the roots at the same depth they were before the storm. Finish with a layer of organic mulch. Ideally, the shrub should be secure enough so that another strong wind won’t rock the plant and tug on the root system.

If the roots were damaged severely, consider pruning some of the top growth to compensate for the loss. Selectively remove a few of the oldest stems, cutting them all the way to the ground. This practice, called renewal pruning, rejuvenates older lilacs and promotes better flowering, even when the shrub hasn’t been pushed over by a hurricane.   —Doug Hall

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November 2nd, 2011

Pruning Storm-Damaged Trees

A freak snowstorm last weekend broke a branch off my new Japanese maple, leaving a huge hole on one side of the tree. I just planted it this spring and now I’m heartbroken. Is it fixable?

blog-dougThe beauty of some trees is enhanced by their symmetry, with branches spaced evenly along ramrod-straight trunks. Fortunately for you, Japanese maples don’t need a perfect framework in order to look good. In fact, these small trees are often admired for their free-form, sculptural architecture. Sinuous, craggy branches add to a Japanese maple’s venerable character.

Another factor in your favor is the tree’s youth. Mature shade trees that lose a major limb in a storm will probably never regain their symmetry. Young trees, on the other hand, will likely outgrow their lopsided appearance, even if it takes several years.

That said, you need to prune the damaged spot to promote quick healing and prevent decay organisms from entering the wound. If the branch left a stub when it broke, use a sharp pruning saw or loppers to cut it back to the point where it connects to another branch or the trunk. Instead of a “flush” cut that would remove the branch collar and leave a large wound, prune just beyond the collar where the branch is of a smaller diameter. If any bark has been torn, cut it off carefully to leave no loose, hanging bits. There’s no need to use tree paint to seal the wound; nature does a better job of healing on its own.  —Doug Hall

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