Are you looking at a winter damaged landscape wondering where to start? Be heartened – the healing capacity of nature is nothing short of astounding. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought so much vegetation could have recovered from such a cruel March. Now as I survey the landscape, I see shrubs that have sprung back from mushroom-like stature to regain their normal shapes. Some trees that were distended have been able to bring back their far reaching tips once the sap started flowing. Yet sadly, there are those specimens that are still struggling, leaving us with the decision as to what to do about them.
First, decide if the plant is basically healthy and a “keeper,” or if the winter simply helped you cull out something that should have been removed. Next, determine if the plant is still the right one for its size and location. For example, is it a sun lover in a shady spot? Or is it too big for its space? Did it lose more than a third of its size? Figure that out before you expend the effort to save it. (You get the idea)
If it’s a shrub that produces plentiful new wood each year, it will regenerate. Examples of this are ninebark, butterfly bushes, hydrangeas, etc. In these instances, just prune away the broken and damaged wood and let the plant do the rest of the work. Remember: Be patient – it may take more than one season.
For trees some judicious pruning may be all that’s needed. It’s important to prune away the damage as soon as you can. Without foliage, you can clearly see the breaks. A clean pruning cut reduces the exposed surface area and makes it harder for boring insects to get in. The tree then starts to heal over that cut, using its own defenses to form a scab of sorts. The accepted wisdom is not to use pruning sealer. It prevents a plant’s naturally occurring chemicals (which are toxic to insects and pathogens) from forming and reaching the wound, essentially interfering with a tree’s own defense system.
Besides removing broken and damaged wood, it’s critical to remove long branches that gather weight and invite damage. Shorten them up and work on a two year schedule of pruning for future health of your trees and shrubs.
Keep in mind you still have a full root system that was accustomed to supporting all that previous top growth that has now been reduced. And, pruning stimulates new plant growth. Those two factors work in your favor to help the plant regenerate.
Don’t think because the leader (top most pointed branch) is gone, the tree should be cut down. Many trees regenerate their leaders so find out if yours falls into that category and you have the patience to wait for that.
Even some split crotches can be repaired by driving a screw through both pieces of wood. Low-tech bungee cords can work wonders in some cases to bring in wayward side stems of multi trunk specimens like arborvitae to restore upright shapes.
Now at the start of the growing cycle, especially if you want a plant to heal, show it a little love by feeding it with some fertilizer. Coast of Maine Stonington Lobster & Kelp Plant Food or Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost are two excellent products that will work well for any of your trees and shrubs.
There is no one size fits all. Each situation will be decided on a case by case basis. This isn’t a one season fix. It might take several seasons for some plants to regain their former size and stature. On the other hand, spring’s warmth brings plants back to life in an amazing way – you might be surprised at what happens in just one growing season.
Written by Lorraine Ballato