Freezing temperatures, gale force winds and heavy snow have wreaked havoc on our gardens. In this post I show you how to help your garden recover: what to prune and nurture, what to throw away – and where to be patient.
Storm and cold damage calls for a selective response – rushing out on a frantic tidying spree could do more harm than good
The combination of Storm Emma and the freezing temperatures of the ‘Beast from the East’ have left many plants battered, damaged or dead – just as everything was starting to shape up well for spring, too. Often it’s hard to know where to start clearing up, so here are my guidelines on how to give your garden some first aid. At least the strengthening March sunshine makes working easier and gives our spirits a much-needed boost.
First aid for snow-damaged plants
If your garden was hit by heavy snowfall, the sheer weight of snow gathering on plants will have caused stems, branches, even entire plants, to bend or break. Complete breaks can’t be fixed, so get rid of these for starters and tidy up the wounds, using a saw to make clean cuts that will heal quickly. But with partial breaks or bends, fast action often saves the day: conifers and evergreen shrubs which have branches pulled out of shape can often be restored by tying them back in place. Depending on the size of the branches, either use garden string (soft string, not nylon twine which can rub) or broad tree ties made of webbing. Old nylon tights and stockings are great for this job too.
Destined for the compost heap
Certain plants have obviously and totally had it, no question, and these can be hoofed out without delay and added to the compost heap where, in time, their nutrients will return to the garden and enrich the soil. Having enjoyed a few mild winters, it was really only a matter of time before luck ran out. For the last couple of years, quite a few tender and borderline hardy plants made it through the winter in my sheltered Devon garden. With many of these it was a bonus to get a second or even third year without having to replant pots or beds, so I feel like I can’t complain. But I did almost shed a tear at the demise of my two beautiful Echium fastuosum (Pride of Madeira) which I’d raised from seed: they had become too big for pots and were looking lovely in the ground, just starting to show the buds that would develop into exquisite brilliant blue flowers, beloved by bees. Ah well. But looking on the bright side, it does give me an excuse to break out my favourite seed catalogue: Chiltern Seeds, a cornucopia of wonderful plants which is inspiringly written by people who obviously have a deep knowledge and huge enthusiasm for everything listed there.
When in doubt………..wait
The tricky part comes with the many different plants that have been blasted, scorched and ripped by the wind – evergreens of all types, from small shrubs to large trees While it’s very tempting to break out the secateurs, shears, hedge trimmer or whatever is your tool of choice………….don’t! Be patient, because by pruning and trimming now, you could be removing living stems and even exposing the plant to further damage. After all, it may be meteorological spring, but it’s quite possible that winter hasn’t done with us yet. Leave evergreens well alone for several weeks and, fingers crossed, new growth may well emerge and take over from the unsightly, scorched and shrivelled leaves. Quite often shoot tips and outer growth have been killed off, and new growth will emerge lower down on the stems. Once it’s obvious what’s alive and what’s dead, cut off the dead growth back to healthy new shoots. In extreme cases the whole of a plant above ground is killed by frost, but don’t give up hope – new growth may well emerge right from the roots, although maybe not until spring is well advanced.
Make the most of planting opportunities
No doubt there will be at least a few casualties in your garden but look on the bright side – bare spots are planting opportunities, and a great chance to succumb to the temptation of some of those mouth-wateringly lovely plants available at local nurseries or plant fairs, at every level from very local to national. Just be sure to choose the right plant for the right place: successful gardening is all about matchmaking. And for anything that is not totally hardy, grow your own insurance policies by propagating it if possible: by cuttings, layers or division. Keep the resulting young plants tucked up under cover over winter, and you’ll have handy replacements should next winter have something nasty up its sleeve.