By Anessa V. Cohen
Usually at this time of the year, when the warmer weather starts creeping our way, we start seeing the greening of our lawns, our trees, and the various plantings we have carefully put in our gardens over the years.
Unfortunately, this year Superstorm Sandy left us an additional yerushah on top of all the damage to our homes and cars—the color brown! In the aftermath of the storm, many evergreens and large varieties of shrubs, not to mention our lawns and gardens, have started showing big patches of brown. Between the heavy salt content in the wind and floodwaters, the damage now, so many months later, is even greater as the needles, leaves, and buds have dried out. Rather than showing new green growth and good health, they are brown and eerie-looking.
Exposure to salt spray can cause stem and foliage disfigurement and reduced growth, and can often lead to a plant’s death. Recently seeded turf is more susceptible to salt damage than an existing lawn. Treating the lawn is often advisable, as the roots of woody plants, especially trees, extend past the drip line and often into the lawn area.
Salt gets tied up in the top layers of the soil, where it attaches to fine particles such as clay and silt, causing damage to the surrounding plant root systems, including all woody plants, turf, and other landscape material.
The evergreen trees and shrubs took a beating, with many of them being shallow-rooted, and were blown partially or completely to the ground. Although many of these trees will have to be dug up and trashed and replaced with new trees, many of them might still be saved. Below are a few landscaping tips to handle the damage:
Staking plants. The first thing to do is to check out the damage. If the plant has little root or branch damage, it is probably cheaper to right the plant and stake it. If the plants are in good shape, several steps should be taken. If the tree roots are out of the ground, time should be taken to dig a hole so the tree roots can go back in place where they came from. Once the tree is upright and secured, soil and mulch should be placed over the roots, tamped, and covered with mulch.
Staking can be done in several ways. The cross stake can be used on smaller trees and plants. This stake can be made of a 2” × 2” wooden stake or some type of metal. Once the plant is straight, the stake should be pounded in deep at a 45-degree angle so it crosses the plant while it is straight. A steel wire is placed through a rubber hose and wrapped around the trunk of the plant and the stake and is then twisted tightly to secure the plant to the stake.
The larger trees and shrubs should be staked with three or more guy wires. The easiest way to complete this project is to have a professional gardener do it. But if you are in the mood to tackle a good project, using metal multi-strand wire is probably the best to use for the larger plants. An eyelet lag bolt should be screwed into the trunk of the tree about two thirds up from the ground for each cable. Once the cable goes through the eyebolt, a cable clamp should secure it to the main cable. A large 2-to-3-foot auger eyebolt should be screwed into the ground and the cable pushed through the eyebolt and clamped back to the main cable. The auger eyebolt stake can be tightened at a later date to keep that cable taut. Most of these materials can be purchased at a local hardware store.
Restoring lawns. What do we do about our lawns? Here is some helpful information I found posted by Dee’s Nursery in Oceanside: The first thing you should do is remove any debris such as leaves, branches, and garbage. This will allow sunlight to get back down to the grass plants and help start to dry out the saturated soil which is like a sponge. The next thing is to remove any silt (very small particles of rock) that may have been deposited on the lawn as the water moved out.
After these steps are completed, you need to aerate the soil of the lawn or garden. Aerating is simply poking holes a few inches into the soil. This can be done by wearing a pair of aerating sandals that have 2-inch spikes on the bottom, similar to golf shoes. You can do it by hand with an aerating tool. You can also rent a core aerating machine, which is similar to a lawn mower that you run over the lawn and it takes out plugs of soil. Another effective method is by slicing the soil with a spade. Try to keep foot traffic to a minimum. Salt leaves excess sodium in the soil and it will probably change the pH. You should do a soil test and correct the pH balance by adding lime if needed.
The next two steps are the most important. Irrigate your soil with fresh water to help wash the salt out of the root zone, and then apply gypsum to your soil. The gypsum will react with the salt and break it apart so it does minimal damage to your lawn or plants. Don’t fertilize right away. You don’t want to encourage excessive growth in damaged soil. Instead, apply a top dressing of compost, such as bumper crop or manure, and slowly add organics back to the soil. Apply regular fertilizer about a month later. This should bring your soil back to normal.
I look forward to driving around town next month and seeing all the lush new green lawns and foliage newly created by all! v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.