In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
October, 2005
Regional Report

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From catastrophe comes new life, including this anole photographed the day after hurricane Katrina.

From the Ruins

A cold winter, a dry summer ... changing moods and attitudes can make a gardener rethink the plants in the landscape. But hurricane-driven winds and flooding force the issue, and it's up to us to make the best of things and begin anew.

Necessary Redesign
When a tree is lost, the bed below becomes a sunny spot. Formerly happy hostas and deep green cast iron plants must be moved or they'll suffer. Sunlight can scorch the leaves or cause heat stress, particularly if you don't adjust your watering practices. If you cannot replant the shade-lovers right away, dig, divide, and pot them up until next spring.

But the radical change brought on by natural disaster can be an opportunity to correct previous landscape miscues, whether your own or those you inherited when you bought the garden. If trees were planted too close to structures, use this opportunity to put new ones in better perspective to the house, and avoid that unpleasant scraping sound branches can make in a stiff wind.

Smarter Gardening
Take time after the cleanup to consider how water flows across your property. Ditches, swales, and French drains can be practical where large amounts of water collect. But in drier situations, it still may be necessary to consider raising beds, replacing walkways and paths, or building retaining walls and terraced beds. Don't let the solution create other drainage problems by blocking the flow of water or directing it back toward your house inadvertently. Do employ plants that can take occasional or even consistently wet soils if they are part of the scene.

Durable Plant Choices
When it comes to plants, the labels seldom say "can survive catastrophe." This is a fine time to consider the wealth of native plants that do rebound from all but the worst conditions, and to implement better ways to use all kinds of plants. Just as you survey the way water attacks your property, look at where beds and landscape features are (or were) located and what survived, or didn't. Moving plantings to the "high" ground, or nearer trees and hedges that are well established, makes sense.

Watch for potentially invasive bamboos and other plants that can spread into newly empty areas, and don't add aggressive plants for their quick cover; a fast solution now could create bigger problems later. Go slowly after cleanup, think about what you want to see, what you'd like to replace and not. And please, plant a tree this year to commemorate a hurricane season no one will soon forget.


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