In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2008
Regional Report

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Hens and chicks sedum grew from cuttings from plants broken in storms two years ago.

Storm Cleanup

When damage happens, there is both grief and opportunity in the recovery. Plants swamped by prolonged flooding or saltwater intrusion may not survive, but other storm-related ills can be a blessing in disguise. Broken pots and plants do have their uses, and recycling them can be beautifully therapeutic.

Reusing Tree Branches
From branches of all sizes to entire trees, wood falls during storms, and both container plants and garden beds can get in the way. It's a mess, but, like weeding, the best part of cleanup is the satisfaction you get from finishing it. Then there's the question of what to do with the debris that fell or got blown over. Before you stack it all at the curb, sort out the usable logs to stack up a 3-sided compost bin. Branches 4 inches in diameter cut into 4-foot lengths stack neatly with crossed ends, leaving a space 3-foot square, which is an efficient composting size. It won't last forever and will eventually rot into itself, so it never adds to the landfill. Thin branches are ideal for weaving into short wattles, the cross-hatched fence panels often seen in cottage gardens. Tree trunks sliced into 3-inch-thick stepping stones can be nestled into mulch for an informal path or used as platforms for container plants. Odd pieces can be chipped into mulch, or you can strip the leaves off for compost and stack the rest to burn in the firepit.

Reclaiming Plants
When flood waters recede, annual flowers, vegetables, and herbs are usually a lost cause headed for the compost pile. Perennial clumps may not be a lost cause even if they look dead or nearly so. Cut off ruined leaves and stems, and if possible, cultivate around the clump to increase air circulation. Fungus diseases from leaf spot to root rot can be encouraged by wet conditions. Watch for yellowing leaves on the interior of hollies or other shrubs, and drench the root zone with a fungicide solution to stop its progress. Likewise, roses that seldom are affected by black spot will be more vulnerable if they have flooded. Spray with fungicide or a multipurpose Neem spray.

Think of broken plants as an unintended source of cuttings. You'll be busy taking care of bigger problems, no doubt, but give yourself a little time to survey storm-damaged plants. Put whatever cuttings you take into water to buy time until you can pot them for rooting. Green stems like coleus will root in a week, of course, but find another moment to make a fresh cut on woody stems, and stick them in a mix of potting soil and sand. Leaves of succulents like sedums and crassulas can't take the water treatment but can lay out for several days until you stick them in sand to root.

Broken Pots
Shattered terra cotta clay makes a fine soil amendment, though certainly more expensive than most. Still, rather than sweep the tiny pieces into the trash, put them to work where great drainage is needed, from rooting beds to cactus collections. Called "turface" when it is ground for this purpose, it is not readily available.

I visited a small garden a year after Hurricane Katrina trashed its collection of garden art and admired the new mosaic fountain. The owner explained that each piece came from those ceramic plaques, mirrors, and wind chimes she found strewn across the place after the storm. She said she'd never done such a thing before, but it felt good to try and make something of the mess. That's the beautiful and therapeutic value of gardening, and it's why we keep doing it.


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