Friday, September 2, 2011

After The Fall

I was going to write about the way the light captures the fall colors and how, finally, trees and shrubs are on sale in all the nurseries and about the amazing deals to be found out there if you know how to look, but Irene interfered with my plans. Instead I get to talk about the clean up that happens after nature has a big party.

In many ways we were hugely lucky out here. Most of the rain missed us, so the number of trees that would have just slipped out of the ground and laid flat on the ground are significantly less. Now I’m without power and they say I’ll be that way until at least Friday, but none of the tools I would need are electric, instead I’m going to be getting a nice workout if my leg wasn’t in a cast. So I’m going to have help, and they’re going to get the good workout and I’m going to point.
First thing straight off the bat — be careful! Do not try and tackle any limbs or deal with any tree damage that is anywhere near power lines. Secondly, if you are using a chain saw, make sure you are not working alone. Now I am an animated talker and flail my hands around when speaking, or so I’m told. I made the mistake of engaging my husband in a long discussion while holding a running chainsaw. He says it’s a terrible thing to see — another human being waving a chainsaw and gesturing with it with no apparent self-awareness and has since suggested strongly that I never pick one up again. I can’t say he’s wrong, so if like me, you are an emotive speaker, I would let the more reserved person run the machine with the whirring, possibly flesh eating teeth. You, like I would if I wasn’t injured, could then be the “dragger away of the nicely sawn off limb.” But again, be careful.

You are also going to have to make some hard decisions. If you are taking off so much of the tree that it is no longer going to look balanced, it’s actually best to remove the whole thing, otherwise you are just creating more problems.

Try and make clean cuts angled so that when it rains, water doesn’t collect on the cut; and don’t cut flush against the trunk of the tree, but try and cut so that you leave a little bit of branch. Do not cover the cut with anything, as you want it to heal naturally. Don’t worry about it being perfect right now; we’re doing triage not plastic surgery at this point.

And the best thing to do would be to chip up the wood and add it to your piles of grass clippings that need carbon to become better compost, or to just get it into piles and let it start to break down on it’s own.

Most importantly, if like me, you have a number of prone trees you must try and immediately get them stood back up and cabled. And you should know that there’s a good chance the tree is not going to survive. If the roots have been exposed to air, the chance of the tree making it is not good. My trees are leaning very badly, all victims of root rot I believe thanks to my overwatering habits, but the remaining roots are still below the soil. Some of the roots have most likely snapped so the tree has lost a significant part of its support system and its digestive system. You are going to have to really cross your fingers and pray. You should use at least three cables in a Y formation and make sure the actual wires are not wrapping around the tree but are encased in a protective sleeve. Bolting into the tree is okay, if done by a professional, but I’ll be hoisting mine up on my own since they’re not that large (okay, okay, I’m going to ask the guys that help me with the lawn if they have time, but I’m not holding my breath.)

Now don’t get carried away and start pruning just because you have a pruning saw in your hand, it’s still a little too early for that. Go pull all the debris out of your shrubs instead and if you’re still feeling all ambitious you can go play around in the vegetable garden and seed fall lettuce!
Plus there’s the mess that was the perennial beds. Get out all the branches and debris and then do judicious cutting back. Prop up the dahlias, but everything that has an actual bend in it (if it’s floppy in your hands) gets cut right beneath the bend. Deadhead like your life depends on it as there’s still time for lots of plants to keep pushing flowers. Any casualties and empty holes can be replaced by some of those amazing fall perennials I talked about last month.
Besides, don’t the nurseries all have sales going on now?

Paige Patterson is truly impressed by the death of the street tree in front of her house. Snapped cleanly off right at the base.

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