In the garden: March 2019

By Rhiannon Allen

Many trees were lost or damaged in this winter’s storms. This has prompted people to wonder about the next step to enhance our tree canopy while minimizing our vulnerability to a repeat event or other disaster. I’d like to consider three steps we can take, starting with the one that is most appropriate for early spring.

First, consider damaged trees that are still standing largely intact. Time is running out on this, since spring growth is imminent, and the ideal time for repairing damage has passed for some trees. As the branch litter on our roads every year indicates, high winds are nature’s way of pruning. A modest amount of branches on the ground is not a concern, although any litter should prompt you to look up and examine trees to see if they need any repair. If you see a ripped branch or branch stub, note that this provides an entry point for fungi, bacteria, viruses, and insects that could damage or kill the tree.

Trees have natural defences, but these are most concentrated in the exact area where a branch joins a larger limb or the trunk. Therefore, a rip or break away from this juncture could easily foster disease or pests. If the damage is within reach and does not extend down the trunk or involve a thick branch, and you have a sharp loppers or secateurs, you can probably manage the job yourself. Using disinfected blades, make a sharp, clean cut at the juncture between the branch and larger branch or trunk. Do not leave a protruding stub, and do not cut into the slight swelling or collar at the junction. The natural defences of an otherwise healthy tree will do the rest. If repairing damage requires use of a ladder, chain saw, or climbing equipment, please call a professional who has expertise, equipment and insurance.

The second thing to do should be done before our summer droughts begin, especially if your land or adjacent land is well-wooded. While organic litter on the ground is nature’s way of returning matter to the soil, a lot of branch litter poses a fire hazard once it dries out. Best not tempt fate by leaving a lot of it close to your buildings. It is imperative to move this litter at least 30 feet away from any building that you don’t want to expose to fire risk.

The third task is assessing the need for tree replacement before autumn, which is the best time for replanting. Do not plan on replacing any trees within 30 feet of your home, any on the county right of way, or any that might encroach on power lines once fully grown. But that’s common sense, right? After all, it is such trees that cause our power outages. But within those constraints, please don’t overplant. Although recommended spacing between shrubs and trees depends on the terrain and on the type of plant, it is generally a good idea to leave an absolute minimum of ten feet between newly planted trees. If you plan on western cedars or other trees that are large or known for flammability, leave much more space.

I personally would suggest that you consider planting native trees to replace any lost during the storms. The Whatcom Conservation District Native Plant Sale and Expo is held on the campus of Whatcom Community College on Saturday, 23 March (/bit.ly/2GwSWst).

It is a great way to buy some inexpensive bare-root trees that you can pot up and coddle through the summer for autumn planting. Where else could you buy a bundle of 10 Douglas-firs or western hemlocks for $15 if you pre-order? And you’d be supporting a worthy cause. To date, Canadian border agents let people transit with bareroot plants. You can’t beat that for a deal.

If the plant sale doesn’t have a tree you want or you want a larger tree, I’ve found Forest Farm to offer a decent selection of native trees in pots. You will end up, however, paying $16 plus shipping for a three-foot bigleaf maple or $65 for a five-foot one. No matter where you buy though, please take the time to research the growth requirements, eventual size, predicted life span, resistance to blow-down and flammability of any tree you plant. You might not live to see the new tree grow to the towering heights of our predecessors, but we are planting not just for ourselves but also our environment and posterity.

Would you like to learn more? Please come to the March meeting of the Point Roberts Garden Club on Wednesday, March 6 at 7 p.m., in the large room of the community center, to hear Pat Harper speak about defensible gardening and how to garden in a way that reduces our vulnerability to disasters.

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