A GROWING CONCERN: Cleaning up nature’s unwanted help

WITH CHRISTMAS BEING just 2 days away, I usually write a Christmas-themed column; but with the weather of late, I will just sing a quick Christmas carol and impart important and timely storm-related information.

“Oh the weather outside is frightful,

But the fire is so delightful,

And since the electricity may go,

Let it blow, let it blow, let it blow!”

As sunrise broke over the horizon this past week and electricity slowly came back for many of us around the Peninsula, the damage to our flora was illuminated.

I have stated many times in the past that although our weather here is perfect for growing most plants and Mother Nature does a superb job right now of watering and healing our precious new plants, she is a poor pruner.

She is indeed lacking even the most basic knowledge or fundamental skills essential for proper health and vigor of a newly trimmed plant.

You see, Mother Nature really doesn’t care where she tops a tree or severs a limb and has never concerned herself with the all-important undercut.

She is a horrific transplanter, too, usually just walking away from a half completed job, leaving the plant on its side, roots exposed or tilted severely in a very noticeable, harmful and distracting angle.

Love this weather all you want, but do not count on nature to be a beneficial hand in pruning or tree alignment.

After the storm

If she did visit your yard and plants for a little unsolicited garden help, what should you do now?

First, lets deal with twisted, cracked, split or severed branches, stems and trunks the windstorm may have caused.

The problem is the very shattered mess as the wind pruned your plants.

It is not enough to just cut away the mangled plant parts, but you need to carefully examine the rest of the plant.

Too many times, the trauma of the break fissure cracks extend many feet down into the branch or stem.

Just like gangrene, in order to save your plant you must cut well below any damage, cracks or stripped away bark.

If you do not, rot and death will progressively through the years work its way down the plant and into the heartwood.

But fear not, with a big wind storm and help from Mother Nature, in a few years she will fell that tree for you right in your driveway, over your car or through the picture window for free.

Prevent and restore

So how do I cut away these ticking time bombs, you ask?

Begin by sawing off the damaged part above the break if it is still attached to the plant, as to alleviate the massive weight, bulk and leverage.

With the bulk of the “biomass” now removed, now make a cut just above the node — a place where there is growth or where new growth may emerge.

In the case of many trees, shrubs or bushes, a trimming cut is required, taking the entire branch off at the exact spot where it radiates from another branch, stem or trunk using either a heading cut or a thinning cut.

To do this, slice upwards from the bottom by first making a deep cut around that bottom third of the branch, always being sure to cut fully through the bark.

Then align the saw on top and slice downwards, meeting the undercut.

The short stub falls without stripping away more bark, preventing further damage to the tree.

Next, look all over the remaining branches and stems, hand pruning away any and all damaged, bent, cracked or twisted twigs.

Damaged material is the No. 1 entry point of pestilence that will eventually cause harm or kill your plants.

Here too, head off the branches by cutting across them right above a node or thin them.

In many cases this is beneficial because the wind blows them less, more light will shine in and the roots can better support new growth or blooms.

Know when to say when

Finally, remember with evergreens and many species of trees — if they lose their perennial tip (growing head), they are now going to be mutated monsters and perhaps digging them up and planting a new tree, one you always wanted, would be the best remedy and now is the best time ever to plant.

Just don’t ask Mother Nature to storm in and help.

Merry Christmas — best wishes to you and your family — and a happy New Year.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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