After the Storm

— Written By and last updated by Kate Holt

Our landscapes have definitely taken a beating this fall. Many of us have been dealing with basic essentials, and I hope you have recovered and can look at your lawns and gardens with an eye towards the future.

After a powerful storm, it can be tempting to look at any large tree and consider its removal. However, mature trees add significantly to the landscape, improve home values, provide energy-efficient shade and windbreaks, and serve wildlife and pollinators. When making tough decisions, remember: healthy trees have a better chance of standing strong in the next storm.

The risk posed by a tree depends on its location. Is the tree likely to fall on a building, walkway, road or anywhere people frequent? If you are concerned about safety, contact a certified arborist to conduct a risk assessment. Search for certified arborists.

If your trees are in poor health or decline, consider having them removed. Obvious signs of weakness include:

  • heaving soil around the base of the tree
  • large trees leaning
  • fungi (mushrooms) at the base of the trunk
  • chipped or peeling bark
  • cracks in the trunk
  • cavities in the trunk or large branches
  • trees that have received damage to over 50% of the canopy or that have lost their main trunk

Learn more about hiring a tree care professional.

The hurricane may have stripped leaves off of your small trees and shrubs. If they are starting to push out new leaves, or if the stems remain flexible and green underneath the bark, wait and see how they grow out in the spring. If the leaves have turned brown and are dropping, or if the stems are brittle and brown under the bark, the plant should be removed.

Lawns have taken a hit from the storm as well. The wet weather hastened the development of fungal diseases such as large patch. I expect that some of these areas will be slow to recover in the spring but, with appropriate treatment, these areas can be regrown next summer.

Debris piles that are not picked up promptly can shade the lawn and cause thin areas, likely to have weeds next spring. Consider using an appropriate preemergent herbicide on these areas in the spring to reduce weed pressures as the lawn greens up (atrazine is a safe option on centipede and St. Augustine lawns). Be prepared to see new weed pressures next year, as weed seeds may have been blown or floated into your area.

Lawns that were flooded for an extended period of time may not recover well. Consider over-seeding these lawns with a winter cover such as ryegrass and reestablishing your warm season turf in the spring.

Many of us lost our vegetable gardens. (I only have a couple of containerized plants left, which I hid in my shed during the storm.)  If your garden flooded, remember that bacterial contaminants may have entered the garden on the floodwaters. Wait until spring before replanting in these areas. Learn more about gardens and flooding.

Please call the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Onslow County Center at 910.455.5873 or email me at lisa_rayburn@ncsu.edu to discuss your particular concerns.