Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Winter Reality Check for the Landscape

There seems to be a time cycle in gardens and landscapes of about 10 years. Whether you live in a new neighborhood or an established area of homes, where landscapes ebb and flow with changes and age. New people move into the neighborhood, older neighbors move out and the landscape still remains there growing and changing. But, we often forget to take the long view in the life of large plants like trees. Our Homeowner’s Association’s could stand to take note here.

While we move though our busy lives, trees and shrubs mature and we often don’t realize that they were either planted too close to the house, just planted improperly or are in need of some kind of attention. Either to prevent disease or damage from any number of things until a drastic change forces us to look at it straight on in the wallet.

Time and priorities often make us forgetful about taking the time to properly evaluate the potential damage that can happen to our gardens and properties in a dramatic winter storm of snow, wind or ice. Even a relatively mild climate like the Northwest can be hit by surprise events that cripple the city for days or sometimes weeks. These tend to be the times we look back and wish that we had taken steps to prevent the cost of what it will take to fix the damage.

For example, look at the place where this specimen Paperbark Maple broke. A good Certified Arborist could have helped in this situation. The homeowner here is absolutely heart-broken.

My thoughts in this post are focused not so much on a “How-to” fix the damage but on what money could have been saved and what damage could have been avoided by being even a little bit pro-active in the care and planting of large trees and shrubs before they are irrevocably damaged or hurt.  This is an expensive way to operate in home landscape costs and potentially in property insurance or just plain labor to have them removed or replaced.

Here in my area, we recently had a snow, ice and wind event all at the same time during the course of one week. The season had been very warm up to that point thanks to the La Nina winter. But, the experts had also warned us that this would also bring much more stormy conditions as well. When all was said and done, we got power back, everything thawed and when we took a good look around the damage was sad to say the least.

Such an incredible amount of damage could have been avoided by truly simple maintenance done by experienced professionals or a well-trained homeowner – easy!

If you look carefully note that almost every single branch broke where it had been subject to rot.

Thinning out heavy trees such as Maples can keep heavy ice and snow weight from breaking and snapping large branches. Also, making sure that the central leader is not competing with another can keep this kind of damage at bay.

This neighborhood had an entire boulevard of this type of maple tree planted 12 years ago when the builder designed it. I’m sure the landscapers got a terrific deal on 12 foot tall saplings at the time, planted them and that was it. Now there is not one tree on the entire street that is not badly damaged.

The “Maintenance” crew is not trained in taking proper care of trees other than cleaning up a broken branch here or there and raking fall leaves. If the neighborhood had taken the time to hire an Arborist even once every 3-4 years, much of the damage could have been prevented.

This is a great example of a tree planted without adding enough additional soil over the hard-pan clay for it to get anchored. In addition to being planted far too close to the house, this is why I call these situations “The Builder’s Special”. It is incredibly common for trees to begin having problems at about 10 years of age in a stressful period like a storm.

The moral of this story is that you can’t prevent ALL damage from a storm event, but you can be conscious about expensive (in labor, time, and money) and mostly preventable “Reality Checks” with the status of the larger, long-term plant residents in your garden. Give them the respect and care they deserve, for they will most likely be there long after you have moved.

Here is a link with excellent information and references for proper care for trees and plants, one of the Horticultural Heroines of our time; Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty.

For a much more humorous take on a “Reality Check” for our landscape, visit my friend and fellow writer Billy Goodnick at his Facebook Page: “Crimes Against Horticulture, When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools” .

For a VERY broad range of interpretations on this months theme for The Garden Designer’s Roundtable “Reality Check” please follow the links below for my fellow Knights and Ladies of the Roundtable below. They have been quite creative on this one!!

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : Easy Bay, CA

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

32 thoughts on “Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Winter Reality Check for the Landscape

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  4. This is a timely and important topic Christina. We just had some horrible winds in Los Angeles that took down hundreds of beautiful old trees at the arboretums, parks and residential areas. THanks!

  5. Thanks for writing about trees. So many people when they think of gardens think of perennials and perhaps shrubs and the trees are an afterthought. Very nice post on some issues that go under-reported.

    • Thank you. Yes, trees are frequently “the forgotten”, until they are noticed in the vein of wrong plant wrong place, then it’s often too late.

  6. Such a timely post – I’m having two of my huge trees pruned next week and just praying we don’t have strong winds before then! Very powerful images – hopefully they’ll remind everyone the importance of tree maintenance to prevent unnecessary heartbreak.

  7. Right you are, Christina! I don’t think anyone is safe from these potential disasters, so paying for on-going professional care is smart. Designing new tree plantings with strength and longevity in mind is also key. Thanks for a great take on the topic today!

    • Thank you Jocelyn! Yes, those events are going to get us if it’s bad enough for sure! I would love to have seen a great Arborist save those trees from the damage the inclusions and improper planting caused. Live and learn!

  8. Pingback: Don’t Do This: The Garden Designers’ Roundtable | North Coast Gardening

    • Thanks Helen. Saving MONEY TIME AND LABOR is my mantra, my motto and my guiding passion for Personal Garden Coaching.

  9. Trees are worth investing in, not just in planting far enough away from the house to give them room to grow, but in ongoing maintenance, as you point out. I’m sorry to see all the damage in your neighborhood and city from the winter storm.

    • Thanks Pam, I’m hoping that people get the message here about how important and money saving taking care and doing it right the first time can be.

  10. Our eastern seaboard looked like this and worse after the heavy snow in October. So many uprooted and broken trees. Maintenance would have helped some but not all. Thanks, from a confirmed and public treehugger!

  11. Yes…an arborist is needed. I watch so many landscapes I’m brought into, or after I finish, where the owner refuses to listen or hire them. And in the desert it is sad to lose one quality tree, but if I were up in Cascadia like you, I would be as heart-broken to see a tree not taken care-of, too. Maintenance – the last frontier (Jim Wheat, Phoenix AZ).

  12. It’s always a good reminder than many costly fixes could have been avoided if only addressed much earlier on. Trees are the perfect example of this. As Susan said, we’ve witnessed it time and again on the east coast with all the crazy weather we’ve had recenty.

  13. We usually don’t have storms strong enough to affect trees here in Los Angeles. BUT…..we had a huge windstorm a few weeks ago that toppled many old trees throughout the city. The public gardens and parks were hit badly. Your “preventive care” advise needs to become a standard for those of us who have trees in our yards!


  14. Thanks, Christina, this was a great post no matter where you live. We have a gorgeous old aspen butting up to our house and anchoring my rock gardens in the front yard. At the lower altitude of Denver, it should not have survived the last 30+ years, but it is still going strong… thanks to our wonderful arborist. Would I have planted this tree? No. Do I adore it? Yes. Whatever it takes to keep this beauty going is what I have to do, besides the fact that it will take out the front of the house if it goes down unexpectedly!

      • As a homeowner, a passionate gardener, and a responsible gardener I have look around my space and decide what needs to be done… first. My trees always have that place because if they don’t, everything else will change.

  15. Excellent and timely post. It’s heartbreaking to see these beautiful trees the way they are. Landscaping is an investment and does need to be taken care of. I thank my arborist all the time for keeping an eye out on my prized trees. So much time and TLC has gone into planning and planting that I would be heartbroken for a loss that could have been prevented.

  16. Oh, ouch. I feel so bad for these lovely trees, with preventable issues. Hopefully their deaths won’t have been in vain if you can convince a few people to take better care of their own trees.

  17. Hear hear to that. Broken trees are just heartbreaking. Even a little basic knowledge of pruning can go a very, very, VERY long way for some small trees, too, like crabapples. I’ve been hacking away at mine every winter since we moved here because they were let go and grew all kinds of crazy ways. I’m making a dent, and hopeful it’ll extend their lives too–sure, I could always come up with something different to plant, but they’re really old, and my garden wouldn’t have anywhere near the atmosphere without them. Thanks for the reminder!

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