Ask the Gardener: Storm-tested trees you can plant to replace the ones nor’easters took out

Ask the Expert Gardening
Nor’easters caused extensive damage at Arnold Arboretum, which lost about a dozen trees like this one — a picea asperata, a type of spruce. William "Ned" Friedman

What to do in the garden: Cautiously clean up storm damage. It is all right to walk on a blanket of snow-covered ground, but stay off bare soil as much as possible until it dries out or you could compress it. Put up bird boxes to attract nesting pairs. Cut branches to force into early bloom indoors. Quince, amelanchier, magnolia, very early azalea,February daphne, cherry, pear, forsythia, or fothergilla may all bloom in water if cut on a warm day. Birch, beech, filberts, and willows may produce artistic dangling catkins. The earlier a plant blooms outdoors, the easier it is to force indoors.

Q. Last fall, the hired landscapers cut back all of our hydrangeas to the height of about 18 inches. The plants are not dead, but do you think they will recover? If they will recover, how long do you think it will take? These plants were healthy and beautiful before their drastic haircuts. Is there anything we can do to help them along?

I.H., North Andover

A. Your hydrangeas will be fine, but they may not bloom this year, depending upon what kind they are. Most hydrangeas formed their flower buds last fall. A good time to prune them is right after they finish blooming but before they start forming the following year’s buds. The best way to help hydrangeas, or almost any plant, thrive is to water them deeply once a week during the dry summer months.


Q. We lost a 30-year-old Norway spruce, which not only broke in half but uprooted, showing a root ball that was surprisingly small. It got me thinking about what we will plant there this year. It would be a nice pastime while everyone waits for spring to start thinking about how we plan to repair our landscape in ways that take into account New England’s winter weather.

L.A., Ipswich

A. Our closely spaced nor’easters have taken down many valuable trees. With climate change speeding up, long-term survival will become tougher for trees. We will be looking for species that can survive winter snow, wind, and ice storms, plus summer heat and drought. I feel that when we finally realize we need trees for our survival more than additional paving projects, our mature trees will be protected as the dwindling natural resource they are. I will recommend native trees here because they usually provide more food for struggling pollinators and local birds than mass-produced trees of foreign origin do.

Consider relatively salt-tolerant trees such as thornless honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) if you live where coastal flooding is becoming a threat or roads are salted. Storm-resistant small shade trees (shorter than 30 feet for under wires) include redbud (Cercis canadensis), ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), serviceberry (Amelanchier X grandiflora), and hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), all of which have outstanding fall color. Taller storm-resistant trees include blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus diocia), bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) and its more aphid-resistant European cousin silver linden (Tilia tomentosa), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and most oaks (Quercus). Northern red oak (Q. rubra), swamp white oak (Q. bicolor), and white oak (Q. alba) are all storm- AND salt-tolerant, plus tops for wildlife. Many evergreens are vulnerable to winter storms. Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is an exception, but requires spraying for the woolly adelgid pest from Japan.

If any of these trees sound interesting, use this quiet end of winter to look them up and learn more. Many maples are good trees but have been overplanted. Mix it up. Diversity increases survival as new tree diseases continue to arrive. Most new trees require 10 gallons of water a week during summer and drought to survive their first three years.

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