Thank goodness the storm that blew through here two weeks ago did not ruin the sweet cherry and other fruit crops. However, high winds, punishing rain and scattered hail did do a bit of harm in some local yards.
I rode out the storm safely inside my house while wondering what problems the fierce weather was causing. Storms like these can cause wreak havoc in landscapes and gardens. When I ventured out to assess the damage, I was relieved to find no serious problems.
In my yard, it was a chore to pick up the millions of twigs that had blown off of my three river birches. Birches are considered “dirty trees” because they regularly drop twigs and small branches. This is a normal, albeit aggravating, characteristic of birches that I am willing to overlook since the river birch is one of my favorite trees.
The winds of our recent storm were probably the hardest on the tender leaves of veggie plants, especially on the leaves of cucumbers, squashes and melons.
The wind did bring down larger tree branches and limbs in some yards. Most of the time, branch and limb drop is caused by tree neglect and previous bad pruning cuts, especially topping. After a tree is planted, it should be monitored for competing main trunks and for branches that are attached to the trunk with narrow branch angles. Broken, damaged or dead branches should be pruned off correctly whenever they are noticed.
If a tree was topped in the past, the resulting regrowth of weakly attached sprouts are prone to breakage in wind storms, especially as these crowded sprouts grow older and larger. In addition, topping cuts do not heal over, making the tree more vulnerable to wood rot and limb breakage.
Trees, especially healthy mature ones, contribute to your home’s property value. Protect your investment by having a certified ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) arborist periodically inspect and prune your trees if needed.
One type of damage I did find in my garden after the storm was the tearing and tattering of some plant leaves. This often happens earlier in the season when spring winds whip about the delicate new leaves on trees and shrubs.
The winds of our recent storm were probably the hardest on the tender leaves of veggie plants, especially on the leaves of cucumbers, squashes and melons. Their leaves thrash about in the wind, ripping and injuring themselves on their own stem and leaf spines. The results are torn leaves with dry, grayish-white crusty patches. Usually, all except the youngest plants will recover, but it will set back their growth a bit.
Also, strong winds can blow over or break the stems of vegetables and flowering perennials. I had a very robust heirloom pepper growing in a container. After the storm, the pepper plant and my Shasta daisies were all lying on their sides. I could have prevented these problems by providing my peppers, eggplants and taller flowering perennials with support, such as cages or stakes. This is advisable if your garden is in a wind-prone area. You can also protect your garden from wind by planting tall shrubs to create a windbreak or constructing one with windbreak fabric.
Our recent storm was not normal, but just one severe storm with hail can spell disaster for growers of high-value crops like cherries and Honeycrisp apples. That is why some Washington growers are considering using protective netting covers on structures as insurance against hail damage. Netting is already being used in other countries, like New Zealand, Italy, and South Africa. The netting can also protect against bird damage and help reduce both tree heat stress and fruit sunburn.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.