The Garden’s Recovery from the Ice Storm

From Michigan to Maine, gardens have been changed forever by the recent ice storm.  We look out on our garden’s birches, including a treasured ‘Whitespire’ gray birch and several wild bird cherries, their trunks bowing under the weight of ice, their uppermost branch tips touching earth, and wonder if they will ever grow upright again.

Robert Frost, who knew New England trees as well as anyone, informs us in his poem, “Birches”, that “once they are bowed so low for long, they never right themselves.”  He continues,  “You may see their trunks arching in the woods years afterwards, trailing leaves on the ground, like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun.”

Years from now, we will see the ice storm in this birch's form.

Years from now, we will see the ice storm in this birch’s form.

Marjorie and I sit by the wood stove in early morning, sipping coffee and looking out over the ice-encased garden with yet another storm looming, and we wonder what these treasured trees will look like after the thaw.  Will they be bowed so long that they will never right themselves?  If so, we’ve decided that we will keep them in the garden rather than cut them down.  Years from now we will see the ice storm of  2013 in their form.

We lost a black cherry to the ice, a tree that we treasured for its handsome bark and because it was the only tree of its species on the property, the more abundant cherry being the bird cherry, of which there are several in the garden.  The black cherry grew along the woods line where the lane meets the drive, shaded on one side by the dark canopy of spruce and pine, the other side exposed to the sun.  Over the years the sunlit canopy grew top heavy.  In summer, when it leaned out over a wild border of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace, its leaves showed the stress of a horde of herbivores, evidence of the tree’s contribution to garden biodiversity.

On the day after the ice storm, our black cherry rested on the ground, its trunk split by the weight of ice in the canopy.  Next winter we will be warmed by the wood of this tree.  Hereafter a striped maple (or moosewood, as some call it), a slender tall tree that has grown all its life in the shadow of the black cherry, will own the canopy gap.  Such are the major changes in a garden that can occur over one winter’s night.

White pines, including the tall giant that grows just off the porch steps, took a beating in the recent storm, limbs with ice-coated needles breaking off at their weakest points to leave shortened branches, broken bones with ragged ends like the older stubs below them, the victims of earlier storms.  The snow-covered ground at the bottom of the steps is littered with branches and needles.  The air smells of pine.  A few days after the storm, as the air temperature warmed, the remaining pine branches shed much of the their ice in a rain of crystals.

As for the shrubs in Marjorie’s Garden, there is bound to be some damage pruning to do come spring.  We are relieved that the redvein enkianthus remains intact with no visible damage.  A week after the storm, ice still encases every branch, including the clusters of persistent seed pods at the tip of each branch.  They make a striking winter scene.

Advertisements for tree removal are already up on post office walls and in store windows.  I caution everyone to limit immediate removals to only those trees that block the road or pose a safety hazard, leaving all other removals for spring when an earnest damage assessment can be made.  Then, if you need to hire someone to prune or remove large trees, I recommend employing an arborist who is certified by the state of Maine or, better still, by the International Society for Arboriculture (ISA), both guarantees of hiring a professional who has undergone extensive training in proper tree removal and the pruning of large trees.

Pruning of shrubs and small trees that were damaged in the storm should be done in spring and can be accomplished by the gardener.  To help gardeners with this and other pruning tasks, University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Hancock County will be conducting a hands-on pruning course on four Saturday mornings between mid-March and the end of April, 2014, the exact dates yet to be determined.  The course will cover pruning of flowering shrubs, small landscape trees, home fruit trees, and small fruits.  I will join Marjorie in teaching proper pruning of shrubs and small trees with an emphasis on damage pruning.  Interested gardeners can get on a list to receive details when they are available by calling 667-8212.

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About Reeser Manley

I was born in Laramie Wyoming but moved to the southeast at an early age. I was educated through my B.S. in Biology in the Columbus, Georgia area, then crossed the Chattahoochee River to earn my M.S. in Botany at Auburn University. For the next ten years, I worked as Horticultural Manager for the George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C. At 40 years of age, I decided to return to graduate school and in 1994, I earned a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Fast forward through 10 years at university (7 at UMaine, Orono) and you find me teaching high school science in Eastport, Maine, the edge of the world, and writing a weekly garden column for the Bangor Daily News. My new book, The New England Gardener's Year, a Month-by-Month Guide for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Upstate New York”, will be published later this year by Cadent Publishing. You can learn more about the book by visiting its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-England-Gardeners-Year/187285218055676.)