Pity our poor evergreens

Our gardens are in tatters, trees bent and shattered, branches broken in every corner. Where to start? What can be saved?

A few days past I wrote on pruning, and for the minor breaks and splits in trees and shrubs I hope that this should prove to be a valuable resource. Today there are larger issues to be addressed (perhaps not more important, but larger), the evergreens that screen many of our properties. This is where the greatest loss has occurred. Rather than simply stating “get your chainsaw”, I’ll try to give a bit more detailed explanation for the direction we should take next.

Leyland cypress appears to be the evergreen most commonly damaged by our early February snow. Leylands have a sparse root system relative to other evergreens, and are susceptible to blowing over in extreme winds, particularly in sandy soils. Their upright branching encouraged snow to accumulate, and with the high winds that followed the roots were torn from the ground.

Leylands under ten feet in height seem to have escaped the worst, but large trees have blown crooked, or cleanly out of the ground. In my garden substantial limbs have bent to a severe angle, and with their size and weight I fear this tree is beyond repair. I suspect the same fate for many others. There are multiple problems to consider.

A Leyland cypress with extensive snow damage

When large evergreens are blown over there is considerable trauma to the roots. Although many are uprooted, they have been torn and stretched, then exposed to freezing temperatures and drying winds. Because of their weak roots, even  healthy Leyland cypresses are notoriously difficult to transplant, so any injury to the roots might spell their doom. Still, we might try to save these large trees.

Further difficulties are encountered in figuring out how to lift the tree back to its upright position. First, the hole left by the roots must be excavated to fit the entire root mass, a task not so simple in the saturated, muddy soil. Next, we must find a way to lift the tree, nearly impossible for a large tree without heavy equipment, as the tree and foliage can weigh many hundreds of pounds.

If we succeed in uprighting our Leyland we must backfill the soil around the roots, exercising care that all voids are filled so that these do not become wet pockets that will rot the already stressed roots. Then, the tree must be secured so that it will not blow over in the next puff of a breeze. I’m not a gambler, but I don’t like the Leylands’ chances for success.

There is more room for optimism with other evergreens. In my garden one of three southern magnolias has suffered extensive injury, the top broken and many large branches broken. With warmer temperatures in the following weeks I will prune out the broken and assess the remainder. By good fortune this tree is in the back corner of the garden, so I can be patient to wait out the years it will take to return to form. In a more visible location I might be forced to remove and replace this once beautiful magnolia.

The common Colorado and Norway spruces have escaped widespread damage, but pines (most notably the native scrub pines and white pines) have lost major limbs and will be a challenge to restore. Each injured tree will need to be assessed to determine its value once the broken limbs have been removed.

A multi trunk arborvitae will require some assistance to return to form

The arborvitae used in many landscapes for screening and as lone specimens have experienced a range from no damage on the single trunked Green Giant to extensive difficulties on the many multiple trunk types, including Emerald Green. Their branches are quite flexible, and many have bent to the ground. With the snow melting these long stems have rebounded, but still arch far from their original position. Without our assistance I believe that the branches will not return fully. Again, there is no hurry to undertake this project, so this will be a subject for a later discussion.

The single trunk of Green Giant arborvitae escaped injury