After the storm

Angie Hong
Guest Columnist

If there is one thing you can count on in Minnesota, it is unpredictable weather. Rain falls – sometimes too much, and sometimes not enough. There are tornados, thunderstorms, hail and straight-line winds. It can be 95 degrees and humid on Monday and then snowing by Friday. You may notice that your trees and gardens look dramatically different from one year to the next. After a storm you may also be wondering what to do about fallen trees and flattened flowers. The answer is: it depends.

If a damaged or fallen tree is creating a danger or nuisance, it should obviously be removed. If you have a larger property, however, fallen trees can actually provide good habitat for birds and wildlife. The tree that once stood tall, providing nesting sites for an owl or songbirds, will find new life on the woodland floor. A passing fox may choose to den there next spring, and unencumbered by the shade of this old tree, a cluster of young saplings will seize the opportunity they’ve awaited. Nature has a way of giving and taking all in one motion.

Along the edge of a lake or stream, fallen trees provide shade for spawning fish, shelter for turtles and frogs and perches for herons and egrets. Submerged logs also protect shorelines against erosion from waves and provide a buffer against ice heaves.

In the wake of a large storm that swept through Forest Lake a few weeks ago, many people have asked if they should put down rock rip-rap to stabilize their shorelines against further damage. Nature, however, is surprisingly resilient. Native shoreline plants will usually come back without assistance the year after a storm. As for the natural habitat, it will be different, but not necessarily worse.

On the other hand, be aware that trees damaged by hail this summer are now more susceptible to diseases. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has warned that red pines in northern Washington County have been coming down with Diplodia shoot blight. They advise residents to check their pines and remove branches or cut down trees if needed. Any branches that are entirely brown will die and should be removed. If the terminal buds and upmost lateral branches are brown and dead, mature trees will have a dead-top moving forward. Most trees that lose more than half of their foliage in one season will die and should be removed during the fall or winter. If less than half of the tree is brown, you can wait until next spring to see if it recovers. Keep in mind that if you have large woods it is ok to leave a few dead trees standing to provide nesting habitat for owls and woodpeckers.

If you are looking for advice on how to deal with storm damaged trees and shorelines, there are a number of resources. Leave a message at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Yard & Garden Line (612-301-7590) and a Master Gardener will return your call. My Minnesota Woods (www.myminnesotawoods.umn.edu/) has information about tree care, woodland management and tree pests and diseases. The MN DNR “Score your shore” tool provides helps landowners to evaluate the health of their lakeshore properties (www.dnr.state.mn.us/scoreyourshore). In addition, the Washington Conservation District (WCD) can provide a site visit to offer advice about reducing erosion, controlling invasive species, and improving habitat. The WCD can also connect you with resources, such as watershed district cost-share grants to stabilize shoreline with native plants (www.mnwcd.org or 651-330-8220 x.35).

To live with nature is to deal with nature’s imperfections. While one hand deals us terror and destruction, the other grants us woods to wander, rivers to wade in and prairies to roam. Storms happen, but life continues on.

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220 x.35 or [email protected]