Wind Damage

I’ve been getting e-mails from  gardeners in my neighborhood all
week. Everyone’s freaked out about the blazing heat followed by the rain and
the fog followed by the maddening wind. “What’s up with this weather?” people
keep asking me. Like I would know.

As I write this, it’s the wind
that’s making everyone nuts.It’s a forceful, antagonistic wind, the sort that
flares up on sunny days just when you thought you could finally get outside and
do something in the garden.The wind fights you and you fight back, but it’s a
losing battle.Wheelbarrows get toppled over, buckets go flying across the yard,
and chickens, if you happen to have chickens, are lifted unexpectedly off the
ground, their wings functioning as sails (or, well, wings) as they flap about
and try to get their feet back on solid ground.Hens get grumpy when their
feathers are ruffled too much. So not only are you people e-mailing me about
the weather, I’m getting grief from the poultry as well.

And the thing is, wind really does
mess up a garden. It’s not just the broken branches and the downed trees.A
stiff breeze will knock the moisture right out of a newly-leafed plant, drying
it out and leaving it crippled, burned, exhausted. Plant cells rely upon water
as a delivery mechanism for food, so when a plant is deprived of water, it’s
also not getting its vitamins.

The problem of wind damage seems to
be on everyone’s mind this year.I think that gardeners in Humboldt County are
really starting to figure out that the problems they once attributed to poor
soil, unexpected frost, summer drought, or chilly weather actually may be
caused by wind damage. Yellow or burnt-looking leaves?Sulky little plants that
refuse to grow?Wind. You try standing out there in that breeze all day and see
how you feel.

So what do you do about the wind,
other than send me e-mails complaining about it?The smart thing to do would be
to plant tough California natives that can take a beating, and to find ways to
shelter everything else.But that sounds like a project, and what I’m really
interested in is an easy fix, preferably one involving products, because I love
shopping for products. Sometimes, for me, gardening is really just an elaborate
justification for a little retail therapy.

The first trick is to treat your wind-stricken
plants like the ailing, dehydrated creatures that they are.Give them a good
long drink, and make sure they’ve got a layer of compost on top of their roots.
Wind doesn’t just knock plants around; it also carries soil away. (This is
particularly important for shallow-rooted rhododendrons.)

If that’s not reviving them, try a
foliar feeding of an organic liquid fertilizer, preferably one that contains
kelp.Try to get both sides of the leaves wet so that the plant absorbs as much
of the nutrients as possible.Water the liquid fertilizer into the roots as
well, and give the plant a week or so.If it doesn’t bounce back, repeat this
process two or three more times before you give up on it entirely.I know
someone who thought that his young cherry trees had been reduced to sticks in a
high wind, but after a few feedings with a weak organic fertilizer, they

If you’re really determined to
protect some prized tree or shrub, there are even stronger remedies
available.Ask the nice people at your local garden center to recommend a
superfine horticultural oil that is appropriate for the plant you’re trying to
protect.Horticultural oils are approved for use in organic agriculture, but
that doesn’t mean you should use them indiscriminately. Be sure to follow all
the instructions on the label and wear safety gear, and don’t apply more than
the label recommends.

The idea behind using a
horticultural oil is to coat the plant in something that will protect it from
the wind. There is another product you can try– and I’ve never used it myself,
so if you have, let me know how it works for you – an anti-desiccant called
Wilt-Pruf.It’s a plant protector made out of pine oil that is supposed to
protect broad-leafed evergreens by blocking evaporation from the surfaces of
leaves.It’s also used to extend the lives of Christmas trees, wreathes,
pumpkins, and other living things that we bring indoors and torture with warm
air from our heating vents. According to package directions, you spray it on,
allow it to dry for a few hours, and then the plant is protected for a few
months as the coating very slowly wears off.

There’s something a little creepy
about spraying a protective coating on your plants, and it doesn’t seem like a
very good long-term solution for lazy and forgetful gardeners like me who won’t
actually get around to reapplying the spray every season.But I pass it on to
those of you who may be better organized or more determined to keep your
wind-intolerant plants alive.

I’m going to resort to my old
stand-by, the one solution that works for all plant problems.If a plant isn’t
doing what I want it to do, I threaten to kill it.The threat must be delivered
out loud, right in front of the plant (plants have poor hearing, so you must
speak up), and preferably with a pair of pruning shears in hand, to demonstrate
both motive and intent.I’ve kept an ancient fuchsia alive for years with
nothing more than death threats. Even if it doesn’t rally the plant, it’s a
good way to let off steam. Try it sometime and let me know how it goes.