Monday, April 2, 2012

Wind Storms, Cats, and Tree Branches

It's been windy. I mean really windy. This morning the entire house was shaking from the force of it. Trying to get anything done outside was essentially pointless since anything we did would be immediately undone by the raging winds. Da man and I even watched a cat blowing down the pathway earlier. It takes some mad wind skills to move a cat! But, there she was trying to head into the wind and getting knocked aside by it. At one point she turned to head down wind and got slammed into the side of a raised planter for her troubles. Her claws eventually found purchase on a tree root and she used it to scramble up under the porch. The next lull in the wind found her crying at the door to get in. The look on her furry little face upon crossing the threshold said "Don't go out there! We're under attack!"

This brings up the issue of what has to be done after a wind storm. There are the obvious things that people think of, like collecting up all the trash got blown all over the yard when the garbage cans get knocked over. But there are other things that have to be done on a farm. Like binding trees.

Most trees fare pretty well in a wind storm, but some of the more delicate fruit and nut trees don't. Evergreens also tend to suffer, even the more lush elasticy kind that seem to bounce back from everything. Topiary trees and bushes usually suffer the most.

What happens is that the wind hits the branches so hard that they end up getting bent and tangled up in each other. These branches have to be untangled and then tied to the branch next to them to stand up straight the way you want them until the bent sections become strong again. Sometimes they need to be propped up by braces. If you've ever driven past an orchard and seen wooden poles extending from the ground up into a tree this is what you're looking at, a branch brace.

We don't use branch braces here on our farm though. We tend to take a more natural approach. If a branch is so badly damaged that it has to be braced instead of bound we usually just cut it off. While this has a tendency to make a tree look a bit lopsided, it also helps shape the tree in such a way that is better suited to deal with the winds in the area in the future. Also, it takes a lot of energy for a tree to repair a limb that's been damaged that badly. It's better for the overall health of the tree if it's simply amputated.

We have a few topiary evergreens, specifically two giant arborvitae that create a tunnel near the back door. These tend to look very sad after a wind storm. It's almost like someone took a giant wedge and split them both down the center. While they usually look the like they are in the worst condition after a wind storm, they're actually the easiest to fix. The branches sit almost perfectly parallel to each other in the first place, so binding them together is really easy. They don't fight you like other tree branches do.

The pine trees, on the other hand, all look like sickly puff balls.  We have Ponderosa pines, which don't trim well, and the branches sit too far apart from each other to be bound. They tend to lose their tops in a really high wind too, so they end up looking a bit round instead of spear shaped like Ponderosas that grow in thick forests where the trees band together to protect each other. To make matters worse, our pines are on the southern edge of the property, so there is no wind break to protect them. They are the wind break. I don't know who decided to do that, but it was a bad idea. They put out beautiful pine cones though, which can be sold to city slickers over Christmas, and they do a pretty good job of protecting the fruit and nut trees in the orchard from wind, so we're going to keep them.

One of the things I like about a big wind storm in the spring is that the burdenning branches (dying branches) that have to be pruned off anyway, tend to weaken because of the wind and begin drooping towards the ground. It makes it easier to tell which ones have to go without having to wait for the mid-leaf cycle. In the mid-leaf cycle you look too see how thick the leafs are coming in. A branch that's still alive but struggling will only put out a thin greening of leafs, or only at the branch tips (depending on the kind of tree), while a healthy branch will put out a thick greening of leafs that go all the way down the branch. In a really strong wind storm these burdenning branches will weaken all the way down the branch, giving them a droopy appearance as opposed to a healthy branch that's just bent, which will have a kinked appearance. I wish I had pictures for that. Maybe I will by tomorrow!

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