Forget about cold; wind is a gardener's worst enemy. When storms and gales hit, they can uproot centuries-old trees, redistribute garden buildings and trash your well-tended plants. There’s little you can do in the eye of a storm, but here are some sensible precautions that you can take when strong wind is forecast.
Batten down the hatches
It’s essential that anything loose or moveable is weighted down or brought inside. Serious damage to people and property can be caused by objects not designed to fly through the air, including garden tools, empty pots, hose reels, dustbins, play equipment and garden furniture.
- Put vulnerable items in a secure shed or garage if you can; otherwise, move them to a sheltered spot behind a wall, fence or hedge. Be aware that side passages and narrow spaces between buildings can be wind tunnels, and that much will depend on the wind direction. Strong wind from the north or the south is especially destructive in my garden, as air is funnelled between neighbouring buildings.
- Barbecue and furniture covers can be ripped off and deposited some distance away, so secure these with bungee cords or remove them temporarily. Trampolines can cause significant disruption if blown onto roads or railway lines and should be firmly tethered.
- Cloches, fleece and other forms of winter plant protection can be torn from the plants they were intended to protect, so pin or tie these down as best you can. You can use old bricks or broken paving stones to weigh down the edges of mulch matting.
- High winds may topple pots and containers of any size, so bunch them together and ensure they are well-watered before the storm hits to make them heavier.
- Move any pots or statuary that might topple away from glass windows and doors, including greenhouses and conservatories.
- Window boxes and hanging baskets should be removed and placed on the ground where they cannot fall on anyone. If in doubt, move it: the aggravation and distress caused by broken glass or smashed terracotta is not worth the gamble.
- If you have a pond, cover it with netting or chicken wire to prevent detritus from blowing in. During the autumn and winter months, organic material does not break down as fast as in summer, resulting in toxic ammonia build-up and making the pond water too acidic. Heavy rain will go some way to diluting any toxins, but the problem is best avoided in the first place.
Make good and mend
- Check your shed roof for missing felt and patch up where possible. Driving rain will find its way through any gaps in the fabric of garden buildings and may damage the timber structure or contents.
- If your garden fence has loose panels, secure these immediately with screws or nails: there’s nothing worse than having a whole border annihilated by 6ft square of treated softwood!
- Make sure shed doors and greenhouse windows are firmly closed and secured.
- Clear debris from drains and monitor them carefully during storms - blocked drains can cause flooding, potentially damaging property and plants. If your home may be at risk, position sandbags to divert excess water elsewhere.
Remove unwanted top growth.
- Evergreen trees and shrubs are most susceptible to winter storm damage. Thin or lift their crowns if at all possible and remove branches that are touching property or boundaries - when flailing about in a storm, they can easily break glass, rip off a gutter or harm someone
- Lop or saw off any dead or damaged limbs that might fall and crush something, or someone. If you don’t feel confident to do the work yourself, or you don’t have the right equipment, call in a professional arborist.
- Shrubs and trees in exposed locations should be staked temporarily using ties that offer flexibility. Don’t secure a trunk so firmly that it cannot bend slightly in the wind – there is a possibility it will simply snap rather than flex.
- If you have not pruned roses, buddleia or lavatera ahead of winter, do it as soon as possible. Wind rock can be highly damaging to tall, woody plants, snapping their roots and creating a hole around the base of the plant, which may fill with water. The less material above ground, the safer these plants will be.
- Trees and shrubs you’ve planted in the last few months may not be firmly anchored in the ground by their roots - secure them to garden canes or surround them with strong twigs until they’re better established.
- Safety should be your priority. When gardening in windy weather, protect your eyes with goggles, your hands with gauntlet gloves and your feet with sturdy boots. It’s no fun being flailed by a wayward climbing rose or hit by a flying object. Do not attempt to rescue a situation unless it is 100% safe to do so. Sit tight and deal with it when the wind drops. Remember that your neighbours may not be as diligent as you, meaning airborne debris could come at you from any angle, including above.
- If you are determined to venture out, remember that many public gardens, parks and arboreta will close if there is danger of injury through falling trees or branches. I advise staying indoors, snuggling up on the sofa and enjoying a good book until the storm has blown itself out.
Think about the long term
If you have an urban, coastal, exposed or elevated garden, the chances are that you consider the damaging effects of the wind constantly. Many notable gardens, such as Tresco on the Isles of Scilly and East Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk, exist in their current form only because their owners and previous owners have thought long-term about creating shelter.
In gardens of any size, it’s wise to use permeable barriers to filter the wind rather than erect solid defences that may be damaged by wind. In extensive gardens, you can plant a shelter belt of trees and shrubs, reducing wind speed for some distance inside the garden. In very exposed areas, it is worth seeking out species that are wind resistant, and by the coast, they should be salt resistant too. Tamarisk, pine, oleander, griselina and holm oak are good plants to look for.
If you move into a home with a windswept garden, creating shelter must be your top priority; without it, all your efforts will be thwarted. Planting a shelter belt may not sound glamorous, but it will pay you back in the long term.