Snowstorms, such as the one that hit the East Coast of the United States at the end of 2009, can wreck havoc on the landscape and flower gardens. Trees are broken and destroyed; bushes have suffered damage from heavy snows; perennials that were not cut back are frozen. As you survey the damage, you should realize that not everything is a negative. Following are just a few things to consider as you plan your cleanup strategy for when the weather warms.
If you do not already have a brush pile but have room for one in the back of your yard, I highly recommend that you start building one, especially if you are a lover of wildlife. Brush piles offer protection to various species of birds, such as brown thrashers [see: Bird Watching: Brown Thrasher], which will also build nests within them. I have a brush pile that has become home to wild rabbits, too, which stick close to it and away from my flower, herb, and vegetable gardens. Brush piles are not pretty, I admit; however, you can camouflage them by planting some attractive shrubs in front of them. (I have winter jasmine planted.) You can also train flowering vines to cover the brush. For example, I have honeysuckle that grows over mine. Not only does it hide my brush pile, the smell is delicious, too. The honeysuckle also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. This all means that you should consider using a lot of those fallen, broken limbs for a brush pile.
Another thing that you can do with some of the fallen limbs is to make a feeder for your birds. This is not as difficult as it may sound. Simply take a substantial limb, cut one end so that it has a relatively even surface, and insert an eyehook into the end of the limb. Hang it from a tree or from a deck or pergola using either wire or some type of rope. Smear the limb with peanut butter. Your birds will love it!
There is a fairly large pine tree in my backyard that has been in danger of coming down since we moved into this house 4-5 years ago. It finally succumbed to the 2009 snowstorm. The upper half of the tree broke from the weight of snow and is now laying in the yard. This part of the tree will be added to the brush pile that is – conveniently – right next to it. However, the rather tall – and dead – section of trunk will be left standing. Instead of cutting that down, I am leaving it for as long as it will stand for the woodpeckers. Woodpeckers like to excavate nesting cavities in dead trees; and I am certain that the downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers will appreciate this tree. [See Bird Watching articles on: Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker].
There are a lot of perennials that I do not cut back at the end of the season; i.e., ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums, coneflowers, and various herbs. The heavy snows did not do them any favors, yet I have observed birds nibbling on whatever seeds that seem to remain. The perennials will, therefore, remain uncut until spring when it is time for them to begin their new growth.
Do not think that a snowstorm has completely destroyed your landscape. It has just re-shaped it. Use the damage that has been caused to your advantage. Also remember that snow gives your flowerbeds a nice warm blanket plus the added moisture is always appreciated.