Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Recent storms left many trees, shrubs and flowers needing T.L.C.

Sunday afternoon, Virginia Lane looked like the Stillwater River.  Thinking that it would only last a few minutes, I marveled at how pretty it would be if there really was a river there.  As the north side of our sloping lot filled with water, I regretted my initial reaction.  Within minutes the house had become river frontage and was lakeside.  It was then that I thought, enough! 

Fortunately our landscaping efforts on the north side, which included a shallow basin to collect water before it hit the house, worked beautifully.  Proper grading became the most important part of the landscape.  As water rushed down the driveway and was diverted by the raised garden bed, it ended in another basin in the south (back) yard.  This provided protection for our neighbors, located to the south of our home, who were already inundated with the rising creek and duck pond. 

But let's start at the beginning.  I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap after a hard day of detail work in the yard when I heard the first tap of hail.  I sat straight up when the tap turned into a pounding sound.  It was like being under a motel ice machine that keeps pouring out ice, even after the button is released.

I realized Angie's car was not in the garage and I ran outside. The stupidity of my action became paramount when golf ball-sized hail hit me in the head. So, with a garbage can lid on my head, I ran to the garage to make room for her car, which was going to be a tight squeeze.  With foggy windows I began to pull the car in.

As a side note, you know that note on the mirror that says "objects may be closer than they appear" — it's not a suggestion, it's true!  80% into the garage I saw my car gently move forward a couple of inches.  Fortunately, I stopped, got out of the car and saw that the two had 'touched' each other.  A very slow reverse, straightening process and forward movement completed the task. I ran back to the house, lamenting my actions but realized I had no time to worry about it.

Our neighbor's pond was rising fast, and I decided to run down and check it. I found my neighbor's son with a rake trying to clear the debris from the grate to lower the pond level.  I hadn't met him before but after we worked to clear the grate and see the swirl of water, it felt good to help and to meet him. 

I forgot to tell Angie that I was leaving and when I came back a half hour later, completely drenched, she got the picture. Then I learned about what had happened in the Heights and sat in awe at the pictures of the damage to so many businesses, hoping that there would be no human injuries.  The next morning, I drove out to the Garden Center to see if there was anything left. When I saw the steel support beams of the billboard above Main Street Casino bent over like cooked spaghetti noodles, I fully realized the impact of the storm.

While the devastation was great, even making national news, I was overcome by how lucky we are to live in Billings.  I know other communities rally in times of crisis, but our police, fire, emergency personnel and common citizens who accomplished such amazing feats left me speechless.  The stories keep coming.  Can you imagine having 3 feet of mud in your basement and have the NAVY show up to help you haul it all out and strip wet sheet rock? It's heartwarming to know that people care that much about others.  That was my lesson from the storm.

Now, what to do with your garden? There are a couple schools of thought, but I've tried to take the best points from each to assemble my plan. There are two main issues.  First, the plants and trees are traumatized from the wind and hail. Second, the intense amount of water depletes the soil of nutrients. 

With that in mind, the rule of thumb for annuals and perennials is that if any part of the plant is broken or bent, the plant should be trimmed at the point of the break or further.  They are not able to repair themselves and everything after the break will eventually fade and die if it hasn't already. Removing the damaged foliage allows the plants to put energy into sending new growth out rather then trying to feed dying parts.

Soft foliage like Hosta and Coleus that just have holes in the leaves can be left alone. But, if the foliage looks like it's been through a paper shredder, it needs to be removed.  Trees should be pruned immediately removing all broken limbs so that they don't come crashing through during the next storm. 

It is very important that all annuals, perennials and trees be fed with a good fertilizer several times over the next three weeks.  With some warm sunny weather, they will rebound quickly.  And, watering is a key component.  Remember that while it did rain a lot, most of it just rushed by and did no good for the plants.  Carefully check the moisture levels of the soil and continue to water sparingly, but don't stop watering.  This is a time to hand-water with a hose, reaching specific areas that need it. Do not rely completely on automatic sprinklers that could over-water if they are left at their regular settings, or under-water if they are turned off.  I turned my auto sprinklers back 50% and plan to leave them that way for a couple of weeks. All other watering will be by hand in consistent daily quick doses with water soluble fertilizer until the weather stabilizes.

Life in the garden is uncertain; storms and setbacks will come but the memories of rebuilding will last a lifetime.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.