November 9, 2011

Slow Growers

Red maple and river birch the day after the storm

Tammy at Casa Mariposa asked me which plants in my garden did well and survived the recent October snow catastrophe.

The ones that came through unscathed were the slowest growers.

Slow growers have strong wood.  Stiff branches, small leaves and dense wood helped them shrug off tons of heavy snow that crippled, bent or snapped other trees and shrubs.

Here are some of my young trees that survived the storm well:

Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is a lovely forest tree that grows very slowly, driving me crazy as I wait for mine to gain any size as shade trees.  They have very stiff branches.  Very stiff --- I have tried to turn a small branch upward to train it into a different position and you can't do it.  The branches are completely unbendable.

Black gums have small leaves, so the wet heavy snow did not have as much surface to weigh down, and the stiff branches held.  I had no damage on any of the three small Nyssa sylvaticas in my garden.
I took this picture of the larger of my black gums on 10/25, just 4 days before a freak snowstorm dumped 18 inches of cement on everything.  It looked just as good, well shaped, and intact after the storm.

Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is another modest grower that also has rigid branches and small leaves, and mine had no breakage.  I like this plant --- it's more of a small tree than other viburnums, but its twigginess is dense and confused looking and I do wish it was a little more elegant.  But that stiff twigginess served it well under the snow load.  Strong bones.
A chaotic, twiggy little tree, the Blackhaw Viburnum lost no branches and looked fine after the snow melted

The spruces did well, again because they have stiff structure and narrow leaves (needles). Oaks, known for their strong wood, also did okay, even my very small pin oak saplings.  Spruces and oaks are known for being slow growers.

Both of my small stewartias (Stewartia pseudocamellia and Stewartia monadelpha) were untouched by the snow.  Again, they gain height slowly, and they have small leaves.
After the storm the Stewartia showed no ill effects a week later, and even managed to color up like it is supposed to, snow be damned.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a rigid little tree.  It did lose a major branch, which was upsetting because it is such an extremely slow grower it only puts on one small branch a year.  But overall it came through fine.  If only it would get bigger than 5 foot 4.  I want to sit under trees that are taller than I am.
The little sourwood was ok.  The big weeping mound on the left in back is a 20 foot tall red maple, or it was.  The double arching branches next to it belong to a 25 foot high river birch, headed off in two directions.  In the foreground on the left is a tall magnolia lying down in the snow.

The real disasters during the storm were the trees that shoot up rapidly, with weak, brittle wood.  The worst: the Bradford pears, which I wrote about already, and almost everyone's ornamental cherries broke apart.  My redbuds went completely kaput and snapped off.  Poplars, including a big thriving tuliptree that fell over, were weak performers.

The slow growers were the survivors.  There's a metaphor for life here, I think, but it's so obvious I'm not going to pursue it.  They're just trees, you know. 


  1. Hmmm...could the lesson be something about "not peaking in highschool?" lol
    Glad you have some sturdy survivors to build upon. :)

  2. It really is amazing how resilient some of these trees really are to weather a storm like that. Last year Buffalo had what was similar called the October Surprise. Many trees were lost in our area, but my surprise was how many came through unscathed.

  3. As a fellow lover of trees, the snapped trunks are sickening. I am so sorry, I will be anxious to see which varieties you choose to replant with, Laurrie.
    I've always considered myself a late bloomer, but never thought that might be a blessing.

  4. I've always thought that gardening teaches you patience; this seems to be one more example of this lesson.

    Laurrie, I have been out of town the past week with little access to the internet, so I missed your previous posts about the winter storm that hit your area. I am so sorry about everything you lost in your garden--how sad this is. I hope that some of the plants you thought are lost might survive after all. As for the Bradford pears, well that's probably good riddance. Twenty years ago or more, everyone in new subdivisions around here was planting Bradford pears. After a particularly bad icestorm a few years ago, everyone, including city arborists, discovered the folly of this. Now arborists advise not planting them here.

    Besides patience, I think gardening teaches us humility and resilience--I know you will have a beautiful garden once again next spring.

  5. Wow - I knew it was bad, but seeing the losses in a garden I've visited really brings it home. I'm so sorry for all your losses, but know you'll rethink and replant and the result will be beautiful.

  6. It sounds like substance beat style. :o)

    I wonder how a zelkova tree would do for you? I have one in my front yard and she's a tough gal. It has smallish leaves and is vase shaped with upright branches, which helps it shed snow. It has beautiful fall color and tolerates drought and heat. Serviceberries are another tree to consider, unless those cracked, too.

  7. Garden Ms. S, I definitely didn't peak in high school!

    Donna, Now that more than a week has passed I am seeing so much more that survived just fine.

    Sissy, in this case it's definitely a god thing to be a late bloomer! I'm already thinking of what to replant and where.

    Rose, I do think there will be a real drop off in the number of Bradford pears, and people will start to plant other things. I hope.

    Cyndy, Glastonbury was not as hard hit as the Farmington Valley. They lost trees (and power for several days), but the worst damage was a swath through the north central towns. I'm glad you are in your new garden now!

    Tammy, I'll post some pictures of the zelkovas. They are fine, but made rather a mess with dropped branches. You would think the upright branches and small leaves would have helped, but they all cracked up a bit.

  8. Glad to see that there are some survivors although it's still disheartening to see the massive damage that fell on others. I guess that's why nature mixes up forests though, if there's damage at least some will survive. You've done a great job of mixing up the species you planted so even though you've lost a great deal there is still some wonderful trees left to admire.

  9. Wow - what snow...and to see the trees bending right in front of your eyes...

  10. Marguerite, Mixing is so critical. The mile and a half of nothing but Bradford Pears along a road in town is a disaster now. It would have been so much better with different trees lining the road.

    Marie, The river birches and magnolias laid right down across the snow, but then slowly came back up, unharmed, a few days after the storm.

  11. Laurrie - thanks for the post-storm update! I was wondering how you fared because you have a lot of high-school age trees (the high-school analogy made me LOL). Redbud - no surprises there, southern New England is the northern end of their hardiness zone. I had the same. Bradford Pear - yipeee! :) (sorry) Good news on the sourwood, blackhaw, black gum and oaks. They can cope with a little early season snow! We lost a lot of very old oak branches but all our oaks still stand tall and are still holding onto their leaves as if to say "what storm"? Too bad about the tulip tree...good to know this as I have considered growing it here...
    The red maple..was it a named cultivar? We have some unnamed red maple cultivar that split right up the middle, but our wild-seeded red maple trees mostly survived intact.
    See ya soon!

  12. Ellen, I was not unhappy about losing the Bradford pear either : )

    The tuliptree was 6 or 7 years old, growing on a sandy slope. The big leaves bent it down, weighted with snow and it pulled its own roots up out of the hillside as it bent over. I think on flat ground it would have been okay, it is pretty supple at least at this young age.

    Some of the red maples were volunteer seedlings, but some were ones I planted, but unnamed cultivars from Lowe's. The two big maples in our yard that were severely pruned, losing big branches, were October Glory I think.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.