Here Comes Ciara! – How To Protect Your Garden From Stormy Weather

Winter thus far has consisted of a handful of slightly chilly nights with a lot of benign, mild, wet weather in between. The garden is bursting with signs of spring, some of which I have captured to illustrate this post. Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ is already blooming, at least 2 months earlier than usual. Legions of tulips are emerging from the ground and we are enjoying generous pots of bright blue Iris reticulata and shocking-pink Cyclamen coum.

Here at The Watch House we haven’t suffered any frost, despite cars on the street outside being smothered in rime on several occasions. The walls, trees and buildings that surround the house create a unique and favourable microclimate. Right now, only the most cold-sensitive plants are showing any sign of distress, but there’s a threat equal to frost on the way across the Atlantic – a storm named Ciara.

Batten down the hatches, Ciara’s coming!

Needless to say, the media are beside themselves with glee at the prospect of major travel disruption, danger to life, widespread power cuts and coastal flooding. A violent storm is a gift for journalists because they can feel gratified if the forecast is correct and blame the Met Office if their predictions don’t come to pass. And we all recall what understatement did for Michael Fish’s reputation in 1987 ….

The Great Storm of 1987 caused substantial damage over much of England, felling an estimated 15 million trees.

Before Storm Ciara makes landfall, here are some sensible precautions that all gardeners can take when strong winds are predicted.

1. Batten Down the Hatches

Ensure anything loose or moveable is weighted down or brought inside. Serious damage can be caused by objects that were not designed to fly through the air, including garden tools, hose reels, dustbins, play equipment and garden furniture. Put vulnerable items in a shed or garage if you can, otherwise move them to a sheltered spot. 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.

A wayward trampoline blocking the main London line at Bickley, Kent

Similarly, cloches, fleece and other forms of winter plant protection can be torn from the plants they were there to protect, so pin or tie these down as best you can.

Make sure larger pots are well watered and moved away from windows. Smaller pots and delicate plants should be relocated to a place of shelter.

High winds can topple pots of any size, so bunch these together and ensure they are well-watered before the storm hits. Move anything 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 winter months organic material does not break down as fast as in summer, resulting in a build up of toxic ammonia 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.

Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ is flowering now, but this rambler is no great lover of strong winds or cold weather. The whole plant could be stripped of leaves by Storm Ciara

2. Make Good and Mend

Check your shed roof for for missing felt and patch up where possible. If your garden fence has any 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.

The tree on the left, Lyonothamnus floribundus subsp. aspleniifolius, was sadly toppled by a gale last March. This is one of the hazards of gardening by the coast.
(photograph: Marianne Majerus)

3. Keep Thin and Flexible

It has been a long time since these two words were applied to my good self, but they are wise to observe when it comes to one’s garden. During the winter months many trees have open canopies where foliage has fallen. Evergreens are most susceptible to winter storm damage, so thin crowns if at all possible and remove any branches that are touching property – when flailing about in a storm they can easily break glass, rip off a gutter or crush a car. Shrubs and trees in exposed locations should be staked temporarily using ties which have a degree of flexibility. Don’t secure a trunk so firmly that it cannot bend slightly in the wind – there is a possibility it will simply snap.

If you have not pruned roses, buddleja, abutilons or lavateras yet, do so tomorrow. Wind rock can be extremely damaging to these plants as well as any trees and shrubs you’ve planted in the last few months. The less material above ground the safer these plants will be.

Geranium maderense prefers shelter, but is more tolerant of wind than of cold.

4. Safety First

Last but not least, once Ciara or any other storm has set in, do not attempt to rescue a situation unless it is 100% safe to do so. Your neighbours may not be as diligent as you, meaning airborne debris could come at you from any angle, including above. On more than one occasion I have chosen to attempt saving a precious tree from falling and can attest to the invincible force of strong wind hitting a dense canopy. Unless you are Giant Haystacks it’s not worth taking the risk.

If you are determined to venture out this Sunday or Monday, keep in mind that many gardens, parks and arboreta usually open to the public will remain closed if there is danger of injury through falling trees or branches. My advice is to stay indoors, snuggle up on the sofa and enjoy a good book or blockbuster film until Ciara has blown herself out. TFG.

The emerging shoots of Dracunculus vulgaris, the dragon arum, should be fairly safe in a storm, provided nothing falls on them.

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25 thoughts on “Here Comes Ciara! – How To Protect Your Garden From Stormy Weather

  1. Being from the States and currently unaware of your looming weather, I immediately had visions of Ciara the hip-hop singer coming to visit your garden and was both envious and curious as to how it came about. Now I understand its far less fun and send good juju for milder weather than predicted. Great post with loads of helpful tips for anyone, even us non-coastal folks, facing down bad weather. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Rosa banksii is also in flower on just a couple of stems – may I ask, do I prune it now before it starts growth? Ideally I’d like to let it grow for cutting for my floristry work – I’m never sure with this climber.

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  3. Oh my goodness, the weathermen do get hysterical from time to time. I hope this time it isn’t so. It sounds like you know how to prepare. I am not surprised since you live so close to the water. I guess it is a good thing that you aren’t too far along at the Alotment. Best of luck to you.

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    1. We seem to get at least one of these extreme weather events every year. The newspapers love a ‘weather bomb’ and delight in the potential havoc that might be wreaked. I must say that I can’t recall winds as strong as predicted happening here so I am a little nervous about it. More so about the house than the garden as it’s old and a bit fragile.

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  4. Thankyou, thankyou, I have been out in my nightie tieing in long new growths of roses and clematis before Ciara can snap them off, hadn’t really thought of it before. Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Dan, very helpful post. We are in the amber warning zone, so helpful advice which I shall follow. A bit worried about a free standing magnolia grandiflora that should have had its branches shortened, too late now.

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    1. Hello Nancy. Would staking the magnolia help in the very short term? A stake either side and something flexible like jersey or old hosiery to secure it between would work. Magnolia grandiflora has a dense canopy but the leaves are quite large so that might help the wind pass through more easily than a tree with fine leaves. My bay tree acts like a giant sail when the wind blows! Fingers crossed for you. Dan

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      1. Phew, got away with it. Hope your garden did not suffer. A number of trees down locally, piles of sawdust on the A2100. The people that deal with these things were out cutting earlier in the week and dealt with falls very quickly on the day. No damage at all in our garden, fortunately. I shall get the man in to trim the magnolia. It is about 25 feet high and almost as wide if not properly managed, guessing it to be about 20 odd years old. We inherited the tree. Good growth as our garden is quite sheltered. I would not have planted a grandiflora. Although the flowers are stunning; huge, marvelous lemon scent, the tree needs a good hot spell to produce more than random flowers. From one of Helen Yem’s articles I understand that there are more better flowering varieties around now. However, in additon to the gift of random flowers, we love the way the light shines through the huge evergreen leaves on a sunny day, summer and winter. They are like bronze thanks to the reddish brown
        indumentum(?) on the underside, and the tree gives us much needed shade in a south facing garden.

        Your blog site is lookintg very smart.

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  6. The weathermen do seem to have their knickers in a twist with this one but forgive me for being a little cynical that this is because the wind is going to affect ALL the country including London and not just us poor souls on the west coast (Cornwall, Wales, Ireland) as is the norm. I think the strongest winds we have seen here so far was with storm Brendan which truly rocked and rolled, I lay awake most of the night wondering if the roof was going to fly off! Good tips though Dan. I hope everything in your garden stays safe and you too!

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  7. It’s been lovely, dry and sunny out today, I’ve been heeding your advice and done some gardening. Thought it appropriate to take advantage of the last dry day for a bit.
    The wind here is already gusting with gusto and it is forecast to get far worse. The RHS have sent out an email to say that Rosemoor will be closed tomorrow, the important thing is for all to stay safe.
    Defo a day for the fire and a good book, our Borrow My Doggy will not want to go out in those conditions.

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    1. John has just been out with the dogs and was very disappointed by the lack of drama down on the sea front. The worst weather for us arrives around midday. I’ve not even bothered to get dressed properly and am making the most of the excuse to do nothing. D

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