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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Sandy altered our future

The loss of majestic trees, rare trees, century-old

The loss of majestic trees, rare trees, century-old trees leaves a barrenness in many places. This maple fell on Morgan Drive in Wantagh. (Nov. 1, 2012) Credit: Robert Cassidy

You don't need me to tell you how hard our area has been hit by superstorm Sandy and the subsequent nor'easter. Lives and homes were tragically lost, and hardships endured were compounded by the lack of fuel, power and heat.

Heartbreaking stories of destroyed homes and valuables have poured in from all over the region, as did heartwarming tales of altruism in our time of need: One street in Levittown became a crisscross of orange extension cords when one side went dark and the other did not. I witnessed a neighbor, who had his hands full with his own shattered roof, shoveling another neighbor's driveway. And Facebook feeds were filled with offers of hot meals, showers and help for friends and acquaintences who were in need.

Another, less reported, segment of our population also took quite a hit: our trees. Certainly trees aren't nearly as important as much of what many have lost, but the fact remains that much of our landscape has been dramatically altered for years to come. Majestic mature trees that defined neighborhoods, some for generations, were torn apart or toppled altogether. Stark barrenness in a lot of places, unfortunately, will be a grim reminder of the events that transpired here for quite some time.

In Glen Cove, Oak Lane lost several of the huge trees that gave it its name; in Flower Hill and Plandome, 80- and 90-year-old trees overlapped across streets, and worse, atop some houses, in the days following the storm; and mature trees dropped throughout Wantagh. These scenes were replicated in virtually every one of Long Island's approximately 270 communities.

Losing aesthetics is bad enough, but the destruction of the idyllic tree-lined character that defines such blocks can also adversely affect the perception of a neighborhood, if not property values.

Among the most prominent horticultural losses on Long Island was that felt at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay. "The storm damaged approximately 150 trees in the garden that will have to be removed or pruned and another 200-plus in the woodland," the arboretum's director, Vincent Simeone, said. "We lost a state champion weeping silver linden on the main lawn by Coe Hall. We also lost a 90-foot-tall Nordman fir. Some of the worst damage was to the north side of the camellia greenhouse, which was severely damaged when a pine tree fell through it."

Old Westbury Gardens lost symmetry that can't be easily replaced when trees in its European linden allée toppled next to the entrance gate. An allée is an avenue or walkway flanked with rows of identical trees on both sides. Take even one out of the formation and the effect is diminished.

Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River lost about 40 fairly large trees, including 138-year-old black oaks. Those trees are "hard to find and hard to transplant, so replacing them has been pretty difficult," the arboretum's executive director, Nelson W. Sterner, told me. "We were able to find some in Maryland, and they'll be shipped next spring."

Bailey Arboretum in Lattingtown is home to a handful of endangered dawn redwoods, one of which is believed to be the widest of its species in the world. All survived intact, manager Mike Maron told me, but "a majority of the trees in the woodland, in the hiking trails area, on the perimeter, have either fallen or are broken in half or leaning on other trees," he said. In all, there are about 100 trees down on the property, mostly poplars, oaks, maples and pines.

And at the Hofstra University Arboretum in Hempstead, 125 mature trees were lost to Sandy and another 43 were felled during the snowstorm. "The biggest oaks on campus, planted in the 1940s, just toppled over," director of grounds Fred Soviero said. "Most came out of the ground, but some other healthy trees just snapped off at the base" during Sandy. Then the nor'easter took branches off every one of the "hundreds and hundreds of trees on campus."

Soviero and his crew worked throughout the night during the superstorm, cutting up trees as they fell and clearing the campus roadways in winds gusting to nearly 90 mph to ensure safety for the university's 5,000 students. "If we do get any FEMA money," he added, "we'll plant some more."

Saving the garden from salt damage

So much of Long Island, especially the South Shore and East End, was inundated with saltwater when high tides encroached upon landscapes during superstorm Sandy. Left alone, the salt will form a hard crust and end up completely dehydrating the soil.

Depending on the level of exposure suffered, it may not be possible to save your plants, but to restore the health of the soil, you must leach out the salts. Water the garden repeatedly, taking care that the irrigation water doesn't run off into the street; keep it in the beds only.

If saltwater exposure was extensive, as it was in many places, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County is reccommending that you water, and then spread gypsum over the soil. The salt will have a chemical reaction with the gypsum, forming sodium sulfate, which will wash through the soil with more watering, leaving harmless calcium precipiatate in its place. And do not apply fertilizer now; that would only add more salt to the soil.

After repeated watering, a soil analysis is recommended: Contact Agro-One (730 Warren Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850; call 800-496-3344; for sample gathering and mailing instructions. Fees range from $12 to $15 per sample.

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