Saving stressed-out plants after Hurricane Sandy

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John Nunnenkamp is nursery manager at Cipriano Nursery and Florist in East Meadow. He agreed that homeowners must patiently wait to see whether plants come back before deciding whether to remove them. And, he said, when plants do return, they may not look as healthy as they should. Even tall, well-established maples and oaks may show signs of stress, including discolored and poorly developed leaves that fall shortly after they have grown out, because salt spray carried by the wind was deposited in buds, hurting new growth. Only when new leaves appear will the damage become evident.

White pines, Nunnenkamp said, are particularly susceptible to the effects of wind-swept salt spray, which damaged trees as far north as East Meadow.

Brown pine needles will inevitably fall and can leave a tree barren. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is dead.

“A lot of evergreens will shed their needles, and new growth will come back,” Nunnenkamp said. “Give the tree a chance. If it’s an established tree and it’s only half-brown, it’s more than 90 percent likely that it will come back.”

Get your soil tested

Both Seghrouchni and Nunnenkamp said that homeowners should have their soil tested for salinity and pH level, which measures how acidic or basic soil is. Cipriano sells soil-testing kits, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension will conduct a soil test for free for CCE members and $7 for non-members.

A basic soil test will allow you to gauge the extent of saltwater damage in your yard. It’s critical to know how much salt remains, Nunnenkamp said, because you shouldn’t add fertilizers to overly salty soil. Fertilizers, particularly synthetic ones, contain high amounts of salt, and adding them to already salt-saturated soil could further harm plants.

Much of the salt that Sandy left behind has likely leeched deep into soil by now, because the South Shore has had a good amount of rain and snow since the hurricane. But the extent of leeching will depend on soil type, Seghrouchni said. Salt easily permeates sandy soil and quickly disperses, but it filters more slowly through clayish soil, so salt can still be present when high amounts of clay are present.

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