Denver used to brag about the city’s fair weather—so many days of sunshine per year! More sun than Florida! Or San Diego! But the Mile High City’s climate over the past year has been disastrous. In fact, longtime landscape professionals claim Denver has suffered the worst weather ever — and gardeners haven’t seen the last of the foul weather’s negative impact upon landscapes.
For Front Range homeowners, an unrelenting series of damaging storms wreaked havoc. An early, deep frost in November 2014 froze lots of trees, shrubs and perennials to death. Then followed unseasonably warm winter days, weeks of heavy rains, a branch-breaking blizzard on Mother’s Day, and a series of apocalyptic hailstorms. Lightning and flooding and winds took tolls, too. Denver—“The City Beautiful”—has been downright ugly with frost-blackened blossoms, felled trees and broken branches, hail-hammered flower and vegetable beds, and drowned sedums and succulents.
Most Front Range homeowners sustained landscape losses
The storm clouds did come with silver linings. Even in our semi-arid state, the grass is green. For a while there, Denver resembled Dublin. Rather than drought, our rivers, creeks and reservoirs are running high. Wildfire threats are lower.
But most Front Range property owners suffered serious plant damage and landscape loss, according to Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC).
“I’ve never seen a year like this in all the years I’ve been in the business,” said Ralph Bronk, who since 1974 has owned Mountain High Tree, Lawn and Landscape Company based in Lakewood, Colorado.
A host of weather-related landscape woes
The ALCC reported the following weather-related problems: plant loss, saturated soils, weather delays, diseases and pests. One of the biggest problems along the Front Range is tree damage. The ALCC listed the following most susceptible trees: evergreens, ash, locust and stone fruit (cherry, plum and peach).
“Those jobs take priority because they pose a danger. You can’t leave a downed tree in a street or on a house,” said Bronk. “Just when you think you’re getting caught up, the vicious cycle repeats itself.”
Due to saturated soils and damaged root balls, the ALCC warns that high winds likely will topple vulnerable trees along the Front Range. Falling trees are a threat to people and property, and homeowners do well to consult professional tree surgeons and arborists to care for trees—a valuable resource.
What gardeners should watch for next
The ALCC also warns that saturated soils invite plant diseases such as verticillium wilt and powdery mildew that can attack many common edibles. Shrubs hard-hit by weather include boxwood, privet, euonymus, burning bush, althea and spirea. These plants may be casualties or even fatalaties.
The ALCC reports that many landscaping companies are four to six weeks behind schedule due to the chain of storms and triage aftermaths.
“Most contractors are frustrated because the excessive moisture and resulting mud has made it difficult to work,” Bronk said. “Like most homeowners, professionals use the Mother’s Day rule of thumb before planting annuals. The wet, cold Mother’s Day coupled with the unseasonable rains we’ve had since then has pushed everything back.”
The frustration reaches another level when landscape professionals deal not only with destroyed plants, but also devastated clients: “It’s upsetting to see our clients so upset,” said Bronk. “Some have lost much-loved and mature trees — trees that have been in their landscapes for a decade or more. Many folks definitely have an emotional attachment to their trees.”
Healthy plants stand a better chance against foul weather
For Bronk, the weather serves as a reminder that gardeners are at the mercy of weather, and also a reason to invest in protecting trees and plants in a landscape.
“Mother Nature calls the shots,” Bronk said, “and all we can do is try to keep our plants and trees healthy year round so that they stand a better chance of being able to survive the extremes we’ve experienced.”