Alex's Column in The Rockaway Times

Some Still Have Sandy Challenges




31 MARCH 2016

Spring has finally arrived! The flowering trees have begun to dazzle us with pastel blooms, while the daffodils and crocuses remind us that the bright flowers of summer are just around the corner. Now is the perfect time to start planning our gardens. That being said, Sandy has changed a lot of the way we do things around here, and gardening is no exception. Today I’m going to talk about how to replant your front yards and gardens after the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

It’s been almost 3 1/2 years since the Superstorm, and our community has come back stronger. However, one major part of the Rockaway lifestyle that hasn’t fully recovered is our beautiful gardens. Our gardens give us an oasis to relax in the summer, a place to grill and entertain with friends and family, and a safe space for our kids to play in. It’s one of the reasons that make Rockaway such a special place to live.

In fact, inspired by my neighbors’ gardens, I took up gardening as a hobby 20 years ago, and later turned it into a career as a landscape designer. I owe my love of gardens to this community.

Before we start to plant, it’s important to understand why most of our plants failed. When the ocean met the bay, it flooded everything with a mix of salt water, pollutants, chemicals, and sewage from the local waste treatment plant. This mix saturated the soil, and all the plants absorbed that from the roots to the leaves. The soil eroded and left us with mud, which became compact infertile soil. On top of this, the salt spray from the ocean hit plants that aren’t salt tolerant. Our gardens didn’t have much of a chance.

But the good news is that there’s a clear way to restore our gardens. For ornamental gardening like a front yard, apply lime if you haven’t already. It will get the remaining salt out of the ground. Once we’re ready to plant, we first loosen the soil, and then we add in organic fertilizers like compost, nitrogen-based manures (chicken is best), and peat moss to help retain water in sandy soil. Depending on your soil condition, you may need other fertilizers to build it back. If you’re unsure about what your soil needs, you can get it tested at Cornell Cooperative Extension, or you can buy a kit to test at home.

Once our soil has all the nutrients it needs, we’re ready to plant!  At my landscape design firm Sungold Design Group, my clients come to me looking to make their gardens hurricane resistant. There are a couple of different shrubs out there that I recommend that thrive in seaside conditions. Hollywood junipers make great ‘anchors’ for your garden design. Certain hydrangeas, hardier rose bushes, pines, flowering cherry trees, hostas, lilies, and ornamental grasses all have better chances of surviving salty conditions.

When planning your garden, ask yourself how much of your landscaping do you want to be hurricane resistant, and how much do you want for your personal pleasure. It’s important to include plants that you love, because after all is a said and done, your garden is there for your enjoyment.

Next week I’ll discuss the secrets to planting a successful fruit & vegetable garden.

Alex Berkowitz is the Founder and Landscape Designer for Sungold Design Group, LLC a landscape design and installation firm in NYC and Rockaway Beach.