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After Irene, be careful during yard cleanup

Friday - 9/2/2011, 12:00pm  ET

Cleaning up can be just as dangerous as the storm

Mike McGrath, Garden Plot editor

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Safety first

Well, Irene sure was an unwelcome guest now, wasn't she? Next time I go three days without electricity, I hope it's because I went camping.

At least I don't have a lot of debris to deal with, but I know that many of you do.

If big, damaged, hanging branches need to be taken off of trees, do the work in small sections. That means prune off the farthest 1 to 2 feet of a damaged limb, then take off the next 1 in a 2 foot long section and so on until you start to get near the trunk. Don't try and cut 100 pound branches off in one piece -- the branch will splinter or swing around and knock your brains out.

When your work brings you close to the trunk of the tree, identify the branch collar that's the doughnut shaped area where the limb meets the trunk of the tree. When you make your final cut, be sure that collar remains on the tree. Don't remove it.

If you're chainsaw savvy, by all means use one of those labor-saving devices. Otherwise use a bow saw. They're lightweight, inexpensive, very easy to use and the best tool for these kinds of jobs. Don't use anything to seal your pruning cuts. The tree will do much better on its own.

Don't do tree work yourself if the damaged tree is under power lines, power lines are anywhere near where you'd have to place a ladder or if the work would require you to be more than halfway up a ladder. Hire a professional, instead.

Remember: Many so-called "hurricane deaths" occur during cleanup long after the storm itself has passed. Be careful out there.

Let the pros take care of the debris

Are you one of the many folks out there with an abundance of dropped branches -- perhaps even whole or half trees -- on your property? Local municipalities are gearing up now to create and implement plans to collect and dispose of this storm debris safely.

Before you do anything else, call your local municipality and ask what their plans are and how you can schedule a pickup. If you're physically able, it would be great if you could cut large branches up into manageable sizes to make the removal work a little easier. But don't worry if you can't.

And whatever you do, don't toss everything into a big pile and burn it. Your local municipality will make good use of the wood, and burning green wood creates the worst kind of air pollution. Burning the leftovers would waste the inherent energy in that wood, likely send several asthmatics to the emergency room, ruin a nice "windows open" day for everyone else in your neighborhood and risk starting a real fire.

Please don't become a bigger nuisance cleaning up after Irene than she was all on her own.

No tree can drain a wet spot

Kim in Manassas Park writes: "We have a very wet yard. We have two sump pumps running quite a bit in the basement whenever it rains, and the lawn is very wet in some spots. We've also started seeing some sink holes in the grass near our steps. We don't like living on this wet spot and worry all the time when it rains a lot. The basement has already flooded, and we don't want it to happen again. We want to plant a tree that will suck up the water and help with the wetness. What tree would you recommend?"

Sorry, Kim. Trees that suck up huge amounts of water are a fantasy. Although some types of trees can survive soggy soil -- most can't -- no tree can violate the laws of physics by draining all the water in an area and sending it into another dimension for disposal. The roots of any such tree would damage your foundation worse than the water itself. Water-loving willows, for example, have notorious house moving, pipe smashing roots.

Your problem sounds very serious and so you need a serious solution. That means having the yard re-graded professionally and installing drain tiles or a rain garden system that can handle all that water.

Don't ignore this problem. Those sink holes are a warning that you risk the structural integrity of your home. And the flooded basement is a warning that you're also risking your health as all that water has to be breeding mold spores like mad.

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