Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts in the yards of Louisiana and Mississippi will begin with the removal of dead and dying plants on the landscape. But sadly, clearing the "deadwood" off the land is only the beginning in what will have to be a long-term land reclamation project in some of the affected areas. For there is an unseen enemy in the cleanup efforts that will not be so easily removed. That enemy is salt.
Land reclamation on the heels of flood damage can be bad enough when the water in question is fresh. But in the case of the flooding that Hurricane Katrina brought to the coastal communities worst hit, salt water was involved. Long after the flooding has receded, some of the salt from that water will be left behind, in the ground, along with additional salt from silt deposits brought by the waves. The problem thus created is called, "soil salinization."
Large quantities of salt in the soil just don't mix well with the plants that you would like to grow in that soil. An excess of salt prevents plants from absorbing water properly -- ironic, considering that floodwaters brought the salt in the first place! Many of the survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Asia are all too well aware of this irony.
Hurricane Katrina Cleanup Challenge: Land Reclamation Through Improved Drainage
Soil salinization may prevent you from making a quick return to "landscaping as usual." The length of time will vary from yard to yard, depending on how much salt was left behind. It will take time for the rain and/or artificial irrigation to flush the salt out of the soil. There is, however, something you can do to expedite this flushing: improve the drainage on your property. The better your soil drains, the faster the salt can be flushed out.
For instance, you can modify the steps I present in my tutorial on French drains, applying the same basic principles to reclaiming the land from soil salinization. Try to reclaim only a small portion of your property each year, since draining land is hard work for do-it-yourselfers. You can facilitate the work by renting a trencher. The flatter your land, the more trenches you'll need to dig.
Hurricane Katrina Cleanup: Landscaping Alternatives
In the meantime, you don't have to give up having plants in your yard. But be willing to explore alternatives to the more usual landscape layouts involving lawns and large planting beds. Now more than ever, during Hurricane Katrina cleanup, consider the virtues of these two alternative solutions:
- container gardens
- raised beds made of masonry or wood
I offer directions, with pictures, for building a structure that combines the features of container gardens and raised beds in my article on landscaping for small yards. I present a variation on the typical raised bed in my tutorial on building rock gardens. In either case, use potting soil in lieu of the soil contaminated with the salt brought by Hurricane Katrina.
Options for container gardens are limited by two factors only: drainage and your imagination! Any container you use must have (or must be given) drainage holes. Pots are, of course, the most common receptacle for container gardens. But I've seen many types of imaginative containers used, ranging from hollowed logs to bathtubs. In fact, survivors of the disaster may wish to commemorate their successful Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts by selecting a salvaged piece as a container, something to serve as a symbol of their perseverence.
A Precaution to Take During Hurricane Katrina Cleanup
Conditions brought by Hurricane Katrina will result in an increase in the number of mosquitoes. Since Hurricane Katrina cleanup will continue throughout West Nile virus season in some instances, there's bound to be a jump in West Nile cases. So remember to use a mosquito repellant. One option is to us a well-known spray such as Off! But I explore additional options in my article on natural mosquito control, including a device called, the "Mosquito Magnet."