If your area has been hit hard by a flood, the recovery process can be a lot of work but basically it breaks down into three parts:
- Wash down and rinse off;
- Prune and remove the damage; and
- Clear away debris and recycle.
The first thing to do after a storm is to get right to your plants to rinse off any mud or debris that might start forming at the base. You want to do this sooner rather than later. This will help prevent disease that could start spreading through the leaves. Once the plants have been rinsed they can begin the process of revival.
Usually from something bad comes something good and in this case it is compost. Layer leaves, stems and debris with the mud brought in by storm waters -- this material will eventually become compost, which can be used to add organic matter to your soil.
You can purchase a relatively inexpensive soil moisture meter at most hardware stores. A meter will tell you the percentage of water remaining in your soil. If you still have mud, you won't need a meter to tell you the soil is waterlogged. But if you are wondering if it is dry enough for the roots to get the necessary oxygen, a meter will tell you when the soil has reached that level (usually between 40 - 70%).
Give your plants a couple of days to recover. By giving them a little breathing room you will be able to see new growth and then you can tell what needs to be pruned. It is probably best to deal with the biggest trees and shrubs first. Obviously anything that affects your own safety needs to be handled first. The next step would be to look for snapped branches, or bent or damaged broken leaves.
The largest trees and shrubs usually need to be dealt with first. Concentrate on items such as downed trees and anything which directly affects your personal safety. Where personal safety is at risk, consider bringing in professionals to remove the large damaged woody material. Stems can be pruned back to the next potential new shoot. Look for new growth that might be emerging or buds. Remember that a hard pruning after a storm can be an additional stress to plants already under pressure.
Again the positives of a storm can help your garden and one aspect is new soil with high levels of organic matter. This can be fertile soil, so as long as it is not so thick that it is gunky. Once the tips of the plants are showing through, just try to rinse the remainder of the soil below the leaf tops and let nature take over.
If you are gardening in a flood-prone area, you might want to consider raised beds. They still will get flooded but they will dry out and drain more quickly. You also may want to look into plants and shrubs that are more tolerable to water.