It’s time to hurricane proof the garden

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  • AP Photo/Andres Leighton
Damaged: Julie Madeiros, left, and Brandy Keating remove from their backyard tree branches that were blown off by the powerful winds of Hurricane Fabian in 2003.

    AP Photo/Andres Leighton Damaged: Julie Madeiros, left, and Brandy Keating remove from their backyard tree branches that were blown off by the powerful winds of Hurricane Fabian in 2003.

Summer is a time of lush growth especially if we have had good rainfall.

When this is the case, such growth is soft in texture and usually found in abundance and is ripe for attack not only by insect activity but the ever present threat of hurricanes, both can be devastating but the latter more so as we have no control over Mother Nature. Wind and salt spray are both major factors when considering plant selection and selection is based to a great degree on location; normal winter winds obviously have an impact but it is not as severe on “mature” growth as hurricanes are on soft growth.

Salt spray, if not accompanied by rain, will adhere to foliage causing “burn” and thereafter defoliation, and depending on the time of the hurricane could well have an effect on immediate re-growth. Early season storms allow enough time for new growth to show whilst late storms, if coinciding with an early autumn and lower temperatures can reduce development of such growth. Whether we have a hurricane or not, it is still advisable to inspect the summer growth and initiate a plan to lighten the growth of plants to reduce impact from high winds and certainly from winter storms.

Trees, especially the larger species such as Albizzia lebbek Black Ebony, Delonix regia Poinciana etc should certainly be given some attention in reducing the canopy of growth as well as reducing the weight of large branches which could give under the stress of high winds and heavy rains weighing them down. Wind and rain weigh heavy on branches/foliage in general and with heavy growth after a summer of good growth the effects can be devastating to all plants hence the need for pruning, which should be done with future growth in mind.

Large trees, especially if mature, should be checked by a tree surgeon who has all the skills to advise on pruning, weight factors that might affect the tree and any fungal activity in the crown or on limbs. The cost of such an inspection is well advised in catching a problem early and thus prolong the life of a mature specimen which otherwise could leave a void in the landscape if removed.

Small trees and large shrubs can be checked in many cases from ground level; with some of the smaller trees a ladder should be used to inspect the crown and crotch of the branch system. To ensure a healthy tree use tools that are sharp to deliver clean cuts whether from a chain saw, loppers or pruning saw and secateurs. Clean cuts will reduce the risk of infection whilst rough cuts and torn branches can result in future problems with rot from fungal activity. Thinning out heavy growth will dramatically reduce wind damage by allowing the wind to filter through the body of the plant, if not thinned out the denseness of the foliage creates resistance to the wind with resultant damage. Over-planting creates a similar situation with the wind being ‘blocked’ by heavy foliage and ‘bounces’ along until it has less resistance and blows the foliage down.

Small shrubs and ground covers invariably look bedraggled after any storm and just need general pruning to encourage new growth and flowering. Day lilies, Agapanthus and similar types will also look worse for wear, inspection should determine the extent of damage usually heavily bruised foliage which should be cut back to ground level to allow new growth to emerge and re-establish growth.

Hedges often take the brunt of a storm but are not immune to gale force winds, hence the need to be given some attention. Deciduous hedges such as hibiscus will defoliate usually during the winter months, but some thinning out during the summer months will not only encourage new growth but also create a more open branch structure for wind to filter through. Evergreen hedges if on the ‘low’ side may well be spared too much of a beating, however taller evergreen hedges will need some thinning to reduce damage from wind.

Invariably, even with preventative pruning damage still occurs and should be dealt with as soon as possible by cutting back material that has been broken or ‘snagged’ to new wood and with a clean cut, the latter being important to reduce the introduction of disease organisms from entering ‘open’ cuts. It is important to ensure all damaged material is removed especially soft tissue which could become a host to disease which is easily spread to surrounding areas. When pruning always cut above the node the area where the leaf is located on the stem and is usually slightly swollen in appearance and cut in a slanted direction away from the bud. Cuts made in between nodes encourage the area between the cut and node below cut to die back. Fungal activity i.e. rot takes time to show itself and it is often too late to save a branch or even the plant if not checked. An ounce of prevention is well worth the pound of cure, just because the problem is out of sight it should not be out of mind, hence the need for checking plants at least twice a year; insect activity can also lead to secondary infection of fungal activity especially with boring or burrowing insects that get beneath the bark and cause damage below its surface. Garden plants should be pruned with proper tools such as secateurs, lopper, hand saw, chain saw and certainly not the infamous tool that seems to turn any plant into a geometric non-descript excuse for a plant.

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Published Aug 10, 2012 at 8:15 am (Updated Aug 10, 2012 at 8:14 am)

It’s time to hurricane proof the garden

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