Take time to evaluate garden’s future needs
As there is not much activity in the garden for the next couple of months now is the best time to take stock and evaluate.
Plants grow upwards and outwards as they age but, like people, they also show signs of decline.
Last year was generally good for growth. As can be seen around the island, much of it was vibrant with very little damage to branches and foliage — mainly due to the fact we had no hurricanes.
The resulting abundance of ‘greenery' is unusual for this time of year, and requires a different maintenance schedule.
I would advise against cutting back now, as any periods of warm weather will induce growth which will likely be destroyed by the next storm.
If you must cut, reduce the amount of wood carefully and make sure there is enough of an opening in the plant for winds to filter through with reduced impact. This will help prevent wind damage.
Neglecting the health of plants might not seem important but the cost of cutting up a mature plant, removing its roots, trucking it off site and replacing it can be expensive and wreak havoc on the garden's aesthetics.
When a garden is first planted, the area can look sparse or under-planted — this is where the knowledge of growth association and placement becomes valuable. Over-planting in the initial design concept will often lead to problems down the road, as plants mature with the ‘survival of the fittest' syndrome coming into play.
Top growth, as it matures, is supported by its anchoring element, which is the root system; both have a propensity to grow up/down and out. This action is multiplied numerous times contingent on the number of plants in the area, with the root zones fighting for water and nutrients and the top growth for space and light.
When top and root growth encounter a problem there is a reaction.
During prolonged periods of dry weather, fast growing soft-leaved plants will show intolerance and wilt; weak plants are more susceptible to attack by pest and diseases. Over-planting creates a similar scenario, when too much growth crowds out air flow. As a result, the area becomes an incubator for pest and disease development.
Because trees often go without inspection for many years, they can be severely damaged during hurricanes owing to internal rot within the trunk, crotch or large limbs. An inspection by a qualified tree surgeon would have noted the potential problem and led to recommendations for remedial action. With deciduous trees, inspection should be carried out when the tree is leafless.
When examining trees for root damage consider the following rule of thumb: the top growth of a tree equals its root growth.
If the canopy is getting close to a building then it is time to check the root zone spread. A simple way to check is to fix a point close to the building in line with potential root spread and dig a parallel trench that's 12 inches wide and as deep as possible.
If root activity is found, especially if root size is significant, then there is a good chance you need to contact a professional. If not corrected initially, the problem will ‘grow' with time, to the detriment of the structure.
January is usually a relatively dormant month with regard to growth. It's also a good time to check for potential pest and disease problems by removing fallen horticultural debris which might harbour insect eggs or fungal spores — this is especially so with old logs and broken branches. Also, check damaged limbs and clean them out, leaving a smooth cut so it can callous smoothly and quickly.
Bermuda soils are leached of nutrient after heavy rains and should be infused with a good dose of compost to increase nutrient value and improve growth. Fertilising is one way to encourage growth but well-composted horse manure, or general clean horticultural compost creates good humus when mixed in the beds.