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What have we learned from Hurricane Irma?

Updated: 
September 17, 2017 - 12:05am

When it comes to hurricanes, to paraphrase an old adage, June is too soon, July-standby, August-a must, September — remember, then remember again October and November because it is not over until December! We have been very fortunate in Hawaii to have been free of storms this year, but not so in the southern United States.

What we have learned from Harvey and Irma is that the major damage done from actual winds was to trees like oak, mahogany and other broadleaved trees. On the other hand, palms like coconut, royal, cabbage palms, Mexican fan palms, Pritchardias and scores of others survived the storm winds. Many will tolerate flooding with little damage as well. If the soil was so soggy that the palms tipped over, they were easy to replant and recover. Since there are thousands of species, the question is which palms can be used to create your tropical landscape with a minimum of storm damage and care? The Hawaii Island Palm Society is ready to help local folks answer that question. According to Tim Brian, the society is inviting the general public to learn all about palms at an educational event at the Panaewa Zoo from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 24. Rare palm seeds and young trees will be given out to lucky participants. For further information on the event, contact Bob Gibbens at 333-5626.

When it comes to trees other than palms, remember they are important elements of parks, streets and home gardens. Do not forget that they supply oxygen, sequester carbon and in general are helping to minimize the negative effects of global climate change. However, they do require proper maintenance to ensure they make it through stormy weather. It is always important to inspect your trees for dead branches that seem to be ready to fall. A gust of wind can snap an arm-size branch from a tree and send it at missile speed through a picture window.

A low hanging branch over a roof can wreak havoc. Powerful winds can turn the limb into a tool of destruction. This tool can remove shingles as easily as a fish can remove scales. Removing dead and out of place limbs is a good idea even if there is no storm.

Fan like fungus growing on the side of a tree trunk indicates rotten spots that need attention. A hole made by poor pruning, damage from earlier storms, or the gouge of an auto bumper can start rotten spots.

Remove decayed trees that are too weak to hold up under the strain of a storm. This action will save you grief later.

Actually, even 100 mph wind is not as dangerous as it sounds if necessary measures are taken before the wind reaches gale force.

If your home is located in an area that might be flooded, you’ll be given ample notice to evacuate hours before the storm reaches your area. Otherwise, there is no safer place than in a well-built home.

Soon as the storm has passed it is a good idea to inspect the trees and other plants around the house. Usually all the plants will show signs of wind damage. With a little trimming, propping, resettling of root systems, fertilizing and watering, nearly all plants that were shaken loose from the ground can be salvaged. After hurricane season, it is a good idea to consider root pruning as a way to manage those larger trees. If in doubt on what to do, you may contact a local certified arborist to assess the situation and correct it.

Many of our tropical trees grow rampant with extensive root systems. That is why we prune to keep them from getting out of hand, but let us prune the right way. Late spring and summer are not the best time for heavy pruning since shade is at a premium during those hot days ahead. Now is a good time as the days are getting shorter and the sun’s rays less intense.

Here is a scheme to keep lawns and flowerbeds healthy, too. The trouble with roots of many big trees like banyan species and monkeypods is that they are too greedy. Their roots will fill a flowerbed or a new lawn in just a few years after the trees were planted.

When this happens, you can be sure that they are not doing the smaller plants any good. Very likely, the tree roots are competing so fiercely for soil’s available water and nutrients that grass, shrubs and flower roots suffer.

The first step is to dig into the soil alongside the lawn or flowerbed where the trees grow. After just a few spades full, you can begin to see how many roots grow through the area. If you find many little roots, you can make a trench between the lawn or bed and the tree. Secondly, annual cultivation in the rooting area will at least keep the topsoil free of tree roots that compete for water and nutrients. Thirdly, choose plants for the understory that will tolerate the shade and competing tree roots like philodendron, Ruellia, mondo and other ground covers. Vegetable gardens are best in sunny areas free of tree root competition.

In conclusion, remember that trees are vital to making urban life healthier for us physically, mentally and even spiritually. Forest fires, storms and drought are destroying our forests on a global scale. On the other hand, every time we plant a tree, we help to minimize the effects of global warming.

So enjoy those beautiful trees in your garden by maintaining them correctly. On a grander scale, work with Hawaii County and State governments to plant more trees in parks, roads and highways. We depend on the tourist industry. Visitors to our islands as well as residents appreciate our beautiful landscapes. Without trees, this would just be another barren desert island.

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