March winds herald summer storms
Hurricane force winds are expected during hurricane season, but some of the worst wind damage our island has seen in recent years has come in March. Now is a good time to consider some general pruning needs in your garden.
Forget the old sailors’ rhyme, “June, too soon, July, stand by, August, a must, September, remember,” and remember that with global warming, we are getting an increase in violent storms as well as hurricanes even beyond hurricane season. With proper pruning, you can avoid much of the damage caused by the strong winds of passing storms and cold fronts.
Pruning also increases essential sunlight available to understory plants. Open up those heavy canopies of trees this time of year before intense summer sun scalds exposed branches.
Even if we never had storms and you carefully selected the right trees for your yard, there comes a time when you must consider pruning.
Whatever the natural form of the tree is, it should be maintained; this means individual handling of each problem.
Some pruning knowledge is necessary for gardeners who do their own work. A good set of pruning tools includes a pair of side-cutters for removing twigs and small branches, a pair of loppers for larger branches, a pruning saw, a tree pruner on a pole, and if you choose, waterproof paint to cover pruning wounds. Some believe that pruning paint is of no value, others swear it keeps the bugs and rot out if you reapply when the paint begins to deteriorate.
Pruning should be done for a reason: to maintain shape, remove diseased or awkward branches, or to reduce the size of a vigorous grower, such as a rubber tree.
Trees that respond to day length and bloom during the winter or spring months should be pruned through the summer months. Their final pruning should be before September.
Trees should be pruned to remove approximately one-third of the existing branches deep into the canopy, rather than “headed-back” or “hat-racked.” Plants that are headed-back will normally accumulate a heavier top growth than before and will be more susceptible to storm damage. Shower trees are commonly pruned this way, but it can lead to disease and insect infestation.
Weak and diseased branches and twigs should be removed when noticed. Citrus trees may be gone over lightly two or three times a year. Such pruning is done from the inside. Dead wood and vertical “water shoots” or suckers should be removed as they appear. When a weak or unwanted branch is removed from a healthy branch, it is cut off even with the branch itself. Do not leave a stub. This discourages disease and insect damage.
Many tropical trees grow extensive root systems. The trouble with roots of many big trees, such as banyans and eucalyptus, is that they are too greedy. Their roots will fill a flower bed or a new lawn a few years after they are planted.
The roots compete so fiercely for water and nutrients that grass, shrubs and flowers suffer.
Dig into the soil alongside the lawn or flower bed where the trees grow. If you find many little roots, from thread size to the diameter of your thumb, you can make a trench between the lawn or bed and the tree. Dig the trench about 2 feet deep, then sever sections of the roots within the trench. Use an axe or saw.
Whether you are able to make the trench with a machine or must dig and cut by hand depends on how much time the trees have had to send roots into the area and how long it’s been since you thoroughly cultivated the soil.
If roots are buckling a garden walk or patio, dig the trench on the tree side of the paving.
After digging the trench, you can eliminate or greatly reduce the possibility of regrowth by dropping 80-pound asphalt roofing paper into it, then refilling on the tree side of the paper with the excavated soil.
Large tree work can be dangerous. Unless you are experienced and have good insurance, don’t tackle the job yourself. Certified arborists know what they are doing. Be certain whoever you hire has the proper insurance. If you hire someone without insurance, and they get hurt, you could have a lawsuit on your hands that could do more damage to your pocketbook than a hurricane.