Tropical Gardening: Global warming could mean a bad storm season

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Voltaire Moise stands among a Guadua bamboo grove in rural Colombia. Large stands of bamboo, such as the Guadua grove, likely are the safest place to be if you’re caught outside in a violent windstorm when sturdy structures are not available.

It is time to worry about summer storms.

When it comes to hurricanes, there is an old sailor’s saying: “June too soon, July standby; August a must, September remember; October all over, but November still remember.”

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The hurricane season is almost upon us in Hawaii, and it’s time to take precautions in the garden. Now that we are traveling the jungles of Colombia in South America, we actually are in an equatorial zone considered free of tropical cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes. The forests are very ancient, with trees reaching gigantic proportions of 150 feet and taller. The understory is rich with palms, ferns and a vast number of species, some of which have not even been named. The biggest threat to these magnificent forest ecosystems is rapidly expanding timber cutting and agriculture for oil palm plantations.

Meanwhile, back home in Hawaii, summer storms are like unwanted company since they often come when they are least expected. One year we have none, the next we have several. It is important to be prepared. Before the storm flag is hoisted, inspect your trees for dead branches that seem to be ready to fall. Also look for dead branches that are firm but brittle. A gust of hurricane-force 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. 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.

Palm fronds are wicked to deal with if propelled by an 80 mph wind. So clean away all loose palm leaves at the first hint of a storm. Be careful not to overprune the palms. Overpruning will weaken and even kill them.

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

As soon as the storm is past, 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. But with a little trimming, propping, resettling of root system and fertilizing and watering, nearly all plants that were shaken loose from the ground can be salvaged.

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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’s prune the right way. Spring and summer are not the best time for excessive pruning since shade is at a premium during those hot days ahead.

Individuals with home garden questions can call the Master Gardeners at the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the Kona and Hilo offices.