Tropical Gardening: March storms can bring hurricane force winds

  • Photo by Voltaire Moise Excessive pruning like this is unsightly and can weaken a tree. If it must be done, prune now rather than in the heat of summer.

Hurricane season is normally from June through November but we frequently get our worst storm damage from those that originate to the north of us in March.

What we have learned from hurricanes and winter storms is that the major damage done from actual winds was to trees like lychee, macadamia, mahogany and other broadleaved trees.


On the other hand, palms like Coconut, Royal, Cabbage Palms, Mexican Fan Palms, our native 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 what palms may be used to create your tropical landscape with a minimum of storm damage and care? The Hawaii Island Palm Society and the International Palm Society are available to help folks answer that question. By joining these societies, you can have access to many rare species not carried in most local nurseries. Local meetings are a great way to meet other palm enthusiasts as well. This year the IPS is sponsoring an adventure to the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Madagascar in May. There is still time to sign up. Check out the IPS website for details.

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.

Now is an ideal time to prune those broad leafed evergreen trees while the sun is still south of the equator. Heavy pruning while the sun is north of the equator can create a situation where sunburn on exposed branches will cause additional damage. It is always important to inspect your trees for dead branches that seem to be ready to fall. A gust of wind can snap a 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 a 100-mile-per-hour 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 a storm, 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.

Be careful not to root prune extensively or the tree may be more prone to blowing over in the hurricane season to come.

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. March is a good time as the days are shorter and the sun’s rays less intense.

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.

According to East Hawaii Outdoor Circle members they are working with the County to protect special trees like those on Banyan Drive in Hilo.


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.

For more information on trees and their care contact the UH Master Gardener Helpline in Kona at 322-4892 or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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