By ERIN SILVER
Malcolm Griffiths is a long-time landscape design consultant in Bermuda. His monthly gardening column has run in The Royal Gazette for about 30 years.
In that time, he’s learnt a lot about how to care for a garden before hurricane season— and how to resuscitate it afterward. Below are his tips on the best way of bringing a garden back to life after a storm and also how to mitigate any damage caused by a hurricane.
Royal Gazette: What kind of damage is common to trees and gardens after a storm?
Malcolm Griffiths: I’ve seen a lot of hurricanes, indeed. I live right on the ocean so we get a hammering. Typical damage on the island includes a lot of broken branches, defoliation and the uplifting of trees by the roots. One of the peculiarities in Bermuda is there’s not a lot of soil depth, so roots spread sideways, not down. This means they don’t have a strong anchor and are susceptible to strong winds. That’s why in a storm, trees can get torn up out of the ground. Normally hurricanes start in August, which is when foliage is at its peak. When there is an uplift of wind, it’s like an umbrella—trees are lifted out of the ground. When rain is also coming down, you can imagine the two forces of wind and rain together.
RG: If you know a storm is coming, how can you prepare your outdoor plants/landscaping in advance?
MG: Thin out heavy growth to allow winds to filter through the branch system, thus alleviating the “sail effect” of heavily foliaged plants.
Pruning by a professional will help prevent trees from being lifted out of the ground. If you’re planting trees yourself or working with a gardener, make sure trees are planted in large enough holes. A shrub won’t need as large a hole as a tree. In other words, you need to know what size each plant will be in the long term to know what size hole to dig. It’s not a one-size-fits-all hole. You also need to make sure plants have strong, healthy, organic soil to give plants the nutrients they need to grow strong. Fertiliser with trace elements will help. Make sure the person who’s buying plants knows if the roots are pot-bound, which means they might have a hard time growing in the ground. If you have palm trees, it can help to have them tied into the ground with stakes or ropes at an angle to hold them in place.
RG: If a storm hits your garden, can flowers, trees and plants be resuscitated? How might you do this?
MG: After a storm, the initial instinct is to clean up branches and foliage. It’s going to take a good ten days for foliage to fall off after a storm because of salt-laden winds that burn the leaves. It takes time to clean up properly. You’ll want to keep on top of it at least once or twice a week so as not to allow pest and disease to grow in. After a storm, you get new growth, and it’s like a gourmet meal for bugs who can start to live off that. Fungus can grow when conditions are wet and moist. The last thing you want to do is have fungus spread around.
Once you clean up, you’ll need to look at what damage, if any, has been hit on the plant. You will need to prune it to keep future growth and the shape of the plant. If you have enough of a root system and the tree hasn’t been damaged, you can replant uprooted plants. You need to put the root in the soil and straighten up the plant. Plants need enough root to sustain them until they start to regrow. You might have to tie them down with rope and stakes in the ground to hold the trees in place.
If you’re looking at your garden after a storm, don’t worry. Mother nature has a natural restorative habit of survival; if weather conditions are right, new growth can often be seen in a week or so.
RG: Are there certain cases where people should call a gardener for help?
MG: The best thing to do if you can’t manage after a storm is call a consultant for help. If you have downed trees or want to see if trees can be saved, call a consultant. If you like your garden, get somebody in advance who can give you advice.