Gardening after Hurricane Irma — Where do we begin?

Eileen Ward

Hurricane Irma, what a blow! Considering the size and strength of the storm Marco Island is in pretty good shape. Of course the landscapes took a big hit. Where do we begin?

Your landscape companies have been working hard, pulling loose debris to the curb, raking smaller debris and putting it in the truck to take away and cutting entire fallen trees for removal. But don’t be too quick to cut off the trees and shrubs that have blown over. Many of them can be righted and replanted and will go on to be a viable part of your landscape for years.

See photo of Marco Island on Sept. 11 after Hurricane Irma.
  • The first step is to pull the tree or plant into an upright position again. This may require you to prune some of the longer roots that pulled from deep in the soil. 
  • Then take a garden hose and put the nozzle end down into the soil deep and all around the roots to wash the soil back into the air pockets that were formed when the tree or plant moved back and forth with the winds. 
  • After you have the soil washed back in add some amendments to help the roots regenerate faster. 

Rooting hormones or, my favorite, mychorizzal fungus will encourage quick recovery. Sprinkle these products on top of the root zone and gently wash into the area with water. Then if more soil is needed, add top soil to cover the roots completely. Be sure you do not cover the lower part of the bark where it meets the root zone. This can cause the bark to rot. 

If your tree is top heavy you will want to trim it back to help it stand until the roots regrow. Staking may be necessary.

More:Gardening: Preparing your yard for a hurricane

Kristian Schomburg throws debris into a pile while cleaning up after Hurricane Irma at the Snook Inn on Marco Island, Fla.

Leaves on trees and plants are brown in areas hardest hit by the wind. This does not mean the plant is dead. The leaves are just desiccated from the wind. All the moisture was blown from the leaves. 

These brown leaves will fall off and new leaves will sprout. So don’t remove the plant. We will be trimming those same shrubs in a couple of weeks. Plus the nurseries took a hard hit and nursery stock will be hard to get for a while.

The royal palm trees are like telephone poles right now. They are a wonderful tropical palm because their fronds will break away in strong winds, which takes the weight off the top of the tree and they are not as likely to fall as other palms. These will also regenerate new fronds and be good as new soon. And, unless the entire top of the tree collapsed, this is true for most palms. This would indicate that the heart or crown has broken and the tree will not survive that injury.

One day after Hurricane Irma passed through the state of Florida damage can be seen around Marco Island, Fla. Monday, September 11, 2017.

Unfortunately, we lost a lot of our dooryard fruit crops. We have been picking the citrus, mangos and avocadoes off the ground and filling our buckets with them. Bummer! 

You will want to have the areas where branches broke from the trees pruned to remove the jagged edges. These torn areas are the perfect place for disease to set in. But do not use pruning paint as that can seal in moisture which in turn can also cause disease. Leave these wounds open to dry and heal naturally. And be sure to make proper cuts at the branch collars rather than in the middle of a branch. There are special cells in the collar area at the base of branches that will create a sealed repair and prevent disease. 

See photo of Marco Island near Bald Eagle Drive on Sept. 11 after Hurricane Irma.

As you look at the damage in your yard think about how you should replant before you begin. Were your trees or hedges encroaching on your neighbor’s property? Planting farther into your yard will help avoid this invasion of their space. Or plant away from your house or lanai or driveway to avoid damage to your own property. When plants are little they look cute but you should consider their mature size when making choices. 

While the City of Marco Island is very proud of their designation as a Tree City we should not replant any trees back into our swales. These swales were designed to collect and disperse rain water. When you plant a tree in an area that collects water or stays wet the root systems will not mature properly and the tree will fall easily in a wind storm. This was very evident all around Marco with the fallen swale trees. They rip up our infrastructure like cable, TV, and water lines as the trees fall over and block sidewalks and roads after a storm. Let’s plant our city trees in our parks and other natural areas and keep them out of the swales.

City Hall, which has exterior walls composed almost entirely of glass, was unscathed by Hurricane Irma, although there were several large uprooted trees in the parking lot.

So with all that being said when you look at Marco Island in mid-October you will be hard pressed to know we had a hurricane. I’m not sure if it FEMA or local government who will arrive with big claw trucks to take all the debris away from your swale. They have a lot of debris to remove and you will just have to live with it until they get to you neighborhood. Just think you could be looking at replacing your whole house rather than a little dead sod in your swale. And please be patient with your landscape company. They have an enormous amount of debris to clean up and then get back to their normal routine of mowing and trimming. Give us a break and a cold drink would be great! There is no ice available and we are out there drinking warm water.

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.