Gardening: The long march back to normality

Eileen Ward

Where are we with our yards almost one month after Hurricane Irma? It seems like last week to me.  

We worked for two solid weeks pulling loose debris from yards onto the swale. It is a real blessing that after Hurricane Andrew they started to help with recovery by allowing everyone to pile it curb side and then coming for free to pick it all up. It would take months longer to recover if the landscapers had to cut and load all that horticultural debris into their trucks and drive it to the dump; not to mention how much more it would cost all homeowners. While I know people are becoming impatient with the debris, think about the alternative. They will eventually get to your piles even if it takes a month. If you haven’t, take a drive around and view the monumental task ahead of these collection trucks. That should put it in perspective for you.

The effects of Irma can still be seen in these palm trees in Hammock Bay,

The third week we were back to mowing lawns again. This is also a slow process because the lawns have not been cut for two or more weeks and is really deep. You have to take it slow because you don’t know what shard of glass or sharp piece of roof tile or metal is hiding in the grass. Flat tires and broken belts as debris sneaks onto the top of your mowing deck are common. There is still a lot of small debris to contend with so the lawn might not look as neat as usual after mowing.

More:Gardening after Hurricane Irma — Where do we begin?

More:Gardening: Preparing your yard for a hurricane

Irrigation systems should be taken into account. Fortunately, we have had rain so if you have issues the lawn has not suffered from drought. Pipes can be ripped out of the ground by uprooted trees, valves smashed by falling debris; even the occasional timer ripped off the wall. So take a quick look around at your system and put a call into your irrigation contractor if you see something amiss. They will probably be dealing with a list like the rest of the contractors in South Florida so the sooner you are on it the faster you will get service. More on that later.

The trees and shrubs are starting to grow new leaves already. My gumbo limbo tree had no leaves on it and is now green with new leaves. If you look closely at your shrubs you will see new leaves emerging. If not you may need to trim back to green wood. This last month gave the plants time to recover from the stress of the wind and desiccation they suffered and it would be time now to trim away any dead on them. We are just around the corner from the colder winter months and the cut-off date of Oct. 15 for any hard-cut backs. Many hedges that fell over can be righted and replanted but they will need to be cut back to take some of the weight off them so they stay upright. We will just have to hope that the cold from the north delays until the first of the year to allow our plants to regrow and harden.

And everyone should be thinking about fertilizer. You want to get it down before the cold arrives or the slow release will not release and your plants will get no food. All lawns, shrubs and trees should be fertilized. But do be careful with the uprooted plants that have been replanted. Do not pile fertilizer onto those areas since fertilizer can burn the new roots emerging. It would be best to use a coated fertilizer like Osmocote in those areas if possible. Just remember to scatter fertilizer to the drip line. Do not dump it in piles or rings around the plants and trees.

The poor tree trimming companies! Those contractors have more downed trees than they would deal with in a two-year period. And that is not an exaggeration. I have dealt with my contractor for 35 years and gave him a list the first week after the storm. He will be lucky to get to my list in the next two or three weeks. I finally talked to him last night and he was beside himself with angst and worry over disappointing his longtime customers. Be patient and kind. A fallen tree in your yard is not the worst thing in the world and will only hurt the grass or plants under it. Their priority after the storm was to clear trees off houses, driveways and walkways. Then they will return to clean and prune broken tree branches for the health and appearance of the trees that will survive. And finally they will need to grind the stumps that are everywhere. He said he will be at these tasks well into the next year. If you can’t wait any longer, call another company or try to grab the company doing work next door. Trust me, your loyal tree company will not be offended. Give them a courtesy call to let them know your job is done so they can take it off the list. And assure him you will call him again when your trees need maintenance. My advice to him, take Sunday off and give yourself and your men some rest to recover as they will need it. The trees will still be there on Monday. 

The lawn companies and tree companies are true unsung heros after a hurricane.  We are one of the first responders clearing debris so you can get into you house or get your car out of your house. It is not reasonable for anyone to expect their landscape to be perfect immediately after a storm. It is a long and slow process and very hard work. 

Thank you all for your patience trough this difficult time for all of us.

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