What to do (and not to do!) to save your plants from the impacts of a hurricane

Before the Storm

We’re approaching that time of year when hurricanes start their transatlantic dances, and we wish they would land anywhere but in Bermuda. Preparing our outdoor areas is crucial even if it’s the last thing we feel like doing in the leaden, moist heat that tells us a storm is nearing our island. Making our outdoors areas as hurricane proof as possible reduces the chances of damage to our houses and buildings. Here are steps to follow:

Cover with cloths or buckets vulnerable prized plants in the ground and hold cloths down with blocks.

Check and Prune Falling branches, as well as whole trees, are typical hurricane hazards so identifying ones that could damage your house and outdoor buildings is very important. Prune dead or diseased branches and stems from trees and shrubs that are too close to structures. Thin out tree canopies, such as those of royal poincianas, so they don’t act as sails, possibly causing the trees to uproot in the storm. Remove any diseased tree or shrub with rotting roots.
Note: Get expert help on pruning trees close to powerlines.

Stake vulnerable trees and plants by tying them with rope to metal reinforcing rods hammered into the ground.

Pick and store all ripe or nearly ripe vegetables and fruit from plants and the ground.
Do not water plants just before the storm arrives because of the lashing rain that usually accompanies the winds.

Put Away Winds of 75 mph and over can morph the heaviest of objects into missiles so it’s important to store all portable objects inside if possible. These include:

  • Containers, pots and hanging baskets, garden ornaments
  • Tools, watering cans, toys and buckets
  • All potentially dangerous chemicals and pesticides in case of spills
  • Barbeque and propane tanks
  • Garden furniture

Secure and Tie Down Turn large tables upside down if bringing them in is not possible. Cluster together large tree or plant containers. If possible, lay larger structures, such as trellises, onto their sides. Tie down items too large to be stored inside.

Remove Make sure you take all garden waste to the Marsh Folly Composting Facility well before the hurricane arrives. Flying debris can be dangerous, damaging windows, for example. Besides, it creates unnecessary mess.

After the Storm

Once the storm has passed and the winds calmed, it’s time to face up to the fallout. Do not water your plants immediately after a hurricane. Here are some other pointers:

Rinse Hurricane winds not only uproot and tear down vegetation they also burn foliage. Fallen trees and branches are immediately obvious but sometimes it takes a few days for blown salt to damage our shrubs, bushes and hedges, turning the foliage a depressing brown. But if you have access to running fresh water, you can prevent this from happening, or at least reduce the effects, by rinsing leaves with a garden hose.

Contact your gardener or landscaper for help with removing fallen branches and fronds and chipping them or taking them to the Marsh Folly Compost Facility. Chippings can be used as mulch. In the meantime, pile debris into a place accessible to the truck or chipping machine.

Rake leaves and add to your compost bin if you have one

Check toppled trees and plants. Can they be re-rooted and tamped down with fresh soil? With larger trees, check with a landscaper or arborist.

Cover exposed roots with more soil. Use stakes to support the plant until the roots reestablish themselves.

Prune only broken stems, especially where roses are concerned. Wait at least three weeks before pruning.

Don’t replace damaged vegetation too soon. It’s amazing how often ravaged-looking plants can regenerate in just a few months. Leaves may drop off, but a swathe of new green often appears eventually.

Repair or replace broken trellises and supports.

Consider Native & Endemic Plants Planting endemic and native species is crucial to restoring our natural heritage, while also helping the environment since they require less water. It’s also a way of reducing destruction during our hurricane season. Endemics and natives on the whole survive severe storms better than introduced trees, particularly exotics, although there are exceptions. Our beloved royal poincianas, for example, tend not to topple. But if you are about to plan a new garden or to replace fallen trees, consider choosing the following trees, which our ancestors saw growing before importing new species started to become common in the eighteenth century. The trees’ short height and thick foliage make them less prone to being destroyed by hurricanes.

  • Bermuda olive wood (Cassine laneana), endemic
  • Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana), endemic
  • Bermuda palmetto (Sabal bermudana), endemic
  • Yellow-wood (Zanthoxylum flavum), native
  • Bay Grape or Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera), native

For information regarding how to prepare for an impending storm, contact BF&M.

Read more from our Hurricane Season 2024 series, HERE!