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Recovering from Ian

By CATHY DUNN - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Oct 20, 2022

This crepe myrtle is again fully leaved after Hurricane Ian. CATHY DUNN

Southwest Florida is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Ian. As a community, we suffered tremendously; lives were lost, homes and dreams destroyed, jobs eradicated. The beautiful landscapes, open spaces and landmarks that we all love were disfigured and ravaged. This unimaginable loss is disorienting and stressful, and as we all struggle to file insurance claims, move into temporary quarters or make repairs to our homes, we all long for a sense of “normalcy” and a return to the way things were before Ian devastated our area.

Most of the gardens and landscapes that I have observed have been decimated. Amid all this destruction we are offered an opportunity to re-evaluate our outside areas, and perhaps correct some of the missteps we made when originally planting our landscapes. Like me, you may find that areas of your garden that were once shady are now flooded with light due to missing trees, shrubs or palm fronds. As you begin to address your landscape, I have some suggestions that may be helpful in your efforts.

You should first evaluate the trees and shrubs that you feel can potentially be salvaged. Large trees should be assessed by professionals who have the equipment and knowledge to safely address any damage. Trees without cracks in major limbs or trunk are good candidates for restoration; many trees with even significant leaf loss will leaf out either now or in the spring.

Stake any small trees or shrubs that are leaning, filling in any areas where the soil has been blown away. You should also prune back broken or twisted branches on small trees and shrubs as these areas provide an entry point for pests and disease.

Dead fronds (entirely brown) on palms should be removed, however, any bent, green or partially green fronds should NOT be removed unless they are covering the meristem (bud). These fronds will continue to provide energy to the palm and should only be removed once they are totally brown.

The leaves are growing back on this copperleaf shrub damaged by Hurricane Ian. CATHY DUNN

Annuals in your garden are generally not worth salvaging if they are badly damaged, but perennials can recover even if their foliage was shredded in the storm. Badly damaged growth should be pruned off, and with time your plants will probably recover. Likewise, the foliage on thin-leaved shrubs and trees may look burned or desiccated by the high winds, but most of these plants are still alive and will usually recover.

I have noted green shoots and leaves emerging on many of the trees and shrubs in my garden that initially appeared to be dried out or dead; I have pruned away any dead stems above these areas with new growth. Since plants are already damaged by the storm, it is not advisable to perform a “hard” prune on shrubs or plants in your landscape as this will further stress them.

Finally, look around your garden and your neighborhood to note the trees, shrubs and plants that seemed to survive Ian. You’ll probably note that Florida natives are survivors; over the years these plants have adapted to the cycle of our seasonal variations and storms. Some palms are hardier in hurricanes than others; cabbage palms, sabal palms and date palms, with their “circular” arrangement of fronds, seem to be much better adapted to high winds. Queen palms, royal palms and Washington palms appear to have sustained major damage in my neighborhood, as have most hardwood trees such as black olive (shady lady), oaks and bauhinia (orchid tree). I have also noted that crepe myrtles fared very well in the storm; I have seen rows of these trees standing undamaged in parking lots where other trees were badly battered, and the crepe myrtles in my garden have already fully leafed out in two weeks!

The hardiest shrubs that I have observed are dwarf Ixora, cocoplum and arboricola; clusia appear to have been too flexible to remain upright in the high winds. Bromeliads and low, shrubby palms also fared very well in the storm, probably because their surface area was not elevated enough to allow them to be twisted in the winds.

The damage and trauma we have suffered as a community are almost debilitating, but I hope that our landscapes, given time, can once again provide us with a sense of beauty and tranquility. The best advice I can provide in this difficult time is to remain hopeful, resilient and patient. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “Adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.”

Cathy Dunn is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com