Plants takes beating from Dean

Hurricane Dean’s high winds and salt spray damaged many of Cayman’s plants, some fatally.

Palm tree

Palm trees can live a long time with their root balls exposed. This uprooted palm is still alive after being knocked down during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Photo: Carol Winker

Depending on a particular plant species’ resistance to salt, it might still live if damaged by Dean’s effects, said Camana Bay Nursery Manager Andy Adapa.

‘Some may recover, some may not recover,’ he said.

Dean was particularly hard on plants because its winds spread a lot of salt spray without much rain.

‘You would expect a lot of rain in a typical storm, but unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of rain with this one,’ Mr. Adapa said.

The Cayman Islands National Meteorological Services only recorded only 0.44 inches of rain from 7 pm Sunday through 1 pm Monday, when Dean was closest to the Cayman Islands.

Scott Daniels of Every Bloomin’ Thing said he has been busy doing assessments of landscaping damage since Tuesday.

‘There’s a lot of burned foliage,’ he said, referring to salt-damaged leaves.

Like Mr. Adapa, Mr. Daniels said it was possible to save some of the more salt-resistant plants.

‘You need to cut the stuff off that’s dead and rinse it off and it could come back,’ he said. ‘But the most important thing is to get a lot of fresh water on it.’

Thursday’s rains from the tropical wave that moved through the area will help the plants considerably.

Mr. Daniels said some of the grass used for turf here in the Cayman Islands will survive.

‘Zoysia will take some salt, but St. Augustine doesn’t like salt at all,’ he said, again stressing the importance of putting a lot of fresh water on damaged grass to help it recover.

Another thing people can do is put gypsum on their lawns to help neutralise the salt.

‘With the rain we’re getting today, it’s less important, but it’s still a good idea for beachfront properties,’ Mr. Daniels said.

Gypsum is available through the Agricultural Department, he said, adding that is also very inexpensive.

‘It’s best to be applied with a fertilizer spreader so you get a uniform application.’

Mr. Daniels said one way of lessening the impact on plants of storms that spread salt spray is to buy salt tolerant species. Many types of salt tolerant plants are usually in stock at Every Bloomin’ Thing and other nurseries.

Some of the salt tolerant trees, shrubs and ground cover include palm trees, frangipani trees, cocoplum, sea grape, great island ficus, scaevola, bougainvillea, lantana and periwinkle.

‘There are literally hundreds of salt tolerant plants available,’ Mr. Daniels said.

The foliage of fruit trees is particularly vulnerable to salt spray, but the trees themselves are hardier. Damaged leaves will fall off, possibly leaving the fruit on the trees.

‘I’ve seen citrus trees with all of their leaves gone but the fruit still there and the fruit was good,’ he said.

After the leaves fall off, new foliage will usually start to sprout within four to six weeks Mr. Daniels said.

Hurricane Dean also uprooted many trees with its winds. Some of those uprooted trees can also be saved, Mr. Daniels said.

The root balls of uprooted trees should be rinsed off than then stood upright, he said, adding that in some cases the root hole might have to be dug out some more. Organic soil should be placed around the root ball and then watered heavily with fresh water. The tree should also be staked or braced to keep it standing.

Most trees need to be stood upright quickly, but others don’t.

‘Palms will live a long time with their root balls exposed,’ he said.

Established trees should be braced for at least eight months, and more recently planted trees should braced for at least a year, Mr. Daniels said.

‘Really, the longer the better,’ he said. ‘And the bigger the tree, the more time you want to give it to get re-established.’

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