Naples Botanical Garden offers landscaping advice after Hurricane Ian

As our community rebuilds after Hurricane Ian, homeowners will fortify their homes and businesses against future winds and floods. But structural improvements are only part of the equation. Another great storm buffer? Plants.

This period of recovery is an opportunity to rethink our yards and green spaces and create landscapes that withstand storms and the region’s changing climatic conditions. You don’t have to be a horticultural expert to adopt the scientifically backed principles we share here. With these guidelines, you will both add storm protection and improve the environmental health of the area in many other ways.

Brian Galligan
Chad Washburn

1. Think in layers

Imagine a forest. Are the trees isolated? Or do you see layers of trees, vines, shrubs, grasses?

We don’t expect you to turn your garden into a forest, but you can add layers to your landscape and replicate nature’s complex ecosystems on a small scale. Consider surrounding some of your trees with shrubs and palms, which create a protective buffer zone. Consider adding ground covers, which reduce soil temperature and prevent moisture loss, reducing irrigation demands. Plant a tiered border along a fence. It’s visually more interesting than a monospecific hedge, and it creates a dynamic environment, which provides habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects, birds and small mammals.

2. Add diversity

The concept of layering brings us to our next key concept: plant diversity.

Just like in nature, every plant in your garden or community green space plays a different role, from the shade tree that cools your home to the ornamental grasses that absorb runoff and keep earth toxins out of our yards. of water.

A diverse landscape is more resistant to invasive pests than a monoculture. These nasty insects usually attack a single species, such as ambrosia beetles that kill bay trees. If your yard, neighborhood or streetscape has only a few species, you risk widespread loss to invading pests. Plant diversity provides insurance against such devastation.

A multi-species landscape can also withstand storms better. For example, if your yard or neighborhood is full of leafy trees, intersperse palm trees between them. These flexible plants are adapted to hurricanes. They serve as a windbreak that protects those hardwoods and your home.

Victoria water lilies in bloom at the Botanical Garden of Naples

3. Ditch the power tools

Once you’ve planted your diverse, multi-layered landscape, let it grow! We encourage homeowners and homeowner associations to limit routine trimming of hedges and shrubs. We recommend heavy renewal pruning about once per season to keep them under control. The less you handle these plants, the more vigorously they will grow. You also reduce the use of gas-powered lawn mowers and other power tools that release exhaust fumes into the air.

4. Look to the Caribbean

Southwest Florida’s climate is changing. Average temperatures are higher, cool fronts are less frequent, and we expect increased flooding, saltier water, intensified storms, and greater fluctuations in our dry and wet seasons.

We must shift the landscape palette from temperate zones to the tropics. Caribbean island plants are generally adapted to storms, salt water and heat. They also thrive in sandy, highly alkaline soils such as those in southwest Florida without the need for excess fertilizer and irrigation.

Eric Foht, Director of Natural Resources at the Naples Botanical Garden, works to plant natural vegetation on the dunes at Naples Beach off 10th Avenue South on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Do a little research before buying new plants (or encourage your community landscaper to do so) and see if the species you’re considering are from the Caribbean. We also champion Florida’s native plants, but beware: Florida is nearly 450 miles in size and Tallahassee’s weather conditions are very different from ours. For us, “native” refers to plants native to the lower quarter of the peninsula. You can use the University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture Database to learn about the native ranges and growing conditions of hundreds of trees and shrubs. (

The Garden is working to introduce more Caribbean species into the commercial nursery trade. In the meantime, we recommend easy-to-find native and regional species, such as: Florida thatch palm (Thrinax radiata); pigeon plum (Coccoloba diversifolia); white tabebuia or Bahamian trumpet (Tabebuia bahamensis); horizontal cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco ‘Horizontal’); muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris); and Jatropha integerrima, a shrub or small tree known as peregrina, jatropha or firecracker.

5. Growth standards make all the difference

Don’t think of hurricane-uprooted trees as bad choices for the landscape. If the species’ range includes southern Florida and the Caribbean, it is likely well adapted to southwest Florida. But he may not have grown well.

We find that the number one reason for tree failures is that they have been in pots for too long resulting in twisted and bound roots. Trees may look healthy above ground, but below ground they lack the support to survive harsh conditions such as a hurricane.

Inspect the roots of your new trees before planting them. If you find a tight, intertwining circle, separate the roots so they have a better chance of spreading once in the ground. After planting, watch for signs of compromised roots. The most obvious are lack of growth and browning of leaf tips. We suggest asking the seller for a replacement as you don’t want to expose it to hurricane force winds.

One way to ensure healthy trees is to plant them when they are small. A small tree is more likely to develop strong roots and grow to more impressive heights than a tree that spent its early years in a pot. Instant gratification is tempting, but better be patient and enjoy this tree for decades to come.

We encourage you to put these tips into practice, share them with your neighbors and talk to your landscaper or homeowners association about adopting these principles. Together, through the simple act of planting, we can make Southwest Florida a healthier, more resilient place to live.

Biran Galligan is vice president of horticulture and Chad Washburn is vice president of conservation at the Naples Botanical Garden.

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