Gardening Blog

Step aside Hurricane Matthew! We’re ready to restore our landscapes

This young oak tree now has room to grow.
This young oak tree now has room to grow. Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

Judging from the number of questions I’ve received recently, Lowcountry homeowners appear to be pushing ahead with the repair of their landscapes in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Wayne Tuohig of Hilton Head Island is concerned about the oaks in his yard:

Several small oaks . . . survived the hurricane, but they are thin and do not have many branches. Will these trees develop a normal appearance over time now that they have full sun and no nutrient competition. If so, besides tree food spikes and liberal watering, how could I promote development?

You have provided a good recipe for success with these young oaks, Wayne. They will benefit from the additional light and lack of competition. A yearly feeding should be sufficient and additional water during dry spells will encourage the development of overall growth and stability.

A second question from Mr. Tuohig: I am planning to replace trees where none survived. I had a recommendation for red maple (rapid growth and good shade creator), and I also have plans for a willow, a bald cypress and an American holly. What do you think about these choices?

Each of the trees you list can make a bold statement because of eventual size, although they all are good choices for the right location. I have included below some growth information and caveats.

Red Maple: Expect a Red Maple to grow three to five feet in height per year to 50 ft. tall and 15 - 25 ft. wide. They can make landscape maintenance difficult because their strong, thick roots near and above the surface can raise sidewalks/driveways. Also, this tree’s thin bark is easily injured by string trimmers. Red Maple prefers a naturally wet site or requires irrigation throughout its life. Seeking water, Red Maple roots sometimes invade clay and iron pipes, causing expensive damage. They are best suited for a large property.

Willow: This tree loves moist soil and sun, can grow quickly and become quite large — up to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Because its roots can be very invasive, avoid planting them anywhere near water/sewer lines. In addition, limbs and stems are not strong and may bend and break in storms. Willows are best suited to large suburban or rural properties. Some willows are shrubs, not trees, so make sure you know which is being recommended.

Bald Cypress: This Cypress grows 50'-70' high and 20'-30' wide at the rate of 1-2 ft. per year. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Bald Cypress are often planted as hedges or screens between properties, or in border plantings along driveways. In wet areas, bald-cypress produces “knees” (1ft.+ upright, cone-like root extensions) which need to be surrounded by a 2"-3" layer of mulch; otherwise, they play havoc with lawn maintenance. Although in the conifer family, Bald Cypress is deciduous.

American Holly: Mature height of this holly is between 15’-50’ It tends to grow 1’ to 2’ per year. Plants are either male or female, the latter bearing red berries when the male is planted nearby. Am. Holly grows well in shade and full sun but prefers partial sun. It likes regular and even moisture and can be pruned into a hedge shape.

One of my readers is concerned about his lawn and sent me the following message:

We moved here in May and inherited a less than beautiful St. Augustine (mostly weeds) yard which was flooded during Matthew and is now a total disaster. Since we lost all of the shade we had there, we want to replace the St. Augustine with Bermuda, which we had in Atlanta. When is the best time to do that? R. Moore, HHI

Bermuda grass has excellent wear, drought and salt tolerance, is a good choice for property near the ocean, and combats weeds well. Bermuda establishes and spreads quickly by both above- (stolons) and below- (rhizomes) ground runners. However, the runners are difficult to control within flowerbeds, walks and borders. Thatch buildup also can become a problem in Bermuda grass. A reel mower should be used to produce the highest possible quality turf. Spring is the preferable time to lay sod for warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine and Zoysia -- all of which become dormant in the winter.

Frank Edgerton is a Hilton Head Island resident, garden consultant and plantsman. He can be reached at