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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

Last week, this garden column subject was about connecting with nature by meditating in your garden or in a forest. Several readers responded in appreciation and mentioned they viewed their garden anew. In conjunction with the article, a number of calls came in with sad news that the big Tamarind tree on the Ka’u mauka corner of Hualalai and Ali’i Drive in Kailua had just been cut down. This tree was well over 100 years old. During a recent conversation with Hannah Springer, Hawaiian kamaaina, the subject of that tree came up. She said it was the site of their family home long ago and that the tree had been planted by Springer/Aiu ancestors. That tree had plenty mana. Auwe!!!!

So in order to further emphasize the importance of trees, let us try not only to connect with a tree as suggested last week, let’s try to be a tree. It takes imagination, but empathize with the Hawaiian family that planted that tree for shade and sustenance so long ago. In those days, Kailua village was a hot and dry, but many trees had been planted to make it more comfortable for it was the summer home of King Kamehameha’s family, other Ali’I and commoners as well. Groves of Breadfruit, Mountain Apple, Kukui, and Coconut graced the up slopes of Hualalai. Sadly, much of that was destroyed by Madame Pele in the early 1800’s. The favored fishponds near the Kohala side of the village as well as the extensive groves of Breadfruit were taken by lava flows like the Ka’upulehu eruptions. The people knew this could happen, but after lava flowed to cover forests and fishponds, they again planted trees to give life back to the land. Fortunately, Kailua village and its trees had been spared and more trees planted. Today the raw lava lands like Ka’upulehu makai have become lush again with Kohanaiki, Hualalai, and Kukio resorts urban reforestation efforts. Farmers have planted coffee, macadamia and avocado up mauka. At the same time, today we need to protect the trees of Kona and other districts, especially those planted by the Hawaiian ancestors and others who have followed their planting tradition from ancient times.

Many folks today know that to make our island comfortable and give sustenance, we must plant and nurture the old trees and the new ones as well.

Now if you have imagined yourself a tree, think about how it feels to be pruned. Simultaneously, think of when you were human and needed a haircut, food and water. The barber was not supposed to cut off your head, just trim your hair! The same holds true for pruning a tree. It should be done with care, respect, good training, education and a good attitude by the person doing the job.

Pruning is important as is proper irrigation and fertilization.

By proper pruning, you will also increase light availability to understory plants. Since some light is essential to plant vigor, it is a good idea to open up those heavy canopied trees.

Even if you were careful to select the right trees for your yard, and shade lovers for underneath, there comes a time when you have to consider pruning.


Proper tree pruning

Proper tree pruning

Whatever the natural form is in the beginning, it should be maintained, and this means individual handling of each problem. Trees should be pruned in such a manner as to remove enough of the canopy so as to allow the sometimes gale force winds of winter through the tree. Most tree experts agree that heavily topped or “hatracked” trees will be more susceptible to damage due to disease and insect attacks in the long run. This practice is not recommended. When it comes to palms, excessive removal of leaves is also a bad practice. Large fruited types like the coconut may have fruit and inflorescences removed. Removing too many leaves will actually weaken the tree and cause a condition called “pencil top”. Several disease problems are also made worse by excessive pruning.

In locations where rainfall is deficient, watch out for stress due to lack of water. This can be seen in many landscapes of lower Kona, Kohala, Waimea and Kau.

Some knowledge of pruning is necessary for the gardener who does his own work. A good set of pruning tools is necessary including a pair of side-cutters for removing twigs and small branches. You will also need a pair of loppers for cutting branches up to three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and a pruning saw.

Pruning should be done for a purpose, to maintain shape, remove diseased or awkward branches, or to reduce the size of a vigorous grower, such as a rubber tree.

Pruning becomes an important chore for several reasons. Trees that respond to day length and bloom during the winter or spring months should be pruned through the summer months.

Occasionally, winter can be wet or windy, especially if we get one of those nasty storms. Trees that are likely to be damaged during periods of high winds should be pruned to decrease damage caused by the storms.

Of course, weak and diseased branches and twigs should be removed at any time noted. Citrus trees may be gone over lightly two or three times a year. Such pruning is done from the inside. Dead wood and “water shoots” or suckers should be removed as they appear. When a weak or unwanted branch is removed, it discourages disease and insect damage.


A professional certified arborist not only prunes correctly, but safely as well.

A professional certified arborist not only prunes correctly, but safely as well.

Pruning trees can be dangerous, so if the job is major, it is better to call in a qualified arborist to do the job. You wouldn’t want just anyone cut your hair or remove an appendix. This will also aid you in avoiding a butcher job that will cost a lot more in the long run.

When it comes to fertilization, it is better to keep it on the light side until spring. Then an application of a complete fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plus trace elements will carry trees until spring.

Trees are part of the beauty of our islands. Rather than destroying these valuable assets, work with them. Proper selection of plants to grow under their protective canopy is important. Proper pruning, fertilization and irrigation are a must.

Here is one last thought on being a tree. Hannah mentioned that she had heard a story about an ancient breadfruit tree that had to be cut down for one reason or another years ago. The community actually had a funeral for it. Now that is what is meant by being so connected to nature that you are the tree and ultimately the forest!