Leaves are valuable for our gardens and for living soil. Akamai farmers of old used and valued leaves to create and maintain good soil. Good soil is “alive” with beneficial microorganisms.
Some people rake up and throw away their leaves. To me, leaves are way better for our gardens than chemical fertilizers.
I consider them to be GOLD for the garden. Do you need some exercise at a safe social distance? GO out and rake up some leaves! Raking is good for your arm muscles.
Its fun for keiki and ohana too, just keep your distance from each other, if anyone has been traveling or exposed at work or school.
What is the best kind of leaves?
Fine leaved legumes like Kiawe
Whatever you have!
Nitrogen fixers like monkeypod, koa and kiawe are great. The smaller the leaves, the more surface area, and the more rapidly they decompose, releasing nutrients that are available for plants to uptake and use.
`Ulu or breadfruit leaves make excellent soil building compost and they are so petty too!
Any leaves will work. Bigger leaves like those from Mango, Lychee, mountain apple and Avocado can be cut up or shredded to make them decompose more quickly.
If you grow Anthuriums, these big leaves that don’t break down quickly are useful intact. We grew up using hapu’u, Hawaiian tree fern trunks for Anthuriums and orchid potting medium. But its not sustainable to use hapu`u, it better to let them grow in our gardens and rainforests. SO, a trick I learned from my old Foster Botanical Garden Boss and sensei, Masa Yamauchi: use lychee or mango leaves for potting medium in your anthurium pots.
Cut them up with clippers and soak them in a bucket for a while. If you have a chipper or shredder those make nice fine leaf cuts. You can also run the leaves over with a lawn mower to get them into smaller pieces.
If you trim get your trees trimmed professionally, have them chip the leaves and branches too. This makes excellent mulch and compost. Make sure the chipper has sharp clean blades.
Or mix fine textured and large leaves
I went up to my neighbor Cindy’s and harvested leaves out of her green bin.
She likes a neat yard and does daily raking. And even though she’s my good friend, and a very good tidy gardener, she THROWS THEM AWAY!
Her gardeners (grass cutters) had been there and they dumped a bunch of grass in the bin too. I DON’T want the grass! It might have weedy seeds and has too much nitrogen. So, I had to separate it all and lean down into the bin to get the good leaves. And then the rain and wild winds came too!
All in all, it was quite a workout ! I loaded up the bags, buckets and boxes of leaves and brought them home to my garden.
I had priority plants that I want to give extra nurturing to:
Rare Hawaiian banana variety that is struggling
Rare native Hawaiian Hibiscus, koki`o ke`o ke`o, H punaluensis.
I distribute the leaves, and watered them in.
Adding water helps “stick” the leaves in place and starts the decomposition process. With this wild wind I don’t want them blowing all around.
One of our goals for simple sustainability, is a Fruit tree in every yard, even on your apartment lanai. For years Mark and Candy Suiso and their extensive extended ohana, participated in the epic Fruit sharing event known as Mangoes at the Moana.
This was Mark’s simple message for all the ten years we staged this educational and fun, Ono for Mango fruit, local fun foodie event. Remember when every yard had at least one fruit tree, lots of vegetables, all kinds of things for the family to eat and to share?
Share with ohana, gifts for the neighbors, take a generous bag to work, etc.
Kupuna Pua Mendonca of Hawaii island shared some simple wisdom with me at an Aquaponics training conference in Hilo: survival trees to grow are avocado, niu or coconut, and `ulu or breadfruit. Those healthy fats and oils will get you through times of hardship and scarcity.
You’ve heard the scary news that we have one week of food on grocery shelves in Hawaii. Should we get cut off from imports, its handy to have some degree of self-sufficiency.
So, lets grow some survivor supplies in our gardens. I was visiting my great gardener neighbor Joan Takamori and admiring her plush and fruitful garden. She always has something to share and we learn from each other as we talk garden story.
Takamori asked me about a macadamia nut cracker. She had an abundance of macadamias from her mother’s garden.
I laughed, recounting our nutcracker as kids. It was a big pohaku in the dry stack rock wall, that was flat on top and had an almost perfectly sized mac nut puka. We would set in a nut, and hit it “just right” with a small sledge hammer. Sometimes it cracked open perfect, sometimes we smashed too hard and sometime the nut went flying!
This is how I learned (without knowing it) about scarification, a technique to help tough thick shelled seed to germinate and grow. The nuts we nicked that flew down the side sloping yard, were able to grow into seedlings.
Once when we had a cousin swap, I took a big paper bag of macadamia nuts to my Aunty Ruth in California (what a hostess gift, such an elegant bountiful paper bag!)
I told them how we cracked mac nuts at home. But no! Californians have a better plan! And my Uncle Merle was an Engineer. He had a vise in the garage. It was a big thrill for my cousins’ many friends in their neighborhood, to come over and everyone got a turn cracking a nut. (Sort of like Tom Sawyer getting all his pals to paint the fence, I later thought, with a laugh!) Akamai uncle Merle!
My Aunty then roasted the nuts in the oven and covered them with chocolate. Back home we generally just ate them raw.
I told Joan all of this and how my friend Nyna Weisser had researched nut crackers online and found a great one. Not cheap but perfect cracking. Nyna would hand us nuts and the cracker at a party. Fun for all the friends!
Joan Takamori and I also spoke about how macadamia nuts are another tree that more of us should propagate and grow.
They are a pretty tree with deep green ruffly leaves and very pretty and fragrant flower stalks. If you look closely at the flowers you will see that they look like miniatures of one of our favorite modern-day Florist ornamentals: Proteas.
Mac nuts are in the Proteaceae plant family and they are native to Australia.
I asked Joan about where her folks got their macadamia tree. She didn’t remember it being in the yard forever, and She has a theory.
‘My dad did bonsai my mom didn’t drive; she knew how to catch bus everywhere. I think she stole that tree from him and set it free in the yard’ says Takamori.
We never had it growing up. I think mom planted it, maybe about 10-15 years ago. She wanted to see it flower and fruit, although it would’ve made a kewl bonsai. Its now a very fruitful tree. I want to grow more of them, so I’ve been collecting seedlings, from under her tree to grow and share and plant in my current garden.
Mac nuts need to be scarified to germinate. The thick hard shell is nicked or filed down a bit so water can penetrate and activate the embryo of the seed to grow. Plant them in pots with quality potting mix, and water daily, until they get big enough to go into the ground.
You can also buy them already growing. Ask for them at your favorite garden shop. Or for even more fun, call ahead and visit a fruit tree specialty nursery. Buy some mac nut trees to grow and maybe another fruit tree for a friend or neighbor to grow.
Q: What is deadheading and which Hawaii plants would benefit?
A: Deadheading is where you remove spent flowers to increase blooming and benefit the health of the plant.
Pua Keni Keni comes to mind, as cutting or snapping off the green and orange “balls”, AKA the developing fruit, will increase blooming.
Fruit formation and seed development take a lot of time and energy for the plant, just like a woman being pregnant.
So, if we want more flowers, don’t let the fruit form. In the case of Pua Keni Keni, the fruit on the stems makes for great décor in a flower arrangement. You can even string the “balls” into lei, as my akamai lei making buddy Dede Replinger Sutherland does.
Tiare or Tahitian gardenia nowadays needs deadheading. We didn’t use to have a pollinator for Tiare but now it seems we do, as the old flower calyces (the bottom green part of the flower) don’t fall off after blooming. They now form fruit and it takes about a year to fully develop and form mature seeds inside.
We need to snap off that part on a daily or weekly basis or Tiare plants will have fruit developing and fewer blooms.
Tiare buds make an epic lei, that can last for several days or nights with a most heavenly perfume. When you pick the buds, pick the calyx too and save yourself some time and energy.
My friend Donna Chuck has a prolific and sunny garden with many flowers for lei. She collects the Tiare buds and stores them carefully in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in the fridge until she has enough for a special lei for a special someone.
We spent some time cleaning up and deadheading her plants and now she gets way more Tiare flowers for her lei creations.
I first learned the word and horticultural practice known as deadheading when I was an apprentice Gardener at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, in my junior year of college.
‘Go deadhead the Rhodies’, I was instructed by the Horticulturist at Longwood.
I wondered if it was something about the Grateful Dead; and had to ask what was deadheading and what are Rhodies?
Rhodies are Rhododendrons, related to the Azaleas that we grow here. They bloomed massively in spring there and general good garden practice was to deadhead them in early summer, to promote lots of blossoms for the following Spring show.
Some use sharp needle-nose clippers for this and some use sharp well-placed fingers and thumbnails to snap off the spent blooms.
Roses are another plant that will bloom better if you deadhead, or you can just harvest and use every flower. Or you can let the fruit develop and you get rose hips which can be made into jam or tea.
Some kinds of Hibiscus, especially our fragrant native white Koki`o ke`o ke`o will form seed pods if you let them. This is how early gardeners made new hybrids as they found the native Hawaiian whites were excellent “mother” plants.
Again, if you want blossoms, pluck off and clean up the old flowers. Another benefit to this is we have lots of recent alien insect pests like scale and mealybugs that love to hide in the developing seed pods and suck sap and juices from the plants.
Deadheading helps you groom your plants, so you can rub off or cut off the pest-infested parts. Get rid of insect eggs and small sap suckers before they form a full-on infestation.
to learn something new from my honey Clark, the other day, after all these
years, fresh kewl stories! And about plants and gardens, my fave !!
We were out
at the Uluniu beach house in Laie.
Colleen and Randy asked Clark and I about growing some plant out there.
various plants and what would grow in strong salt winds.
Uncle Griff and how he grew things out in Waialua, right on the beach. That nobody else could
looked and thrived better than others.
Clark said Griff’s
secret was to wash the leaves. Rinse off
the salt water residue on the leaves.
interesting! And to think about. Rinsing my leaves more now too. It gets bugs
and eggs off
a big rainstorm to clean the air and our plants and gardens …..
Why to rinse
and bathe our plants with Fresh water (WAI)
water has major nutrients
gets wai in the stomates?
cools us all
potential incipient pests
What did he grow? Clark?
I remember a
nice big lawn, with a view of the surf and beach, a better pa`ina spot than our
sandy front yard with a bit of grass and a big Hau tree.
I think we
have pics with Elaine, Clarks mom and Iliahi, our cutie poi dog, maybe at Griff’s
wife named …. Aunty Mary, silver hair in a flip, wore mu`u mu`u elegantly.
Last name ?
Panker! We both remember at the same time.
Is Butch their son? Or in-law? Carpenter lived in Wahiawa, daughter swim team …
Clark would go out there and immediately trim down the Hau tree, and do other heavy yard work to help out and hopefully get invited again.
yard at Crozier loop was out by the street but too hot in the day, perfect for
a wedding like Rachel and Peter’s!
Rinse your Gardenias and `ohi`a lehua
We love Gardenias and so do various pests:
which spread and protect the sap suckers
the little black pests in the blossoms
The “cure” for all of these Gardenia attackers? SOAP and water ! Gardenias are the one plant that I also fertilize with liquid Miracle Gro fertilizer. (use Miracid, the one in the blue box if your soil tends to be alkaline)
are acid loving plants, so they like our red dirt soils and leafy compost too.
When I fertilize them, I add some liquid soap to the sprayer. Dish soap like Palmolive or Dr Bronner’s peppermint if I’m feeling rich. I spray this on the leaves and let it drip to the roots too. (if you see pests on the stems and leaves, they are probably attacking the roots too.)
spraying wait an hour or so and you can then wipe the sooty mold off the leaves
with a soft rag. Or you can just let the
soap do its job.
leaves well the next time you water.
Dead, sap sucking pests like scale, mealy bugs and aphids will slough
right off if they have been effectively smothered by the soapy water treatment.
usually when Gardenias bloom. I had buds
earlier this year, but the cool LOVELY weather of April must have delayed
them. Green buds for a long time.
Now its HOT
and they are blooming gloriously.
How to have epic Gardenia blossoms:
Pick them daily. (if you leave them
on the plant, the pests will love you, they will have a pa`ina <party with
good food> and they will multiply.
Spray them, and the whole plant with
water before you pick
Take the buds and pua inside and
If they have thrips, drip soapy water
on them or dunk them in soapy water
Let the bugs get smothered by the soap
for a few minutes
Then rinse them off
Cut or pull off lower leaves
Display them in Deep, cool water in a
Change the water daily
Rinse the stems and recut the base
Put the gardenia flowers back in cool fresh water
hearing this Uncle Griff rinse your plants and gardens story I have been doing
my early morning or evening watering a little differently.
I look at
the plant or tree and wonder if it will benefit from a rinse.
If it’s hot
I don’t mind getting a rinse myself ! I
think like a gentle rainstorm, or sometimes like a rainy windy storm is needed.
I have been rinsing my `Ohi`a lehua which are full of blossoms. I rinse the flowers and know it will benefit the birds and bees that visit and pollinate the flowers. Bees get thirsty too! `Ohi`a are from rain-forests so the more wai the better.
As I rinse and spray off my banana leaves, I visualize the washing away of any leaf hoppers. I also remind friends and neighbors to get rid of their clump thoroughly if it gets this disease. It’s like getting a measles shot, it protects all of our community of banana growers.
Rinse your mock orange and Bougainvillea after a kona storm.
this one while working as Honolulu Zoo Horticulturist. I forget from who, maybe my working foreman Seiko
Tamashiro, or epic Retiree and Volunteer, Tony Kim?
A nice big
fat thick, and very xeric Mock orange hedge surrounded the whole zoo. Periodically
we would have to trim it, and this was a big process involving the whole crew,
trusted CSSP workers and scaffolds. It
took at least a week.
There was a big drought and we were forced and encouraged to save water. I read the night logs, some of my staff worked at night as security, food prep and irrigators. One guy Bob would turn on the sprinklers for the mock orange hedge and run them for several hours. I told him, “Bob, you are watering the ocean!”
Bob, we have
sandy soil, by running those sprinklers for hours you are wasteful. So please,
just about 20 minutes will be fine for the hedge!
whatever you say’ he said with some skepticism
(what did a 25-year-old with a nice fresh B.S. degree know, right?!!)
reduced our irrigation budget significantly and the zoo gardens were still
green enough and healthier. Someone even wrote a letter to the editor about how
great the grounds looked!
is in the citrus family and it comes from driest India. Super deep and wide spreading, tough roots and shiny leaves help make it
drought tolerant. They also come from monsoon areas so after a big rain we see
fresh growth and fragrant blossoms. This
is how they would respond when the monsoon rains come to India.
along the way in this discussion, came the fact that mock orange is sensitive
to the sometimes strong salty kona winds we would get at the zoo. When those came we deployed the sprinklers to
wash all the leaves.
Same is true
of Bougainvillea. We didn’t have a lot
at the zoo, but I had tons of lovely roof planters of Bougainvillea ‘Miss
Manila’ at the Hale Koa hotel. These we would diligently rinse leaves after
kona wind storms.
many years I have been a Lei Day Volunteer at the Mayor’s Celebration at
Kapi`olani park. It is such an amazing
event and I’ve learned and seen so much every year. Since 1984 in fact ! Yikes
I was first
asked to kokua with plant ID when I was working right across the street at the
Honolulu Zoo as Zoo Horticulturist. I
was reluctant to leave work, even for a few hours, as some of my landscape crew were on the
Beatrice Krauss, our famed Ethnobotanist, was a fellow lei plant identifier and
any time with her was a precious learning experience. As she got older, she would ask me to drive
her, and again, more time with someone so akamai and kind, a Hawaii woman
Scientist, ahead of her time.
myself when Aunty Bea is pau I will be pau too.
But over the years I have realized what a gift it is to volunteer with
this job. We get to see all the contest
lei as they are delivered at 7 a.m. So
amazing, creative and so much time and energy to grow, select, clean and prep
and then craft the lei. Timing is vital
for freshness and for flowers, like ilima buds to be open.
there was a City-wide strike and we had to move the contest at the Hilton
Hawaiian Village, they also roped me into being a judge. Never again!
To me , all of them are winners.
Identifying the flowers, ferns, nuts and lei fibers is challenging but
way easier for me!
This year there were some stunners, plants with mixed silvery patterns, in the Heliotrope family Boraginaceae. We had native Hawaiian Hinahina, the lei flower of Kaho`olawe, an endemic native Hawaiian plant; combined with Kipukai, an indigenous Hawaiian plant, and Beach Heliotrope Tree or Tahinu, which is an import, that looks and acts like a native coastal and xeric tree.
silvery lei combo was so amazing! After
doing our volunteer ID job in the early
morning we sometimes get a chance to talk to the lei makers.
talking to an inspiring and creative young lei maker, Mary Moriarty Jones. I asked her where she collected all those
lovely plants or if she grew them herself.
We talked about them all being in the Boraginaceae plant family.
characteristic to identify this family is that the flowers are arranged in a
helicoid cyme. It twists to open like
the fiddlehead of a fern, and the flowers bloom one by one along the curving
They also tend to have silvery hairs on their leaves. These reflect light and give the silvery Hinahina color. As a xeric adaptation to thrive in dry salty climates the silvery leaf hairs reflect light and also trap moisture and conserve it for the plant as it respires.
This silvery beauty to our eyes is how the plants have thrived for the millennia in harsh dry salty environments.
To grow them
for the long term it’s good to understand where they came from and adapt your
garden methods accordingly. They need
well drained soil and full sun. They are
more difficult to grow in pots than in the ground as they really need to spread
their roots far and wide (not deep). They like daily watering to get
established and then less and less water as their roots spread and adapt.
As my old
boss and mentor Masa Yamauchi would say,
“Observe your plants closely and water only as needed”.
This is a
skill we can all learn and cultivate.
Just as we can learn to grow our own rare and wonderful lei plants.
Q: What are those gorgeous silvery street and park trees? Some are at Sandys Beach, some Giant ones are on Pa`alea street in Palolo Valley, and some are at Ala Moana beach park. Please inform us about these
Mahalo, M. Silva, Palolo
A: Silver buttonwood trees! AKA Sea Mulberry, or Button Mangrove. Conocarpus erecta is the Latin name. they grow naturally in mangrove swamps and are in the Combretaceae plant family, they have a very interesting horticultural history that I am happy to share.
As you may know they are very wind resistant, xeric (drought tolerant) and salt tolerant. The bark and gnarly trunks are very attractive, especially as the trees mature. You can make lovely lei with them. Keiki can make a fun lei using masking tape and the leaves – easy and gorgeous!
Silver Buttonwood amidst Carissa, Rosemary and Wax Ficus
At Lei Day in Kapiolani Park this year (and a HUGE mahalo to all the dedicated City of Honolulu, Parks and Recreation and Honolulu Botanical Garden Employees and Volunteers, who organized and coordinated that major public, free event in our park) we saw some fab lei, using various parts of silver button wood trees. Some used the fruit clusters, some used the leaves, some crafted the leaves into silver “rose” buds and so on.
Our late mentor Paul Weissich had just become Director of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens (HBG) in 1957. He was reviewing all of the interesting plants growing in the nursery and lath houses at Foster Botanical garden (FBG).
Weissich found a flat of seedlings. Some were green and some were silvery. One keiki was super silvery.
Silver Buttonwood tree in a salt Drenched, Hot, Dry Diamond Head, coastal Garden; See How it “Lights UP” the landscape?
He selected the silveriest of the silvers and had them potted up into larger individual pots. The best, consistently silver one was selected and more were propagated from air layers. He watched over them and had the expert plant propagators nurture and grow them up. This is a prime example of ‘Horticultural selection’.
He planted a bunch of them at Ala Moana beach park, which was an adjunct Botanic garden back in those days (and still has his legacy of tough, salt tolerant interesting, rare and unusual trees growing).
A mixed silver and green hedge of them is still growing today around the tennis courts at McCoy pavilion.
One of the silveriest was planted at Foster Garden and its gnarly and sprawly and has a growth habit something like an ancient time gnarled Olive tree. We have been talking about making this an Exceptional Tree.
Over the years more of the silvery trees were grown and planted in beach parks like Sandys and as shady tough street trees in Oahu neighborhoods. They make a tough specimen tree (especially nice when up lit with solar lights for your “Moon Light Garden”), a good hedge or windbreak.
Button woods are native to a broad area from the Bahamas, to the Caribbean coastal tropics and all the way to West tropical Africa.
This is one of the many Horticultural legacies of Paul Weissich who passed away this year at age 93. He really grew our beautiful and amazing botanic gardens here on Oahu. His legacy is our five Honolulu Botanical Gardens: Foster Lili’uokalani, Wahiawa, Koko Crater and Ho`omaluhia, as well as people like me and my Husband Clark whose career and lives he nurtured, just like that flat of keiki silver buttonwood trees all those years ago!
Epic Silver themed Kupuna lei featuring Fruits of silver Buttonwood, Delicate Baby’s Breath, Hinahina and silver leaf.
In my experience, people visiting Hawaii are truly interested in our unique plants and wonderful Hawaii gardens. Visitors vote and share with their cameras, with the questions they ask and the notes they take. Did you know that gardens and trees do not depreciate? They just keep on growing. The same cannot be said for buildings, sewers, sidewalks, pools and all the other accoutrements that make up Hawaii’s hotels.
At the Hale Koa Hotel, I researched and planted many new things in its 72 acres of gardens for the enjoyment and benefit of visitors, especially those who returned every year (or twice a year). Gardeners can be valuable customer service representatives and serve as front-line ambassadors. A nice gardener who can answer guests’ questions is more likely to bring new business and happier repeat customers.
Some people may or may not believe we have seasons in Hawaii, but professional Hawaii landscapers know we do.
For me, learning how to properly care for all the amazing plants here in Hawaii is a continual process, so I thought I would share with you some helpful landscape tips.
Tips and suggestions for a beautiful and professional Hawaii landscape
1. Create a highly visual and unique visitor experience by using native Hawaiian plants and well-adapted beautiful exotics in hotel gardens, interiorscapes and landscapes.
2. Plant plants where they belong (salty soil, dry or wet area, shady or sunny).
3. Plant in layers — low, medium, high.
4. Plant shrubs and ground-covers around trees like a “lei,” to protect the trunk and highlight the tree.
5. Group plants that require the same conditions.
6. Understand how big a plant will become and how quickly it will grow.
7. Create and retain shade trees and shady walkways.
8. Understand how hard or easy a plant is to prune.
9. Use ground-covers as much as possible. They save on water, weeding, mowing and edging.
10. Hire a professional from the start and do the job right the first time.
Caring for landscapes using good Hawaii based horticultural and Arboriculture science principles and akamai maintenance practices will save money and beautify Hawaii. That is a great thing for all of us and our visitors
Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst is a landscaping consultant, gardener trainer and specialty VIP garden guide. She has been a professional horticulturist for more than 33 years. She is also a Certified Arborist. You can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 739-5594.