Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, October 31, 1997

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Kevin Eckert, system forester for Hawaiian Electric Co.,
with some giveaway plants.

Free trees for Arbor Day

HALLOWEEN is the time for scary stuff, and one of the scariest ideas we can come up with is the thought of Hawaii without trees. Trees are for shade and for birds and for swings, trees lower the temperature and raise the value of your home. Tomorrow is Arbor Day, and Hawaii Electric Co. is celebrating by giving away 3,000 young trees.

The giveaway starts at 7:30 a.m. and will last until the trees are gone. Last year, when the company had only 1,000 trees, this took 10 minutes. By that standard, tomorrow's trees should last for half an hour. The trees will be randomly divided among three locations: Kahe Power Plant, the HECO parking lot on South King Street near Ward Avenue, and at the HECO Kailua field office at Kalanianaole Highway and Ulupii Street across from Maunawili Elementary School.

Large banners will be flying above each location, so they'll be hard to miss.

"This year we have more native plants than last year, and we also have bushes as well as trees. Most are in 1-gallon cans, and you won't find the same plants at all locations," said Kevin Eckert, HECO's system forester who is in charge of the giveaway. "We've got ko, milo, naupaka, native hibiscus, aalii, papaya, plumeria and ohia lehua among others.

"We chose trees that would be appropriate to neighborhood lots. None of them will grow taller than 30 feet, and most are smaller. When you pick up your tree, we'll be there to help with the selection. It's important that you have the right tree for the right place, depending upon your location and the design of your garden.

"How much space does the tree have to grow? Are there overhead wires or underground utilities that the tree might interfere with?" he asked.

Trees planted with 30 feet of overhead power lines should be restricted to those that mature at heights of no more than 25 feet.

You can see these lines, but the underground wiring is trickier. Eckert recommended calling Hawaiian Electric, the Board of Water Supply, Hawaiian Tel and the Gas Company before installing a large tree, to find out where the lines or pipes are. "In many cases, they can look at a map at their office and tell you without an on-site visit, but on older properties they will send someone out with a metal detector."

People receiving trees will be given a checklist to help them select a site for their new tree as well as information on how to plant it and care for it.

"Once you know the size of the tree that's best for where you want to plant it, you want to think about what you want the tree to do," he said. "Is it for shade or for a focal point in your landscape? Do you want it to block an undesirable view or to screen the wind? Do you want fruit or flowers? Do you want it grow quickly or slowly?"

Don't plant the tree next to your house so that it will touch the structure or grow over the roof or rain gutters. This is just asking for maintenance problems. If you happen to have a swimming pool, choose a tree that won't drop leaves. Don't plant it where it will shade out smaller shrubs and ground covers. And while a tree can block a view you don't want, when it reaches maturity it can also block out a desirable view.

If you are planting a tree next to your driveway, make sure it has a root system that won't tear up the pavement, and pick one with a high clear trunk so that branches won't obstruct vehicle movement. Don't choose one that will drop squooshy fruit that you will run over with your car (and have to clean up).

Consider the amount of sunlight and rain in your garden, and pick a tree that matches the conditions. What kind of soil do you have? Clay and sand are more difficult than good topsoil. Make sure there is enough soil to support the tree's root system, although most of the tree's roots are confined to the top 2 inches of the soil layer.

Eckert wants people to think of the giveway as a commitment, not quite as firm as adopting a kitten from the Hawaiian Humane Society but more than accepting a free chocolate at See's Candy. Planting a tree is not like planting a gardenia bush that you can fairly easily dig up and move. A tree, once established, pretty much needs a professional arborist to move it if it's in the wrong place.

Tree experts will be at all three locations to answer questions. "If we haven't got anything that's right for your location, we can advise you on what to buy at a nursery. The reason Hawaiian Electric is doing this is to educate people about where to plant their trees and how to take care of them," Eckert said.

The giveaway trees are still small, so they will be easy to plant. Eckert suggests digging a hole twice the width of the root ball, and even larger if the soil is dense and hard. The hole should be slightly shallow so that the top of the root ball is 1 or 2 inches above the final grade. Remove the tree gently from its can, using care not to damage the tiny fibrous root system and stem.

Handle the tree by the root ball, not by the stem or branches. Set the tree in the hole, and remove any tags or labels on the trunk so they will not girdle and strangle it as it grows. Fill the hole with soil from the site, and don't fertilize it. Work the soil around the root ball and make it firm so that no air pockets are present, but don't pack it down.

If you chose the right tree for your garden, you should not need to water it often. However, during dry or hot and windy periods like this last week, especially if your soil is sandy or clay, you should water the young tree. Watering should be done in the early morning to minimize water loss from evaporation and to allow the leaves and soil to dry before nightfall, which helps prevent fungal problems. Water infrequently and slowly so that the water runs deeply into the soil to encourage good root structure.

Like water, fertilization should be kept to a minimum. Eckert says that mulching in an area 3 feet around the tree should provide nutrients as well as protecting the tree from the lawn mower and weeders.

So get there early tomorrow to get your choice of a tree, take it home, plant it and enjoy it. The planting might be tricky, but the tree will be a treat. Happy Halloween.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
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Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
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