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Bringing Tropical Houseplants Indoors for the Hurricane

October 17th, 2008

I have noticed that, for me at least, when something goes wrong, that’s not the end of it. Something else will go wrong before the first thing is finished. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me the other day here in the Virgin Islands.

Hurricane Hugo - 1989

The first bad thing was Hurricane Omar. By Wednesday, the forecasts were predicting a direct hit sometime that night or early the next morning. So I began the process of preparing for the worst. Years ago, Hurricane Hugo (left) taught me that it’s much better to “waste time” getting prepared than to gamble on a miss.

When I had finished clearing everything possible off my front porch, it struck me that this was a good opportunity for another blog post. I could show pictures of my house plants before and after the hurricane. I had just purchased a new digital camera, so I learned how to use it, and practiced by shooting pictures of how I had tried to protect my plants from the expected high winds.

Next, I went to my computer to transfer the pictures, and begin writing the “before Omar” post. That’s when the second bad thing happened: my computer crashed! Undaunted, I turned on my backup computer, only to discover the third bad thing: my backup software wouldn’t work on that system. That’s why I’m a bit late in posting this, as I just got through hacking my way into the hard disk from the crashed computer, and I finally have access to the website.


Plants Indoors Before Omar

The first picture shows many of the smaller plants huddled together on my computer worktable. Some of them are already looking a little droopy, as they have never been indoors before. But I have turned on my ceiling fan to give them a little breeze, and I explained to them that this was only temporary, and that they would soon be back outside. I am particularly concerned about the coleus in the back, as it probably has some pretty bad memories of its life before I rescued it from the Home Depot last month.

Plants Outdoors Before Omar

Here are some of the larger plants. I couldn’t fit all my plants indoors, so I have placed most of them up against the inner porch wall. If the winds don’t get too strong, they won’t blow around as much. Maybe they’ll lose a few branches, but at least they’ll survive. In the background behind the (purposely) overturned chair is my largest houseplant — a coconut palm, still in its youth. My two bougainvillas are up against the back wall. They were already living here, as I am trying to get them to bloom, so they need to stay dry for a while.

At the time of this picture, it had rained a bit, but you can see that the porch floor is only wet near the railing, so it hasn’t yet begun to blow. The storm doors on the left will be barricaded shut before dark. I didn’t want to cut out all the light indoors until the last minute. The power is still on at this point, but you never know when it will get shut off. Actually, it stayed on until about 8 PM.


The Eastern Sky After Omar

This view of the eastern sky at about 6:15 Thursday morning looks pretty ominous, doesn’t it — it also looks like it was taken with B/W film. But neither is true … you can’t tell from the photo, but those clouds are moving from west to east. That means that the hurricane has already passed to our north, so I can begin restoring the plants to their former location.

The silver lining is that Omar was a real “wuss” — at least here in St. Thomas. I slept right through the storm. The winds were never strong enough to wake me up, and the plants survived without any broken limbs. By morning it was dead calm, at least at my elevation of 1200 feet above sea level, and the sun broke out about 8:00. The curfew imposed by the governor was lifted at 11:00, and our power came back on before noon.

Plant Nursery after Omar

This is how the west side of my porch is supposed to look. The coconut palm and the bougainvillas didn’t need to be moved, the chairs are back, and the immature plants are back on the railing. It’s early, so the porch is still soaking wet from the rain, which was enough to fill our cistern with good free water.

And if you look closely through the gap in the trees, you might be able to see my neighbors to the west. They still hadn’t opened their hurricane shutters, which surround their porch, so its hard to tell that there’s a house there … it looks solid-white.

Porch Railing After Omar

The entrance to the porch looks normal again, with the large plants sitting on the floor where they belong, and the smaller ones on the railing. The sun has broken through the remaining clouds, and the porch floor is beginning to dry out.

In the foreground are two of my favorites, which will be featured in future posts. On the railing is my original spider plant, which has, at last count, 18 daughters sprouting off the main plant, some with flowers. And the large fern on the floor, which I don’t even know the name of, was a “volunteer” that I found in the yard next to the house.

So all of the problems have been resolved, and everything is now back to normal.

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