An Interview with Arborist Becky Holt, of Mother Earth Tree Service
In 1979, a Kona coffee farmer put a potted houseplant outside. It was a baby Banyan tree. Over fourty years later, the tree measured eighteen feet in diameter on one side and its canopy covered over a quarter acre of the farm. After months of working to cut back the tree, Becky Holt and her team still hadn’t found the original pot! This is not an uncommon story. In our island climate where everything grows like crazy, how do you know the good trees from the mischievous, or worse? And most importantly, how do you keep them healthy and looking beautiful for generations to come? I sat down with Becky, Managing Arborist of Mother Earth Tree Service, to talk trees.
Before there were people living in the Hawaiian Islands, there were trees. Palm trees…but not the kind you’re probably thinking of. I’m talking about fan palms called Pritchardia. If you shut your eyes, you can almost hear the music of their leaves swaying in the sea breeze. It was the sea that brought them here, their seeds carried on currents through the south Pacific. They weren’t the only ones. “Many native and culturally significant trees like the Hala, or the Hau, or Milo have seeds that float,” says Becky.
Hawaiʻiʻs most iconic tree isn’t actually native to the islands. The Coconut Palm was brought here by Polynesians. Today, coconut palms are the most common palm in the islands. But they can be a headache for business owners and property owners, especially those who are unfamiliar with the tree.
What other tree grows something that is both a weapon and delicious sustenance? “Coconut palms grow these cannon balls that can kill you,” says Becky, “it’s important to have them regularly trimmed.” Unlike other trees, you can’t control the height of the palms with pruning. Palms are actually much more like grass than like a tree in the way they grow, says Becky.
This tree’s big showy orange flowers often trick those who don’t know. This is not a tree you want to plant or want on your property, says Becky. The tree is as thirsty as a pack of camels. It’s biologically programmed to soak up as much water as it can, kind of like a cactus in the desert. The problem is, that there is always water available in Hawai’i, and it doesn’t know when to stop. The unlimited access to water causes it to grow at science fiction-worthy rates of a foot a month. This kind of fantastic growth means the tree is not structurally sound and is prone to breaking, especially in storms. The African Tulip is considered an invasive species in Hawaii. It has easily spreadable seeds and shade tolerant seedlings, which can grow virtually anywhere, outcompeting less aggressive species.
Mother Earth Tree Service gets many questions from clients about fruit trees. One common mistake is irrigating trees with drip lines. “Drip lines are great for gardens but terrible for trees,” says Becky. A tree responds to where a resource is available. If you have any kind of tree and you put it on a drip line, it’s only being watered in the top five inches of soil. This teaches the tree to develop shallow roots. What you end up with is an unstable tree that can be easily damaged or blown over in a storm.
Another common issue their team runs into with fruit trees is that there is often a conflict between a property owner’s desire for fruit production versus how they want the tree to look aesthetically. Optimum fruit production means more pruning, which doesnʻt always look pretty. Sun is also an important consideration with fruit trees. Citrus especially needs as much sun as they can get. Becky recommends planting them on the south side of your property to optimize sunlight hours.
I couldn’t resist asking Becky what her favorite tree is, and she doesn’t miss a beat. “Monkeypod,” she says, adding that “everything about them is grand.” While Monkeypods aren’t native to Hawaiʻi, you might say they are like a hanai child, unofficially adopted by the islands. The tree has a beautiful natural canopy that offers shade from the hot sun. Also known as the rain tree, Monkeypodʻs leaves fold up in the rain and at night. The tree responds well to pruning, which makes arborists like Becky happy.
Their Suites Story
Support from the Suite Possibilities team allows Becky and her crew to spend more time doing what they love — meeting with trees and their people out in the field. “Our clients love that their call always gets answered by Amanda,” says Becky. They use Suite’s virtual receptionist service, office rental, professional mailbox, and bill pay services.
More About Mother Earth Tree Service
Founded in 2002 by Toby Johnson, Mother Earth Tree Service offers commercial and residential tree trimming on Hawaii Island, focusing on Kona to Waikoloa. They also offer consulting on what kinds of trees to plant, tree care, and property evaluation reports where they will catalog different trees. This is a common service for people who move to the island and buy property but often have no idea what’s growing on their land and how to care for it.
Educating their clients and the community about tree care, invasive species, and the significance of native and endemic species is a key part of their work. “We aim to expand the knowledge base of the island when it comes to trees, especially about our native trees, so that they don’t get removed,” says Becky. Her biggest piece of advice for people is don’t DIY. One bad cut on a tree can kill the whole tree. It’s always best to consult with an arborist first, even if you want to do the job yourself.
Have a tree question? Get in touch with Becky and the Mother Earth Tree Service team, or call 808-327-6633.
About Suite Possibilities
Founded in 2015, Suite Possibilities is a resource center and meeting place for Hawaii small business owners. With services like conference room rental, office rental, professional mailbox rental, virtual receptionist, bookkeeping, and more, Suite Possibilities supports small business owners in Hawai`i to scale up and succeed.