Sixty years ago, if you were looking for Frank Santos, first you might check the Hanapepe River mouth, then the bay; next, you’d look in the branches 30 feet above you or maybe under the mango tree shading his family’s hillside work camp home, enjoying the fruits of his youth. These days if you’re looking for Frank, you’d probably still check the same places, although he’s not climbing quite as high in the trees anymore.
Frank and Abby Santos are the owners of No Ka Oi Landscaping Service, a prolific, Hanapepe-based commercial landscape business and local-grown success story. All around Kauai you see their trucks and crews, outfitted in the iconic purple and green logo, beautifying the island’s retail centers, businesses, and resorts.
Frank and Abby started No Ka Oi nearly 40 years ago. Their home, corporate headquarters, plant nursery and newly acquired orchid farm encompass the lush valley and coastal land that Frank once used as his personal childhood playground years ago. The sly grin he wears 4-wheeling around their property tells us that some things haven’t changed.
We figured if Frank and Abby know how to keep an entire island’s worth of plants happy (not to mention the 50 acres they tend to at No Ka Oi), they’d have some good input for us part-time “yardeners”. So, we sat down with them at No Ka Oi, or more appropriately held on to our seats in their Kawasaki four-seater, heard some stories, saw a side of Hanapepe Bay we’ve never seen before, and got some great tips for keeping our residential landscapes in check.
First and foremost, how do we defeat Hila Hila and Guinea grass?
The best thing is to get rid of it before it flowers and seeds. Use an aggressive type of lawn, rather than a high maintenance one that may be more prone to die off, which allows the weeds to grow in. A skilled maintenance company will take the time to properly eradicate the weeds and make sure they don’t come back.
Any advice for vacation homeowners who cannot personally oversee their yard care?
Everything depends on the budget of the homeowner. Every plant requires maintenance of some kind, so the homeowner should work with their landscaper to determine if they want a low maintenance yard or not.
Tropical, densely planted, fast-growing landscapes are beautiful no doubt, but may promote the growth of insects and diseases. The grape orchids are really popular now but are a magnet for white fly. Many plants may require hand removal of flowers or seeds. For example, red ginger and heliconia requires hand removal and disposal of every flower, while manila palms require the seeds to be removed.
Philodendrons and some palms can be low maintenance if they are planted in the right location. Trees should be selected with the end result in mind and a good understanding how much care they will need over the long haul. For instance, fruit trees seem like a good choice unless the tree fruits when the homeowner is not around to enjoy. To prevent damage from insects and pests, every fruit should be picked off the tree and off ground to be eaten, given away, composted, or thrown out.
How do the microclimates on Kauai affect your plant/hardscape choices?
Multiple microclimates can be present within a single region and even within a single Kauai property. We follow the creed of right plants, right place. For instance, ti leaf doesn’t like wind but will grow in a protected location on all sides of islands. If the landscape is right on the beach in Poipu, salt damage can be a factor. Spider lilies are popular, low maintenance plants for the full sun, salt tolerant, and easy to grow. The tropically colorful crotons are very popular now and will grow in all kinds of environments.
In planning a residential landscape, what gets the most impact for your budget?
It all depends on what you want out of your living space. If you frequent Kauai’s beaches or enjoy a lot of outside activities, an outdoor shower would get a lot of use. If you’re the entertaining type, a low fire pit and outdoor lighting might be more in line with your needs. We are actually seeing more interest in outdoor lighting for our visitor industry clients. When the landscape is spectacular, why not show it off at night? Plus, you have the added safety and benefit of lighting dark pathways.
What kinds of permits are typically required for new or remodel landscaping?
Typically, no permits are needed for softscapes unless the property is in a special management area or a conservation zone. If irrigation is altered, a back flow preventer may need to be added, which will require a permit. Hardscapes may require a permit if the footprint of the property exceeds what is currently permitted, along with fences, rock walls and, of course, outdoor kitchens and showers.
What’s your feeling on artificial grass versus the real stuff?
We prefer the real thing except in very limited circumstances, i.e. a high traffic pedestrian area with no irrigation. A good use of artificial turf can be seen around the coconut palms next to Merriman’s at the Shops at Kukuiula.
What are good pollinating plants for the island’s bee colonies?
The crown flower and cuphea are two good plants for attracting bees.
What are some of your favorite plants to use in new residential applications?
We love using ti, hibiscus, red ginger, crotons, tiare gardenias, plumeria, hope philodendron, giant liriope, hemigraphis and kangaroo fern. For lawn spaces, the El Toro Zoysia grass performs great all around Kauai.
What should we be doing for our plants as we head into the summer season?
Enjoy all the flowers! The shower trees will be blooming as well as the royal Poinciana. Wait until after everything blooms to prune again. This is also a good time to check your irrigation as we head into the hot and dry summer. Make sure there are no leaks and that your plants are getting good coverage. If you’re not using an experienced LCO, do your research on length of watering time, which will differ depending type of plant, weather, light exposure, wind, rain and soil, etc. And be sure to fertilize quarterly. If you don’t have flowers, it may be because you (or your LCO) are not fertilizing often enough.
A big mahalo to Frank and Abby for their hospitality and expertise. We’re looking forward to putting their advice to work this summer. And if your company’s landscaping needs some extra attention, call the experts at No Ka Oi.