A fire can bring devastation to your home and landscape. If this blog is relevant to your situation, let me offer my sympathies for your losses. Having been a forest firefighter in New Mexico during my college days, I have witnessed the destructive power of wildfires first hand. But hopefully, I can suggest some ideas and techniques that will help to bring your outdoor spaces back to life and help to get your world back on track.
In many ecosystems, fire is an essential element to the health and renewal of the region's flora and fauna. In North America, Western forests, chaparral (shrublands in California) and the prairies are all dependent on fire to renew the ecosystems. But fire suppression efforts, drought and the movement of residential developments into fire-prone areas have made fires especially catastrophic. And it's these high intensity fires that cause the most damage to plants and soil.
Hot Fires Destroy Life Below in the Soil and Prevent Water Absorption
Very hot fires are very damaging to the soil's microbial life upon which plants depend. And soil health must be restored for long term success in re-establishing a landscape. At the same time, the extreme heat also "glazes" the surface of the soil, literally melting the surface which causes the soil to repel water. The soil becomes hydrophobic.
For replanting to be successful, the soil must be brought back to life through the use of compost, organic fertilizers (like Yum Yum Mix) and the re-introduction of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. The process of putting organic materials back into the soil also is essential for breaking up the water shedding surface of the soil, so water from irrigation and rainfall will be absorbed.
Adding organic matter back into the soil and restoring the soil's underground ecology and vitality is essential to the rebuilding process.
There are several ways to do it:
Sheet mulching - This method restores the organic materials in the soil and limits weed growth. This is accomplished by layering corrugated cardboard, newspaper and shredding organic materials mixed with compost to create a 4-8 inch thick layer over the soil's surface. You let it sit and decompose for about 4 to 6 months, depending on how much rain falls to help moisten the layers and speed decomposition. Once the materials have broken down in the soil, gently dig or rototill the soil to make sure all the materials are well mixed. This prepares the soil to be ready for planting or seeding.
Rototilling - a quicker approach is to spread a 3-4 inch thick layer of compost mixed with organic fertilizers and mix it in to a depth of 6 inches using a rototiller. Irrigate the tilled soil periodically to provide the necessary moisture for the materials to break down and begin the process of bringing the soil back to life.
Planting damaged landscapes can be economically done by sowing seeds of annual and perennial flowers and grasses. But until the soil has been repaired by sheet mulching or rototilling, heat damaged soils (especially those that have been glazed and repel water), reseeding efforts won't be very successful. Creation of a "seed bed" by bringing life back to the soil and restoring the soil's ability to absorb water is key to successful reseeding.
Inoculating Plant Roots with Beneficial Mycorrhiza
After compost and organic fertilizers have been added to the soil and replanting begins, it is essential to inoculate the plant roots with beneficial mycorrhiza fungi. These fungi are symbiotic with plants and helps the roots increase their ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. In return the roots supply the fungi with nutrients. It's a "win-win" situation that is at the core of any natural ecosystem.
When planting potted or bare-root plants, mycorrhizal fungi can be added as granules into the planting hole or dissolved in water and applied when watering in the transplants.
When seeding, always mix the seeds with slightly damp playground sand and the mycorrhizal granuals. That way, as the seeds germinate, the fungi will attach themselves to the new roots and greatly enhance the germination percentage and invigorate the health and growth rate of the seedlings. Check our seed mixes for regionally suitable ones that will help bring your property back to life or our specially formulated fire restoration mix.
Prevent and Protect Against Erosion
Properties with hillsides and slopes must be protected from erosion before the rains arrive. It's very useful to contact erosion control specialists to familiarize yourself with the processes and materials used to get it done.
Erosion preventing materials can be used in conjunction with soil repairs. For example, soils can be enriched with compost and organic fertilizers by rototilling these materials into the soil and covering the area with erosion control matting. Chose erosion control methods that facilitate the reseeding areas of the property where native grasses and wildflowers would be desirable.
Let Older Trees and Shrubs Have a Chance to Re-Sprout
Before automatically removing burnt trees and shrubs, remember that many fire adapted species of woody plants and palms can be scorched and their foliage burnt off, but not be dead. So it can be worth watering, mulching and waiting for important trees, palms and shrubs to find out if they might come back to life. This may take 3 or 4 months, but sometimes patience will pay off.
Before you begin to re-plant your landscape, it's important to acquaint yourself with the principles of firescaping. This will make your new landscape more resistant to fire and help to protect your home in the process. (See my "Firescaping" blog here.)