Restoring trees and shrubs after a fire
Many of us understand what shock and stress can do to our bodies. Trees and shrubs experience the same catastrophic effects after a fire.
The most obvious is sudden death. A less obvious result is an overall diminished health, which allows disease or injury to follow months or years later. In any event, it is too early to determine the extent of the loss in the fire-ravaged landscape of the Waterfall fire.
Plants usually grow during one period of the year. Spring for many trees, including pines, is the norm. For fewer plants, including roses and butterfly bush, summer is the season of growth. In the months and years that follow, each plant in your landscape will, in its own time, make the final determination of whether it will live or die.
Some trees will appear green to the eye; however, heat focused on the trunk of a tree may have caused the sap or pitch to boil, causing the cambium layer (the growing point under the bark) to be baked or killed.
On the other side of the coin, pine trees may have had all their needles scorched, leaving the tree looking dead, yet in a period of six weeks or as late as next spring, the tree may push new growth. When this happens, the tree may indeed survive or, in some cases, collapse due to stress or because of an influx of an insect known as a borer.
As a nurseryman with 30 years’ experience, I cannot always tell which trees will live and which will not, nor can U.S. Forest Service personnel. Leaving the trees in question to stand in place may be the best solution. Should a loss occur later, the dead tree can always be removed.
During this difficult waiting period, there are steps to take which will help the mature trees. Watering deeply once or twice a month and adding some fertilizer and other nutrients, amendments and microbes can strengthen a plant’s immune system. Treating trees with a systemic insecticide will prevent borer attack for the next 12 months.
Many shrubs and perennials will come back from the ground. Repair or replace your drip irrigation system and begin watering deeply but infrequently. Once or twice a week is sufficient to bring them back to life. Because these plants have no leaves, overwatering can be as catastrophic as not watering, so be careful. Again, application of fertilizer or other nutrients, amendments and microbes can strengthen these smaller plants.
Dead trees should be removed as they may become a breeding site for borers and a hazard.
Consult with your insurance agent regarding your homeowner’s policy regarding home landscape loss, replacement and cleanup. Many policies carry a $500 to $1,000 rider. In some instances, you may claim a big loss and yet not be covered.
In addition, consult with your accountant for possible tax relief.
David Ruf is the owner of Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City.