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Plants Help Fire-Ravaged Parcels Recover

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As thousands of acres in Calaveras County have been scorched by fires this year, experts offer tips for greening up blackened yards.

With fall fast approaching, rainfall can pose an erosion problem on steep hillsides, said California Department of Forestry Division Chief Steve Hollett.

“Use sediment barriers” to stem the flow of water down smaller drainage channels, he said. Straw bale dykes n similar to those seen along state highways after road construction projects are completed n are sold at nurseries and can easily be placed along hillsides. “Put them in gullies on the property,” Hollett said, “but not in creeks.

“You have to be diligent and clean them out often,” he said. “You´re going to get some sediment.”

Hollett said it is helpful for the environment to prevent ash and sediment from running into creeks and streams.

“Fire tends to harden the soil,” and in a hard rain, that can mean a lot of water running off a property that would normally soak into the ground. “If you break the surface (till the soil), that allows the rain to soak in.”

Hollett said much of the chamise – the plant residents often call grease brush or grease wood – will come back naturally, but he said many property owners might not want the plant to return. Many pockets of chamise caused the flames of the Pattison Complex Fire to roar up hillsides and develop into firestorms.

The plant won´t come back as quick in the shade, Hollett noted, but since many trees were damaged by the fire, property owners may need to walk their land and dig out the chamise when it sprouts.

He said manzanita – which also burns hot and fast – typically grows back quickly, too. Owners also should chop the sprouts when they are spotted.

Calaveras County Farm Advisor Ken Churches suggested owners seed grasses on hillsides to help stabilize the soil.

“Fall is the best planting season,” said Fay Cook, who works at Rising Sun Nursery in Burson and also serves on the Board of Directors of the Calaveras Foothills Fire Safe Council. “It´s a great time to plant deep-rooted, drought-tolerant, low-growing ground covers.”

Cook said ajuga and verbena are nice choices because both tend to flower throughout the spring and summer months. She said rosemary is a nice ground cover because it has a pleasant smell and can be used in the kitchen.

A variety of ornamental grasses also can be used to add greenery to a blackened back yard, Cook said.

She added that there is a product called Jute, which is a fabric mesh that has precut holes in it for flowers or plants.

“It´s a woven fabric that looks like a huge mesh,” Cook said.

Gardeners also should carefully consider where plants are placed, Cook said.

“All vegetation will burn,” she said. “Plant in polka dots or islands.”

To do that, Cook said, groups of plants can be grouped together and the groups can be spaced about 10-feet apart. Scattering plants adds color all over the yard and is less expensive than planting a huge mass of one plant, she said.

“Don´t be too hasty,” Cook cautioned, “some roots will still hold the soil.”

She said that landowners who want a burst of springtime color to cast the blackness aside might consider planting poppy seeds when a rainstorm is predicted.

“Thymus works really well,” said Lalah Webb, of Murphys Nursery. The herb thyme grows fast, she said. She also recommended seeding clover as the rains start to fall.

“Clover helps put nitrogen back into the soil,” Webb said.

Webb and Cook agreed that one popular shrub should be avoided. The juniper is a dangerous plant to have around foothill houses.

“I really try and discourage homeowners from planting a line of junipers up the driveway,” Cook said. “They are very flammable. You´re guiding the fire right to your door.”

Hollett stressed that fire actually is a part of the natural cycle, though he admitted it´s not good when homes are lost.

“Fire is a natural part of the ecology,” he said. “Before we were living here, this would happen every 10 years or so.”

For more information on suitable plants for foothills home sites, contact any area nursery or the Farm Advisor´s Office at 754-6477.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Mike Taylor. For more Calaveras news,