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Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
2:47 pm PST November 15, 2018

With the recent fires in Malibu and surrounding areas, homeowners will not only have to deal with rebuilding but also with what to do for their damaged trees.

If your trees survived then you will need to know if they are capable of new growth or totally dead.

It is possible that a tree may look dead and still be alive! If it is alive, with the proper care, it will come back very fast.

Here are some things to look for that will tell you if the tree can be saved:

• Check to see if the tree is still green underneath any burned areas. You can do this by gently scraping a thin layer of the burned area. If it is green, then it is still alive.

• Look to see if the trunk is completely damaged all the way around. Trees will not recover if the trunk is severely damaged all the way around.

• Look for any signs of any leaves that survived. That will tell you that a tree is not entirely dead. If you are not sure if it is still alive, get an arborist to take a look. Do not ask your gardener; they will not know.

If you decide that your trees are alive, there are steps you can take to help with recovery.

First off, do not add any chemical fertilizers. That is not what the trees need now. Also, do not overwater.

The first thing you must do is get someone to cut off all dead branches. Don’t worry about removing any burned areas, as they will fall off over time, and you may cause more damage than good. 

Concentrate on amending the soil with rock dust, compost and azalea mix mulch. Add an organic tree fertilizer with all the proper nutrients. This will slowly help the tree recover. It also is vital that you learn how to foliar spray the tree. Foliar spraying provides immediate nutrients to the tree. But, you say, the tree was burned, and it doesn’t have any leaves to spray? No problem, spray the trunk! The nutrients will be absorbed directly into the trunk!

This is important, as the tree will die if it cannot get food as needed and it will need a lot to recover. You will need to foliar spray at least once or twice a week for the next few months. It will be around this time that you will finally know if your trees will survive. If it is too far gone, the trees will not show any signs of recovery and the green you saw when you scratched the surface will have disappeared. If, on the other hand, your trees show signs of improvement then you are on your way to helping it get well. It will take all of next year for it to show lots of new growth. This is the same for your fruit trees, roses, etc.

So, you ask, what do I spray?

One option is milk. Yes, milk. It is rich in calcium needed for healthy tree growth. Mix one part milk to 10 parts clean water. You will need to rotate with other foliage products since it is not complete plant food. You can add to the milk molasses at 1/4 cup for a gallon of water. Try Granny Smith’s since it is rich in trace minerals.

You also can spray liquid seaweed.

You also can spray with a trace mineral rich product like Sea-90. Just follow instructions and never overdo it, as this can kill your trees if you overdo the trace minerals.

Compost tea is an excellent foliar spray. Just make sure that the compost comes from a good source and is not store-bought. Join a local gardening club, as many gardeners make their own compost.

There are many wonderful foliar sprays on the market that are organic.

You should use BioChar, as this also will help the trees to recover. I use SuperChar, which is made from earthworm castings and BioChar.

You should buy any of the microbial liquids available on the internet that will provide the trees with a wide variety of microbes for the soil. You can not only spray the trunk etc. with it but also use it as a soil soak to add the beneficial bacteria back to the soil.

You can make a foliar spray from rock dust. Just add 1/2 cup of a rock dust blend into a pantyhose, soak it in 5 gallons of clean water and spray. I like buying various sources of rock dust and blending them together for a complete mix of minerals.

Please be careful not to overwater, as this will drown the soil and kill the tree really fast. 

It’s best if it is on a drip system.

Make sure to protect the soil from future fires by adding a generous layer of compost several times per year. Compost will not burn.

Once we get through this month and into December, we should see conditions change and cool off, allowing trees to recover. Expect temperatures to be high come early spring and, therefore, make sure you have installed drip systems and provided adequate compost and azalea/gardenia mix. This type of mulch will not burn, but do not overdo it as too much will kill the trees. Times are changing fast. We can learn from this and survive while also helping the trees to survive. 

May everyone be safe. Let’s work together to make it through.

Any questions? Email me at andylopez@invisiblegardener.com.