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Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
6:28 am PST January 10, 2019

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s go forward! 

It is indeed so sad to see so much destruction right in our own community. What can we do to maintain balance? What can we do to increase happiness? What can we do to increase love?

There are many things we can do. In my opinion, loving the Earth and caring for the planet is the answer.

Humans have been the worst gardeners of the Earth. We have basically destroyed the Eden we find ourselves in. The diseases and destruction and unnecessary suffering must stop. We can make the changes we need to allow the living beings on this planet, including us, to survive in peace.

Climate change is a normal process, but climate destruction is not. We have caused massive changes in our environment, starting with the trees.

Clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean, healthy food, clean oceans, and clean, healthy Earth are all vital. 

We must wake up and smell the burnt coffee!

OK, now back to Earth.

Many folks have been asking me the same things: “How can I tell if my tree(s) are alive?” and “What do I do to help my property recover?”

First and foremost, property owners must wait for anything that just burned down to be adequately cleaned up and anything toxic to be appropriately removed.

I have been to several burned properties to test the air quality, and after just three such visits, I found myself very sick! And this is with me wearing an N95 mask! I was ill for a week, and I am now weaker for it. So, the answer is to stay away as long as you can. 

So, to answer the first question, I would not be in such a hurry to see if your plants are alive or not. If they are alive, the proof will show itself soon enough. Let them rest during the next month. Let it rain and water the soil. Let them recover from the shock. If they are alive, it will be easier to see in February and in March. This month, I would prune back any dead parts. Just prune back until you see it’s alive. If you do not see anything active, then I would still give the fruit tree another month after pruning back. Many times the trunk and root systems are still alive. This will have new shoots when it starts to warm up a little. Since our days are warm, this will happen in February.

There also are some things that I would to the soil starting now.

I would remove any dead trunks, plastic, etc. from the top layer of soil.

I would apply a small layer of the following rock dust pelletized blend: gypsum, soft rock phosphate and azomite.

If you can, order several other varieties of rock dust from various different sources. You can get an idea of the sources available by using the internet to search for rock dust sources in the U.S. There are several sources in California from which you can order. Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura has a large section of rock dust (thanks to me asking them for it over and over) that you can use. 

I am always looking for sources of pelletized animal manures. I found one source in Santa Monica at Armstrong Garden Centers on Wilshire Boulevard. It is an organic, pelletized chicken manure. They also carry a wide variety of mineral sources, some rock dust and some oyster shell, etc.

Both of the nurseries I mentioned above carry a line of microbial products. I would buy whatever they have! The trick is not just to apply rock dust, but also the microbes that eat it. 

Try to get everything in a pelletized form since it makes the application much more manageable. You only need a minimal amount applied everywhere there is soil. I would say that a 40-pound mix of both rock dust and the animal manure will do for 5 to 10 acres! A little bit will go a long way. 

I would then apply a small layer of live compost. There are many compost resources to choose from. Try Peach Farms or Organic Solutions. They have fresh, homemade compost and the best around, in my opinion. Turn over the compost and the rock dust, and mix in with your soil. This is a good time to check your watering. Try to go to subsurface irrigation if possible. Buried will conserve water and offer additional protection against fires.

Then, I would apply azalea/gardenia mix. Try Trancas Nursery. Why is this stuff so wonderful? It is made from earthworm castings and aged wood. It has an acid pH. Our soil is too alkaline (around 7.4 to 7.8). Plants and trees will do better closer to neutral (7) or a slightly acidic (6.8) pH. By the way, the “good guys” live in the pH range of 6.6-6.9. The farther away from this range, the less you will see this fantastic microbial army. Other types of microbial life are found outside of this range.

I would also make sure to amend the soil thoroughly if replanting. Use half compost and earthworm casting.

Foliar spray the soil and trees with this same living microbial life. Save some of each and make a compost tea, then spray the ground, trunks and branches of everything that might be alive!

Any questions? Email me at