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Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
12:45 pm PST December 10, 2018

Understandably, I have been getting many questions from my readers about how they can help their properties to recover and thrive following the fire.

There are many things you should be doing along with what must be done for insurance and local purposes. Once you have correctly removed any toxins and have begun to rebuild, you should first go over your sprinkler system and other drip or subsurface systems and make sure they are in working order and, if not, replace them as needed. 

This also is an excellent time to go over your sprinkler systems and see where you can benefit from subsurface irrigation or where overhead sprinklers would work better. I would place overhead sprinklers along the boundaries, and those can go on during high winds and or fires. Otherwise, they can be kept off. 

Once you have gotten the water together, go over the whole property and mark any plants or trees that are dead and need to be removed. The live ones will come back if given proper care. They all should show signs of life in early or late spring, during which time they should be foliar sprayed several times per month. 

Foliar spraying allows the plants to absorb the nutrients directly through their leaves as well as through their trunks. You also can soak the soil with nutrients, which will help the root system to recover faster. You should not apply any type of chemical fertilizer but instead start using organic fertilizers — some are made for trees while others are for vegetables, and some are for roses. Just get the right type of organic fertilizer to match what you are feeding. 

You should buy several different sources of rock dust. Rock dust is a natural source of trace minerals. Buy from various sources to allow for more variety of trace minerals. 

Then, make sure you purchase live compost. Anything with animal manure is alive. Apply rock dust lightly, then apply a layer of compost and then add another layer of azalea/gardenia mix (try Trancas Nursery) as a mulch. 

In some places, you can add 4 inches of this mix. Make sure you have a drip system or subsurface irrigation in place so that it gets covered by the mulch. Do not overwater. You should shoot for watering twice weekly during hot periods and once weekly otherwise until it rains, then turn it off for a few weeks.

Make sure you are always wearing a protective mask, gloves and clothing. Do not allow your children or your pets to walk around in this toxic environment. Buy a Levoit Air Purifier, one for each room. 

Even after it rains, the toxins remain in the soil, and especially in your vegetables. I would pull out all vegetables and well as remove any soil and dispose of it properly. Replace as much soil as you can with a 50 percent compost and 50 percent soil mix. Try Peach Hills Soils in Moorpark.

For those with raised beds, I recommend removing all plants and soil. Replace with new soil (again, 50 percent compost/50 percent soil). I would add organic potting soil, which also has a variety of beneficial microbial life. Check to make sure the watering, which should be on subsurface irrigation, is working. If you are planting right away, I would add a row cover to the raised beds. There will still be plenty of toxins in the air, and you want to keep it off your vegetables.

The key to the rapid recovery of all your plants and trees on your property is the health of the soil. You should buy truckloads of a compost/soil mix. Add a thin layer of rock dust, blend and then mulch it over. 

A few also have asked me about how to test for toxins. This can be done by a lab and shouldn’t cost much. From there, you can determine if there is a disease present as well as what toxins and what microbial life exists in your soil. The pH level of the soil is a significant indicator of the health of the soil. 

Trees will survive several external damages. Your best bet is to get someone who will be able to determine if the tree is alive or not. Any arborist will tell you. Some, but not most, gardeners will know, too. A quick way is to pull away a layer of the outer bark of the tree and see if it is still green. If it is green, there is a chance it will recover. I would cut back all the dead wood. Check how it is getting watered. Apply the same as I mentioned above regarding rock dust compost and mulch, only also buy an organic tree fertilizer. 

Also foliar spray if possible. Buy a fertigation unit which hooks into the bib, then hook up the hose to that. Inside you put the “good stuff” like compost tea, etc., which then goes out with the water. 

Next week, I will cover some recipes for homemade compost tea, mineral tea, microbial tea and more!

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