Landscaping after wildfire

If a wildfire recently burned through, you may have questions. Are my trees alive? What is wrong with my soil? Will anything grow back?

If a tree’s trunk is severely burned more than halfway around or if more than half of its roots were burned, the tree will probably die. It should be removed.

A less-burned tree may survive. Look for needles and leaves– the more, the better. Cut a quarter-sized hole into the trunk’s bark and peel back a bit of the bark from branches. If just below the bark is a green or white moist layer, called the cambial layer, that is a good sign.

If the tree does not put on buds and shoots in spring, it should be removed.

To give fire-stressed trees the best chance, ensure they have adequate water. This is tough if the soil became hydrophobic. Rake soil that does not soak up water. If that does not help, put down a thin layer of straw. Severely burned soils may take months or years to get better.

The rest of the landscape needs time too. Gently remove soil around bunchgrasses to see if there is any green living tissue left. If yes, the grass will likely survive.

Non-woody plants that are not grasses are called forbs. Forbs burned when they were actively growing and forbs which reproduce only by seed are less likely to survive a fire. Sagebrush plants usually die, but seeds in the soil may sprout. Bitterbrush might resprout or reseed. Most sites will grow forbs again, but maybe not the same species.

Whether grasses and forbs in burned areas make it can be negatively impacted by weeds, including highly flammable cheatgrass. You may want to keep weeds at bay by reseeding with adapted and less flammable plants.

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