Words cannot express the overwhelming feelings of wildfire damage. I am heart-broken over the destruction that has been done to homes, towns, wildlife, forests and all of the places that we love. Our landscape is forever changed; however, it is also resilient. When wildfire goes through an area it impacts plants differently depending on the severity of the fire and their proximity to the heat/flames. I have actually seen roses have remarkable blooms following the aftermath of a house fire.
First, do not use leaf blowers or sweep the particulates vigorously into the air. When AQI ratings are at Hazardous Levels, yard work is a low priority. The amount of ash will vary quite a bit across that valley, and you may even see significant differences in your own landscape. However, in most cases ornamentals will be fine, especially if it’s a thin layer of ash. If you can still see green there shouldn’t be too much long-term effect on the overall health of the plant.
Once air quality improves, cleaning up the landscape can begin.. Before starting clean-up, be sure to protect yourself with the proper clothing, gloves and mask. It is often best to remove the ash from plants and hardscape with water. When rinsing things off be careful to not wash ash-water into the storm drains or into edible food garden areas. Instead wash into low traffic grassy areas or ornamental gardens. Keep in mind it’s not essential to get every last bit of ash off your trees and ornamentals. It is also a good idea to focus on keeping pathways, gates and porches and other highly used areas free of ash, thus reducing your exposure.
As far as edibles, be cautious and rinse off all of your fruit and vegetables outside. Once you bring them inside wash them again and assess before eating. Personally, I would not risk eating any leafy greens like Kale with a lot of ridges that may be hard to clean. Vegetables like peppers, eggplants, tomatoes or produce with a thick skin should be washed thoroughly (or peeled). There is low chance of a light ash penetrating the skin.
Another concern for many plants is the smoke, especially ones that need full sunlight. Don’t be surprised if not much is growing under these conditions as the smoke is suppressing any light these plants would be getting and you may even see some discoloration. Do not forget to also assess your indoor plants, as they too can be showing signs of stress from lack of sunlight. Using a grow light on your indoor plants could help them through this difficult time. However, be sure it is not so close it burns your plants and don’t leave the light on overnight.
Finally, one must remember that as destructive as fires can be, they bring new life, and as beautiful and green as Oregon is, it is a part of the natures cycle to help keep our forest healthy and diverse.
Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist