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Thursday - November 03, 2011

From: Bastrop, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Xeriscapes, Planting, Watering, Drought Tolerant
Title: Restoring fire damage in Bastrop TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in the Bastrop State Park area. We were severely affected by the wildfire and as we are trying to rebuild our home, we are being very aware of the particularities of the recovery process. We lost a lot of the plants around our property but I have to admit, some of them were not native. Because of the current circumstances, we are looking into only bringing in native/non-invasive species. Would you have any recommendation as far as evergreens/ aquatic and perennial flowers? thank you very much


The recent Bastrop fires were tragic on many levels; Mr. Smarty Plants will try to help you choose plants native to the area to help in the recovery. Please read this previous answer to a question from the affected area.

The  Pinus taeda (Loblolly pine), a disjunct stand (meaning "what are those trees doing here in Central Texas?"), gives the area the nickname "Lost Pines." This USDA Plant Profile Map shows the tree growing naturally in Bastrop, Fayette and Lee Counties. In our research, we found a number of sites that could be useful for those attempting to bring back the natural life in their area. Rather than try to condense them, we are going to list below the ones we thought had the most to say about your situation:

How-To Articles is Caring for your new native plants.

Climate change, forest management result in bigger, hotter fires.  

Forest Encyclopedia Network, also Fire Effects in Soil

From Purdue University Consumer Horticulture Wood Ash in the Garden we thought this quotation to be important in your planning:

"The largest component of wood ash (about 25 percent) is calcium carbonate, a common liming material that increases soil alkalinity. Wood ash has a very fine particle size, so it reacts rapidly and completely in the soil. Although small amounts of nutrients are applied with wood ash, the main effect is that of a liming agent.

Increasing the alkalinity of the soil does affect plant nutrition. Nutrients are most readily available to plants when the soil is slightly acidic. As soil alkalinity increases and the pH rises above 7.0, nutrients such as phosphorus, iron, boron, manganese, copper, zinc and potassium become chemically tied to the soil and less available for plant use."

Since the soils in Central Texas tend to more alkalinity anyway, you should keep in mind the effect of wood ash, if any was deposited onto your property, .

We want to make two suggestions. First, since you are doing reconstruction and we still have had no rain, it would be a good idea to delay any planting until next Spring, at least. Not only would it be difficult for anything to flourish without some soil moisture, but also construction equipment, either for clean-up or reconstruction is going to make it much harder for plants to survive.

The second suggestion is that you consider constructing more of a xeriscape landscape, using decomposed granite and rock for ground cover and paths, plant low water usage plants and constructing raised beds with amended soils for perennials, etc. From another Mr. Smarty Plants previous answer, here are links to information on raised beds:

"This link to Popular Mechanics tells how to construct raised beds, and this article from about.com has instructions for growing plants in the beds."

Bottom Line: Reconstruction and re-vegetating your area will be slow, but it will happen. Attention to the conditions, change in the amount of sunlight, and how the soil has been affected should guide any plant selections. It is thought that there have been Loblolly Pines in that area since the Pleistocene era; there have been fires before and the area has recovered. Go to our Recommended Species section, select Central Texas on the map, and you will get a list of 156 plants native to this part of the state. Each plant you might be interested in has a link to our webpage on that plant which will give you the growing conditions and soils that plant prefers.


From the Image Gallery

Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda

Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda

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