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Soil, soil, toil and trouble

Until recently, dirt got no respect. The health of the soil reflects the health of the entire ecosystem surrounding us, and in many parts of the United States, the ground we stand on is being bombarded by many challenges. Changes in weather patterns, acid rain, contamination from air and water pollution seem beyond the control of individuals, but the reality is that every time you buy a fruit out of season, dig into your wallet to play a round of golf at a desert resort, or even rip out native plants on a hillside in favor of exotics to get year-round greenery, you can negatively impact the health of the soil around you and around the entire country.



Here in Southern California, a series of events, including drought and wildfire has left scarred and stripped hillsides vulnerable to erosion. The dry, Manzanita-covered hillsides and lush oak-dotted canyons are usually covered with a layer of fertile topsoil, created by the breakdown of organic materials. When soaking rain falls onto charred hillsides, it washes away the topsoil because the root systems that had held it in place have been destroyed. Downhill and downstream, the soils turns into mudflows that inundate residential developments and clog streams and storm drains. In the past, U.S. Forest Officials looking to prevent soil erosion following natural catastrophes mounted an aerial assault, coating the hillsides with an organic slurry — sort of a seed smoothie to help shore up the hillside by encouraging new growth to take hold. Unfortunately, most of the non-native seed mixes didn’t thrive, or impeded the regrowth of valuable soil-holding natives. Following the enormous 2009 Station Fire, which burned over 150,000 acres in the Los Angeles National Forest, the decision was made not to reseed, and instead to allow the soil and land to heal itself. A profusion of wildflowers blooming the next two seasons gives visitors hope that the decision was a correct one. You can find out more about landscaping with California Natives at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sunland, California. Home to an extensive plant nursery, the foundation hosts seminars open to the public. Visit the well designed website for more information.  http://www.theodorepayne.org/

Homeowners who live on the edges of wilderness areas must rely on fire-safe landscaping to create a defensible space around the dwelling structure, as well as improvements in the building materials and design of the home itself. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s website,   contains valuable information and links about fire prevention and how to deal with its aftermath. http://www.fire.ca.gov/


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