Since Country Mouse and Wood Rat became aware that, like heretics of old, we were perched atop a veritable bonfire of dry wood -- in our case a couple acres of very thick chaparral -- we have been nibbling away at the fuel load below us, while maintaining the native habitat.
The advice from this web page is in alignment with what we are trying to achieve here, as our thinking has evolved:
To promote fire safety, California’s Own recommends thinning chaparral in the 30-100’ radius around a house located adjacent to wildlands. We target dead wood, all non-native weeds, and the most flammable natives. By removing approximately 50% of the coverage, 60-80% of the fuel is removed. We do not remove native root systems, so as to minimize disturbance and erosion. We do mulch up the native debris and blow it back on site to help prevent the return of weeds. And finally, if the customer would like, we can add paths, sitting areas, bird baths and low native perennial color to enhance the area as we “carve out” a mature native landscape from impenetrable chaparral.The company, California's Own Native Landscape Design, is in Escondido. (They just came up in a quick Google search. In another post I would like to explore the local companies that offer services of this sort. But that quote above is a perfect description of our approach.)
So I offer two photos from the month of October - a before and after shot of one small area that we were working on. (Plus the closeup of the same area at the top of the post.)
Ours is a chamise chaparral, meaning the dominant shrub is chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum). Most of what you see to the left of Mr Rat is chamise, and that was what filled the bare spot in front of him too. A very helpful friend is hidden within the chamise, working away with a Japanese pruning saw, which we have found works better than the Sawsall with the pruning attachment.
When we coppice all the chamise, we remove well over 50% of the highly flammable vegetation. It grows back, and we have to decide what to do when that becomes a problem. The roots are good for erosion control.
I followed up by trimming all the dead wood from the manzanita. I do hope I haven't opened any wounds. I worked carefully with clean tools, a pruning saw and pair of sharp bypass pruners.
(Please click to enlarge.)
We love the very beautiful (and also highly flammable) manzanita. Our endemic species is Arctostaphylos tomentota crustacea, and now I am suspecting maybe there is another kind too, as I observe ever more closely and with longer experience. We are also favoring other fine endemic chaparral shrubs such as coffeeberry, toyon, some of the native black sage - sages are very flammable - monkey flower, and so on.
Where I have pruned the coffee berry (Rhamnus californica), the mature branches have died. However new growth is sprouting from the stumps. I have to figure out why it dies back when I prune it (and I have stopped pruning it in the meantime).
The branches of our manzanita grew among and were shaped by a thick tangle of other branches, and I do wonder if they feel lonely without their entwined companions. I mean in an ecological sense, of course! (Me, sentimental? Bah humbug!)
The best time to trim manzanita - and most native shrubs - is in summer, when they are dormant, and when the weather is dry, so there is less risk of infection through the open wounds.
With manzanita, the best advice is to just remove the dead wood - they are beautiful as they are without any help from us gardeners. Nursery-bought manzanita can take some formative pruning when young, but then you are advised to leave live branches alone.
Though it was October when I did the pruning, it has been very dry and sunny, and I hope I caught the tail end of the dormant period. We do what we can, when we can, and sometimes it isn't ideal.
Of course I have reservations and considerations about mucking about with Mother Nature. What is the effect on the habitat of removing so much of the natural vegetation? How are we altering the balance of nature? These are questions to research, hopefully for future posts. In the meantime - there is a lot more manzanita to make gorgeous.