Watching the 7,000-acre fire burning west of Boulder reminds me that every area has its share of heartbreaking natural disasters. We live in a dry state where fire is a destructive force we fear every year. Seen from my home to the east, the plume of smoke from the Four Mile fire is boiling near the flames as it rises to spread across the sky.
Passing overhead, a fine ash settles down, coating my home and land. The question callers are asking is: Will this ash harm the plants?
“This late in the season – September 7 – a lot of the trees and shrubs are starting to be ready to shed those leaves,” says Dr. Jim Klett, Professor of Horticulture at Colorado State University, “they’re prepared for winter and a little ash won’t harm them. They’ve already set buds for next year.”
Showy fall color might be hurt by an ash coating, Klett said, by encrusting the leaves with gunk that diminishes the intensity of color. But unless the ash is thick enough to smother the branches and buds, the plants will be fine. Should that happen, a heavy rain will be enough to wash off the plants, or winds will move it off of the tree.
Of course, this advice is for those out of harm’s way. Closer to the blaze, landscapes could get singed. “If it’s near the fire and the ash is warm, yes, it can burn small holes in the leaves,” said Klett, but even then the leaves can take a bit of damage.
There’s little to be done except wait for the fire crews to contain the blaze, and hope for rain.