June 11 marks the fifth anniversary of the Black Forest fire, an inferno that killed two people, destroyed 488 homes and burned 14,280 acres.
The fire devastated many, and some are still in recovery mode. Our landscape was significantly damaged, but the house survived, thanks to routine mitigation, the firefighters' work and luck.
Now Pikes Peak region residents have an opportunity to help the Black Forest's revival.
The nonprofit Black Forest Together is a national finalist to win a John Deere skid steer with attachments to remove burned trees and transplant trees to reforest and restore wildlife habitat.
People can vote once daily June 4-18 at johndeere.com, and the participant with the most votes wins.
A contest victory would greatly help Black Forest's recovery.
When the fire hit, I had no idea how damage to the landscape would change the environment and my efforts as a gardener. I like the "new" landscape, but maintenance is much more labor-intensive.
We lost about 60 percent of our trees. We now have a partially treed property and areas of native grasses.
Some of the grasses regenerated naturally, but a lot of effort was expended seeding large areas. We used a seed blend specially formulated for the Black Forest.
Seeding grasses on the burned sections helped to ensure minimal invasion by noxious weeds. When I do find such weeds - Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa), Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) - I dig them out. This is a year-round process.
The grasses have effectively controlled erosion and loss of topsoil on windy days. Fewer trees means more light, so we now have many more native wildflowers among the grasses: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Pineywoods geranium (Geranium caespitosum) and Southwestern cosmos (Cosmos parviflorus).
The rains immediately after the fire carved new drainages across the property. These are now being filled in with native shrubs: chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), wild rose (Rosa woodsii), scrub oak (Quercus gambelii) and mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus). In very early spring, I remove the branches broken by deer.
The native common evening primrose (Oenothera villosa) grows well in the drainages. Over the winter, we pull out the numerous woody stocks that remain. They are unattractive and will not decompose within a reasonable time.
The Black Forest was very quiet before the fire. Now the dearth of trees means more noise.
The winds bring unwanted plant material, too. This winter, I collected more than 10 trash bags - 30 gallons each - of tumbleweeds. I anticipate the summer will be spent pulling the Russian thistles (Salsola tragus L.) that will germinate from the tumbleweed seeds.
I am very grateful that our home did not burn, and we now have a diverse and more interesting landscape. The maintenance ensures I will get plenty of exercise and fresh air.
I invite all to drive through the Black Forest so you can see how well the recovery is progressing. Black Forest is truly a unique and lovely part of El Paso County.
When you have questions, email ask.extension.org or call 520-7684 from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Thursday. For garden tips, visit facebook.com/ColoradoMasterGardeners.EPC