Matt, My Man: I guess it’s time to cut a firebreak around my home. I hate to clear natural vegetation, but it’s better than having my house burn down. Part of the vegetation is toyon, and I know for a fact that’s a protected plant. Can you cut it for a firebreak? — Toto Two, San Diego
Matthew Alice: Is the oil of eucalyptus leaves toxic to plant roots if they are used in large quantities as a surface mulch and/or worked into the soil as a soil amendment for garden vegetables and fruit trees? In compost? — Apprehensive, National City
Ooooh, nix that euc mulch scheme. No good, sez a county ag rep. Landscape one minute, moonscape the next. Eucalyptus, pepper, oleander—nasty allelopaths — spread toxins into/ontc the soil to kill the competition. Most oozes from the roots, but it’s in the leaves too. But euc compost is another pile of poop entirely. Follow carefully all the universal laws of composting, and you’ll have a toxin-free soil amendment. Microbial action in the heap gets rid of the bad stuff. A Ventura County farm advisor tested euc-augmented compost and gave it his seal of approval But like many So Cal plants, fibrous ’lyptus leaves are tough and decompose at a glacial pace, You’ll tweak the process along if you spread the leaves on your lawn, run over the mess with a mower, then wet the minced euc real well before you dump it in the bin. Oleander, by the way, is poisonous to animals and man (as you might suspect, since it flourishes in freeway exhaust) so just on general principles, avoid that entirely.
Something else we can dump in the bin is the “fact” that toyon is protected. According to the local, um, branch of the California Native Plant Society, toyon is going the way of most indigenous greenery, but the plant that put the “holly” in Hollywood is still hanging in there But just because you’re permitted to cut it down doesn’t mean you should. You can clear other brush in the firebreak and leave selected plants. And when the fire department recommends that you clear brush, they don’t mean rip it out by the roots. You need a city-issued permit tc do that, even if the vegetation isn’t protected. Just give the area a trim a couple of inches from the ground and leave the roots in to prevent soil erosion. The San Diego city fire department’s community education division at 1010 Second Avenue can give you more details. Oh, by the way, toyon aside, you can’t cut endangered plants in a firebreak area. Protected means protected even from your good intentions.