New residents to the mountains want to get-back-to-nature, seeking solitude, escaping the rat race and are all excellent reasons to live near the forest. Locally we call this the urban-wildland interface. With the woodland lifestyle comes risk though. The primary hazard is the danger of wildfire.
As a die-hard gardener, I take the middle ground on fire-wise landscaping. You can have a beautiful landscape design that is also safe. Residences new to preparing for wildfire are often too extreme; fall in love with their chainsaw and cut most plants down in the landscape and rock it over. Let me try to summarize years of wildfire training and teaching that is safe, sane and pretty in just a few paragraphs.
The top priority outdoors is creating a defensible space. This area serves as a buffer zone as the fire approaches your home. The goal is to keep a fire moving slow and low until it can be extinguished. Some plants are more flammable than others, and if we thin these varieties closest to the house, it keeps fire close to the ground and moving slow.
Evergreen conifers are high in combustible resins and waxes that make them evergreen and durable, except in the case of fire. Closes to the house you should reduce the number of juniper, pine, spruce, and cedars, each is high in plant resins and burn quickly. Replace them with deciduous plants, or those that lose their leaves in winter. Deciduous plants not only hold more water in their foliage, which make them much more difficult to burn, but they drop their foliage during the winter months and reduce combustible materials in the landscape if leaves are picked up in winter.
Think camping for a moment. Throw a freshly picked pine branch on the campfire, and it ignites easily with a whole lot of smoke. Throw a leafy oak branch, ash or cottonwood on the same, and it is likely to smolder and wither, and finally catches the blaze only after the hydrating life has been sucked from its limbs. These are the branches that never finished burning and still there the next morning.
Fire-wise plants can be beautiful and shine like this Pow Wow Wildberry Echinacea. This ruby toned beauty produces a floriferous flurry of huge 4” raspberry-rose flowers with a darker center. Very difficult to ignite in a wildfire, this outstanding new variety is the winner of the garden acclaimed AAS award. Winning the ribbon by the skin of her pedals for the continual bloom right through the summer heat and into fall. This full-bodied, well branching 20" plant requires little dead-heading or upkeep and loves the heat. It is possible to have a pretty fire-wise garden that blooms summer through fall.
Characteristics of a fire-wise plant are five-fold:
- Supple leaves
- Water like sap
- Thicker bark
- High moisture content
- Low resin content much like the Echinacea mentioned.
Water and feed the landscape to keep healthy. Water your existing natives once per month in summer until the monsoons arrive. Ornamental landscape plants appreciate a deep soak once per week. A layer of composted mulch helps suppress weeds and holds moisture in around healthy plants, especially helpful in June.
Avoid ladder fuels. This is where a dry grass ignites a taller shrub that catches the pine trees on fire, then jumps to the roof. Remember, our goal with a fire-wise landscape is to keep the fire on the ground, out of the canopies and off the roof. Ideally, design garden islands in the yard with an exciting plant mix separated from the next garden island by a driveway, patio or rock lawn. This fire-wise technique allows firefighters some space between gardens to fight the flames.
Clean debris that gathers in the gutter and on the roof. Needles and leaves on the roof and gutter provide tinder for blowing sparks. Chip piles of brush and use it as compost or remove it for disposal.
There are not enough words in this column for additional plant suggestions, but you have many choices. I have written a free garden list highlighting the landscape plants that are fire-wise titled, “Planting a Fire Wise Landscape”. Free for the asking when you visit Watters Garden Center.
Continued resources - Are Pine Needles Good or Bad for the Gardens?
The right landscape design is critical when planting in the urban-wildland interface. The balance between existing trees, evergreens, irrigation that are balanced with new fire-wise gardens is tricky. It’s easy to get it wrong.
Free Garden Class June 16 @ 9:30 am titled "Fire-wise Landscaping Beautiful AND Safe." The first of the summer class series, we go deep with local landscapes and the best approach to keeping your home safe from wildfire and beautiful, all at the same time. Come early, seats go quickly for this fast-paced session.
Summer 2018 Watters Garden Classes
Watters holds Garden Classes on Saturdays at 9:30 AM in the morning FREE for our gardening friends. Each session will last approximately 1 hour. If you can't attend a class, watch the Livestream on Facebook. Like our Facebook Page to be notified when we go Live.
June 16 – Firewise Landscaping – Beautiful AND Safe
We can have a beautiful landscape while still protecting our homes from wildfires. Learn what “defensible space” is, how to make your landscaping more resistant to fire, and which plants are considered firewise. Some plants are more flammable than others, and some plants can even mitigate fire! By choosing the right ones, we can diminish the possibility of fire, while still having a landscape that enhances our homes.
June 23 – Landscapes that Add Beauty and Value
Did you know that that the right landscaping can increase your home value by more than 10%? Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling. Ken Lain will take students on a journey that adds personality and value back into the landscape. As the monsoons approach this is an ideal season to change the look-and-feel of your yard. Students learn tree placement, privacy techniques, ground covers, erosion control, inspirational bloomers and more!
June 30 – Totally Tomatoes: Grow the Best!
The first fruits are appearing in the garden! Yes, we will go deep on all things tomato, but the same advice applies to the rest of the garden as well. Students learn which varieties work best for their growing conditions and garden space, bugs to watch for, diseases, companion plants, and garden advice that increases the harvest this year.
July 7 - Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies
Monarchs, Swallowtails, and bees are in trouble, but we can help! This class goes into all the details of how to help the local natives by providing habitat and nourishment. Because they like so many of the same plants, hummingbirds are simply a bonus to this class. Learn the best local trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses that naturally bring the best wildlife.
July 14 – Great Grapes for the Garden
Grapes are not only delicious in many different types of foods and wines, they can be used as beautiful privacy screens and garden accents. Join guest instructor and self-proclaimed “Grape Nerd” Viticulturist Nikki Bagley for a fun and information packed class on the best practices for caring for grapes in your garden. Learn what varieties will work best for you, and how to make your vines more vigorous and fruit more fantastic. Students might even learn a thing or two about wine!
July 21 – Containers that Bloom like Crazy!
Contain yourself! The right container with the right plants can bring a space in the landscape from so-so to stunning. Lisa Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center, has been creating container designs for decades. After this class, you'll have what it takes to design great container gardens that sparkle in the afternoon heat or the breezy shade. Learn about proper watering, the best foods, companion plants, and more.
July 28 - Perennial Flowers – Blooms that impress
July is the ideal month to plant perennials in the yard. Students learn how to design seasonally for a continual bloom in the garden. Notable mentions will be the native and heat-loving flowers that bloom without any care at all. All local & All Free.
Aug 4 - Easy Grow Roses
There are so many different roses to choose from--more than your grandmother ever knew about! Learn the difference between hybrid tea, floribunda, shrub, carpet and so much more. Talking points include the best rose varieties, care, and placement for non-stop blooms. Free to local gardeners that want more fragrance & color in the yard.
Aug 11– Herbs from Garden to Table
Summer is the ideal time to add herbs to the garden. Special guest instructor Deborah Maranville, chef, and owner of Natural Healing Garden, knows her herbs and uses them to create health-centered food choices that focus on utilizing local produce and delicious organic food. Join Deborah for a tantalizing cooking demonstration that will focus on the best techniques to get the herbs from your garden to spice up your cooking.
Remember, if you can't attend a class, watch the Livestream on Facebook. Like our Facebook Page to be notified when we go Live.