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What can we do to save our property and our lives as we enter the hot dry months of this coming summer?

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Marilyn ClarkMay is wildfire preparedness month. Recent catastrophic fires in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada that have wiped out housing developments really caught my attention. With our high winds, I worry, could we be next? What can we do to save our property and our lives? Surprisingly, our landscaping choices can make the difference.

First, create a defensible space around your home. Three components include: use of fire-resistant building materials, reduce the wildland fuels around your home, and use fire-resistant plant material in your landscape.

Defensible space: Within five feet of your home, limit plants to low-growing, non-woody varieties. Keep trees and shrubs (ladder fuels) away from your house. Use decorative pavers, and crushed rock or gravel in the place of bark chips around the house. Within 30 feet of your home, limb trees up at least 10 feet and keep them a minimum of 10 feet apart. Rake and remove fallen pine needles, cones, and leaves. Within 100 feet, maintain grooming for trees and shrubs and do not plant them so dense.

Your choices of plant materials can also slow a fire or encourage it. Characteristics of flammable plants are those that contain dead or dying twigs, needles, and leaves, have waxy or oily stems and leaves, have exfoliating bark, or emit a strong odor when crushed. Juniper trees or shrubs are extremely flammable. Virtual torches. Other flammable shrubs include arborvitae and mugo pine.

Fire-resistant plants: Are those who do not readily ignite from a flame or embers. Shrubs and trees with very moist, supple, crushable leaves. They contain very little dead wood, do not accumulate dead material within the plant, and the sap is very watery. For more information, you can review the Oregon State University publication "Fire-Resistant Plants for Home and Landscape", No. PNW 590. Can be viewed online or printed.

Last month I wrote about water-wise plants. The Oregon State University Publication No. EM9136, "Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon," includes trees, shrubs, and perennials, some of which are also fire-wise. By reviewing both plant lists, I have selected some of my favorites that meet both criteria and are deer resistant. (Yes, they do exist!) They are listed below.

Fire-resistant, Water-wise, and Deer-resistant Plants:

Ornamental trees include Red and Sugar maple, Hawthorn, Serviceberry, Autumn Purple® Ash, Green Ash, Honeylocust and Pin Oak.

Shrubs and vines include Oregon Grape Holly, Yucca, Elderberry, Willow, Silver Lace Vine, Cotoneaster, Spirea, Barberry, Fragrant Abelia, Fothergilla, Snowberry, Lilac, Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, Serviceberry, Kelsey Dogwood, and Viburnum (lantana, trilobum and lentago).

Great groundcovers include Deadnettle, Dianthus, Aubretia, Hardy Cactus, Hens & Chicks, Ice Plant, Sea Thrift, Snow-in-Summer, Soapwort. Speedwell, Woolly Thyme, Thyme and Arabis species (Rock Cress).

Perennials are those that overwinter here and bloom again the following year, and include Basket-of-Gold, Blanket flower, Columbine, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Delphinium, Blue Flax, Bergenia, Bearded Iris, Lavender, Pineleaf Penstemon, Red-hot Poker, and Yarrow.

All the above listed plants are hardy for Central Oregon and represent many beautiful and colorful additions to any garden.

For more information on how to prepare your home for fire season, you can check with your local fire department to see if they can offer on-site visitations. For those with computer access, look up www.oreonlivingwithfire.org, or Defensible Space Cal Fire, publication PRC 4291. Jefferson County property owners with acreage in specified areas can also apply for a Defensible Space Grant and receive $500 to help clear your land.

After researching this topic, I have some work to do. My mugo pine and shrub juniper are heading to the recycle pile. More gardening tips next month.


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