July 2020 – Fire Gardening

Although it may seem premature after such a long “Juneuary” this year, things are heating up, and fire season is one everybody should not only be aware of, but plan for with our garden designs. As forest farmers, with recent concerns of climate change, we are very aware of drier temperatures and creating strategic landscapes for fire prevention. Here are a few techniques you can implement at home, in any sized yard, to prevent fires or stop them from spreading. By utilizing natural rocks, or building with bricks, you can create beautiful walkways to highlight specific areas of your garden, while establishing borders that will slow or stop a fire in its tracks.

Rock walls can help support water retention in the soil, especially in a sloped landscape or garden, preventing the ground and plants from drying out. In addition, retaining walls can help keep embers away from your structures by disrupting the airflow, and stop fire spread as a
physical barrier.

Oyster shells, gravel or sand can be used in place of bark mulch, in areas that are susceptible to drier conditions, reducing the amount of flammable materials in those areas. Patios built from brick or concrete offer a solid protection for your home, as opposed to wooden decking that may ignite easily. Plus you can get really creative with these borders and pathways!

When designing your garden beds, there are many things to consider for making your home and garden safer from fire. Make sure to plant any tall or large trees and shrubs away from any building structures, avoiding areas adjacent to siding or under eaves or vents. Plant in several small irregular clusters and avoid planting in large masses. Utilize low lying shrubs and ground covers for water retention in the soil, and allow adequate spacing between plants to prevent fire from spreading easily from one plant or tree to the next.

Some obvious, but often forgotten or neglected hazards include general yard maintenance. Make sure to trim long grass that will dry out, prune and deadhead flower bushes and remove dead branches. Rake dried leaves away from structures, and keep combustibles such as
firewood away from your home and buildings.

When selecting the types of plants for your yard, there are specific “fire resistant” plants. Although they are not “fire proof”, there are several plants which will slow or even stop an unexpected burn. Hardwood deciduous trees such as Maple, Cascara, Apple and Cherry will be
far less likely to ignite than resin-rich coniferous trees such as Pine, Spruce and Firs. Low lying succulents like the Yellow or Purple Ice Plant, Sedum and Hens and Chicks, or shrubs such as Wintergreen, French Lavender, California Lilac, Nannyberry, Meadosweet, Hydrangeas, Moss Flox and Ninebark are also fire resistant.

Groundcovers like Bearberry, Blue Salvia, Dead Nettle, Fescue, Ornamental/Wild Strawberry, Creeping Thyme, Pink Pussytoes, Carpet Bugleweed, Snow In Summer and Rock Cress are examples of plants that can protect the moisture in your soil, while still offering colourful
presentation, and protection from fire. Flowers such as Columbine, Wild Geranium, Lupins, Sage, California Fuscia and Coreopsis Plants are also known for their fire-resistant properties. There is an endless list of annuals that I would never be able to fit in this article, that with proper watering will act as a border for fire and slow its path.

There are a few basic rules to help you determine if specific plants will help with fire. The best species to plant are ones that already grow on or near your property. Plants with gray or silver leaves have a higher ash and mineral content and are therefore less flammable. Thick leaves hold more moisture and are less likely to ignite than thin or fine leaves or needles. Broadleaf and deciduous plants are less flammable than evergreens and plants with needles that contain oils and rich resins. And lastly, plants with open branching habits, and fewer branches and
leaves provide less fuel for fire.

All of these suggestions are things you can do to prevent and slow the spread of fire this season as summer approaches. Just remember, even the most fire-resistant plants will burn without proper care, maintenance, pruning and watering, so make sure to tend to your garden and help it help you!

Angela Hicke – Van Isle Wild

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