Fire Safe Landscaping

Saturday, September 9th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace summer annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Cool season vegetables should be planted right away to insure good crops this fall.
    • Take house plants outside and wash down dusty leaves. Let them dry in the shade before bringing them back inside.
    • Lilac bushes will bloom better next spring if you cut back on the watering now.
    • Keep apples picked up from under the trees to help control the spread of codling moths, which make wormy apples.

Fire Safe Landscaping

If you live in a hilly, rural area of Mendocino County, fire protection is a major concern, and landscaping around your house is an important factor in fire safety. Landscape design, plant selection and maintenance of landscaping immediately around a home are critical considerations.

First of all, clear all brush, dead leaves and debris at least 30 feet from your home, and at least 150 feet if you’re on a hill. Dry grass should be mowed within 100 feet of structures.

A fire safe landscape doesn’t mean a ring of bare dirt around your home. When establishing your landscape, keep trees furthest from your house, shrubs can be closer, and bedding plants and lawns are nearest the house.

Landscape with fire resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Develop a greenbelt of well-watered landscaping around the house for at least 30 feet. Lawns or low-growing groundcovers provide good protection. Add color with flowering annuals and perennials. Keep this landscaped area maintained with regular irrigation, pruning and cleanup.

The mid zone, 30 to 70 feet from the house, should contain mostly low-growing, fire-resistant plants. Shrubs should be planted in clumps or islands with walkways between to provide fuel breaks. Keep the landscape clean: remove litter under trees and shrubs, prune out deadwood, and remove dead and dried portions of ground covers.

Layers of flammable material that allow a fire to move from the ground to the tree canopy create a “fire ladder.” Pine needles on the ground can ignite and burn shrubs which carry flames into the tree canopy. Use only small shrubs beneath trees to lessen this danger. Keep tree foliage at least 10 feet away from buildings.

In the outer zone native vegetation can be maintained though dense brush must be cleared and crowded trees thinned. Trees should be spaced so that fire cannot travel across tree canopies.

In many cases, water shortages do not allow for well-watered landscapes, but leaving the existing, natural growth can be very dangerous. Unwatered chaparral plants become highly flammable under summer drought conditions. They should be removed and replaced by low ground covers that will produce less fuel.

Some plants which are far more fire retardant than most include rockroses, California lilac (Ceanothus), oleander, Santolina, Echinacea and woolly yarrow. Italian buckthorn, native oaks and maple trees are good choices. Heavenly bamboo, pineapple guava, Escallonia, daylily, cotoneaster, and star jasmine are just a few of the plants to choose from.

It is worthwhile to install an irrigation line that will operate sprinklers to wet down surrounding vegetation in an emergency. Such a system can be operated from a single manual valve.

Remember, all plants will burn if there is enough heat and if other conditions are right. But following these suggestions will make your home a safer place.

Using Native Shrubs in the Landscape

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Holland flower bulbs are now available for fall planting. These lovely gems will bloom for you next spring.
    • Protect the pond from the worst of the leaf fall with a fine-mesh net over the surface of the pond.
    • Fragrant Paperwhite narcissus will bloom indoors by Thanksgiving if planted now in rocks and water.
    • Pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses can be planted now to replace summer annuals.
    • Garlic should be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from Early White, Late Pink, Spanish Roja or Elephant Garlic.

Using Native Shrubs in the Landscape

Our climate here in Willits consists of cold, wet winters and hot dry summers. As every gardener knows, this is a very challenging place to garden. However, there are a number of plants that are native to California and accustomed to this extreme climate that will grow here with minimal care.

One of the best known natives is Manzanita, or Arctostaphylos. This plant comes in many different forms from large shrubs down to low-growing ground covers. The ground cover plants are fast-growing and make a rich green mat, 6 to 12 feet across. Their pretty pink bell-shaped flowers hang from the ends of the branches in spring.The low-growing ‘Emerald Carpet’ is a particularly fine plant with a dense, spreading habit and pleasing flowers in the spring.

Bush Anemone, or Carpenteria, is a large, evergreen shrub with attractive leaves and showy, fragrant white flowers up to 3 inches across in early summer. They can be used as a specimen or in groupings, and will grow well under native trees.

Ceanothus, or California Wild Lilac, is well-known for its display of rich blue flowers each spring. (Actually the variety that is native to this area has white flowers.) With its dark green foliage, varieties such as ‘Dark Star’ grow 5 to 6 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Ceanothus ‘Concha’ makes a handsome 4-ft. round shrub with bright, cobalt-blue flowers. ‘Yankee Point’ is lower growing to 2 feet high and 10 feet wide. It covers the ground quickly. Plant them where they have room to grow.

Heteromeles is known as Toyon or Christmas Berry. This large shrub can grow 6 to 10 feet tall and as wide. It makes a find background or screening plant and the berried branches can be used for winter decorations.

There are two kinds of Ribes that are useful landscape plants in partial shade. The Pink Flowering Currant is a deciduous shrub to 6 feet or taller. It has attractive pink flowers in 6-inch-long clusters in March. Hummingbirds love the flowers. It is drought tolerant but grows faster with some summer watering.

Evergreen Currant makes a fine, shrubby ground cover in dry, shady areas. It grows 2–3 ft. high and can spread to 8 feet wide with glossy, dark green leaves. It works very well under native oak trees.

White sage, Salvia apiana, is a 5-foot shrub with soft grey leaves. The flowers emerge in summer and are white with a little lavender. It is a fine shrub for hot, dry banks and needs no summer water once established. Use it to make your own smudge-sticks. It has many medicinal and sacred uses.

When planted in the fall, native shrubs will become established over the winter and be able to withstand considerable drought by next summer.

California’s Wild Lilacs

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Bleeding hearts are charming perennials for the shade garden. Look for them now for a special accent.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.
    • Plant lawns now from seed. Reseed established lawns to fill in bare patches.
    • Azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias provide lots of beautiful flowers for the shady spring garden. Choose them now.
    • Begin spraying roses now for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a good product for a less toxic solution.

California’s Wild Lilacs

California Lilacs, or Ceanothus, are some of our most fragrant and colorful native shrubs. Evergreen and very drought tolerant, they provide us with ground covers, shrubs and small trees for various landscape situations. About 40 species are native to California, with many selected varieties also developed.

Many wild lilacs prefer coastal slopes but some are well-adapted to inland conditions. They all like well-drained soil, and prefer light watering and little or no fertilizing. Plants often work best in perimeter areas, on slopes and as background masses.

Ceanothus are fast-growing plants. This makes them useful for quick effects and covering large areas.

They begin blooming at an early age and cover themselves with beautiful, fragrant blossoms in the springtime. Flower colors include white, pale blue, deep blue and purple. Many small flowers are arranged like small lilac blooms at the end of the branches.

Ground cover Ceanothus do best in coastal areas, but some varieties will grow in inland conditions. ‘Yankee Point’ is a wide-spreading, low, dense shrub with shiny, dark green leaves and one-inch clusters of medium blue flowers. It is drought and heat tolerant.

Wild lilac shrubs grow anywhere from 3 feet to 16 feet tall. Most types are wider than they are tall. Many varieties grow well inland including ‘Dark Star’, ‘Julia Phelps’ and ‘Concha’ with deep blue flowers, ‘Frosty Blue’, with light blue blossoms, and ‘Joyce Coulter’, with large clusters of medium blue flowers. ‘Snowball’, with white flowers, also does well here.

‘Ray Hartman’ grows as a large shrub or small tree with large, glossy leaves and profuse displays of medium blue flowers. Sometimes they are grown as patio trees making a very showy display in spring.

Ceanothus grow best with little attention or care. Three things that they dislike are soil amendments, summer water and drip irrigation. Just water occasionally with a hose until the plants are established, then leave them to grow on their own. They will live a long and healthy life this way.

Deer-resistance is often an issue with Ceanothus. Most varieties are eaten by deer since, being natives, they have long been part of their food supply. Some small-leaved or prickly-leaved varieties, like ‘Dark Star’, ‘Julia Phelps’ and ‘Blue Jeans’, are usually more deer-resistant. But given protection when the plants are young, they are vigorous enough that they can withstand some browsing once they get large.

Wild lilacs are a nice addition to the natural landscape and they will delight you each spring with their wonderful, fragrant sprays of flowers.