Drought-helpful landscaping can also protect against wildfires

FAIRFIELD – Sallie Perez was evacuated from her home in Fairfield during the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in August.

She and her family had moved to Solano County nearly three years ago, and apart from “some minor tremors from occasional earthquakes,” this Bay Area native had never seen anything like fire.

“I was afraid for my children,” she says. “But our house was fine. I felt so sorry for the people who lost everything. “

However, the experience made her think about ways to better protect her home, including using more fire-resistant landscaping – the foundation of which introduced her to drought-resistant landscaping as well.

“They have a lot in common,” said Perez. “What is good for fire protection can also help save water consumption.”

Your favorite discovery: decorative stone.

Rock, gravel, pebbles, decomposed granite, and similar materials are often referred to as inorganic mulch in landscaping.

Janet Hartin, environmental horticultural advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension, said the material doesn’t have the same soil benefits as wood-based mulching, but it does meet key needs – it prevents water from evaporating so easily and holding down weeds.

Hartin said mulch is vital during periods of drought, but choosing the right material is important in areas prone to fire.

Inorganic mulch materials can be the right choice.

“They have low flammability,” said Hartin.

Jo Earnshaw owned Sun-Ray Landscape Supply Co. for 34 years and sold the business on Peabody Road, Fairfield on June 25 to Eric Tsaur and Trey Clark. The nursery offers 10 different bark products and 40 different types of rock.

Earnshaw said she has definitely seen a shift from the area’s residents to materials that can save water. For your money, it starts with the floor.

“The old axiom is, if you have $ 10 on your landscaping, put $ 9 in the ground,” Earnshaw said.

Soil preparation is one of Sun-Ray’s main services, be it to make the soil healthier for plants or to prevent so much runoff and thus require less water in the first place.

Earnshaw has also advised its customers that large lawns are usually not used as much as homeowners think, so the space can be better planned for new uses and landscaping can be done in a water-efficient way.

Hartin said summer is usually not the best time to reinvent gardens, lawns, and other landscaping, as new plants typically need more water to start and maintain. Instead, saving trees should be high on the list.

“We remind everyone that trees are the most important thing,” said Hartin. “Prioritize the trees, even if that means pulling out a garden hose early in the morning.”

Targeted watering is also important – and not just a sprinkler. That means giving the water on the root system and not on the trunk of the trees.

Hartin said when full-grown trees die it will take years, not a single growing season or two, to replace them. Second, they provide shade and other benefits that help in this age of climate change.

Climate change and what it calls “urban heat islands” is also why property owners shouldn’t tear down their lawns and vegetation to save water. In the long run they are not.

The landscaping, she agrees, must be designed taking into account water savings, heat reduction and, of course, fire protection.

Tree varieties that are also drought-resistant can be a cornerstone of this concept for the immediate and long-term future. And while they’re not mentioned as often as red maple, white pine, and a variety of evergreens, olive trees can also serve as drought-planned landscaping.

Umberto Chironi, who runs the Olivi Nursery in the Suisun Valley, said olive trees work well with colored stones or plants like lavender or rosemary.

Chironi recommends old trees to minimize water requirements. In fact, he doesn’t even sell potted trees. They all come from his orchard.

“I would suggest that people start with, if not a full-grown tree, they are at least 10 years old,” said Chironi.

He also notes that if the person does not want the tree to bear fruit, this can be controlled through the annual pruning.

Hartin said watering the landscaping is important and recommends getting there early in the morning so there is less evaporation. She said sprinkler systems can also be inconsistent, so homeowners should make sure the water is properly directed.

She also recommends using gray water from washing machines and other sources when possible. She said the trees in particular wouldn’t mind.

Hartin added that controlling weeds is important as they compete for the water the plants use.

Tips for saving water

  1. Choose drought-resistant plants that will grow well in your climate and microclimate.
  2. Make sure your irrigation system is working properly (pressure, clearance, no weeds around heads, no broken pieces, etc.).
  3. “Hydrozones”: Put plants with similar water requirements (very low, low, medium, high) together and water the hydrozones at different valves (or for hand watering plants that need the most water for longer, but not necessarily more than other plants).
  4. Water slightly below your plants’ current root zone depth to encourage deep rooting in cooler soil: 6 to 8 inches for annuals, perennials and lawns; 8 inches to a foot for shrubs; a foot or lower for trees.
  5. Spread and maintain 2 to 4 inches of mulch around garden plants and trees (3 to 4 inches for wood chips, 2 inches for pebbles, decomposed gravel, etc.)
  6. Water early in the morning when soil evaporation is minimal.
  7. Irrigate according to seasonal water needs (highest in summer).
  8. Fight weeds. You compete for water with your garden plants.
  9. Avoid over-fertilization. Too much nitrogen causes poor growth and the need for more water.
  10. If you have a lawn, water it according to the “Lawn Watering Guide”: http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8044.pdf.

Other sources

• Uban Forest Ecosystem Institute / Cal Poly: https://selectree.calpoly.edu.
• California Native Plant Society: www.calscape.org/.
• Classification of water use by landscape types: http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS.

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