Unless you haven't been in the Rogue Valley this summer, or you live without television, radio or newspaper, you surely are aware of the bad fire season we're having.
And I hope it has occurred to you to look at your yard and wonder whether a fast-moving grass fire would affect your property. If you haven't looked at that possibility, I urge you to do so now. Out-of-control fires are not confined to forested areas but happen in suburban and semi-rural settings, too. I have observed several properties that would be in serious trouble should there be a grass fire in the area.
Although it is a bit late in the season for planning and planting a fire-resistant landscape for this summer, it is just the right time for next year.
The first step in designing your resistant or retardant plan is to create a "defensible space" — that is, room for firefighters to do their job, should that be necessary. This includes keeping your driveway area accessible to large vehicles. Lots of hardscaping, such as stepping stones and gravel paths, is a good idea.
Keep the ground right next to the house covered in gravel mulch or well-watered grass that is always cut short. Plants nearest the house should be low-growing and widely spaced. Plant them in small groups, not large masses.
In general, deciduous plants are more fire-resistant than evergreens because they contain less sap or oil. Some good groundcover choices include kinnikinnick, ice plant, rock cress, wild strawberry, sedum and snow-in-summer. Although not groundcovers, succulents such as hen-and-chicks, perhaps in a large pot, add interest.
For perennials, consider daylily, lupine, columbine, trumpet vine and basket-of-gold. Good choices for shrubs include lilac, Oregon grape, rhododendron, flowering currant, dogwood, western spirea and vine maple.
Deciduous trees that are more fire resistant include Oregon white oak, catalpa, maples, hawthorn and aspen. It is important to keep trees trimmed so they are not touching the house and have no dead limbs on them.
The space 100 to 200 feet from the house is considered the "home ignition zone." Remember that this would include wooden fences and sheds. Stacked firewood and propane tanks should not be in this area, either. This area is susceptible to reflective heat should those items burn, thus igniting the main structure.
And don't forget the "little things." Observe the nooks and crannies where the wind tends to make pine needles, dead leaves and other debris accumulate, and clear those areas regularly. Keep the roof and gutters clean, and remove debris from under decks, porches and steps. Keep up with maintenance, including removal of spent herbaceous growth.
I hope you will take steps now to plan for next year and not gamble on it being less fire-hazardous. It's too easy to forget about fires while it's raining in the winter.
For a more complete list of suggested plants, download a copy of "Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes" from the Oregon State University Extension Service at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw590/
Or pick up a copy at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 for more information.
Coming up: It's time to think about storing all that produce from your garden. Master Gardener Tresa Jarel will discuss how to preserve it without canning. The class will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at SORC. The cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at email@example.com.