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Keep fire in mind when you landscape

As we face another hot, dry summer, it's important to think about the landscaping around our homes, and how it could actually promote loss, even in urban areas.

Rural areas are more prone to grass and brush fires, but urban and semi-rural dwellers should not feel they are immune. I strongly suggest that you look at your landscaping with a critical eye, to see how a fast-moving fire in the neighborhood might affect you.

I once observed a homeowner's grilling project nearly cause a neighborhood disaster. He went indoors "just for a minute," and a big flare-up set fire to his (untrimmed) hedge, and then the wooden fence behind it. Homes in his neighborhood are quite close together, and his neighbor's garage was definitely threatened.

This wasn't your typical wildfire, but it nevertheless makes us realize that attention to seemingly unimportant details in urban settings is important, too.

Let's begin with that hedge that should have been trimmed. It is important to get jobs like that done now, before the real heat sets in. One hundred to 200 feet around the house is considered the "home-ignition zone," where you should limit the amount of flammable vegetation and other burnable material that could ignite the house. Wooden fences and sheds, stacked firewood and propane tanks should not be touching the house.

Burning embers often rain down on houses from nearby fires, so look for nooks and crannies where the wind tends to pile up pine needles, dead leaves and other debris, and clean them regularly. Keep the roof and gutters clean, and remove debris from under decks, porches and steps. Do not allow piles of dead weeds, grass or trimmings to accumulate. Remove dead limbs from trees, and trim back any shrub or tree branches touching the ground.

Keep the ground right next to the house covered with gravel mulch, or well-watered grass that is always cut short. Lots of hardscaping, such as stepping stones and gravel paths, can be attractive and keep your property safe.

Plants nearest the house should be low-growing and widely spaced, not planted in large masses. Some good fire-resistant groundcover choices are kinnikinnick, ice plant, rock cress, wild strawberry, sedum and snow-in-summer. Although they may not be groundcovers, succulents are always a good addition, too.

For perennials, consider daylilies, lupine, columbine, trumpet vine, yucca and basket-of-gold. Oregon grape, lilac, rhododendron, flowering currant, dogwood, western spirea and vine maple are some good choices for shrubs.

Deciduous trees are more fire resistant than conifers. You might select Oregon white oak, catalpa, maples, hawthorn or aspen. Keep these trees trimmed so they don't touch the house and have no dead limbs on them.

For a more complete list of suggested plants, download a copy of "Fire Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes" from the Oregon State University Extension website at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw590.

The booklet "Fire Resistant Shrubs and Trees for Privacy in Southwestern Oregon" is also available at the OSU Extension Office. For more tips on home wildfire protection, see the Firewise.org website, and click on "Home and Landscape."

Coming up: Bob Reynolds, OSU urban horticulturist, will teach a class on how to get rid of the critters you don't want in the garden and encourage the ones that you do. The class will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, June 9, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. The cost is $10. Call 541-7769-7371 to sign up.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.