Creating a Firewise Landscape

on Friday, 31 July 2020.

FirewiseLogoColor

It’s that time of year when we all tend to keep an anxious eye on the horizon; looking out for the towering thunderheads that can build up quickly on our hot afternoons.

We live in a fire-prone landscape here in the Rogue Valley, and while we can’t eliminate the risk of a wildfire threatening our homes we CAN do a lot of things that will help keep our homes and communities safe if/when wildfires do strike.

The main concept behind firewise landscaping is creating a defensible space around your home: a buffer between you and the plant fuels (dry grasses, shrubs, overhanging branches, nearby woodlands, etc.) that surround you. A defensible space not only helps protect your home from wildfire, it also gives firefighters a safe place to stage to protect your house if they need to. Within 30’ of your house (or other structures), experts recommend planting only highly fire-resistant plants – low growing, well-spaced, and well-irrigated – and removing all dead grass, leaves, and branches from the area. This website has some excellent detailed recommendations and suggestions for how to create your defensible space.

Here are a few general firewise practices we can all integrate into our landscapes before wildfires occur:
        • Irrigate regularly during the dry season
        • Regularly remove dry/diseased plant material from inside, around and below shrubs/trees/conifers
        • Avoid dense mass plantings
        • Limb up shrubs and trees to reduce ladder fuels
        • Avoid planting any flammable plants within at least 30’ of your home. A list of fire-resistant and flammable plants for the Rogue Valley can be found here on our website.
        • If you live on a hillside, be especially aware of the vegetation downhill from your home. Fires tend to burn uphill – the steeper the hill, the faster a fire will spread.

Several communities in Jackson County have banded together to create Firewise Communities, the county has lots of support materials that can help you get some additional ideas about what you and your neighbors can do to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in your neighborhood. To learn more, visit their website here.

Four Great Native Shrubs for Your Garden

on Wednesday, 23 June 2021.

A recent hike along a popular local trail reminded us that these four great native shrubs – three of which can be found blooming in the woodlands around the Rogue Valley in late June and early July – are great additions to our gardens. All four are deciduous, fragrant, and wildlife friendly; and they all prefer light shade and are not at all fussy about soil type. Next time you’re looking for a new shrub for your yard, why not consider going native?

HolodiscusHolodiscus discolor (Oceanspray) – What a wonderfully descriptive common name for a truly lovely shrub! This member of the Rose family is covered with sprays of sweetly fragrant, frothy white flowers in the early summer. If you look more closely, you’ll notice that each spray is composed of dozens of exquisite little five-petaled flowers. Depending on your site conditions, Oceanspray can grow anywhere from 3-15’ tall and will get about 6’ wide. It is fast growing, deer resistant, and fairly drought tolerant once established and is a wonderful plant for hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and a variety of other beneficial insects.

 

PhiladelphusPlantPhiladelphus lewisii (Mock Orange) – This plant was named after Meriweather Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition (extra plant-nerd trivia: the genus Lewisia is also named after Lewis, and the genus Clarkia was named after William Clark). You will likely smell Mock Orange before you see it – it is abundant along Lithia Creek and in the Jacksonville Woodlands - and it really does smell like orange blossoms! Simple, snowy-white 4-petaled flowers with bright golden anthers blanket the shrub in early summer. At maturity, Mock Orange will get 5-12’ tall by about 6’ wide. The bark gets attractively shaggy as the plant ages; providing good winter interest in the garden. Butterflies and other pollinators love it, relatively deer resistant (although may be browsed when its younger). Drought tolerant when established.

 

Nootka RoseRosa nutkana (Nootka Rose) – There’s something delightful about the simplicity of our native roses – just five dusty-pink petals, surrounding a bright golden eye. But despite its relatively small individual flowers, Nootka Rose blooms abundantly and has a rich and heady fragrance. Summer flowers are followed by bright orange hips in fall – popular with birds, and a great source of Vitamin C for humans. Nootka Rose grows in full sun or part shade, and gets about 7’ tall by 3-5’ wide. Left to their own devices, the plants will spread via root suckers and form thickets – good for bird nesting habitat, and making for a good hedge if you want to keep critters/people from walking through part of your yard! Plants prefer moderate water, and Nootka Rose is a good pollinator plant and a host plant for butterfly larvae.

 

Calycanthus occidentalis cropCalycanthus occidentalis (Spice Bush) – As the common name suggests, the flowers of this plant have a wonderfully spicy fragrance that smells a bit like mulled wine – particularly on a warm summer afternoon; while the bark smells like camphor. The flowers of Spice Bush are a beautiful reddish/purplish-brown and look like miniature waterlilies. There’s only one record for Calycanthus in the wild in Jackson County, but they do occur just south of us in Shasta County. Plants grow anywhere between 3-12’ tall and wide, depending upon conditions, and they are pollinated by beetles! Prefers part shade and moderate water, and is somewhat deer resistant.

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

on Wednesday, 02 June 2021.

Getting to Know Your (Six-Legged) Neighbors

soaker hoseOf all the different insects you find in your yard, what percentage to you think are actively harmful to your plants: 30%? 50%? 90%?

The actual answer might surprise you. According to the National Pesticide Information Center at OSU, “out of nearly 1 million known insect species, only about 1%-3% are ever considered pests.” That means that between 97%-99% of the insects you encounter every day are either harmless, or are actually beneficial to your plants.

So who are all these beneficial insects? Beneficial insects fall into four basic groups: predators (ladybugs, mantises, green lacewings), pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies), parasites of garden pests (tiny braconid wasps, tachinid flies), and decomposers (pillbugs, mites, millipedes).

Bee and pollenSummer is the perfect time of year to get to know some of these six-legged garden allies, and learn how to attract them to your garden. There are some great books out there that can help you get started. You can find links to a few of our favorites here, here, and here. Even better, bring one of these books out into your garden with you, and spend some time just watching all the different insects (and other creatures) who you are sharing your garden with!

AphidLadybugEven if you do see an insect that qualifies as a “pest”, there’s still no need to panic. Start by noticing what that insect is actually doing. Does it seen to be causing a problem? If you observe the insect eating one of your plants, is the damage minor (a few holes in the leaves) or is there a serious problem? Do you have any garden allies in the vicinity? One single ladybug can eat 50 or more aphids a day, and most songbirds feed their young an exclusive diet of insects!

In this time of social distancing, why not spend some time getting better acquainted with your non-human neighbors? Chances are, you’ll develop a rich appreciation for the thriving and diverse little ecosystem you are creating in your yard – and you’ll become a better (and happier) gardener in the process!