The past weeks of poor air quality due to the forest fires should remind us to make good choices in landscape materials. The reality is that Central Oregon only receives 3 to 6 inches of precipitation during the growing season of April to October, according to the recently released “Water-Wise Gardening in Central Oregon,” published by Oregon State University. The guide is a collaboration of the city of Bend water conservation program and Amy Jo Detweiler, Oregon State University Extension horticulturist. It is available at local plant nurseries.

When people are choosing landscape plants, how often do they consider the fire resistance of their choices? The first consideration is whether the color and the plant hardiness are appropriate for the area’s zone. The High Desert climate doesn’t keep plant materials naturally hydrated, making fire-resistant plants more appealing for what to plant close to a house.

What is a fire-resistant plant? It is vegetation that does not readily ignite from a flame or other ignition source.

Fire–resistant plants can be damaged or killed by fire, but their foliage does not contribute to the fire fuel.

Factors that contribute to a plan’s fire resistance include:

• Moist and supple leaves

• Plants that tend not to accumulate dry, dead material within the plant

• Sap does not have a strong odor and resin materials are low

• An irrigated, maintained lawn also serves as a fuel break

Juniper shrubs, spreading or upright, are a classic example of highly flammable ornamentals and could be considered the Oregon equivalent of the highly flammable eucalyptus in California.

General characteristics of highly flammable materials include:

• Fine, dry or dead material such as needles, twigs or leaves within the plant

• Leaves, twigs and stems contain volatile waxes, terpenes or oils

• Leaves have a strong odor when crushed, sap is gummy, resinous and has a strong odor

• Plant may have loose or papery bark

Several years ago there was a rash of fires due to the use of decorative bark mulch.

If you landscape with bark mulch up against your home, make sure you keep it moist to prevent ignition from a cigarette or flying spark from a nearby fire.

If you live in a high-risk area or beyond the limits of the public fire service, you might consider using less flammable mulches such as decorative rock close to your house.

Our smaller, narrower lots will require more thought in choosing trees and large shrubs.

When you are considering additions to your landscape, make sure to check the plant or tree for its mature height and the spread of the canopy.

Ornamental trees are smart choices as they are generally smaller than shade trees and offer the bonus of seasonal color, showy flowers, and with the right choices, edible fruit.

I think our state flower, Oregon grape holly is an under-used broadleaf evergreen shrub.

Yes, it can get to looking tattered and torn, but that is due to owner neglect.

It is an upright native evergreen with bright, shiny, dark green leaves in summer changing to purplish-red in fall.

Yellow spring flowers are followed by purple berries. Birds, bees and butterflies love it, and deer don’t bother it.

As the street adjacent to my property becomes busier, I need to plan a line of defense. Tossed out cigarettes are becoming very common. I have a start on an Oregon grape holly hedge and will go through the book choosing a ground cover and some perennials.

Designing a landscape that matches your needs is the ultimate in putting together a puzzle. A 1,000-piece puzzle isn’t put together in one evening, nor is a satisfying landscape that meets your needs put together in one season. And at some point what once was appropriate needs to change. Thirty years ago the particular strip of land I am now concerned with rarely saw a tossed out water bottle.

— Reporter: douville@bendbroadband.com

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