Surviving Rim Country's Driest Month

GOOD GARDENING

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June is usually the driest month in the Rim country, bringing hot, bright sunny days and cool nights. Dry, hot weather and windy conditions also bring an even more heightened awareness of the danger of wildfire. Soils are dry and powdery, and water restrictions are in place in Payson.

Gardeners who have not already worked on making their properties fire defensible should do so now, while mornings and evenings are cool enough to make heavy work more enjoyable.

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Linda Nannizzi shears fire resistant cotoneaster "low-fast" ground cover. Ground covers help hold in moisture to protect trees and shrubs.

Now is the time to make sure drip irrigation systems are installed and operating well. Using adjustable emitters will insure each plant gets just the amount of water it needs, no more, no less. Trees benefit much more from long, deep soaks spaced at regular intervals (1 to 2 weeks), than from frequent shallow watering. For maximum benefit, emitters should be placed out from the trunk near the drip line to help a tree establish a strong root system.

Those who are installing new landscapes or replacing existing plants may want to investigate which plants are the most fire wise, make a fire defensible plan while they are at it. Many drought tolerant plants are also fire resistant, and available from nurseries and mail-order sources now.

The first factor governing a plant's volatility is its moisture content, as some plants naturally hold a great deal of moisture in their leaves, stems and roots. Some plants, however have such a high resin content, that even when well watered can still be highly flammable.

Deciduous plants tend to be more fire safe than conifers, because their leaves store water where needles store resin. Plants that shed their leaves or needles, but do not die in extreme drought, drought adapted plants with small leaves or succulent leaves that store water, and many salt-tolerant plants will offer some fire protection. Other characteristics of low volatility plants are that they do not accumulate large quantities of combustible material, such as dead branches and leaves, and they have an open loose structure. Low resin content, high moisture content, slow growing and ground hugging plants also are good choices. Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, U of A has a list available online of "Firewise Plant Materials of 3,000 ft and Higher Elevations" at ag.arizona.edu/pubs.

Low to medium water use trees for this elevation include: Amur maple (acer ginnala); Netleaf Hackberry (celtis reticulate); Desert willow (chilopsis linearis); New Mexico olive (Forestiera neomexicana); and Honey locust (gleditsia tricanthus) among several others. The fire wise shrub list includes old native favorites such as Utah service berry (amelanchier utahensis),Four-wing saltbush (atriplex canescens); Mountain mahogany (cercocarpus intricatus); Apache plume (fallugia paradoxa), and Grape Holly (mahonia), along with many others on the list.

Another very valuable resource for Firewise plants online is Utah State University Extension: www.extension.usu. edu/publica/natrpubs/ff002.pdf. Utah has climate zones similar to those in Arizona, and many of the same climate conditions. This site lists many landscape plants found in Rim country native plant communities, and others popularly used by landscapers and avid gardeners. Linda Nannizzi, artist, plant collector and naturalist gardener uses one of the plants on the Utah list extensively in her Diamond Point garden. Nannizzi's theory is that dense, low growing ground covers on well mulched mounds not only keep tree roots moist and cool, they keep trees healthy and less resistant to attack by pests and disease.

Following the lead of finding firewise plants for the Rim country, the next step is appropriate spacing and property maintenance. Firewise landscaping does not mean denuding an area, it means making it safe, healthy and attractive. An excellent scientific source of information can be found at www. eri.nau.edu. This is the site of NAU's Ecological Restoration Institute. Homeowners, landscapers and public agencies will all find the information on this site informational and helpful.

Don't forget to mulch! The best way to raise healthy plants and save water is to mulch. Three inches of any organic material will do. Try pine needles, oak leaves, shredded newspaper, forest mulch from the nursery, or layers of all of the above. Plants will benefit because the mulch will discourage weeds, keep roots cool and hold in moisture.

The author is looking for gardeners in the Rim country who have taken a unique approach to overcoming the challenges of gardening in this area. Barb Bourscheidt can be reached at (928) 474-0373 or pbrancho@yahoo.com.

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