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blue flax

After a dry winter and spring in 2018 and the closure of the Coconino National Forest last spring due to high fire risk, most of us were happy to receive all the snow in 2019. Even with the current moisture, being firewise when selecting plants and caring for our gardens and lawns is important.

Living on a tree-dense property bordering the national forest, I have become aware of the fire risk in this area. The National Fire Protection Association has developed the Firewise USA program. It is designed to help residents reduce their wildfire risks. Limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and selecting firewise plants are just a couple of their recommendations.

Fire-safe landscapes can be aesthetically pleasing and reduce wildfire risk. In addition to plant selection, you also want to plan how they are spaced in relation to your house and other plants. There are many native species that are appropriate to use. The Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University recommends looking for the following characteristics when choosing firewise plants:

  • Plants that grow without accumulating large amounts of dead branches, needles or leaves.
  • Plants that have open, loose branches with low volume of total vegetation.
  • Plants with low resin content.
  • Plants that grow slowly and do not need frequent clipping.
  • Plants that are short and grow close to the ground.

There are many drought tolerant and native plants that are firewise and grow successfully in northern Arizona. Such plants include: blue flax, western yarrow, showy goldeneye and blue grama grass, just to name a few. Blue flax (Linum lewisii) is an easy native wildflower to grow. It survives windy, dry spring days and requires little maintenance. It’s blooming right now at the Coconino County Extension Office and will continue flowering on and off through August. Another common and easy to grow firewise plant is western yarrow (Achillea millefolium). I like it because it blooms all summer. One disadvantage is that it spreads, so you will want to plant it where this a welcome attribute.

Another native perennial is showy goldeneye (Heliomerus multiflora). It’s in the sunflower family and is both drought tolerant and firewise. It starts blooming in mid-summer and continues into fall attracting bees, butterflies and birds.

Not quite as flashy as showy goldeneye, but a nice addition to a native and firewise landscape is blue grama grass, also known as eyebrow grass due to the shape of its seed heads. It can grow in sand or clay and is very drought tolerant.

Fire-resistant shrubs such as the red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) or Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) are good choices. I especially like red-twig dogwood for its bright red branches displayed in winter and early spring. It bears spring blossoms, green or variegated leaves during summer, and berries from summer to fall. Apache plume is a showy native western shrub. Beginning in late spring, this plant blooms with five-petaled white flowers that mature into fluffy pink seed heads.

Dry conditions can return to northern Arizona anytime, so it’s prudent to keep firewise plants in mind when planning your landscape. For more information, go to: https://www.flagstaff.az.gov/489/Publications

Gardeners can find information on this topic and many others at the upcoming Coconino Master Gardener Plant Sale and Festival. The plant sale is a chance to learn from gardeners with decades of experience growing in this area. Tried-and-true plants suitable to our growing conditions will be for sale. Many plants will be good firewise selections.

The Plant Sale and Festival is on Saturday, June 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort Tuthill just south of Flagstaff off 89A. Coconino Master Gardeners will be available to answer your questions.

Many local vendors and organizations are also participating including Brightside Books, the Arboretum at Flagstaff, Forestdale Farm Stewards, Jay’s Bird Barn, Julie MacDonald from Julie’s Farmstand, the Olivia White Hospice Home Garden, Terroir Seeds, Verde Valley School and Willow Moon Nursery. Plants, books and birding items will be for sale. NAU ceramics students will be selling garden-related pottery. Be sure to bring your small garden tools - clippers, scissors and knives - to be sharpened by Runs with Scissors.

And don’t leave your children at home. They won’t want to miss participating in the garden related activities offered by Tynkertopia.

Cash is encouraged as not all vendors will have the ability to run credit or debit cards.

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Susan Linde recently completed the Coconino Master Gardener class and is working on her volunteer hours to become our newest Coconino Master Gardener.

Gardening questions can be sent to CoconinoMasterGardeners@gmail.com or you can leave a question on the Master Gardener Hotline 928-773-6115 and a Master Gardener will return your call.

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